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New server, new design

POSTED BY Luigi Violin ON

I’ve started moving my websites to a new server I got: WP7applist came first and now it’s my blog’s turn. For the record, I went from a small dedicated server in Italy, to a pretty good VPS in the UK with Xtraordinary Hosting, and the performance increase have been impressive so far!

With the move, I took the chance to update the blog’s design and drop the pre-made theme I had in favour of a new one I designed. Nothing fancy, but you can tell it’s strongly inspired to the Metro UI which I literally love lately so yeah.. I’m pretty happy of the results so far.

Oh and if you’re reading this it also means that your DNS cache has been updated and you’re indeed browsing the brand new server. Things should be smoother from now on!

New gamercard, more designs likely coming

POSTED BY Luigi Violin ON

People have been using my Xbox Live gamercards ever since I first released them a few years ago, and traffic has grown substantially when MGC decided to close down their services ( :( ).

I’ve been actually debating for a while whether I should move my gamercard generator to its own domain, polish it up a little bit (or better yet, A LOT), add more layouts and styles etc.. I’m still not sure if that will happen but I do like doing gamercards.. a lot! So I’ll definitely try to improve them in the short term.
For a start, enjoy a new gamercard design, specifically designed for forum sigs. It’s quite obviously a tribute to the “new” xbox.com design, that I honestly like a lot.

Feel free to create your own and let me know what you think in the comments or via email. :)

WP7applist app reviews

POSTED BY Luigi Violin ON

I love getting users feedback on my projects, and this tends to be pretty easy on mobile apps.

It’s nice and rewarding to read comments such as “best marketplace app so far”, “awesome app, much better organized than marketplace”, “thanks guys for rekindling my interest in WP7apps” (!), and it’s invalueable to find out that for some “the live tile does not update”, “the live tile is broken, never changes”, “fix the live updates for a better rating”. Yes, I can see a trend there, in fact I have a fix ready in the next update (currently under testing at Microsoft).

One thing I really love is when people take the time to write an in-depth review, exploring all of the possibilities and – in case of mobile apps – take a short clip of the app in action for a video review. There were some awesome people doing that for WP7applist, and I’d like to say THANKS to each one of them. So here are some reviews I could find so far:

[Preview] WP7applist app for Windows Phone

POSTED BY Luigi Violin ON

This is coming out pretty good, hopefully the screenshots will give you an idea of what you will get!

I should be ready to ship it in a few more days, feel free to leave thoughts and suggestions in the comments or via email. :)

 

[UPDATE] this is now available in the Zune Marketplace worldwide, give it a try!

http://wp7applist.com/en-US/app/18166/wp7applist

 

Add a Live Tile to your app in 3 minutes

POSTED BY Luigi Violin ON

As a follow up to my latest blog post, I want to show how easy it is to have a working Live Tile for your app. Here it is in brief:

  1. 1- create a static image or a webservice returning one (optimal size is 173×173 px), have it available on the web
  2. 2- include the following code snippet in your Application_Launching method
    new ShellTileSchedule
    {
    RemoteImageUri = new Uri(@"http://yourwebsite.com/pathtoimageorwebservice"),
    Recurrence = UpdateRecurrence.Interval,
    Interval = UpdateInterval.EveryHour,
    MaxUpdateCount = 0,
    StartTime = DateTime.Now
    }.Start();
    
  3. 3- there’s no 3. Now how hard was that?

ShellTileSchedule is the easiest way to have your Live Tile up and running in no time. So where’s the catch you may ask? Well, I’d love to say there aren’t but that wouldn’t be true: here are a few points to pay attention to.

#1 the first tile update won’t happen until the specified time interval has passed, and ’1 hour’ is the shortest interval you can use. This doesn’t help with testing / fine tuning your Tile.

#2 the Windows Phone dev team itself suggests to put the code above in Application_launching, and this makes perfect sense on the first run of your app. One issue is that subsequent calls to the same method will re-schedule the update for 1 hour later. In this scenario, if your app is opened twice in 1 hour, the Tile update won’t happen.

#3 there’s no way to tell if the scheduler is active or if it has been deactivated (it happens without notice if it fails to download the pic 3 times). If there was, #2 wouldn’t be an issue.

What to do? Personally I’d just live with it, as the ‘Mango‘ update is supposed to give better and more stable tools to handle Live Tiles from a developer point of view.

One way to make #2 a smaller problem would be – for example – to run the initialization code just once every day, so that launching the app won’t re-schedule the update. In the event that it gets deactivated it would be fixed the next day.
But if you’re a perfectionist and got a lot of time in your hands, check out this blog post by Silverlight MVP Mark Monster, who provides a better (but more time consuming) solution to most of these issues.

WP7applist first major update now Live

POSTED BY Luigi Violin ON

I’ve been hard at work lately to have a few cool new features go live on WP7applist.com (my fansite dedicated to Windows Phone 7 and its Apps Marketplace). Some were ready from quite a long time but I decided to put them on hold and wait for the server move I had planned meanwhile.. well, now everything’s set up and if you visit the website you should see those nice new features, along with a more fast and responsive website!

Here’s a recap of the new stuff, and also a BIG thanks to Paul Acevedo, who covered the full story over at WPCentral.com.

  • Speed increases: The site has been moved to a faster server. Part of the frontend has been completely rewritten along with many “low level” functions that run the website, sometimes with a speed improvement of 600 percent!
  • ‘Inactive apps’ count unveiled: Sometimes apps get removed from the Marketplace, for a number of reasons. The “total number of apps” count previously included those apps. But now you can see the actual number of apps available.
  • Popularity: Every single app now gets two different ranks (global and category specific) based on the number of downloads. You can see it hovering the mouse on an app’s box in any list.
  • App details page has been reorganized in a tabbed interface; reviews now reside in their own tab.
  • You can now see app reviews for every locale / language and quickly switch between them.
  • Inactive app warning: when looking at any app’s details page, you will get a warning if the app isn’t available from the Marketplace at the moment.
  • ‘Paid with Trial’ has been added to “Paid vs Free” chart on the App Stats page.
  • Stars added in users reviews
  • ‘Remember me’ checkbox now available when logging in

Finally, let me say that having a great portal like WPCentral cover this kind of story about you and your work, makes you really think that you did something good at some point! That’s such a great feeling. Once again, thanks everyone for the support :)

 

Why WP7applist?

POSTED BY Luigi Violin ON

I bought my LG Optimus 7 as soon as it was available in stores in my country, and literally couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I’ve been a fan of Windows-powered mobile devices ever since I got a Dell Axim X5 back in 2002, but at the time I had an iPhone 3GS and I was pretty happy with it, so I really didn’t know which phone I would be carrying in my pocket the day after. Needless to say, I immediately feel in love with Windows Phone 7.

As I had used both an iPhone and an Android powered phone, I knew the importance of an ‘App Store’. Really, it’s the best thing that happened to mobile devices EVER, in my eyes. Thousands of developers countributing to a platform growth, and at the same time making some money with their apps, if not a living. I knew that the Windows Phone 7 Marketplace should have become a HUGE deal in order to contribute to the platform sucess.

And there it was in all of its glory: the first few apps were available for free downloading and/or purchasing, the growing croud of independent developers were all excited to start distributing their apps worldwide but.. wait, where am I supposed to get info about the apps and the Marketplace if I don’t have the Zune software installed, if I am on my Macbook, at an Internate Café, or at work? That’s right, pretty much nowhere. Could this really have been overlooked? Either way, I wanted a quick way for me to keep an eye on new apps releases, grab some info about the latest app I heard about, look up some app I wanted on my device, keep an eye on the Marketplace growth, etc.. These info were nowhere to be found, but they were surely lying somewhere.. ;)

That’s when the first prototype of what I call ‘the WP7 watcher’ was born: a few lines of code gave me all the info I was looking for at any time. But why would I have to keep that for myself?

So a tiny website came to life soon after, and the best thing about it was that almost everyone with a WP7 device seemed to like the idea, and find a reason to visit again. I’m pretty used to building websites for a ‘community’, most likely in exchange for nothing, expecially if the website subject is one of my passions. Luckily (for me!) that was the case, as in a few weeks WP7applist.com became the most successful fansite I built to date: it is now, according to Alexa.com, among the 100K most popular websites in the world (and 6K in my own country, Italy).

As you can see, it went very well beyond my best expectations, and what’s even better is that it still seems to grow in popularity day after day. It requires a lot of work, in terms of mantainance and developement of new features, but trust me.. it’s well worth it. One of the things I like the most is that I can actually help indie developers (like I am, even if I don’t have an app ready for the Marketplace yet) stand out from the crowd, gain some more exposure for their great apps.. and do my best to possibly help the Marketplace itself grow in popularity.

Also, this is the first website of mine that pays for itself with ads, which doesn’t hurt seen as running a popular website and keeping it alive really requires a lot of time, effort, an – in a real world – money. So let me say thank you to everyone for the support: as long as I keep on receiving such great feedback via email, WP7applist is all over the web thanks to dedicated news portals, Facebook and Twitter, and as long as someone from Microsoft itself spends a minute of their time to congratulate for my work.. WP7applist is definitely having long life :)