Tips and gotchas for Windows 8 apps: Convertr

screenshot_11112012_071147This series features interviews with student Windows 8 app developers who share the lessons they learned building windows 8 applications.

This week’s interview features Richard Ye a student from The University of Waterloo who built an application called Converter.

Could you briefly describe your application/game?

Unit converters are one of the easiest and most overdone apps that are made for any platform. A conversion from meters to feet, for instance, is a simple multiplication by a constant factor, and is ridiculously easy to implement. However, because it’s so easy to implement an app like this, many of the apps in the store aren’t very good, or polished, or easy to use, and most of them consist of a bunch of menus and a single number input.

When I made Converter, I tried to do better, and the result is an intelligent, polished app that predicts conversions as soon as users start typing. The app can return results in as little as a single keystroke, making Converter the fastest and easiest to use Unit Converter out there. In the words of one reviewer, “effort was put into this app”.

Did you use .NET and Silverlight, HTML and Java, or DirectX and C++  ?

I had some existing code for my concept already built in JavaScript, so I decided to stick with it when making a more fleshed-out version for Windows.

What was your banging your head against a wall moment?

Integrating with the Search Charm was a rather time-consuming process. From what I’ve seen, JavaScript isn’t the most popular choice of language, and I couldn’t find and easy-to-understand guides on how to integrate at the time.

Did you ever solve that issue?

Eventually, I figured it out by carefully reading the JavaScript documentation.

If you had to build this same app again from scratch, what would you do differently?

Though it was very possible to use the JavaScript toolkit, it’s not as full-featured as the other ones. It would probably be easier and faster to have use another language with more extensive tools, like C#, to build the app.

Any nice surprises?

My existing backend code built in JavaScript just worked, with little modification required. I could make improvements to it just like I’ve always done when working with websites, which was nice.

Did you leverage the mobile platform?

Unit converters are rather simple apps, and there’s not much in terms of mobile technology which I leveraged. I used a simple, tiled interface that I optimized for mobile devices and the on-screen keyboard, but that’s about it.

Did you leverage touch?

The libraries were pretty good at making sure touch worked nicely for my app. Have a pretty simple interface which is basically just a bunch of tiles, but semantic zoom is also supported.

Did you have a favorite Windows 8 feature?

I definitely appreciated the tiles feature, and how it basically implemented a smooth and consistent interface for me.

What is one thing you think you did really well in this application?

I really think that Converter is the best unit converter out there, simply because it is faster and more polished than the competition. People shouldn’t have to navigate through menus just to make quick conversions, and I think I’ve solved that problem with Converter. I hope that people will find it useful.

Are you publishing your application/game?

Yes, Converter is available right now on the Windows 8 Store. It’s free and ad-free, and I plan to keep it that way for the foreseeable future.

Where can I learn more about your app/game?

If you don’t have Windows 8, I have an old web version that you can check out here . It doesn’t share any of the code, but it has similar functionality.

Who developed this application?

I’m a student in Computer Science at The University of Waterloo. Some of the backend code was written by Nick Frosst, a Computer Science student at The University of Toronto.


Don’t forget to create your account in the Windows 8 store, reserve your app name, and get your app out there. For information about how to create your account and resources on how to get coding check out our Windows 8 resources page

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