Winphone 7 App

I just submitted my first Windows Phone 7 application. It’s a simple RPN-notation hex programmer’s calculator. I wanted a replacement for my basically irreplacable HP-16C, a fantastic computer geek calculator that HP discontinued in 1989. I have two of these, and they’re indispensable for mucking around with bits and bytes in a debugging session. But I hate leaving them out; things like this have a habit of walking away when you’re not looking.

[Don’t get me started on calculators with “Equals” keys. I needed something that did RPN . . . more HP calculator stories some other time.]

Since the core logic of a calculator is pretty damned simple, most of the work was futzing around with the user interface. Looking at the “competition” (a couple of freebie / 99-cent titles) I noticed a trend of very bad UI. I went for large buttons (easy to hit in the heat of a debugging marathon), a way to “backspace” and fix input errors (as on the 16C), a simple and large layout, and a core set of everyday operations that I know at least I will use (rule #1 of tool building: Build it for yourself first).

I was surprised by how easy it was to get the app going; from initial prototype to first submission to the marketplace was a little over 24 hours wall-clock time, probably ten hours of keyboarding.

I’m charging 99 cents for it. Who knows, I might make a buck or two. It was sure fun to write.

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A few weeks ago I ditched my iPhone (3G model) for a Samsung Focus running Windows Phone 7. You’ll just have to trust me when I say that this was only partly because of the subsidy MS provided employees for these phones; I would have bought one anyway.

I was getting quite tired of the iPhone purgatory — I had a smartphone that I couldn’t program, and I was getting more and more upset at the stupid stunts that Apple was pulling on developers. There was stuff that I wanted to do on my phone, and I didn’t want to invest in a Mac and learn iOS and Objective C and all that. The iPhone market looked pretty saturated, too.

Android? I am not fond of Java, and (more practically) Android doesn’t have the platform uniformity guarantees of Winphone 7 in terms of screen sizes, sensors, CPU and GPU and so forth. Android is out of the running because it looks (for me, at least) like a pain in the rear and not much fun to actually ship an app on. Android might be the platform that takes over the world and stomps everyone named Steve into the 5 percent marketplace share muck, and I would still feel it’s not worth my effort.

And I’m pretty sure I would say the following even if I didn’t work for MS: Microsoft really deserves to win on the Winphone 7 platform. I really like it so far, both as a user, and as a small investor as an app writer.

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9 Responses to Winphone 7 App

  1. Larry says:

    Interesting reading. I built an iPhone app that followed your rule #1 of tool building. It has seen moderate success for something that has limited appeal to begin with. I’m going to drop the price a little and see if it does any better. Funny how our reasons for avoiding Android and “the other platform” (Winphone 7 for me, iOS for you) are quite similar!

  2. max says:

    Sounds like marketing to me. You can develop for your iPhone, its not *that* difficult. Objective C is simple if you are a good developer, and iOS is a very nice platform.

  3. jimmy says:

    I don’t think it’s marketing. WP7 is a great platform, people are going to think that wheater or not they happen to work for Microsoft.

    I hope it succeeds.

  4. landon says:

    @max: Yeah, the iPhone is just a platform; no big deal, just different rules and different muscle memory for getting things done. ObjectiveC doesn’t look bad, and I hear that the ramp time is quick. I think it’s more about market saturation, and that I didn’t get a Mac development platform 18 months ago and missed the boat.

    It helps a lot that I know C# really well, and that Visual Studio is fantastic and that I also know it well. But beyond that, I like the platform. WP7 is staring me in the face, saying, “Program me.” So I am.

  5. Andrew says:

    The HP16C is truly great. I love mine too. I wish somebody would make a cheap replacement that allowed for efficient bit oriented operations. Walmart wouldn’t carry it but I suspect it would find a receptive market at places like thinkgeek.

    I’m sure WP7 is a good phone and development platform. There aren’t any bad cars on the starting grid of a Formula 1 race either but that doesn’t mean the slowest deserves to win just because of the effort that its design team put in. Right now MS is quite simply too late with a me-too product and the market is reacting accordingly.

    The continual fragmentation of the Android market will continue to hamper it. By clamping down on the hardware specs in WP7 devices MS have shown that at some level they understand the importance of treating a smartphone as an integrated h/w & s/w system. If it were me the next step would be to release a native C or C++ API that lets developers bypass all the garbage collecting/jittering/silverlighting software layers that have no place in a battery powered device.

  6. Tom says:

    There is a barrier of entry to iPhone development but it should only be a minor nuisance to someone with your income. You can get a used Mac for cheap (an old MacBook with cosmetic damage, a broken screen, and/or non-functional battery would be perfect for development when used in “lid-closed” mode) and the developer program only costs $99/year.

    As for the “stunts” Apple pulls on developers, IMO this is much ado about nothing. Apple’s rejections have always been relatively predictable, or at least there have always been broad categories of apps that are almost guaranteed to be approved–games, utilities, educational apps, etc. And lately Apple has been loosening its restrictions, not tightening them, e.g., Google Voice was approved, Skype (now including 3G and video calling), Opera, media players like VLC, apps converted from Flash, etc. In fact, other than bikini apps, I’m hard pressed to think of ANYTHING that Apple is currently rejecting.

  7. Drakfyre says:

    There’s been enough back and forth on here about about platform development; I am an iPhone dev but I don’t care what people want to develop for/use (You wouldn’t believe how many people I talk to who don’t dev for iPhone because you can’t without a mac; it’s such a dumb limitation). I am just happy to hear a positive review of Winphone 7; competition is SO GREAT and I am so glad that it’s stepping up. Glad to hear it was easy to dev for as well.

    I need to use one sometime, I really think the UI looks pretty clean.

    If I ever end up with a Winphone this will be the FIRST app I purchase; I owe you at LEAST 99 cents for the entertainment provided by this site, and RPN is awesome.

  8. G says:

    Everyone complaining about iPhone and Android development, should spend some time in Nokia world … with Symbian, QT, WRT … 🙂 Then everything prior will look like heaven and easy walk in the park.

  9. landon says:

    @G: I fully believe you. (I looked at QT once. Then I looked away…).

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