Windows 8 Development Tips #4: Use a lot of apps

A great composer will probably have been exposed to a wide variety of music before composing their first symphony.  A best-selling author has most likely read many novels before penning their masterpiece.  Software development is no different from these examples.  In fact, given how different developing for the Windows Store is compared to creating classic desktop apps, it is even more important to explore the apps that ship with Windows 8 and the apps that are already available on the Windows Store before writing your own.  Since there is a lot to explore, I'll give you some examples of what to look for while you're poking around.

(Previous tips can be found here.)

Use a lot of apps

Things to pay attention to

While it is important to familiarize yourself with the new Windows UI your applications will live in, it can be easy to get overwhelmed with all of the new concepts.  Microsoft has introduced new ways to perform many common tasks and provided an infrastructure in which content may need to be presented in different ways than in the past.  Keep in mind while trying a bunch of apps that the goal is to find ideas and concepts to use in your own application.  With that mindset, here are some things to look for as you browse.

Common interaction paradigms

Pay attention to how things like app commands and system integration are handled.  Here are some questions to ask for each application you try:

  • Does the application use the App Bar at the bottom or the navigation bar at the top for anything?  
  • What types of things does this app include in its Settings charm?  
  • Does the application allow its content to be shared and if so, what format does it share it in?
  • Can the app's content be searched and if so, how does it present search results?
  • Does the app use Semantic Zoom?

Information hierarchy/presentation

Take a look at how the content is structured in the app.  Use the following questions to guide you:

  • Does the application use a hub?  If so, how is the information presented at each level of the hub?
  • Does the app use a flat navigation system?  If so, how does it use the navigation bar?
  • Does the app use filtering or header menus to help navigate the content?

Use of photography and bold colors

 Does the app make use of photography or colors in compelling ways?  For example, the News application uses photography to catch the user's eye:

News app use of photo

New concepts

Be on the lookout for new concepts that aren't described in the documentation.  These fresh ideas are what will push the platform forward.  For example, the OneNote application uses a radial menu to present contextual commands:

OneNote Radial Menu

Summary

Make sure you explore the applications that ship with Windows 8 and the ones on the Windows Store.  Many of these applications are free or inexpensive.  Install a lot of them.  Try them out.  Learn what works and doesn't work and bring those findings into your own application.  You will end up with a much better application if you take some time up front to do this.

Contact

If you have any questions or comments, please comment below or find me on Twitter @brentschooley. You can also email me at bschooley@infragistics.com.


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