It takes an ecosystem

This is my simple tale of how two people with an idea and no programming skills conceived, developed and launched a smartphone app in just a few weeks’ time. …And how it would never have happened without development tools AND PEOPLE committed to helping others express themselves through code. Here goes…

My wife is a spectacular yoga teacher – and, in support of that, I have from time to time worked with her to produce DVD’s – typically planned to ship around her birthday, May 8 (you can see a sample of our handiwork on Amazon at Introduction to Qi-Yoga).

We had a lot of fun working on these and, while sales were modest, they were global and the reviews were universally positive – given the fact that I knew nothing at all about video/sound editing/production before our first project – we were happy with our results.

None of this would have been possible without the help of Apple who, with their FinalCut tools, broke the back of high-end (expensive, complex) video editing workstation vendors (like Avid). Apple made it possible for non-professionals (like me) to produce professional video content.

…but DVD’s are so 2008 – smartphones are where it’s at now – right?

My wife agreed – the world needed a yoga App for that!

And given Apple’s dominance of the smartphone market, this should be a snap – right?

Sadly, that proved to be very very wrong.

It turns out that Apple does not love the development world in the same way that they loved the design world. Ironically, Apple is actually the “Avid” of smartphone development. In point of fact, it’s been Microsoft that’s been having a long term love affair with development all these years…

…Enter Windows Phone 7.

A little over a month ago, I approached my wife with the idea for developing a yoga app that does more than push content – we wanted one that actually paired poses with everyday situations and delivered just the right amount of information at just the right time. She loved the idea and we went to work – she developed the knowledgebase and I was tasked with writing the code – but the fly in the ointment was that I had not written a line of code in over 20 years (and trust me, comparing 80’s programming tools to today’s is like comparing a cassette tape player to a MP3 player) – I was now an absolute beginner.

The only advantage that I had was that I was aware of the software, training, and social resources that Microsoft and their partners were pushing. Here is how we did it… (to be clear – I have made NO attempt to build a comprehensive list of WP7 resources – there are lots of those out there – the following are the specific steps and resources that I used. )

1) Download the development tools from Microsoft and join the App Hub here.

2) Download analytics from PreEmptive Solutions here.

3) I signed up for a promotion from Telerik to get their controls for free. Their components were awesome and the support was fantastic (meaning patient with me). Go here

Then I had to get started…. Remember, I had no C# or .NET development skills – so I began with

4) Windows Phone 7 Development for Absolute Beginners.

While I did not go back to these videos once I got rolling (video is just too slow to navigate around), these were essential to getting me started.

5) The following specific links include lots of sample code and all levels of instruction (from step-by-step to technical reference manual level) – the ability to be spoon-fed and then drill down when you need a specific piece of detail is what made it possible for me to avoid having to learn what professional developers have to learn.

* Building a Windows Phone 7 Application from Start to Finish 

* MSDN Blogs > Silverlight SDK 

* The APP HUB blogs, community and resources

Where am I now?

I built and tested my app and submitted it to the Marketplace on May 10. On May 12th, my app officially hit the Microsoft Marketplace (it hasn’t even been 24 hours yet).

If you have a Windows Phone – check out A Pose for That now.

Now comes the next question – when it came to our DVD’s, Apple did nothing to help us promote our video – they only made it possible to produce it. I will be writing more to cover what works (and what doesn’t) when it comes to marketing a WP7 app.

The ecosystem is more than a platform and more than “a village” – It’s both

Before I end my tale, I must shout out to the people who helped us along the way (I am not giving full names since I have not asked permission). Everyone here helped me on their own time just because they are passionate about the platform. They were David and Bill from PreEmptive, Valio from Telerik, David from Wirestone, Pierre from VinoMatch, and Gergely from Cocktail flow. Their shared tribal knowledge shortened this project and improved the result – of course, I take full responsibility for all mistakes and hacks.

Microsoft has long understood the value of a development ecosystem, but I don’t think even they would have predicted how transformational a development-centered approach could become with the emergence of the smartphone. I know that there are lots of factors going into the success or failure of Windows Phone 7, but the value of Microsoft’s focus on helping non-professional developers produce professional-grade code cannot be overstated.

My wife and I already have our product roadmap down – there’s a lot more to come – look out!