How do you come up with your first app idea?

Windows 8 keyboard shortcutAnyone can build an app, that is the truth, but what’s should you try for your first app?

If you sat down this weekend and took 3-4 hours you could build an app for Windows Phone or Windows 8. That is the honest truth! You download the tools here (windows 8) or here (Windows Phone), you find a getting started guide here (Windows 8) or here (Windows Phone), and you are off!

Start simple

Okay an app you build in 3-4 hours isn’t going to be the most awesome app ever, but it gets your feet wet, and gets you through the first hurdles of installing the tools, figuring out the development environment, and the steps to publish. That said, your first app can be simple but useful. I have used a flashlight app to find my way back to my tent when out camping and you can’t get much simpler than that.

Don’t forget, regardless of whether it’s for Windows 8 or Phone, if you are in Canada, it can still qualify you for rewards at Developer Movement!

Coming up with ideas

If you don’t have an app idea, think of the things you have done on your laptop or phone in the past few weeks and ask yourself could an app do make that easier? Here are examples of tasks I did in the past two weeks where a simple app on my phone or laptop could have helped

  • I sat down to figure out which business trips I have to still submit expenses for, already submitted expenses for, been reimbursed for
  • I had to research common sayings like “ A stitch in time saves nine” and their meanings
  • I had to look up exchange rates to do my expense report
  • I logged my workout for training for my next running race (how far did I go, what pace did I run, how much effort was it)
  • I was about to leave for a conference and had to go digging through emails and websites to find out information on when the conference starts, the address, when and where is the welcome reception
  • I was shopping with my kids and was taking pictures with my phone of what they wanted for Christmas
  • At my hotel, I took a picture of the hotel room door before I left, so I can remember my room number. I do the same thing with rental cars (its embarrassing to go to the front desk and ask what room you are in when you forget)


If you still can’t come up with an idea for your first app, another option is to take a template and modify it to get you started. Once again, this helps you get past the basic hurdles of downloading and installing the tools, getting comfortable with the development environment and platform, and the publication process. Keep in mind templates are always provided as-is with no guarantees or warranties, but they can be great jump-starts.

Windows 8 templates

Build and improve on an existing app

Not enough developers take the time to learn the platform and the design guidelines for the platform, such as the Search and Share Contracts, or Snap view in Windows 8, or basic rules like put your buttons at the bottom of the screen on phone apps (so your hand doesn’t cover the screen when you press a button).

As a result you see simple apps that although functional, lack polish and don’t really shine. Even a simple app can embrace good design! Take the Chuck Norris facts app on Windows 8. I like Chuck Norris facts, they amuse me, but why didn’t the developer let me use swipe to move from one fact to the next instead of making me bring up the app bar and tap next? Why didn’t they implement a Snap view that uses a bigger font size so I can read it? Why not a live tile with a randomly selected Chuck Norris fact? How about Search so I can findmy favourite Chuck Norris facts? I still installed it, but I would appreciate a better version! Yes, adding more of these features will add more time to your development time, but the result will be a more polished app, and more skills you can re-use for that awesome app idea you build next!

If you think learning these new features is too complicated, how about some code examples you can re-use?

Still not convinced? How about a real world example?

At our WOWZapp hackathon, we had a developer who had never built anything for a mobile platform, and had never coded C# or XAML. She wanted to build a Windows 8 app. After a couple of false starts she finally settled on an app that would let you look up Windows 8 shortcuts. This is simple, but very useful! Not everyone has touch on their laptops, and so keyboard shortcuts make life easier, but I always found myself going to a blog post to look up a particular shortcut. She didn’t just build a screen that listed the shortcuts, she also implemented a snap view that is easy to scroll and view, and, she implemented Search. The Search is great, because that means when I am in another app or even in the Desktop and can’t remember a shortcut, I just search her app to find the keyboard shortcut I need. You can check out Donna’s app in the store here. I think it’s a great example of a simple app, that is useful, and shows some good design!

In the next blog post: after your first app is published – think bigger and better!

Hopefully this gives you some ideas for that first app, I’ll blog soon about taking the skills you learn from your first app and using them to build something bigger and better!

Comments (3)

  1. B. Clay Shannon says:

    "Anyone can build an app"

    I take issue with this; perhaps 1 person in 100 would even attempt it.

  2. Susan Ibach says:

    I think you are correct that maybe 1 person in 100 will attempt to build an app, but I think anyone who wants to do it can do it if they are willing to take the time and really try. But you are absolutely correct, not everyone will try and some will probably try and give up part way through.

  3. Clare Jean Karani says:

    Your first  app doesn't have to be complicated as long as someone can download and use it easily without any troubel i think that is good enough.Right?

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