Develop Your Windows 8 App – Resources, Tools and Tips

Learn the essential tips for successful Windows 8 app development. Improve your skills and create better apps with our expert advice.

The Windows 8 app market is booming, according to MetroScore Scanner, there are now more than 100,000 apps in the Windows 8 app store, twice the number of apps that were available just a mere three months prior. A great catalyst to the fast growth was probably due to the reward system launched by Microsoft to entice developers to submit good apps to the Windows Store.

While far from the 700,000 apps in the Play Store and 850,000 iOS apps in the App store, 100,000 apps in the Windows Store means your Win 8 app stands a great chance of standing out. There’s never been a better time to create a Windows 8 app. Plus, it’s also a lot easier to do than you think, and you don’t even have to know how to code.

To Build A Windows 8 App

If you’re a Windows developer then you’ll already have everything you need to create a Windows app, which means there’s no steep learning curve, and there’s no need to spend a fortune on new coding tools.

If you’re not then you’ll need a copy of Microsoft Visual Studio Express 2012 for Windows 8 it’s free and available to download from Microsoft. And a of course you’ll need a copy of Windows 8.

ms visual studio express

If you’re a Mac user then you’ll be pleased to hear that you can build Windows 8 apps on Mac. Microsoft is so keen for everyone to produce Windows apps that they’ve created a helpful page to show users how to build Windows 8 apps using a Mac.

Coding Skills Required?

If you want to write your own code, then you’ll need knowledge of either a web development language like HTML5, CSS and JavaScript, or a conventional programming language, such as C++, C# or Visual Basic (VB.NET) and XAML.

If you’re unfamiliar with any of those languages then there’s a free ebook Programming Windows 8 Apps with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript from Microsoft Press, that covers everything you need to know to build a Windows 8 app. There are also a handful of sample apps and chunks of code that you can download and cut and paste to make things easier.

Building ‘Touch First’

While the coding is similar the interface is something new altogether. The Windows Modern user interface (UI) was designed for touch screens, and works in a different way than the standard Windows UI that we’ve grown used to.

Microsoft wants app designers to design for ‘touch first’. Developers will need to think in a more graphical way and consider things, such as the increasing the spacing between links on the app (fingers are ‘larger’ than a mouse pointer making links that are too close together difficult to click on).

The upshot of this ‘touch first’ design requirement is that you will probably need to spend a bit longer on the design than you would on a normal desktop application.

Additionally if you’re going to produce an app for Windows Phone 8 devices you will also need to consider what the app will look like on different devices and in different orientations e.g. a small portrait-format screen rather than the normal landscape screen you get on a PC.

Mastering Windows 8 Design

If this sounds tricky then there are a few very useful web pages and books available that can help you get to grips with the Modern design. The Planning Windows Store apps pages on MSDN are a good starting point and will guide you through all the things you’ll need to consider before designing your app.

Additionally the Design Guidance for Windows Store apps pages give some user experience guidelines as well as information on things like:

  • how to organise content
  • where to place your common commands like copy, paste
  • what commands go in the app bar or in Charms
  • what touch gestures to use
  • where to place advertising if you need it

Testing Apps With App Certification Kit

Once you’re happy with your design and you’ve created your code for the app you need to test the app. To help test the app Microsoft has created the Windows App Certification Kit which analyses your applications code and tests the app for reliability, performance, adherence to Windows security features as well as conducting a test to see if the app conforms to the Windows 8 Modern UI.

windows app certification kit

Note if you’re thinking of creating an app for the Windows RT then there are additional tests that you need to consider.

Submitting your app to the store

After testing, the next stage is to submit it to the Windows Store for approval and to do this you will need a Windows Store account.

Getting A Windows Store Account

You can get a free account if you are:

  • A student: You can get one through the dreamspark programme
  • A start-up: You can get one through the BizSpark programme
  • An MSDN Subscriber: Go to your MSDN Subcription dashboard where you will find an item called Windows Store Developer Account.

If you don’t fit into any of these categories then you’ll need to buy a developer account, and to do that you select Project > Store > Open Developer Account on the Visual Studio Express menu.

It’s $49 (£31.50) for an individual and $99 (£63.67) for a business.

Submitting The App

Submitting the app for approval is the final stage of the process. You need to upload the app to the store where it’s then tested and the code investigated. Unfortunately like the majority of approval processes there’s no set time scale, it all depends on how many apps are submitted and how complicated your app is.

At the very least you should build in time at the end of the project for a couple of approval cycles, hopefully if you have followed all the guidelines it will be approved at the first try. But if your app fails you will need to factor time in to fix the problem, then resubmit.

Congratulations! You Have A Windows 8 App!

Once the app is approved it will be added to the Windows store and that’s where the next journey starts. If you’re very lucky it may get picked up by the store’s editors and made a favourite app; if it isn’t then you’ll need to start promoting it on your own — and that’s a whole new article for another day.