Windows 8

The importance of doing a beta phase in making a successful app

The process of creating an application does not only involve developing it. As discussed in a previous blog post, the marketing is a crucial aspect. There is another important aspect that we tend to avoid or not taking seriously enough: the testing phase, which I call the beta phase.

No matter which platform you build your app for, you need to test your app at some point. Yes, you worked really hard for many weeks and months on your app. Yes, you know your app by heart. Yes, it is bug free.

I don’t want to disappoint you, but there is always a little something that you didn’t think of, or a special usage scenario you didn’t pay attention to.

I speak from experience. I have submitted apps without doing a beta phase. I have also submitted an app where a crash could be easily reproduced. It is nothing to be proud of, but at least now, I do a beta phase.

True fact: developers are not good testers.

Before we released DualShot, we ran a beta phase.

So, how do you attract testers?

  • Contact your friends
  • Advertise on social networks that you are looking for testers. In my case with DualShot, I tweeted about it at two different times.

Believe me, you’ll get testers pretty easily. People are curious. Depending on how well known you are, you can keep track of the emails manually like I do or you can share an Excel sheet or use MailChimp like one of my friends does.

Unless you pay the testers, don’t expect to get feedback from everyone. This is normal, so don’t take it personally. Sometimes it is just not the tester’s type of app, or perhaps they are just too busy.

Tip: I use BugSense to keep track of crashes and I use Flurry for the analytic events. I highly recommend using these services (or any equivalent services) during the beta phase. As I previously mentioned, you might not get written feedback from all the testers, but at least you’ll receive traces of what they did with your app.

During the beta phase, the tester can provide feedback about the user experience (UX). As a concrete example, in DualShot, Vincent designed the following page:


I really liked this page and I didn’t see a problem using it. When I submitted the beta to my testers, in the same evening, three users complained that the UX was really bad. It was clear to us that we needed to put more work into that view. We ended up with the following design:


Unless you have the complete Windows Phone collection at home, you are most likely going to have only one or two devices to test with. When you have testers, you increase the chances that the app will be tested with many different Windows Phones. Don’t assume that all Windows Phone 8s from different manufactures behave the same. In DualShot, the image capture with some HTC 8XT (only this model) does not work. We didn’t have a tester with this rare device and Murphy’s Law struck again.

Not only will the testers find bugs/crashes and give you feedback, they will often give you two thumbs up. It will give you the extra energy to polish your app before certification.

Windows Phone

If you are developing a Windows Phone app, you are lucky because the Windows Phone team developed a feature in their portal where it is easy to run a beta phase. Essentially, you publish an app as if you were submitting it for certification. However, the app is kept private for the testers that you have specified and the certification passes automatically in the subsequent two hours.

In the Windows Phone developer portal, you need to select Beta as the Distribution channel, then you enter the list of tester email addresses (using a ‘;’ between addresses).


After that you can fill out all the info and screenshots.

Tip: avoid flooding your testers with daily emails if you submit a new beta every day. If you submit an update, the tester will be notified via the Store Live Tile. Take advantage of this automatic notification to enter all the new features/bugs into the app description. The first time that you send the deep link of the beta app, you can tell your tester to check the app description when a new update is available.

Windows 8/8.1

Unfortunately, in the current Windows developer portal, it is not possible to easily distribute an app to testers. You need to create a package and send the package to your testers. The testers then need to manually install the app. Hopefully the Windows team will soon mirror the awesome work of the Windows Phone team.


I know the feeling when an app is finally complete and ready to be submitted for certification. It is so tempting to submit it right away in order to see it live in the store ready to be downloaded. Please resist this temptation and do a beta phase. It is better that your friends find the problems than strangers, as strangers will most likely give you a 1-star review if they find a bug or a crash.

Develop, test and release!

How to be eligible to receive MSDN Ultimate, Office and Azure for FREE

The title seems a bit unreal, but it is totally true and legit. Please read on.

Last year, I attended the International Startup Festival in Montreal. I met the Canadian Microsoft team who promote the Microsoft program BizSpark. You can get a quick summary of BizSpark at Woot Studio.

As a Windows Phone or Windows 8 developer you will be interested in:

  • 1-year of a Windows Phone Store developer account.
  • 1-year of a Windows Store developer account.
  • MSDN Ultimate which includes Visual Studio Ultimate, Windows 8, and Office.
  • $150 per month of Windows Azure.

Before I met the Microsoft evangelists, I thought that BizSpark was only for registered/incorporated businesses. I was wrong.

The requirements to be eligible for BizSpark are:

  • You are making less than one million in revenue per year. If this is not the case, you don’t need BizSpark!
  • Your startup or business has less than 10 employees.
  • Your business should be less than 5 years old.

The last requirement is that you need to develop software. Be careful; you need to develop your own software. In other words, you need to sell a product. A company that develops software for clients is not eligible for BizSpark.

What if you already have Windows Phone apps or Windows Store apps published? You are probably entitled to get BizSpark.

The last requirement is that you need a professional-ish website with a non-personal email. The best example of a professional-ish website is the website that you are reading! If you don’t have a website, I encourage you to create one. It is a bit of work, but it is highly worth it. I can’t guarantee that you’ll be 100% eligible to get BizSpark following my steps, but it has worked for two of my friends and me. It takes less than two days to find out if you are eligible.

Microsoft does not seem to check if you have a registered business.

This week, I’m “celebrating” my first year of BizSpark. This great program lasts for three years. When the program ends, you keep all the software that you have installed.

Thanks to the fact that Windows Azure is free with BizSpark, I could try Azure without worrying about the cost. In one month, I learned how easy it was to play with Azure Mobile Services, Azure SQL, Blob Storage, Virtual Machines and Azure Mobile Services. I hadn’t played with backend before and I was able to release my Windows Phone application App Spotlights that uses all the above-mentioned technology.


If you are an Indie developer selling software, try subscribing to BizSpark.

Review of Building Windows 8 Apps with C# and XAML

imageDuring the holiday season, I received the Building Windows 8 Apps with C# and XAML by Jeremy Likness. Holidays are the perfect time to read books! Before starting the book, I was curious to know if it would be useful to me, since I created my first Windows 8 app (Canadian Developer Connection) earlier this year where I included a lot of Windows 8 features. It turned out that I was very satisfied with the number of things I learned.

The reader should have extreme confidence in the content of the book, given the author’s solid experience and background.

The book starts with a simple app that is more than just a “Hello World” app. After the first app, a beginner would be happy to read and learn more.

The author took the time to explain some “under the cover” mechanisms of the new Windows 8 Store app world. Yes, the Registry is still present more than ever. This information is very much appreciated.

Reading about the controls, the application lifecycle, the way to save data, the charms, the packaging, the deploying and more, the reader will get a complete picture of how to take advantage of Windows 8 features.

One of the most important aspects about programming is testing. Even though this aspect is not only related to Windows 8 development, the author dedicates a whole chapter to testing and the high importance of doing unit tests. The experiences that he wrote about proved that even more. For all levels of developers, this chapter is a good reminder of one of the aspects we tend to push aside.

Throughout the book, there is code that is available open-source. The book is a great companion to the provided code and some of the code can even be used in your own apps.

As for the physical aspects of the book, the font size is easy on the eyes. The book could have been a bit better if there were colors in the diagrams, but undoubtedly the price would have then been higher. The current price of the book on Amazon USA is $28.99 and $32.59 on Amazon Canada. At this price, it is really worth buying.

In conclusion, the book covers all the new cool features of the Windows 8 Store apps. If you know C# and you want a quick start on Windows 8 App development, I recommend this excellent book.

Canadian Developer Connection: Now available in the Windows Store

For the past few months, I have been working on my first Windows Store app for Windows 8 called Canadian Developer Connection. Since yesterday, my application is now available in the Windows Store. The Canadian Developer Connection includes all the articles, videos-on demand, events, resources and more from the Microsoft Canadian evangelist team. Even if you are not a Canadian, the application contains useful information for any developers interested in Microsoft technologies.

Here are some screenshots:

Screen shot 1

Screen shot 2

Screen shot 6

Screen shot 7

The application allows you to stream a video to any Play To devices like an Xbox 360.

At the same time, I updated the Windows Phone version to includes the videos on-demand series and the developer events.

1 of 8

Don’t miss anything from the Canadian Developer Connection and download both versions!

Windows Phone 7 App Hub VS Windows 8 Dashboard

This week, Microsoft presented what I believe are the best announcements in the last 10 years: the coming release of the gorgeous Surface and the next Windows Phone 8 OS.

I was ready to blog about the new SDK of Windows Phone 8, but we have to wait until the SDK is released. However, we should be pleased that the core of Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 will be the same.

Back to the blog post now!

Microsoft is serious about Windows 8. They ran a lot of interesting events for the developers. I must admit that living in a big city helps. Recently, I participated in the App Excellence Lab for Windows 8 where I was given early access to the Windows 8 Dashboard. I presented my port of my Windows Phone Canadian Developer Connection app to Windows 8. In a future blog post, I’ll talk about my experience porting an application from Windows Phone 7 to Windows 8.

For developers that submitted Windows Phone 7 applications, you will have dealt with the App Hub many times and you have probably seen some hiccups. Fortunately, the Windows Phone team gave the developers good news about the upcoming upgrade of the App Hub.

Right now, the Windows 8 Dashboard (that’s the current name) does not share the same system as the App Hub. In a couple of years, they might share a dashboard, but for now I’ll present some differences.



Submit an app

All the steps are well defined and you get the approximate time for each step.


Explore store trends

This is what I consider the best tool of the Windows 8 Dashboard. It gives you the ability to analyze what people install on Windows 8. I hope this feature will soon come to the App Hub.


Financial summary

This is the place where you find out if you’ll be millionaire one day.


Profile Account

I skipped the section Renewal, there was nothing interesting. The Profile Account is pretty normal except that you can change the Publisher name.


Microsoft Support

This is the second major feature of the Windows 8 Dashboard. Recently, I had a question to ask the certification team and I visited the support page. I was expecting to fill in a form and get an answer one or two days later like it is in the App Hub, but I was totally surprised that the Dashboard offers you the possibility of chatting with a support representative during the week days. I picked this option and 2 seconds later, I was chatting. I hope this wait time will stay the same!


Now, go back to your code and port all your beautiful Windows Phone apps to Windows 8!