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How to get 200’000 downloads with a Windows 8 app

1 October 2013
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Reading time: 4 minutes

One year ago, Tobias Zürcher and I have started a fun project also willing to learn something. We called it Movie Guide. This Windows 8 app turned out to be an unexpected success story and has been featured in several occasions. After one year in the store we already have more than 200’000 downloads from all over the world. In this post I give some insights to our story and point out the most important factors for having success with a Windows Store app.
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1. Be early

The key factor of our success was definitely the early availability of our app. Movie Guide was in the store before the general availability of Windows 8. Although Windows 8 is now available for more than a year, it’s still not too late. The Windows 8 store is still at its beginning and the possibility to get into the Top 100 list of a specific category is numerous times higher than with an app in the Apple App Store or in the Google Play Store.

2. Decide what your app is great at

Don’t try to build an all-in-one app, which solves everything. Pick a best-at statement for your app and build the unique, best-in-class experience that your statement promises. Our best-at statement was: Movie Guide is the best in its category at finding information about current movies and their actors.

3. Have a simple but nice user interface

Keep your user interface as simple and clean as possible. Leave out everything that doesn’t add any value to the user. Align all elements to a grid system. The start page of Movie Guide is as simple and clean as it can be. It just shows the app title and the grouped movies displayed with the movie image and its title. We have no buttons, no navigation items, no grouping lines nor unnecessary controls. The grouping of the movies is done with the different distances between the movies and groups. The visual design of the app is very important. If you follow the Windows 8 User Experience Guidelines it’s quite easy, even for a design limited developer, to create an appealing visual concept. Also make sure that you use as many suitable pictures and visualizations as possible.

Movie Guide start screen

4. Allow the user to share

Users of your app want to take out and share the content of your app. It doesn’t matter if they create the content themselves or if the content is provided by your app. This means every single app should implement the Windows 8 Share Contract. Don’t forget to provide an understandable and self-explanatory information message on pages where’s nothing to share.

Implemented Share ContractDetailed error message in Share Contract

5. Integrate with the windows search

Allow the users to search through the content of your app right from the windows search engine. To support this you need to implement the Windows 8 Search Contract. In addition you can show an in-app SearchBox, which is a new Windows 8.1 control.

Movie Guide search

6. Plan for snapped/resizing views

With Windows 8 users are able to have two apps next to each other at the same time. Windows 8 distinguishes between a snapped view (320px wide) and the filled view. The upcoming Windows 8.1 update will distinguish between narrow layouts (320px or 500px wide) and tall layouts and users have the ability to have 4 apps next to each other. You should keep this in mind when creating your app layout. For example a horizontally scrolling table should turn into a vertically scrolling list when the users snaps your app to the side of the screen.

You find all guidelines and good code examples for all resizing use cases here.

7. Provide an offline mode

Keep in mind that users with a Windows 8 tablet don’t always have a working internet connection. Make sure your app behaves well in offline mode. Movie Guide gives the user a hint, when he’s offline. All web service calls from Movie Guide to the movie database are cached locally so that already downloaded data is still available when the user is offline.

To check the internet status of the user you can use the following code snippet:

    public bool IsOnline 
{
  get
  {
    return NetworkInformation.GetInternetConnectionProfile() != null
       && NetworkInformation.GetInternetConnectionProfile()
          .GetNetworkConnectivityLevel() == 
          NetworkConnectivityLevel.InternetAccess;
  }
}

There is also a system event that notifies you in case of a network change. The event is found at Windows.Networking.Connectivity.NetworkInformation.NetworkStatusChanged.

Two colleagues from Zühlke wrote a very good article about Windows 8 app architectures for offline scenarios: http://bit.ly/Win8-App-off (article in german).

8. Make your app easier to promote

Movie Guide download statsThe image on the left shows our daily downloads, where the green part indicates the time range, where our app has been featured in the Windows Store. So the greatest boost for your app downloads is definitely the featuring from Microsoft. Even though you cannot buy such a featuring time slot, you can increase the probability of being featured by following some simple guidelines. The first thing you should do is to provide promotional images, which Microsoft will use for featured apps. There are four different image sizes, however, you should at least provide the 414×180 size.

Wrapping up

I hope I could provide you with some valuable tips and tricks for your own Windows 8 app development. As a good starting point for any Windows 8 development questions I can definitely recommend the Windows Dev Center, which has a huge amount of design and code examples for nearly every topic.

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