Meet The Finalists! Lifehacker And Microsoft’s Developer Challenge

After six amazing rounds and scores of great entries, here are our Windows 8, Windows Phone and Windows Azure developer finalists. They’re already reaping the benefits publishing on the Windows Store – and competing for the major prize: a trip to Microsoft TechEd 2013 on the Gold Coast. Our finalists are making tweaks ahead of judging and need your feedback! Check out these great apps.

The major prize also includes the opportunity to present the winning app to thousands of industry-types at TechEd. We're talking conference ticket, accommodation for 5 nights, and airfare (economy) up to the combined value of $4000!

The major prize judging panel includes Microsoft app guru Lachlan Hardy, Lifehacker editor Angus Kidman, Vaughan Knight from Nokia, Shane Morris from Automatic Studio and Tom Frazier from HotHouse Interactive. For major prize judging, the judges will consider popularity, downloads, design, and innovation.

As Nokia’s dev guru (and one of our judges), Vaughan Knight, will tell you: “If you’re not in the Store, you don’t exist. Just get it in there…for every app that’s built and submitted, there are probably 20 that are created but not submitted.”


Our Six Finalists — Download These Apps!

Round 1: Sort It

Lucas Moffitt's Sort It allows you to map processes, recipes, instructions and cycles into complex list items that require students to correctly arrange and complete. Sort It is part of the Teacher Collection and a Teacher Collection account is required to access your list items remotely, issue delivery list items and receive push notifications.

[Free; Download from the Windows Store]

Our round judges felt Sort It hit the education theme right between the eyes. The program meshes nicely with the Windows 8 interface, so no surprise that it was user friendly and intuitive.


Round 2: Touch Meds

This great team effort from Yan Sun, Capsen Lu and Robert Hollamby can assist in the scheduling, tracking and monitoring of medication for patients. We help patients to take the right amount of the right medicine at the right time.

Simply tap the windows phone to the NFC tag attached with medicine package, the App will popup the medicine’s details page and the information is read out using Text to Speech. It is also a standalone medicine managment App without NFC tag.

[Free; Download from the Windows Store]

Our round judges felt Touch Meds was a solid, professional looking app with plenty of polish and added functionality. The large, attractive font and easily identifiable icons also make it well suited to older users, who are a key demographic for this application.


Round 3: Action Cam

Sunny Wijewardana's Action Cam allows you to record journeys on your phone's video camera and GPS. You can then watch the video from inside the app with a simultaneously a map trace that shows you the exact spot for the corresponding video. You can skip ahead by tapping on the play markers or just sit back and watch the full journey unfold.

[$1.99; Download from the Windows Store]

Our round judges appreciated Action Cam's clean interface, clever design and felt it had plenty of potential for the sports and adventuring markets. The video functionality was surprisingly quick and responsive which made it painless to use.


Round 4: Shared Whiteboard

Adrian Akison's Shared Whiteboard does exactly what it says on the tin: its a digital cloud-enabled whiteboard that lets you share your graphs, notes, equations and doodles with anyone around the world — users can even use the whiteboard at the same time in different locations. It comes with QR-Code video linking, social network integration, animated tutorials and the ability to play back whiteboard recordings either sped up or in real time.

All whiteboard projects are automatically saved to the cloud.

[Free; download from the Windows Store]

Our round judges were big fans of the Shared Whiteboard design and concept, which they found extremely likeable. Its simplistic interface and shareability make it a great tool for all age groups. Its linking and syncing functionality and use of charms were also solid.


Round 5: Fair Football Coach

Jared Homes' Fair Football Coach is a Windows 8 app designed to take the hassle out of managing a soccer team. It gives you a visual representation of the team on the field and allows you to drag-and-drop players to new positions, make substitutions and record goals.

The app can also be used to record and monitor substitution timings to facilitate fair game-time for the whole team when unlimited substitutions are permitted.

[Free; download from the Windows Store]

Our round judges were impressed by the app's clean design and easy-to-use controls — fans of the video game Football Manager will feel right at home. The ability to keep all your team members' contact info in one place is also very handy; including their favoured nicknames.


Round 6: Intellimax Analytics

Chris Herring's Intellimax Analytics is a Windows 8 business app for Intellimax Business Intelligence platform users. It provides comprehensive Business Intelligence capabilities direct from the Windows 8 User Interface, including full data analytics across a broad range of data sources.

[Free; download from the Windows Store [requires Intellimax Business Intelligence account]]

Our round judges were impressed by the app's sleek design and oodles of readily accessible data — clicking anywhere on the app brings up additional options and statistics. As you'd expect from a business application there were no bugs or glitches and all data is kept in a secure, managed and audited enterprise platform.


How To Craft A Strong User Experience

Technical design guru Shane Morris is the Creative Director at Automatic Studio, one of the final judges in this comp and all round good guy. He’s built Windows mobile apps for Qantas, NAB and Dimmi plus Windows 8 touch-enabled apps for Westpac, Webjet and NineMSN’s Jump-In.
Less is more, explains Shane: “Avoid the temptation to cram more features into your app assuming that will make it more popular. In our experience, an app that has a limited set of options, and does so with confidence, tends to be more appealing.”
“And if you’re not a confident designer, don’t get too ambitious too early. Stick to the Windows design language templates. If users open your app and see consistent styling and navigation, they’ll immediately be much more willing to explore.
“Navigation style is key to crafting an authentic app experience. Games can be different, but for regular apps – don’t be fooled that designing for Windows is just typography, white space and blocks of colour. There are helpful Windows 8 and Windows Phone guides on MSDN.

7 Great Tips for Sumitting Windows Store Apps

1. If you haven’t already done so, then register on Windows Store now. If appropriate, personal registrations are easier with less verification needed than a company registration.
2. Keep initial feature set simple and quality high, especially if this is your first app; you can always add additional features in future updates.
3. Read this "Preparing your App for Store Submission"
4. Ensure you have installed the latest Windows App Certification Kit (WACK) and other SDKs from Windows Software Development Kit (SDK) for Windows 8.
5. Ensure you run the "Windows App Certification Kit" tool before submitting your app to the Store.
6. Read the Windows App Store Guide. And read the "Avoiding common certification failures"
7. Allow time for you app to go through the App certification process. May take 5 to 7 working days.


Helpful Online Resources

LaLaNinja Developer Community: lalaninja.com.au

Windows 8: w8.msdeveloper.com.au

Windows Phone: wp.msdeveloper.com.au

Azure: azure.msdeveloper.com.au

Virtual #Appfest If you’re still looking for help to get an app finished and into the store for publication, then check out Virtual #Appfest for an extra helping hand.

It's a two-hour open virtual session, that allows you to ask all the questions you want to ask, leap any coding hurdles, and get your app published.


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