Takin’ the Train

As I’ve been settling in to the new job and new location, I’m finding myself becoming much more of a consumer than a producer – application-wise that is. While I spent a lot of time at Microsoft building my own apps and helping others publish to the Windows marketplaces, I didn’t really have a ton of time to enjoy the devices and the apps out there. With my new job and a commute that has me taking the train and bus, I have to say it’s been kind of fun using Windows 8 and leveraging some of the content-focused apps out there.

MBTA

What I’m carrying…

Not driving gives me the opportunity to stay up to date with blogs, podcasts, and videocasts, and I absolutely love the Dell Venue 8 Pro that I got myself for Christmas.  It has a great form factor, slips easily into a bag while I have the earphones plugged in, and when I occasionally want to, say, review some code I’m working on, I don’t have that “oh yeah, I can’t do that on (Surface) RT moment.”

What I’m reading…

An inbox that went from 100+ work-related emails a day to (for now) single digits has given me a chance to reconnect with the blogosphere. My friend and colleague, Dave Davis, turned me on to Nextgen Reader, which is essentially a client app for Feedly. You’ll need to set up a Feedly account and manage your subscriptions there, but then you can let the app take over. Nextgen Reader makes great use of the share contract too, so you can quickly tweet an article or send it to the Reading List app on your device for later review.  (Feel free to download my OPML file to get started).

What I’m watching/listening to…

I have to admit, I was a bit surprised and disappointed that the built-in XBox music app doesn’t support podcasts, but there are several other options on the Windows Store.  Many are free, but I settled on podscout, which, at $4.99, is decidedly not free! It does have a trial option – a sine qua non for any priced application in the marketplace – but I was drawn to it by three primary factors

  • preponderance of positive reviews,
  • screenshots that evoked some thought to the user experience beyond the built-in Visual Studio app templates,
  • clear indication via the description that there’s been recent work (8.1) on the app and feedback is encouraged via Twitter and e-mail.

I’m still honing my playlist, but you can check out what I’m listening to now, and feel free to let me know if there are additional developer-focused series I’m missing.

What I’m learning…

The project I”m currently on is a fairly mature WPF/Silverlight app with about 40 projects, so suddenly TFS, custom content controls, and new features of Visual Studio 2013 (like Code Lens) are front and center. I’m in the midst of Pluralsight’s Introduction to WPF Custom Controls course now, but since my subscription is streaming only, and the WiFi on MBTA is spotty at best, I’m using the commute time to watch the lectures of the Coursera class on Programming Mobile Applications for Android Handheld Systems.

Getting Noticed: Crafting a Press Release

Continuing the theme of increasing your application’s user base, here’s another article from Sean Casto, the CEO of PreApps, a Microsoft App Builder partner and the leading platform introducing new apps to users and the marketplace prior to release.

image

The Importance of a Powerful App Press Release By: Sean Casto

You’ve created a great app, and it’s ready for release. Now what? As most developers know, gaining users and promoting your app is just as important as the development process. One of the most highly-regarded tools employed by developers to announce the launch of their app is the press release. A press release has a longstanding history as being a powerful and effective way to gain the attention of everyone from news outlets to bloggers, and spread the word that a new app is being released into the competitive marketplace.

The Importance of a Powerful PR

Writing and distributing a press release isn’t a step in the process that should be skipped. You’ve likely been working to market your product from the start, but you need to let the influential people in your industry know that your product exists. With that being said, if you’re an app developer, you may feel you lack the necessary skills and expertise to make a great press release. It’s important to follow a particular formula, and stick to the information, because writers and reviewers are constantly bombarded with information. You need to create a press release that’s going to quickly and effectively capture their attention.

Top Tips for Successful PR Creation

1. Create a Timetable

Before you begin writing a press release, you should determine whether you’ll be releasing it prior to the launch of your app, or to coincide with your app’s launch. The timetable will determine the angle of your press release.

2. Include Your Icon

Include your app icon or your logo in the body of your press release. This is an important identifying feature, and it should be prominently displayed within the actual written work. If it’s simply included as a link, it’s likely that it won’t be seen by the reader.

3. Don’t Overlook the Importance of Your Header

Take the time to craft a concise, yet attention-grabbing subject line. Many times, people hastily create a subject line, but in actuality, it’s one of the most important components of the press release. If you can get your reader to continue beyond the subject line, you’re doing well. If your reader glances at your subject line and isn’t compelled to continue reading, your press release hasn’t been successful. It needs to be brief, but interesting. A press release must be newsworthy, and the subject line is your opportunity to create that sense of newsworthiness. It can’t simply be an advertisement of your product, but rather needs to be something that’s time-sensitive, for example, “New app launches amidst much anticipation.”

4. Keep Your Reader Interested with the Summary

The next step, beyond the subject line, is to create a summary that will further compel the reader to keep going. Use the summary line as an opportunity to delve a little bit more into what your app offers, and what makes it unique, without providing too many details. Use your summary to make your reader want to know more.

5. Simplify it for Your Reader

Bloggers and journalists are programmed to quickly sift through press releases and find the ones that are the most relevant and interesting, so make reading your release easy for them. Put the most important information in the first paragraph. As the press release progresses, you can include more details, but make the first paragraph targeted to your reader. Imagine they’re only reading the first paragraph and include the information you’d most like them to know about your app.

6. Skip the Fluff—Get to the Point

Use the body of the press release to give a description of your app, including what it does and the important features. Skip the fluff—remember, this isn’t an advertisement. Stick to the facts, and keep the wording simple and concise. You need to be able to tell your reader why people should care about your app. It’s also a good idea to include a quote from a member of the development team. Your quote can be a bit more on the advertorial side, and you can really be creative in piquing the interest of readers.

7. Interest Your Reader in Your Company

Include a brief paragraph about your company at the end of your press release. Include any awards or previously released apps that have done well. If you have an interesting background, perhaps include one or two sentences about that, in order to drive interest in what you’re offering.

8. Give the Reader a Clear Point of Contact

Always include contact information, including your app or company’s website, screenshots, links to demo videos, and your personal information. If a blogger or journalist wants to follow-up with you about your app, you need to make it easy for them to contact you.

Gaining Maximum Exposure

The press release, if done correctly, can be an effective tool for developers. PreApps has designed options to take the guesswork out of the creation and distribution of press releases. In fact, they have a team of professional writers who craft custom press releases, utilizing the company’s press kit, and then distribute it to more than 250,000 news subscribers and more than 30,000 bloggers in order to generate the highest possible level of exposure. The company offers affordable pricing, simplifying the process of marketing an app in order to help the developer obtain worldwide attention.

About The Author:

Sean Casto, a Boston-based entrepreneur, is the founder and CEO of PreApps.com, the leading platform introducing new apps to users and the marketplace prior to release. He has been a guest speaker at industry conventions for Microsoft and Samsung and lectured at Universities such as Northeastern and Harvard. He as also appeared on and been mentioned by The Washington Post, USA Today, The Boston Globe, Boston News Network, and The Associated Press. Through his work and industry experience, Casto has acquired a deep understanding of the struggles developers face and a passion to serve the growing mobile app community. He is now the Chairman & Founder of App Demo & Drinks (a mobile non-profit) and holds an advisory position for numerous start-ups.

Getting Noticed

If you’ve recently published an app to the Windows 8 or Windows Phone stores, CONGRATULATIONS!

It’s a great accomplishment, but in a way, that was the easy part! Well, it was the part that you had the most control over, and now that your app is one of over at least 100,000 in the market, it’s time to make some noise, draw in users, and increase your downloads and visibility!

Get your Windows Developer Success Kit!

To help support you in that endeavor, we’re making available* the Windows Developer Success Kit – personalized for your application. The kit includes

  • 100 customized business cards with your app tile and download instructions
  • 100 customized stickers
  • promotion on MSDN East’s Facebook page
  • A $5 Starbucks card
  • 1600 Microsoft Points

To get your kit*, just send an e-mail to msdneast@microsoft.com providing your name, app name, application deep link, and your physical mailing address.

* THE FINE PRINT

Valid for Windows or Windows Phone apps published in the Store between July 1 and December 31, 2013 in these states only: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida. No purchase necessary. Limit 5 kits per Developer; one kit per published app. Please allow 2-4 weeks for delivery.

If you’re not eligible for the Windows Developer Success Kit, consider joining App Builder, and take advantage of its app promotions resources including a free e-book and  App Promotion Kit with business card, e-mail, and banner ad templates and more!

Who’s on 8: PixelRunner

This fall I conducted a short course on Windows 8 game programming (using Construct 2) at Concord-Carlisle Community Education. There were about 15 participants, a vast majority from the middle school in town, and I’m psyched to announce the first app published from that group – PixelRunner

PixelRunner on Windows 8The work of a 7th grader, PixelRunner is a temple runner platform game that supports both touch and keyboard input. It’s a great first app, and as I was helping him submit it to the Windows Store, I discovered he’s got three others underway!

Now go download the app and help encourage the next generation of application developers!

Build-A-Game Workshops, Oct. 26th

Both Josh and I are hosting hands-on Windows 8 workshops this weekend – he in Farmington and I in Cambridge; each runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Microsoft offices at those locations. We’ll both be covering Scirra Construct 2, a fantastic tool to build HTML5 games that you can deploy to Windows 8 (and Windows Phone) whether you’ve been a developer for years or are just getting started.

Build a Game with Construct 2

To make the most of the workshop, be sure to have your laptop set up before hand (see below), and if you need some help doing so, note that there are Studio Time opportunities in both Farmington and Cambridge before Saturday’s events.

  1. Mac users only: Boot Camp, Parallels Desktop, VirtualBox or VMWare Fusion
  2. Windows 8 (a 90-day evaluation version available here)
  3. Visual Studio 2012 Professional (free for DreamSpark or MSDN subscribers) or Visual Studio Express 2012 for Windows 8 (free for anyone)
  4. Scirra Construct 2 (free version)

Make $75 on Your App Makeover

This past spring, my colleagues and I spent a lot of time on college campuses introducing students to the Windows 8 platform and teaching them how to build casual games with Construct 2 as well as apps with both C#/XAML and HTML5/JavaScript. If you’re a student who published an app between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013, now’s your chance to create a new, updated app based on your existing one – and perhaps get an extra $75 (or more) for your efforts.

Windows 8 App Makeover Challenge

The Windows 8 App Makeover Challenge runs through January 1, 2014, and the rules are straightforward:

  1. Be a US resident (at least 18 years old) and a student in an accredited US educational institution,
  2. Have published a Windows 8 application between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013,
  3. Update your application per the criteria in the Terms and Conditions of the challenge,
  4. Submit your modified app as a NEW application to the Windows Store,
  5. Once your “make-over” app has been approved, visit http://aka.ms/AppMakeoverSubmission and submit the online entry form.

There’s no limit to the number of applications you can make over, but only the first 1500 apps that meet the criteria will be eligible for the $75 Amazon Gift Cards.

Who’s on 8: Save Recipes

Being on vacation for a couple of weeks has given me some extra time to check out new apps in the store, and I thought I’d share a recent find by one of our more prolific developers, Matt Ruffell of MDR Applications in upstate New York.

Save Recipes by MDR ApplicationsSave Recipes does exactly what it says – allows you to store your favorite recipes from friends, grandma, and all those cooking reality shows right on your Windows 8 “sous chef” slate in the kitchen! This app also comes with a backup and restore feature to SkyDrive so you’re not at risk of losing your culinary collection.

Matt has published the app with a free (30-day) trial – a best practice for any paid application. In fact, around a year ago, the Windows Phone team published some statistics indicating that paid apps with a trial were downloaded 70 more times than paid apps without a trial and came with around a 10% conversion rate to the full version, a majority within a day after downloading the trial.

I’ve yet to meet Matt in person, but have conversed with him numerous times over the past year or two beginning when his Windows Phone app, Cool Tools, first caught my attention.  That was one of his first Windows 8 apps and as I’m writing this, Cool Tools for Windows 8 also appears as the highlighted app for the Tools category on the Windows Store. So I guess double congratulations are due – nice job, Matt!

Publish Your Own "LetterMan" in the Windows Store

Ok, I admit it: LetterMan holds a special place in my heart. It was the first app I published in the Windows Store, and it’s how I cut my teeth on Scirra’s Construct 2.

LetterMan was also the basis of four additional apps I published, each leveraging the same game logic but offering bilingual play in English and each of Portuguese, Spanish, Turkish, and German (all with the help of volunteer translators).  Together, I’ve had more than 4000 downloads and 22 ratings with an average of about 3.75. Alas these are free apps, so I haven’t yet quit my day job!

Screenshot from German version of LetterMan

I had grand plans for a Latin version and even a “geek” version, but also realized there are a host of other apps that could arise – fueled by all of you multi-linguists out there.

So rather that hoard all the fun myself, I’ve open“open-sourced” the template I used for each of these applications and provided detailed instructions for you to create your own localized versions of the game and likewise get published in the Windows Store.

You’ll need to do a bit of work translating some text and, of course, finding images of objects starting with the various letters of your target language’s alphabet, but there are lot of public domain and Creative Commons repositories that can help (assuming you’re as graphically challenged as I).

For my apps, I made heavy use of the following sites for the graphics and background music:

  • clker.com – for vector-based, public domain clip art (there’s even an in-browser SVG editor you can use to make modifications to existing assets)
  • soundbible.com – sound effects (public domain and Creative Commons)
  • incompetech.com – royalty-free background music requiring only attribution within the application (something already accounted for in the template)

I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with, so be sure to add a comment to this blog post if you’re planning to undertake a new language version. And definitely let me know when your app is live in the store!

Lastly, don’t hesitate to drop me a note if something about the template or the instructions isn’t clear.

Publish Your First Game – Hartford, Sept. 28

I am somewhat of a rarity – a geek that’s not really a gamer (well, unless you count Wordament with my 40 1st place finishes, w00t!), but for those of you that are and/or aspire to bring your own game concepts to life, plan to attend the FREE Windows 8 Game Development for Beginners workshop this Saturday, Sept. 28th, at the Microsoft Farmington Office.

Even if you have no software development background, you’ll be able to quickly grasp how to create a casual game using Construct 2 and package it for submission to the Windows Store. I’ve done that a few times – check out Letterman for instance, but don’t be fooled by how simplistic that one looks. With the same tool, another developer (with considerably more artistic skills than I) created the stunning Mortar Melon app (below) that’s on both Windows 8 and Windows Phone.

Mortar Melon - built with Construct 2

So set aside a few hours this coming Saturday (10 a.m. – 2 p.m.), bring your laptop with Windows 8 (or even Windows 7), and join me and Josh for a fun and informative session.

Lunch is on us!

And if you have teens or preteens that might be interested in taking part bring them along too. At past workshops in Farmington and elsewhere, we’ve had several parent-child teams participate. After all, the family that codes together….