26 Feb 2012
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.
05 Feb 2012
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:
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.
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
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.
28 Jan 2012
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.
15 Jan 2012
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.
05 Jan 2012
So this is the plan.
I was inspired during my personal Something New Every Day project to ship a new piece of software every month for a whole year.
I really got the idea from hearing about the Dollar App project, which is essentially the same idea, although from their website it's not entirely clear how well they did.
The reason I'm doing this is that like many people I have lots of ideas for apps to build, but having a day job means it's often hard find the incentive to do other things in my spare time. I figure if I publically commit to doing something it's more likely I might actually follow through on it.
It would be great if something good comes out of the project. I'd be happy if just one app is reasonably successful, and who knows if that will happen, but the only way to find out is to give it a go!
I'm not going to restrict myself in anyway on what I develop, but my main interests are in location-based software, Windows Phone 7, Facebook apps and Windows 8, so almost certainly the apps will be some combination of one or more of those areas.
I'll also try to post regular updates on this blog, both on what I (hopefully) ship and what I learn along the way. You can also follow along on Twitter (@bravelocation) and I may get around to setting up a Facebook page too.
Here we go....