My School App: A First (Real) Windows Phone 7 App Project for Beginners


Randy Guthrie – Microsoft Academic Developer Evangelist
blogs.msdn.com/MIS_Laboratory

Some of the big challenges that students face getting apps into the Windows Phone 7 marketplace are psychological. They wonder if their ideas are market-worthy, and they worry that they don’t have the technical expertise required to translate their ideas into a real app. Sadly this keeps most students who are otherwise interested in app development from taking those first steps. To quote Shakespeare, “Our doubts are traitors and cause us to lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt”.

Mark Frydenberg of Bentley University has created and posted a fun and easy first Windows Phone 7 app project on the Microsoft Codeplex: http://myschoolapp.codeplex.com/.  This app project is a “skin” where a student can take URL info from their school, local library, or small business website and create an “informational” app that would keep the user apprised on key information on their alma mater (or local resource) including sports news, weather, etc.  The code has already been “certified” once, so that if a student replaces the default URLs with URLs  from the institution of choice there is an almost 100% chance of the app getting certified in the marketplace. This project is very simple and from start to finish you can create an app and submit it to the marketplace in under two hours.

MySchoolApp has six panorama panes:

· Welcome

· On Campus

· Links

· Athletics

· Map

· Weather

clip_image002clip_image004clip_image006

clip_image008clip_image010clip_image012

MySchoolApp’s Panorama Panes.

The About button on the Welcome pane displays a local HTML file (about.html) in a browser. The On Campus and Links pages contain hyperlinks to web sites or RSS feeds. All external Web content is displayed in a browser within the application (with two exceptions described below). RSS feeds are displayed on a special RSS page (easily recognizable by the Silverlight color gradient in the background.) When the More link associated with an item in an RSS feed is clicked, it invokes the browser page used by all hyperlinks.

clip_image014clip_image016clip_image018

Displaying (a) a local HTML file, (b) a Web Site in a browser, (c) an RSS feed in MySchoolApp.

A sample of the XAML code that you customize for your school:

image

To download the “My School App” code and instructions click here: http://myschoolapp.codeplex.com/.

For those who think that MySchoolApp is too simple, here are my thoughts: I am seeing a number of app development courses that are teaching mobile programming fundamentals, but don’t actually push students to go the “last mile” and actually put apps into the marketplace.  Why is the last mile important?  Because once you’ve gone through the process you see that getting simple apps into the marketplace isn’t all that hard; because it gives the account holder the complete software developer/entrepreneurial experience, and because it gives students something they can actually put on their resume that gives them a unique differentiator: they have actually created “commercial” software. For those who worry that these kinds of apps dilute the marketplace with low-quality apps, I suggest that a student can always pull the app off of the marketplace after a month or two, or until they replace their myschoolapp with something more original. 

The student app market account registration process via http://www.dreamspark.com is a little complicated and intimidating, particularly when you get to the financial section that asks for SSN, bank account number, etc.  The way I think about this is that creating an app hub account is really the process of starting your own business, and that as a business owner you need to think about income, costs, taxes and things like that. It’s not that Microsoft is asking for a lot of personal information, it’s more that as a business owner we’re giving you the opportunity to go big time. On the plus side, when you start your own business, you are no longer dependent on the economy or a hiring manager at some company to give you a job or internship in order to get valuable and differentiating experience. Getting a app into the Windows Phone 7 marketplace is a great learning opportunity for students and beginning developers, and the “my school app" project can get you something to brag about with only a couple hours of work. So what are you waiting for?

Cheers,

Randy

Comments (4)

  1. Ken Harding says:

    I'd like to do one of these for my school, however I am not sure how the administration of my school would like it.  I don't think I have official permission to make a phone app for my school.

  2. randguth says:

    The app just puts a skin on information that the school is already publishing publically on its website. It's no different than viewing the content in a browser, except you are pushing it to a phone app. They should be happy that someone is creating another way for people to see the website, particularly alumni, etc.

  3. Andreas says:

    As no GPL software is allowed in the Windows Phone market place / app store, I will not be able to write software for the phone as student IT. Sorry, I just don't want others to take advantage over my code without myself being able to take advantage back.

  4. randguth says:

    The cool part about the Windows Phone 7 community and marketplace is we have something for entreprenurial developer just starting his own sharp and therefore needing to get some value from his intellectual property, and folks who develop for social reasons. You might want to try http://www.codeplex.com: our open source community.  While we don't explicity have an app marketplace there per se, you can share your app code and download code from others as well.  Also, have you thought to contribute to the app education catalog at create.msdn.com/…/catalog ? Many app developers with a mind to share create and share their projects there. Many good apps there as well.