Windows 8 App Development: Getting Started

windows8appdevelopmentAlthough Windows 8 has received mixed reviews from experienced Windows users, the release of Windows 8.1 brings back the “Start” button among other features that were disappointingly missing from the original Windows 8 release. Microsoft Windows 8 breaks down many of the new features you may not be familiar with.

Combined with the popularity of some of the recent Windows Phone 8 devices being introduced to the market, the Windows 8 platform is expected to grow a lot in coming months. Whether you have current mobile programming experience (such as iOS or Android) or you are a complete novice, Windows 8 offers programmers a unique toolkit and lots of features to make creating your own Windows 8 apps very easy

Getting Started

One thing that is unique about programming for Windows 8 is that you are not confined to a single programming language. Comparatively, iOS programmers only use Objective-C and Android programmers only use Java.

As a Windows 8 app developer, you can use JavaScript, Visual Basic, C #, C++ or a combination of these to create stunning applications for both desktop and mobile devices. In fact, even people with a web design background can successfully transition into Windows app development using HTML5 and CSS as the backbone of their applications.

If you are just starting out, using JavaScript is the easiest way to start creating apps. Introduction to JavaScript teaches you the techniques you need to create Windows 8 apps and much more.

As you become more experienced, C++ is the native language used by the Windows framework and is a very powerful programming tool.  You can learn more about using C++ for game development in this course.

Creating your own Windows apps is relatively easy. Microsoft has made getting started inexpensive and straightforward. The only thing you will have to spend money on is a Windows 8 computer (if you don’t have one already).

Most functional Windows Vista and Windows 7 computers are fully compatible with Windows 8; although you may want a touchscreen interface to test your applications. A brand-new, touchscreen Windows 8 laptop or all-in-one can be acquired for less than $500. This is a small price to pay to begin creating applications that can be used by such a wide reaching customer base.

With computer in hand, you only need to download Microsoft Visual Studio Express 2012 for Windows 8 and Blend for Visual Studio. Both of these tools are free to use and easy to install.

When you run Visual Studio for the first time, it requires a developer license. Fortunately, this is also free and can be obtained by simply following the prompts of your Visual Studio installation.

That’s it! Your computer is ready to begin creating Windows 8 applications. Remember, you can use a variety of programming languages to create your app thanks to the Visual Studio IDE.

App Development

If you thought setting up your computer for Windows 8 app development was simple, wait until you try creating an application. Visual Studio has historically been an excellent beginner’s platform thanks to its intuitive GUI and WYSIWYG editor.

An extensive list of easy to use APIs simplifies the layout and presentation of your application. Using the designer tools built into Visual Studio or Blend for Visual Studio, you can create powerful user interfaces quickly. For further control, you can directly manipulate HTML or XAML.  A good HTML refresher course is the HTML Prep Course.

Another unique feature about Windows 8 applications is how easy it is to share content with other apps. Users can share content from one app to another as long as the app sharing the contents supports a source contract (by meeting specific requirements) and the app receiving the shared content supports a target contract (again by meeting specific requirements).

As a developer, you do not need to know anything about the target app other than its declared support for the target contract. Basically, sharing content between applications can’t be any simpler and this is definitely one area where Windows 8 trumps competitive platforms.

In addition to creating the UI and functional components of your application, you should also create a functional tile for your app. A tile, in case you’re not familiar, is used in Windows 8 instead of traditional icons. What’s great about tiles is that they are interactive – providing your users with a much more engaging experience.

The tile for your app can display notifications and other information relevant to the content within your app to users as they glance through the Metro UI (Windows 8 Crash Course explains Metro UI in greater detail). This powerful feature can really help your app stand out from other applications and provide a much smoother and fulfilling experience for users.

In order to target mobile devices (such as tablets), Windows 8 app development supports the use of up to eight different sensors including accelerometers, inclinometers, gyrometers, compasses, ambient light, orientation, and geographic location (GPS) sensors. This really opens up new opportunities for app development as more and more consumers lean toward a mobile platform including tablets and Windows 8 smartphones.

Getting Your App Ready for the Windows Store

After you have created your application, take a few minutes to use the Windows App Certification Kit. This is a requirement before your app can be published to the Windows Store. The kit helps you identify potential problems before submitting your app to Microsoft.

Like any other mobile platform, Microsoft wants to make sure your app provides genuine value to users. As such, applications that do nothing other than display advertisements are prohibited. All apps must also comply with content policies designed for a global audience.

The Windows App Certification Kit also makes sure that your app is free of programming errors and that it provides a uniform user experience across the various processor types supported.

This tool is also free and is a great way to save some time before submitting to the Windows Store and possibly being rejected for failure to comply with Microsoft policies.

The Windows Store gives you powerful analytical tools that let you track the performance of your app once it is available for download. App adoption, usage, quality, and financial performance can all be viewed instantly using the Windows Store interface. These tools make it easy for you to discover failure points or crashes and figure out how to make your app more profitable. Build Your Own App Business from Home teaches you how to create apps and market them successfully.

It’s no secret that iOS and Android still hold the market share for mobile devices. However, the fact that your Windows 8 applications can be used on desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones means that your potential audience is much larger. Combined with recent software updates to all Windows 8 releases, your experience in Windows 8 app development can set you apart as a “ground level” programmer on this powerful, yet easy to use, platform.