Marketplace

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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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!

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

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!

Application name matters

If you are developing an application for your company with a brand name or if you are developing the next Angry Bird game with a cool new name, this post is not for you.

However, if you are concocting a generic application like a calculator, a converter, a task manager, you might want continuing to read this post.

Last year, I released the Ultimate Poker Manager along with the ad based version Ultimate Poker Manager Free. Those apps are a poker timer, a hand reference helper and a statistic manager that can produce a whole website with game results and a leaderboard. After a couple of months, I realized that my apps were not gaining traction as much as simple apps like Poker Timer or Poker Hands even if my app was more appealing.

With these results, I tried to rebrand the app for Poker Hands & Timer and I added it to the marketplace (only as a free app). I kept the old Ultimate Poker Manager Free in order to be able update the users that installed my app.

After one and half year, I can tell you that the Poker Hands & Timer has been downloaded twice as much as the Ultimate Poker Manager Free. My download count is in thousands.

I do believe that the marketplace search algorithm put a lot of weight on application name first. So in the end, don’t look for fancy names, keep it simple!

This post is not based on exact science but on my experience. If you agree or not, please feel free to comment.

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.

Dashboard

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Submit an app

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

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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.

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Financial summary

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

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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.

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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!

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