This article was published on March 30, 2012

Day One: Belly flopping into Windows Phone app development

Day One: Belly flopping into Windows Phone app development
Alex Wilhelm
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Alex Wilhelm

Alex Wilhelm is a San Francisco-based writer. You can find Alex on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can reach Alex via email at [email protected] Alex Wilhelm is a San Francisco-based writer. You can find Alex on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can reach Alex via email at [email protected]

The modern-day gold rush is apps. Apps for this, apps for that. Apps for everything. Apps for apps, even. Everyone wants an app. If you are not a developer, as your humble servant isn’t, these apps are somewhat mystical, as are the tools that are used to build them. What’s a XAML?

Now, because it’s my job to understand every facet of technology at all times, I know some jargon, and I have a goodly number of developer friends. But I can’t code myself out a paper bag. Besides some self-taught C++ about a decade ago (I was 12), I don’t know a darn thing. I’ve decided to change that.

This is an introductory post to my journey of creating and publishing a Windows Phone app. Why Windows Phone? It’s my daily mobile OS, and Microsoft has a pretty good set of guides for folks like me to dive in with. If this series is popular, TNW will probably repeat the process for both iOS and Android with other editors who can’t code. You get to watch us trip, fall, get up, and fall again.

For fairness, I’m doing this blind. I could call up Microsoft and have someone at Redmond Skype me through the process, but that would be no fun. I’m not taking help of any sort that is not readily available for everyone.


I did some quick Googling and landed here, a website that is designed to help students get started with Windows Phone development. I graduated two weeks ago, but since I don’t walk until June, I figured Microsoft wouldn’t mind. The website will ask if you are a ‘basic’ or ‘advanced’ student. I was hoping for something below basic, but apparently that’s as slow as they go.

You are given a guide, which prompts you to head here, where you download a huge package of development tools. I have no idea what I installed, but it was more than a half gigabyte of stuff. Tools. I’ll figure them out eventually. I don’t think that seasoned developers understand how intimidating these apps are. Endless rows of buttons that make no sense are only part of the fun.

Whatever the case, I installed the apps, glanced at the liquor shelf, and dove in.

App One

I decided to follow a guide for my first app, since I don’t know a damn thing. It seemed to make sense. If you want to code along, I used this guide. Here’s what Visual Studio looks like when you are using it:

Like I said, there’s a lot going on. Also, as it turns out, you have to bounce around various number of pages when developing. Buttons have their own page of code, for example, which apparently compiles with the larger unit. It’s actually rather neat and orderly; things are in their own boxes.

So here’s how it went down. I followed the guide my first time, mostly. I changed some things, including the app name (mine was funnier: “oh god help me”). Result: the app no funcio. I’m not sure which thing I changed broke the beast, but something did. As debugging the C# button controls is a bit outside of my skill level, I did it all over again. This time I followed the rules to the tiddle. It worked.

Here’s the result:

Yeah, yeah. It’s ugly. But it compiles.


The guides that Microsoft has produced work, but if you know nothing they can still be tricky. Some directions are easy to mess up. For example:

I messed that up a few times, deleting some } and {s by accident. I had to pull the code from the example to fix what I mangled. I felt like a toddler trying to master walking: I was trying to learn everything at once, with no foundation. I’m glad no one was peering over my shoulder.

After some experimentation, here’s my day one conclusion: this stuff isn’t simple, and when you don’t understand something, or can’t find a command, it can be frustrating. But so far as I can tell, you can learn on your own if you put in the time.

Next up: I’m going to play with this more tonight, and over the next few days. When I have my first app that I designed coded, I’ll share some thoughts on that as well. My third post in this series will be the announcement of my publishing something decent to the Windows Phone Marketplace.

Alright, you can make fun of me now.

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