How difficult can it be for a complete novice with no programming experience to create an app?
In the last couple of weeks I have spoken to a Computer Science student and a university lecturer who teaches software development.
In their own ways, both of them seemed to imply that developing for Windows Phone was extremely accessible and fairly easy to get to grips with.
In fact, every developer I’ve interviewed for Conversations have all made the observation that creating for Windows Phone is relatively ‘straight forward.’
It’s time to put that theory to the test.
Obviously, I am not going to create an app from scratch.
If that were the case then this post would be either very short (”Sorry, I can’t do it”) or very, very, very long (“Let’s start with the basics of coding and go step by step from there…”).
Instead I am going to use a nifty little app from Microsoft called TouchDevelop.
TouchDevelop boasts that by simply tapping on the screen you can create simple programmes, apps and games.
There are tutorial videos and you can search for commands, or say what you want to achieve, and the app will write the code for you.
It sounds too good to be true and yet TouchDevelop’s reviews are also pretty encouraging:
“Fantastic, all the complex bits hidden away.”
“This is really cool. It’s so easy just to make scripts to do everyday tasks, just on a whim! This really needs to be publicised more, hell why not just package it with the phone?”
“Major step forward in programming history.”
Take the Tour
Feeling just a little bit scared, the first thing I did after installing TouchDevelop was to take the tutorial.
The tour was very quick, the onscreen instructions are easy to follow and within a couple of minutes I had completed the task of creating a small script that played a random song whenever I shook my Lumia!
The tutorial is no guarantee that you’ll soon be making millions from your own apps but it does give you a flavour of how TouchDevelop works.
At each stage of the tutorial you’re selecting from simple options on the screen and there is never any coding or programming involved.
To make the most of TouchDevelop, you’ll need to sign in with a Windows Live ID, Facebook or Google account. This will let you look at, download and share scripts.
I spent a fair amount of time looking around to see what other people had done with TouchDevelop. You do this by swiping through the New, Top, Featured and Tags screens.
There was a tremendous amount of variety and some of the programs were very slick indeed – many were apps that I could well imagine downloading from the Windows Phone Store.
Others are more akin to nifty little features that you may want to incorporate into a larger app. Think of the whole thing as a toolkit for you to choose and pick from.
If there’s something you like, you can download it and examine its inner workings. I found this a useful way of seeing how things had been done or created.
Tap the + button at the bottom and the first thing you’ll need to do when creating a script is give it a name.
On the next screen you’ll see the options with which you can start building your script. It looks daunting when you first read through it but after playing around with it for a little while, it’ll make more sense.
I found that the easiest place to start was with ‘events’ – this is an action that starts, such as playing music or displaying a picture, when you do something to your phone, such as shaking it or putting it face down.
Tap the + sign to the right of events and you’ll be presented with a list of the different actions that can trigger an event.
Tap the action you require and next you’ll see a blank screen with some words at the top.
For example, if you selected ‘phone face down’ you’ll see this:
As you can see, the current action is that when the phone faces down, the script will do nothing.
Tap on the words, “event phone face down” to bring up more options and select edit.
The next screen is where the fun really starts.
A series of boxes will appear with different options. Selecting one option will bring up more boxes until you drill right down into executing an action.
If you select through the boxes: Media > Songs > Random > Play and then use the Back button to save your work – whenever you run this script and your phone is facing down (remember this is the event you selected right at the beginning) then your Lumia will play a random song.
After playing around and familiarising myself with TouchDevelop for an hour or so, I felt confident enough to build on top of this basic script by creating a couple of other events where they could all work together.
- Phone face down to start playing a random song
- Shake the phone to play another random song
- Each time a new song starts display a different random picture
There is much, much more to be explored in TouchDevelop and, to be honest, I would still struggle to make anything that resembles a proper app!
However, TouchDevelop certainly gave me an insight into the logic and principles behind creating apps. Best of all, it’s a real thrill when you run a script for the first time and you think: “Wow, I did that!”
Find out more about TouchDevelop. Have you created anything with TouchDevelop? Let us know in the comments below.
Updated October 1, 2015 5:58 am