Yesterday was a long day to London, up at 4.00am for a 6.00am train with Dan Harris to London. A slight delay on the train, and we arrived to start at the Windows Phone Camp hosted by Lost Boys International.

WOW! What a place to work, the building had a very industrial theme to it, with art on the walls but the most noticeable bit was the fridges of beer, water and coca cola with a sign above them “Welcome to to LBi, help yourself”. What a great start to the day.

After registering and being lead downstairs there was even more insight into the good life that some of our counterparts at LBi enjoy, the break-out area was filled with pool tables, ping-pong tables couches, coffee tables, and a bar, complimented with more industrial meets 60’s diner decor. How do these guys manage to go home?

The first session was an introduction from Microsoft UK evangelist, Mike Ormond. Of all of the sessions in the day, I must say, I found this to be the most useful. It explained the overall design and development process. We were given some stencils and a design pack to help with designing our first Windows Phone apps. It was great to understand the differences between Pivot and Panorama views in Windows Phone apps, from my initial contact with the templates that come with Microsoft Expression Blend and Microsoft Visual Studio 2010, this was one of my key questions – they hadn’t immediately appeared all that different to each other – but now I find myself quite easily differentiating between parts of apps that are using each, and understanding why.

The rest of the day was then broken into lecture style sessions, and opportunity to use the break-out area. I attended the Silverlight Toolkit session. It helped me understand how to implement transitions between screens/elements during page transition, and fundamentally how to navigate between screens (which hadn’t leapt out to me when first picking up Windows Phone development – just goes to show it’s worth coming along to some sort of training session/boot camp like this).

At lunch time there was an exciting announcement for the Windows Phone Camp attendees that there’s a Nokia Lumia 800 for each of us so that we can test our apps if we can send the details of our apps over to them. Fantastic! Inspiration or what? I’ve had a number of ideas on my list for a couple of months now, since getting my own Windows Phone (see my other posts for my experience with that). Now was the time to get started on putting one together based on what I’ve learnt.

I took a break to get to work and met the excellent founders of Very friendly people, and not only did they direct me to an excellent repository of Windows Phone development news and advice (their website of course), but after finding what I’d look for in a repository of useful tools, showed me what they have to offer on their website. It sounds like it fits my requirements of a great free software component repository – free (truly), and includes community rating so I get a good understanding of whether the component is the correct one to use.

Within the hour I’d made fantastic progress on my first Windows Phone application development, an app to monitor/manage the status of MyDigitalMedia’s Kentico customer’s websites. This is a common requirement, and this functionality is normally available via the Kentico CMS built in Site Manager, but that doesn’t render very well for mobile use, which is when I usually get most of my calls from my customers. That 5.00pm call after I’ve left the office, saying they can’t get to their website. And usually, my answer is, I’ll check in the next 30 minutes when I can fire up my laptop, connect the mobile broadband and get onto the site manager. What better way to quickly get an answer for my customer than to check the app… whilst they’re on hold! That’s customer service if you ask me.

My experience, being a .NET developer, I’m currently working with WPF & Silverlight, WCF, WF, WinForms, WebForms, Windows Services and Web Services, so I have a fairly wide set of skills… picking up Windows Phone Development has actually been really quite easy.

I don’t think if I’d dumped myself in the deep end with WPF and Silverlight over the last 12 months, getting to grips with XAML I’d have found it as easy to adopt as I have, and my recent change in behaviour to using Microsoft Expression for UI exclusively and Visual Studio 2010 for code exclusively has certainly made my application creation progress so quickly. Infact, within just 3 hours I had the Windows Phone components of my application complete. I’ve only got to develop/finish the web service now that will read the status information from Kentico, and update as necessary.

Back to the day, I attended an excellent session hosted by Pete Vickers of Appa Mundi, on how to get your app into shape for submission to the Marketplace, including a full walkthrough of both testing your applications, the tools that you can use to test your apps yourself, and the extensive testing that Microsoft will carry out to certify your application before publication to the Marketplace as well as the actual submission process. A both useful, and well presented session by Pete, to finish off the day.

Back out onto the streets, we had a few hours to see the Tower Bridge in the snow before heading back on the train, by which point we were all very knackered and struggling to keep our eyes open I think.

A very worthwhile day, and I’m now all excited about my first app development.

I remember about a year ago someone asking me why I bother developing websites, and end-to-end business solutions… they told me that phone apps are the easiest way to make money at the moment.

Whilst I still disagree with them, I can see opportunity to make some money out of developing Windows Phone apps for the marketplace, but the main thing is I enjoy developing the full end-to-end solution for our customers. Providing them with a full answer to their business problems, rather than just a small piece of the jigsaw. I see developing apps for the Windows Phone platform fitting into this, and providing me with more ways to deliver the solutions that my customers demand in more ways than ever.

Posted: 05/02/2012 13:33:58 by Kurt Farrar | with 1 comments

Pinning people and groups

This is a fantastic and innovative way to keep up with what friends, family and colleagues are up to.
Out of the box (once you've added an account for your social network) it has a people hub that brings together activities and photos for all of your social network contacts into one place. This is great in itself.... However there's also the option to pin one of these contacts to your start page which shows you their current picture and latest update on the live tile, but then also allows you to select that person to see their posts across all of your social networks and to view images that they've posted too.

To take this a step further, you can create a group (such as family, for example), put contacts into the group and pin the group to the start page, and again you can see all posts from that group of people. This could be a great way of keep up to date on developments in your industry, or key players in your industry. A fantastic feature in my opinion.

Saving a number to the phonebook

I found this frustrating. I had someone call me yesterday. They weren't in my phone book, so I went to save them (as I normally would) and couldn't find an option to create a new contact from a recently dialled or received call. I thought this was pretty basic functionality included in the £15 talk and text pay as you go phones you can get at the moment.
I couldn't even find the ability to copy and paste that number.
I ultimately resorted to writing the number down and rekeying it in to the new contact. Frustrating to say the least.
Thanks to Dan Harris, I've now found how to save the number. It was obvious that I could tap the number. I'd tried tapping and holding and could only see a button to call the number. Oh well... Lesson learnt... Seems easy now I know how. 


These seem to be a little bit more flexible than they are on iOS, probably to the same degree as they are on BBOS6. There's plenty of system tools that fill some of the gaps such as quickly toggling the WiFi and Bluetooth off/on (Toggle), the sort of customisation that I only saw in iOS when it was jailbroken.

Apps generally seem to be more expensive on the Windows Phone platform. I don't know the reasoning behind this. For paid apps, you're generally looking at about 2-3 times more with a fair number of games being around the £4.50 - £5.00 mark while I would normally expect these games to be to be around £1.99. Similarly, 99p games on iOS are retailing for around £2.50 on Windows Phone. I don't know whether this is the same for the rest of the world, and whether this has anything to do with any additional licensing costs to link the app in with Xbox Live. 

Some favourite apps already

I know this is a Windows Phone 7.5 review/experience, but if you take any mobile OS on their functions and don't consider their app ecosystem then Symbian and BBOS would be ranking as high as Windows Phone, iOS and Android, so I thought I'd cover some of the gems I've found as I go along.

I've got 2 favourites so far, Lync 2010 and Diarist. 

Lynx 2010 is a mobile client for Lync Server and Lync Online. You must have one or the other to use it. Fortunately for us, Lync Online comes with our Office 365 service (if you're interested in more info about this, give me a shout).
Lynx is a corporate IM application, on the desktop it allows online meetings, desktop sharing, integrates with VoIP systems and more. I've been fond of this system since it was Microsoft Office Communicator, having (like others) experienced the benefits of Windows Live Messenger and it's predecessor MSN Messenger, both aimed more at the consumer market.
This app works well and like most things I've experienced with WP7 so far, looks great.
Diarist is a little app I've found for writing blog posts, which makes writing this one easier on the move. It works with the MetaBlog API which Kentico CMS uses (we like Kentico, we're Gold Partners). It's free and well worth a try if you want to post while on the move.

The URL format for setting up a Kentico Blog with Diarist is:
http://<application path>/CMSModules/Blogs/CMSPages/MetaWeblog.ashx

General look and feel

I'm really liking the high contrast appearance of apps, and the really wide apps that you only see a small portion of at a time. I didn't think I would, so it really is a pleasant surprise. It's great to see that app makers have all bought into this too by creating their apps in the same style. We'll see if I'm still saying that in 29 days time.
Posted: 14/12/2011 20:44:46 by Kurt Farrar | with 2 comments


Following the BIS issues this summer in the UK and the rest of the world we looked at how we could make ourselves a little bit more resilient. Afterall, losing access to mobile e-mail for a number of days had a significant impact on our business and the way we respond to our customers.

For those who don't know, the problems largely affected BlackBerry's BIS service (BlackBerry Internet Service) which provides internet access, BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) and push mail. Though it did have some impact on BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server) service, this was largely limited to BBM messages that needed to be handed from BES users to BIS users. 

Anwyay, the technicalities over, we looked initially at moving our BlackBerry smartphones to BES to make them more resilient. At this point we found that Vodafone have been selling us some sort of substandard service. We've found (for a while) that pushed e-mails don't come through as quickly as they used to when BlackBerry smartphones first became mainstream. We didn't expect that switching to BES would restore our service level to the same as it used to be. E-mails come through immediately rather than up to 15 minutes later.

Anyway, you're by this point probably thinking that this blog post was supposed to be about Windows Phone 7.5. Bear with me, I'm getting there... I thought it worth explaining why we're looking at Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango" at all.

We've previously used Apple iPhones, and although they're very responsive devices and have a number of apps available for them, the lack of a hardware keyboard means I waste far too much time correcting what I'm typing rather than just typing it. Switching from an iPhone 4 to a BlackBerry Torch 9800 would a good thing in this regards.

Having found that we've been provided with a bit of a duff service since we switched to a BlackBerry, I felt this was the icing on the cake following the summer outages and we started to look at alternative platforms.

The options

Following our move to BlackBerry, we found that things were FAR better with a hardware keyboard and a touch-screen combined, so this was a requirement of whatever we moved to.

What platforms were available in the market? We'll there iOS, Android and Windows Phone. I personally don't like Android... it feels too cheap, device makers aren't consistent enough, devices generally have poor battery life from what I've seen, and because the platform is so open, it's far too easy a target for malware creators, whether they already have, or are going to create viruses, spyware, trojans etc.

So that left us with Windows Phone 7 (7.5 the current version). Now to find one with a hardware keyboard.

We liked vertical slide of the BlackBerry Torch 9800, so that helped to limit the choice... to 1 handset.

Dell Venue Pro

I was surprised that there's only 1 device running Windows Phone 7.5 with a vertical slide keyboard, and it's like gold dust in the UK. Sure you can buy a brand-new sim free device direct from Dell, but if you want a pre-owned one, then they're really hard to get hold of. Whether this is a good sign, or not, we'll surely find out during the 30 days that I plan to run this series of blog posts for - seeing as that's how long I'm told I seem to keep a mobile phone for. 

First experience

This was actually a little more painful than I expected. The user interface is very intuitive, but I got stuck at the first hurdle adding my e-mail account, and downloading apps from the Marketplace. It just wouldn't happen. 

We run Office 365 for our enterprise e-mail, contacts, calendar and tasks etc. so it's nice to see that the phone has support for Office 365 out of the box, including task synchronisation (normally requires a third party app on other mobile platforms). So why wouldn't my account work?

A few minutes later, I tried adding my Windows Live account to the device, at this point I got a message saying that the date/time on the device is wrong and that it should be corrected before attempting to add the Windows Live account. Sure enough, the time was way out, obviously the result of a factory reset.

This seemingly was preventing the device from doing any sort of communication with server-side components, such as Marketplace and Office 365. 

Anyway, date/time sorted, I'm pleased to report that everything else has gone smoothly. 

I've run through the installation of pretty much every app that I'd actually made use of on my iPhone, and BlackBerry was only every running a small sub-set of those (given the limited nature of BlackBerry's AppWorld). Installation was a doddle. I've even installed a few apps that I didn't have before. 

At this point, I want to play with the device a little to understand it. There's a few features that I want to look at more. I've had a glimpse with what I've done with the device so far, but I want to see more such as:
  • Pinning people and groups to the start page
  • The people hubs and the way that they bring social networks into one place
  • Lync 2010 client (although it's not part of Windows Phone 7.5, it's in the marketplace so I want to play)
  • Microsoft Office
  • SharePoint integration
I'll hopefully cover these in a little more detail in tomorrow's post. So far my first impressions of this device and platform are very positive, perhaps a little more positive than I expected. 

Check back for another post tomorrow to see if I'm still as pleased.
Posted: 13/12/2011 19:33:07 by Kurt Farrar | with 0 comments

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