Small business owner creates her mobile app in a few hours with Windows Phone App Studio

For Holly Shore, a mobile app would save her a lot of time – and be a big help to her readers.

Shore, a former fashion model who now devotes herself to helping other moms and clients make informed and healthy nutrition choices through her Integrative Mom site, spends a lot of time answering questions.

“I have a good relationship with my readers. I will comment on posts, and respond with direct emails or texts, and I don’t mind that at all, but it does take up a lot of my time,” says Shore, who lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and two young boys. “If they’re at the grocery store, and if they have the app, they can find what they need without waiting for me to get back to them.”

In the video above, Shore shows how she created a mobile app using Windows Phone App Studio. Like others who need an app to grow their business – but who don’t know anything about writing software code – Shore used the tool, which takes users step-by-step through the process. In less than two hours, she had created an app that, with a little bit more tweaking, would be ready to submit to the Windows Phone Store for approval.

“The whole thing was such a great experience,” Shore says. “It was so great to have these tools to take my website to the next level. The more I worked with building the app, the easier I found it… I really did not think I would be able to do that myself. It sounds so daunting, like some master computer wizard has to do it.”

She also found out how easy it was to use pictures taken on her Nokia Lumia 1020 for her blog – and eventually, her app – because of the automatic upload to SkyDrive. While she’s out and about, she takes photos that she can now easily include on her blog. Before, she had to go through “so many steps” – and now, “It’s so easy to type in my YouTube channel, and videos are pulled right in automatically.”

Shore’s experience is one that the Windows Phone team hopes will encourage and inspire other small business owners to try out the tool.

“We’re trying to get people who are emerging developers, who are code phobic, students or career changers. They want to use an app to promote something they’re already interested in. Even with a template based approach, it can be a bit scary,” says Bryan Tomlinson, senior marketing manager for Windows Phone. “For a small business owner, it’s expensive to outsource that, and this gives them a chance to get started.”

Since its debut in August, Windows Phone App Studio has gained over 200,000 users who have generated more than 85,000 apps within the tool in just under four months. As Tomlinson explains, the difference between a project and an app is that with the former, you can start it in the tool, or modify it, but you didn’t take the final step to generate the app. But those who built an app have generated it, or side-loaded it onto their phones, or downloaded the Visual Studio code package to take it further. And from there, they can submit it to the Windows Phone Store, where there are currently more than 180,000 apps. It takes about a week for an app to receive certification from the store.

“We wanted to bring the simplicity of the Web so people could build very easily and quickly,” says Emilio Salvador Prieto, director of Windows Developer marketing.

The tool takes a novice – or an aspiring developer – through four steps to turning your mobile app into a reality: choose from one of many Marketplace categories, add content (i.e. images, video, music, RSS feeds), choose a style and finally, use the app.

In the short time the tool has been available, the Windows Phone Developer team has listened to feedback and made several improvements. As Salvador Prieto writes on the Windows Phone Developer Blog, “First, we’ve improved app development workflow by enhancing the code and projects that you create in Windows Phone App Studio Beta. For external data sources, with our new cache implementation, you can access dynamic data or RSS feeds even if the user’s phone is not connected.”

Now with the tool, project size and complexity have been reduced, and you can integrate Near Field Communication (NFC) to share your app with other App Studio Beta users. You can also take advantage of integrating native phone functions into your app by creating a menu to open Nokia Maps, play music, make phone calls, and use other native apps – all without leaving your app.

All the thinking that’s gone into creating and honing the tool seems to have paid off.

“I thought you’d have to be a guru. I had no idea it could be user friendly,” Shore says. “That’s what made me so excited about it…I just thought it was inaccessible for me to create my own app. I hadn’t even considered doing it. I just didn’t think I could do it myself and I didn’t want to spend $10,000. Knowing about App Studio is so exciting, I’ve told so many people about it, I know so many people with Web-based businesses. Once you get an app, you’re legit, you’re taken seriously.”

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Athima Chansanchai
Microsoft News Center Staff