I am now the proud developer of 3 Windows Store apps and I’m excited about it. It isn’t about getting rich, although I’m looking for those avenues, but more about the process/approach used to launch them.

The Process

MVP. Yep…minimum viable product all the way. Lukas Ruebbelke encouraged this through the JavaScript Taste Test event I (remotely) attended. He was dead on right.

If you know anything about me, you know I couldn’t design my way out of a plastic box (I did graduate from bags though) so when I go to do something custom I find myself spending way too much time focused on the design. This is a velocity killer. To avoid spending extra time picking colors, moving pixels to get things pixel perfect, etc I grabbed my drawing notebook (with nothing in it; lmbo…seriously, it was empty for years) and a pencil. I used this to sketch all of my target apps purely as a brain dump for what I thought was a list of MVP features.

What I learned is MVP means speed for the sake of getting the app in front of customers. You take the core features, release them, and find out from your customers what they want. The problem with spending 6 months developing an app/product without a customer viewing it is out of the, let’s say, 10 features you developed they may only want/use 4 of them. You wasted product cycles on useless features. That sucks.

You can also hit burnout. When you start a new product, your excitement throttle is pegged. After 6 months…ehh. Once the app is out in the wild you get the excitement of checking stats, reports, reviews, finances, etc which pushes you to add features, fix bugs, etc.

MVP works.

The Apps

Another tip I picked up along the way was to build something you want/need. In this case, I looked to my wife since she is the one using Windows 8 the most. The next focus was my son for the same reasons. His apps are yet to be developed (next on the list) as they were a bit more complex in nature. First up was OvuLately.

OvuLately

OvuLately Splash This was an app I chose to build first solely on the basis of my wife using different sources to calculation ovulation dates. It was a simple choice to build seeing as I knew I’d have at least one user out of the gate.

As it happens, there are people all over the world in a broad age range needing an app just like this. It isn’t the only of its kind, as I originally thought, but I’m pleased to see people downloading and using it.

OvuLately States - April 4, 2011

The initial feature set allowed for selecting a menstrual date, selecting a menstrual length, and setting the time between menstrual dates. I built it in about 12 hours (a bunch of wall hitting at first with AngularJS and input[type=range] binding as well as a few other pieces). It also did not have a logo icon.

In the current version I added setting persistence, updated the logo with a cute lil’ baby (yes, I “drew” it in Illustrator from scratch; lol), and tweaked the settings description due to a review about a feature being missing that already existed. More features will come, as will ads, but at the time this app gets the job done for what you need. It is the epitome of MVP, IMHO. (acronyms abound!!)

Upcoming features/fixes include:

  • Fix settings save/restore (seems to be yet another but with input[type=range])
  • Add snapped/filled view support and better sizing to displays
  • Ads

Timely

Timely Splash ScreenThe next app my wife needed was a super simple way of setting a timer. She does have her phone to do this but she wanted something visual on her computer so, with an hour left in the JavaScript Taste Test, I knocked out the quickest app I could: enter the number of minutes, click Start, wait for the beep.

I’m pleased to see the app also being used around the world by a broad age range.

Timely Stats - April 4, 2013

The initial version did just that but only when the app was active. Unfortunately, WinRT apps can run background processes but not at the frequency I needed to keep the timer active. This was an issue for one of my users who said the app was useless without background support.

In the current version, I added the ability for snapped and fill views. It is pretty simple if you have used media queries before and are using html/js to build your app. I also added persistence for the minutes you set so you can easily open the app again and just click Start. Oh and I fixed the logo (yep, another Illustrator custom drawing). It was set to about 3:20’sh which looked oddly enough like a broken back arrow. 🙂 I also exported the app images so they fit better in their respective spots (start screen, store, etc).

Upcoming features/fixes include:

  • Multiple timers
  • Custom alarm tones
  • Ads
  • True background support (if possible)

Memely

Memely Splash ScreenThis app wasn’t really an immediate need or want. I’m not even a memer. My co-worker/buddy Bryan Hales though…yeah, he’s a beast. lol. This dude finds some of the funniest gifs/images ever! I figured this would be a cool one to try out some new features of Windows 8 dev: files (saving/opening), sharing, etc. I built the original with AngularJS in a matter of minutes but hit some walls in Windows 8.

This one provided the same need for input[type=range] but I had that licked through a directive I built for OvuLately. I then ran into an issue with a background color picker, seeing as input[type=color] doesn’t work in Windows 8. I started to go through adding a simple text box but then I’d have to parse default CSS colors, rgb, hex, etc and, most importantly, users would have to know available CSS colors or rgb/hex or use a dropdown. I chose to nix the feature as it wasn’t MVP.

File open/save wasn’t nearly as easy as I thought but that was purely a learning curve on structure/flow. I lucked up and found Microsoft built a helper library in a sample already so I was able to use that, which has happened more than once thanks to the great docs/samples. I hit another wall with creating temporary files for use in the Share, which ate up a ton of my time specifically because of the file/stream/encoding pieces. I ended up nixing Share in this current version due to some bugs and it not exactly being MVP, if you’re creating meme images…you know how to share.

This initial version allows you to set the top and bottom text, resize the image (through a control, not pinch/zoom), select a background image and save it.  That was the MVP and it finally hit the store tonight! It failed about 4 times though due to bad testing (crashes when you hit Cancel on file open or save) and the need for a privacy policy. I thought they meant in the description page on the site (just a link) but they meant actually in the settings panel. Yet again…Microsoft came through with a pretty easy to use sample.

Upcoming features/fixes include:

  • Share (native Windows 8 share, not custom social network integration; just install the apps and let Windows do the rest)
  • Pinch/zoom image resize
  • Image positioning (currently is centered vertically/horizontally and cannot change)
  • Custom font sizes for top and bottom individually or automatic font resizing based on text length
  • Fix ads (seems to be an issue with them displaying)

The Future

Now that the apps are in the store and being used I’ll be hawking the reviews/reports to see how users are using them. I’m also going to spend some time adjusting the design/UX of each of them. They need some design love for sure and I think all of them can use some attention. I think OvuLately and Timely are ok for now but Memely is rough on the eyes. 😀

I’m also very interested in how well ads provide financial support for the apps along with an in-app purchase to remove them. It is all to test the market, literally. I’ll be very open about these things as well when the time comes.

Look for more apps and iterative updates to come!

PS – Did you notice the app naming convention? lol.