Windows Phone

The full story of featured and spotlighted apps on Windows Phone

Last year on April 10th, I released App Spotlights. The primary goal of App Spotlights is to help developers; the app notifies them when their apps are in the spotlight in any of the 129 markets worldwide. The app also helps to analyze the competition. In addition, you can obtain the history of when your apps have been in the spotlight since February 17th, 2013.

After one year, my database has more than one million spotlighted apps. Throughout the year, the #1 complaint from users was that sometimes they saw their apps spotlighted on their phone, but App Spotlight was not reporting their apps. I explained to each user that Nokia had their own spotlighted apps (for Nokia phones only), and that I did not have access to this data.

Every day, I have a service on Microsoft Azure that fetches the data from http://www.windowsphone.com/store for each market.

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In order to access the Nokia data from Microsoft, you must log in with a Nokia phone.  As Microsoft Azure is a cloud service, it is impossible for it to log in as a Nokia phone, and therefore I am unable to fetch the Nokia spotlight data. I should write: “I was unable to fetch”… please read on.

Featured applications

Recently, I had an interesting discussion. I learned that each day Nokia can choose up to half of the featured apps for their Windows Phones in each market. Please note the word featured: when I started fetching the spotlighted app data, I was aware of featured apps, but I was a bit confused about the difference between featured and spotlighted. Now I know the difference.

The Spotlighted apps are a combination of the Featured apps and Featured games. You can see the links (you can replace the en-ca with any market code:

The spotlighted apps use the first few apps from the featured apps and featured games. As you can imagine, the big tiles on the spotlight page generate way more downloads for the first few apps than the last few apps.

When you open the Store application on Windows Phone, there is a major spotlighted app.

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This app is not featured anywhere on the Windows Phone website. This spot will have the biggest impact on your download count than any spotlight spot. Good luck getting there!

With more than one hundred markets, it is hard work for Microsoft and Nokia to decide on the featured apps. For key markets such as USA, UK and France, the featured apps are chosen manually. For small markets such as Kenya, the featured apps are based on an algorithm.

What’s new for App Spotlights

I’m pleased to announce that I have found the secret to obtaining the data for both the Microsoft and Nokia featured apps and featured games along with the big spotlight in the Windows Phone Store without relying on the Windows Phone website.

Starting today, App Spotlights fetches and displays the full list. The change has been applied on the backend only, so your app doesn’t need an update. Every day, you will have all the information about when and where your apps are featured. For the moment, App Spotlights doesn’t tell you if your apps are featured with Microsoft, Nokia or in both places. This feature might come later!

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Calling All Canadian Windows Phone and Windows Developers!

Since the arrival of the Windows Phone, the Canadian evangelist team has offered great promotions each year to entice developers to create apps. In my opinion, their promotions for Canadian developers are the most attractive worldwide. This year the Developer Movement is back. To make things a little bit different, they have a new theme: Don’t just code… Code Kwondo.

You can watch three funny videos: Introduction, Strength, and Focus.

If you need convincing that apps will give you money, please take a look at the rewards list. The list is quite impressive. If you didn’t click the link: what about an Xbox One, Surface 2, ASUS Zenbook, GoPro HD, Dell Ultrasharp, etc…

If this is not enough, I have more good news for you: you can also participate in the DVLUP challenges. In other words, it is perfectly legal to do one Windows Phone application and submit it to the Developer Movement and DVLUP.

Masters of Code Kwondo

Now that my introduction about the Developer Movement is done, I can introduce you to the application Masters of Code Kwondo. In truth, it is two applications: one for Windows Phone and one for Windows. The purpose of the application is to showcase the list of applications that Canadian developers have made during the Developer Movement. The Canadian population is small compare to the United States, but we have good developers like Brock (over 600 000 XP on DVLUP) and Atley Hunter (over 400 apps), just to name two. In the app, you’ll also discover “Code Masters”, those people can help you if you have development issues.

Message to the Canadian developers: if you made applications any time after November 2013 and they are available in the store, please give me the name of your applications using my contact form. It will be a pleasure to showcase your apps in Masters of Code Kwondo.

At the beginning the list of apps will be short, but don’t worry, the Masters applications will notify you when new apps are added.

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Masters of Code Kwondo

Happy coding and get rewards!

My thoughts on the new certification process for Windows Phone apps

Two weeks ago, I submitted a Windows Phone app for certification. Twenty minutes later, I received an email saying my app had passed certification. I shook my head and couldn’t believe it. When the app was available in the store an hour later, I thought that Microsoft must have had a bug in the certification process. For months, the processing time for apps had been 4-5 days. The next day, the Windows Phone blog published a post explaining the new process. It cleared up my confusion.

For every change that Microsoft does, there are always people who will complain. Personally, I was extremely happy with this change. When I submitted my first app in January 2011, it took me a full week to obtain the certification result. Unfortunately, my first submission didn’t pass. I’ll always remember that the failure was due to an issue that occurred after 17 steps. The tester actually wrote those 17 steps down for me. I was impressed that they were so thorough. I knew they were also attentive to whether an app would work well in the light and dark theme and that the hardware back button needed to work perfectly.

Many updates and new apps later, I found myself getting more and more impatient to get the certification results. It is always wonderful when certification is successful, but when it fails, I had the impression I was losing two weeks. The wait was sometimes even more problematic if an app had a recurrent crash that users were facing and the testers didn’t catch it. It is stressful and you feel powerless. Contacting Microsoft to speed up the process was impossible, because an external agency deals with app certification.

If a developer is serious about marketing a new app, he will be careful and he is most likely to beta test his app with users/testers. If he doesn’t care about testing his app, he might get punished in reviews and ratings. It is not because an app is free that users decrease their expectations. Users don’t hesitate to raise their voice when issues arise.

For these reasons, I prefer that apps get approved quickly and I feel it is the responsibility of the developer to make his app shine with few or no hiccups!

What are your thoughts?

PS: The process doesn’t to apply to every new app and update yet, but it will soon. Be patient!

App Promo for Windows and Windows Phone

One of the challenges of a developer is to promote his applications. For the last three years, I have been active with the developers especially with the Windows Phone expertise. I have seen countless of Windows Phone links. Last year, on my favourite social network Twitter, they introduced a feature that lets you preview an image with a fixed size directly on your twitter feed. In January, I was pondering how to take advantage of this new feature. I came up with a simple idea, which became App Promo.

App Promo has two goals. The first one is to help developers promote their applications in a more attractive way than simply providing a download link. The second is to help people download an app more quickly. I find that downloading an app via a QR Code is both convenient and fast.

I have created two applications one for Windows and one Windows Phone. Both applications have the goal of creating a promotional picture for a Windows Phone app. Each version has its own advantages.

App Promo for Windows

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Features
• Share the promotional pictures using the Share charm
• Share the promotional pictures into disk
• Background color can be changed
• A custom URL can be used in the QR-Code

The Windows Store version is FREE. You can pay to remove ads.

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App Promo for Windows Phone

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Features
• Share the promotional pictures on Twitter and Facebook
• Share the promotional pictures with installed applications
• Retrieve the promotional pictures from your Camera Roll

The Windows Phone version is FREE. You can pay to remove ads.

App Promo

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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:

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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:

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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).

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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.

Conclusion

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!

DualShot from the launch to 100 000 downloads in 20 days

My friend designer Vincent and I decided to share the story of our latest app DualShot. The goal is not to be show-off. We want to show diverse statistics that can help analyze the Windows Phone market and encourage other developers and designers to continue providing quality apps.

Before starting, DualShot has two restrictions:

  • It is only available to Windows Phone 8 devices.
  • It requires a back and front face camera. In other words, the most popular devices the Nokia Lumia 520 and 521 cannot download the app, because they don’t have a front face camera.

Statistics

The launch date was September 16th. The download count surpassed 100 000 on October 15th.

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Data from the Windows Phone dashboard

It’s not a big surprise that the peak arrived close to the launch date. DualShot received a lot of good press from many Windows Phone websites.

Here is the top 30 markets. We were quite surprised that India and Thailand arrived on the second and third spot despite the fact that DualShot was available in English and French only at launch. The two biggest continents with the most users are Europe and Asia.

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Complete list

Here is the percentage usage per device. There is no doubt that Nokia is dominating the Windows Phone market. The non-Nokia device with the biggest market share is HTC with 5.3%. Looking forward, I’ll be curious to see how the Lumia 1020/925 will evolve. Their percentages are low because they are new and not available worldwide yet.

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Data from Flurry analytics service

Concerning the reviews, there is a clear relation between the number of reviews and the downloads. The American were the most critics about our app!

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Data from App Spotlights

Pre-launch

Developing an app is one step, but advertise an app is another step. I’m not a firm believer that submitting an app without talking about it that the app will become popular.

The day before the app went live, we contacted a lot of editors and friends. A full day can be easily spent sending all the information.

For those who noticed, we created a little teaser on September 26th. It turned out that the one-day teaser worked well.

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Post-launch

At this point, this is where the team has less control. It is the turn to the public to decide about the success of the app. It is also on the hands of the editors if they want to talk or not about the app. This is the most exciting and stressful period where the team awaits the result.

In the case of DualShot, we were very happy with the first days following the launch. In reality, it surpassed our expectations.

We were proud to appear twice on Windows Phone Central:
http://www.wpcentral.com/dualshot-lands-windows-phone-store
http://www.wpcentral.com/dualshot-windows-phone-preview

We were delight to see a YouTube review from our friends at WinSource:

We had a review on a Microsoft Canadian website and many more sites.

Ranking

Having a lot of tractions at launch caused a positive domino effect. The more an app is downloaded, the more it appears on different categories. At some point DualShot was the top New+Rising app in USA.

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A week later, the download count probably caused a trigger on the algorithm of Microsoft to display the spotlights. With the help of my app App Spotlights, I was able to detect that DualShot was on the spotlight of many markets on October 4th.

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Later on, we had one occasion with the big spot in the USA spotlight page. We can see the effect on the graphic at the top of the blog post.

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So far, we had a lot of exposures:

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Conclusion

While we didn’t make any money from releasing DualShot because we made it free, we had so much fun following the launch. It surely motivates us to create more Windows Phone apps. Now that the Windows Phone market is not small anymore, we see a lot of opportunities and we encourage developers and designers to jump in. You can also be surprised with the result.

Have you create a DualShot photo yet?  If not, go download and share your creation!

Download from Windows Phone Store

The importance of an about page

Your app is feature complete, here is what you should consider before sending it to the certification. Add a page that contains at least three sections:

  • About
  • What’s new
  • Credits

About

About 1

The first goal of an about section is providing a way to your users to connect with you. For DualShot, I provide diverse links. The important one is Support & Feedback. It opens the mail editor. I take the opportunity to enter information that might help like the current version of the app, language and the phone model.

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Providing a way to contact you won’t prevent all bad ratings, but it will save you some if you respond accordingly.

In the list above, there is another interesting link called User Voice. User Voice is a website that provides a (free) service where user can enter anonymous feedback or bugs. Their website is very easy to setup and use. I have seen a lot of apps having a User Voice link. Even the Windows Phone developer team has a User Voice page.

What’s new

About 2

There are a lot of applications that provide updates, but often we are not aware of what’s new. Sometimes, they put the update description into the app’s description, but the second you click update you don’t have access to the description in one click, you need to find the app into the store. Starting with my app DualShot, I will provide a what’s new section for my future apps. Not only it tells the user what’s new, but it can help the user to discover features that are maybe not obvious at first sight.

Credits

About 3

Open your Windows Phone solution and check the references for each project. Do you see a lot of 3rd party libraries? The answer is most likely yes. Would you be able to release your app without using any free 3rd party libraries? I’m sure you can, but it would take a lot more time. Reinventing the wheel is probably not your motto neither. That’s been said, with my latest applications, I took the decision to thank the people bind the libraries. It doesn’t cost a dime to give a two thumbs up for the creators. For each library and translator, I put a link to their website or Twitter handle. After I released my app, I tweeted to each of time and 80% replied back.

You never know what you can expect: four gentlemen offered us to translate the app for free. It was my pleasure to put their names into the credits section.

Don’t worry, you won’t get hurt in the rating for putting a credits section. I have receive a lot of good and very bad reviews, but I never receive something related to: “Huh, your app suk and your credits too”.

Conclusion

Take the extra 2-3 hours to provide for your users to connect with you and thank the person who helps build your application directly or indirectly. If you provide updates, add a what’s new section.

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.

Conclusion

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

App Spotlights for Windows Phone

I’m pleased to announce the availability of App Spotlights.

As a Windows Phone developer, I can tell you that one of the best gifts a developer can receive is when one of his apps is in the spotlight. First, it’s an honor from Microsoft to be selected and secondly, it has a huge impact on downloads. Currently, there is no easy way to know if an app is featured, as there are 121 markets. The main feature of this app is to notify the developers with a live tile notification and a toast when an app is in the spotlight.

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App Spotlights is a perfect companion for Windows Phone app buyers and an indispensable tool for developers.

Windows Phone Buyers:
★ Access to more than 2400 spotlighted apps from all 121 markets every day.
★ Have more confidence when buying a spotlighted app.
★ Consult three charts to find out the most spotlighted apps in the marketplace.
★ Navigate faster than the built-in Store app when looking for spotlighted apps.

Windows Phone Developers:
★ Get notified when your apps are in the spotlights in any markets. Share the news with potential buyers on your favourite social networks.
★ Obtain a detailed history when your apps were in the spotlight in each market.
★ Analyze the impact on your downloads when your apps are in the spotlight.
★ Track the visibility of your competitors.

Other features:
★ Toast and Live Tile notifications.
★ Lock screen information from App Spotlights can be used.
★ Fast loading and resume.

Note: Spotlight statistics have been calculated since February 17th 2013.

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Promotion until April 17th: 33% off

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My experience with Ads in my Windows Phone apps

After some thought, I decided to share my experience with ads and to provide the revenue that my apps provided. If my details help you, then I’ll be happy.

The two apps that generates the most revenue are:

  • Ultimate Poker Hands & Timer
  • Ultimate Poker Manager Free

Those apps target a niche audience: the poker players that play home games. Although they are niche apps, these two apps are popular in the US Windows Store. If you enter “poker timer”, the apps will get the 1st and 4th places:

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The advantage of adding an ad control into a “timer” app is you get a chance that you’ll get tons of ad requests. I was curious if the ad market can be good.

Smaato

Back in early 2011, there were few providers where a Canadian developer can be paid. Believe it or not, the PubCenter by Microsoft was not in the list. So, I ended up choosing Smaato. In 2011, if my memory is good I got three payments of ~$5 each. My user base was very low, so it was not that bad getting the $15.

I don’t look into the details of my ad revenue day to day, but at the end of 2012, I checked what was going on. I was quite disapointed to see that on 151 244 served ads for the last 6 months, that the generated revenue was $1.91. Unfortunately, Smaato does not provide data older that 6 months. I contacted the support on their website, but I never got any answer. I found a Twitter employee where he forwarded my question to the right team and it took more than a month before getting an answer. They did not seem to understand that the $1.91 of revenue on 150 000 ads was abnormal. At this point, I gave up and remove the Smaato ad control into my apps. It is not fair is only one company is making money.

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Microsoft PubCenter

At the end of 2011, the PubCenter finally arrived in the Canadian market. I decide to make the PubCenter my primary ad provider and when an ad request cannot be fulfilled, the Smaato would try to request an ad. So, it doubles my chance to display an ad.

What you see is $32.06 for 135 205 ads. I’m not an ad guru, but those numbers seem fair to me.

I would like to point out that integrating the Smaato and PubCenter ad controls into a Windows Phone app is almost as easy to drag a button into a page.

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Nokia NAX

In the autumn of 2012, Nokia released the NAX ad network that supports multiple platforms. As a big fan of Nokia, I decided to give a try. We always have a dream to become rich :) I put the NAX as the primary ad provider and use PubCenter as the backup.

The NAX ad network is powered by the company inneractive.

When I first integrated the NAX ad control, it took me some time to figure out that the AdFailed/AdRequest events were static events and does not belong to the control. To use the NAX Ad Control it was not as easy as Smaato or PubCenter.

When I ported my two apps to Windows Phone 8, the NAX ad control was not even released despite having all other non-Windows Phone platforms. I was a bit surprise, but they told me that I can use the WP7 version.

The first surprise

After my apps were updated with the NAX Ad control, I received a couple of days later a crash report showing that the AdFailed event generated an exception because it was not returned in the UI thread. When you are using an ad control in an app, you expect that the ad control have been tested and you can have confidence in it. By definition, an ad control fetches an image and display it every 60 seconds, right? I immediately contacted the support. Without too much surprise, they confirmed the crash and told me to update my apps.

I updated my apps and waited for the certification time… That part is not fun to wait when you know your users can have random crash without even touching the timer page.

I gave them a chance…

Last week, I got another new crash report and I found out a 100% repro case in an app that I’m developing right now. I contacted the inneractive support and after two days, I got no answers. I reached out the NokiaDeveloperTeam Twitter account and they quickly asked for my info and forwarded it to the inneractive team. After a day, I still did not get any support. I found out the Twitter account of inneractive and I got a reply right away. Once again, they forwarded my info the the engineering team. I won’t go into details, but the inneractive engineers do not seem to understand the WP platform and I’m still waiting for an answer or an update for the current situation.

On top of that, I got another new crash report today.

Two person from Nokia are aware about my situation and they asked me my feedback and I’m keeping up to date. It is way more important for Nokia to know what’s going on with their contractor inneractive. Nokia thanked me for my feedback to them.

If I put aside the negative experience with the NAX ad control, the numbers are impressive so far (it is less than 40 days): $0.85 for 3853 served ads.

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In conclusion, I would suggest to avoid the NAX Ad control for now, it is not ready for prime time yet. The PubCenter is my top suggestion. I know I won’t be rich with my two apps, however, the part where I’m the more happy with is over 320 000 ads that have been requested over the last 2 years and if one ad is requested every 60 seconds, it represents 5333 hours of usage of my apps.

Happy New Year of coding!