Writing on Tablets Tech stuff from @yeltzland

A new app a month? Who was I kidding!

At the start of the year I set myself the ambitious task of trying to ship an app a month for the whole of 2012.

Seeing as it's the start of June and I can just about at a stretch say I've "shipped" two projects I think we can safely say this isn't going to happen.

I've been extremely busy as ever in my day job, and to be honest there just aren't enough hours in the day - well not enough I'm willing to spend! - to be able to ship something of quality every single calendar month.

Therefore I'm calling a halt to this fruitless quest, more to take the pressure off me so I can get on with doing some interesting things without any artificial deadlines in place.

I have been doing a few quite interesting bits and pieces in the last few months I will share on here, and for certain try to blog more regularly on what I'm up to.

 

Development

Shipped Weight Tracker Facebook App

It's now nearly at the end of February and it's abundantly clear that it's really hard to keep shipping apps at the rate of one a month whilst working in the evenings :-(

Anyway, what I have done this month - which I'm going to claim in a loophole sort of way - is shipped my Weight Tracker Facebook App

The app is very simple; it uses Facebook's Open Graph to record your weight in pounds on the date you specify. I've also added a page where you can retrieve all your entries so you can see the progress of your diet (or not), and use the Google Chart Tools to make a nice graph of the figures.

Why it's a bit of a cheat in the app-per-month stakes is I did most of the work a few weeks ago, but had to wait for Facebook to approve the Open Graph extensions before the world could see the results on my timeline - and of course use the app themselves if they want. After one false start where I hadn't registered the correct icons for the app on the developer website, it went live this week.

The Open Graph development environment was pretty straightforward to both use and setup once I'd read through the documentation. The whole point of the app was really to learn about the capabilities of the platform, but also to make sure I keep sharing information about my ongoing diet!

I also like the way it was pretty easy to add in summary views on the data, so I can see both the latest weight and the lowest weight on my Facebook timeline with very little extra effort.

Facebook App

A whole load of useful dev resources

I've been thinking hard about which out of my long list of half-baked ideas to commit to next. I do have a reasonable plan now - more of which next week - but this week has been more about learning about several very useful open source frameworks I'll be using in the future.

Windows Phone Resources

Most useful of all was a fantastic post by Scott Hanselmann on his first Windows Phone app, which had loads of interesting tidbits, in particular the following resources:

Little Watson

A great generic error handling library to help report issues in the app, as the error reports on the Create MSDN site can be a little obscure sometimes.

YourLastAboutDialog

A beautiful framework for creating simple but useful about dialog pages. Will definitely be using this.

If you're doing any Windows Phone development at all, you should definitely check out the whole of Scott's post.

Agfx App and Data Caching Framework

Many of the ideas I've had involve using data from the Internet in some way, and the occasionally connected nature of such devices means a reliable caching layer essential.

I'd been thinking of writing my own such store, but happily before I really got started I found the AgFx Windows Phone App and Data Caching Framework on Codeplex, which looks like exactly what I need. I'll let you know how that works out in later posts.

Other Cool Things I've Learnt This Week

Bootstrap Update

The Brave Location website is built using the Bootstrap Framework, an excellent set of resources built by some developers from Twitter.

The only downside I found was that the layouts weren't particularly responsive, so didn't look fantastic on mobile phones.

However the latest version (2.0) has added much better support for adjusting the page based on the current size, and apart from a few ongoing glitches with the navbar, the site now works very well on smaller resolutions now.

Markdown and MarkdownPad

I also just realised that Posterous - where I'm hosting this bog - supports Markdown, an easy text-based way of writing than can easily be turned into simple HTML.

My posts both on here and on my personal blog are tending to be a bit longer than usual, and to be honest I haven't found a web-based HTML editor yet that isn't a bit painful to use.

Therefore using Markdown makes it much easier to use any text-based editor to write the posts offline, and I'm also trying out the so far very useful MarkdownPad to do my writing in (using it right now for this post)

Week 5 Summary

To be honest I'm finding it hard - as expected - to keep up the momentum of an app a month when I'm pretty much maxed out in my day job. However I do like my next app idea - especially as it could provide a framework for a whole class of similar apps going forward.

Development Windows Phone

Version 3 of Bedside Clock App Shipped

So we're still on target for shipping an app a month, but January was always going to be an easy month as I've just shipped v3.0 of my Bedside Clock Windows Phone 7 app.

The cliche says that the 3rd version of Microsoft software is always the good one, and I'm hoping that my background will mean this is true here too.

To be honest the first two versions have been more about me learning the capabilities of the platform than shipping something with a massive amount of value to anyone but myself - and in particular v2.0 had an application bar control in it mainly because I wanted to see how it worked.

What I did learn was that user feedback is invaluable, and I received some great (if slightly negative) feedback from users that the new design didn't work very well, especially when the user has chosen the light theme. The problem was the application bar control can't be minimised in a satisfactory way, and it always takes the theme color - which somewhat clashes with the rest of the app if not using the dark theme.

Anyway I'm really happy with v3.0. The UX issues mentioned above have been addressed by moving all the settings to a separate page, and the big addition to the functionality is adding in weather information from Yahoo! Weather. This has already been useful a couple of times last week as I knew the forecast was for rain before I left for work early in the morning.

I'd also like to give credit and thanks to Gavin Elliott for the nice weather icons he generously made available for free.

I'm not intending on doing any more development on this app right now - unless some horrible bugs emerge after it's made it's way out via the Marketplace - but I'm always looking for feedback so please let me know what you think.

 

Bedside Clock App Windows Phone

Planning about Planning, and Planning

Been a reasonably slow start to the year of code, mainly because I've been in the US for the day job. However the first couple of weeks have been reasonably productive, mainly in me figuring out the best way forward.

First of all I refactored the Brave Location website a little, to make it look hopefully a little more professional and clarify what Brave Location is all about.

For the site I'm using Twitter's Bootstrap framework, which I'm very happy with except thatit isn't particularly adaptive to mobile browsers. I'm considering trying out Skeleton at some point to improve the experience for mobile users, but think I've spent enough time on it right now.

However my main progress has been figuring out how (or even if!) I can achieve my goal of shipping something every month.

I'm a reasonably big proponent of agile software development processes, having followed them in varying degrees of militancy in the most of the teams I've worked on in the last few years. However, I'm going to follow something that sounds more like a waterfall approach in that I'm going to have 4 weekly sprints, and have the following milestones/checkpoints:

  • Week One: Planning and Prototyping
  • Week Two: Main development
  • Week Three: Stabilisation/Testing
  • Week Four: Release/Deployment

My rationale for doing it this way is simple - I need a clear goal every week to inspire me to press on with my side projects after a hard day at work.

Now obviously in a team of one I don't think it really matters much what development process I follow, as most methods are designed to maximise clear communication between the development team and the business, and to extract maximum value for the business by focusing on the most important work that can be done in a short period. With me being all of the product owner, scrum master and development team I would hope communication won't be a problem.

Anyway, despite all this planning about planning, what I have been doing so far in month one is working on v3.0 of my Bedside Clock Windows Phone app. It may be slightly against the spirit of the "ship every month", but it's a good way for me to get into the swing of things. I've completed most of the dev work except a few new ideas and bug fixes inspired by being in a different time zone last week, so hopefully it will be ready to ship by the end of next week.

My other pledge is to blog about my progress at least once a week, so details of what the third and hopefully final version of the app will have to wait until next week.

Development