I’ve just recently finished up a Windows Phone 7 (WP7) development project at work, and during the project I collated a number of tips and useful resources that helped make the project a success, and I’m going to share those with you in this post.

Understand the Marketplace Submission Process

If you want to check out exactly what the marketplace submission process entails, the App Hub website has a very detailed walkthrough of the process. Thankfully, it’s not difficult; you just need to provide your XAP, some descriptions, some artwork and set your pricing.

One of the big questions you get asked as a Windows Phone developer is how long it will take for your application to be published on the Marketplace after it’s been submitted. Microsoft recently released some official numbers around that, and they claim that the average time to certification is 1.8 days. Of course, that’s an average, so you shouldn’t rely on that for your planning. Microsoft could take longer if they’re inundated with submissions. That same numbers blog post also says that 62% of applications pass on the first attempt. That means around 40% of apps fail, so you should allocate some time in your schedule to handle a potential submission failure.

Use an MVVM Framework

I chose to use Caliburn Micro as my MVVM Framework. I found that Caliburn Micro helped me because it provided:

  • Coroutines support
    The coroutines support is awesome and allowed me to write asynchronous code in a non-asynchronous fashion while still actually doing operations asynchronously. If you’ve read about C# 5’s await support, this is sort of like that except implemented using iterator blocks.
  • Comprehensive MVVM support
    One thing I’ve realised about MVVM is that it doesn’t describe a solution to the entire problem, which also includes navigation between, and composition of, views. Caliburn Micro has a concept called Conductors that helps with this, and it also abstracts the WP7 navigation functionality away from you.
  • Tombstoning support
    Tombstoning in WP7 can be a pain, but Caliburn Micro makes it relatively easy. You simply apply attributes to properties in your view model that you want saved when your app gets tombstoned, and Caliburn Micro will automatically restore those properties’ values when your application is restored. It also helps you when you’re using WP7 Tasks that cause your app to get tombstoned before they return you some data the user selected.
  • Conventions-based data binding
    I have a love-hate relationship with Caliburn Micro’s conventions-based data binding. It allows you to omit explicitly defined bindings in your view and Caliburn Micro will do it automatically for you based of its extensible conventions. On the one hand, it makes data binding easy; in particular commanding with ICommand, as it can just link an event in your view and a method on your view model automatically (and run that method as a coroutine, if you like). On the other hand, when something goes wrong, it’s much more difficult to find out why the black magic isn’t working.

The biggest disadvantage to Caliburn Micro is that it adds quite a lot of advanced techniques to your toolbox, which is great if you’re experienced, but can make it harder for people new to your project and unfamiliar with Caliburn Micro to get started. The other disadvantage is that the documentation (at the time of writing) is okay, but in a lot of cases I found I needed to dig through Caliburn Micro’s source code myself to see what was going on. (Tip: create and use a debug build of Caliburn Micro when debugging it, since the Release builds optimise out a lot of methods and make stepping through its code difficult. But don’t forget to switch back to the Release build when you publish to Marketplace).

Use the Silverlight for Windows Phone Toolkit

The default WP7 SDK is strangely missing some of the controls you expect to see there to make a good WP7 application look and feel like the native apps that come on the phone. Turns out that stuff is, for some reason, inside the Silverlight for Windows Phone Toolkit. The toolkit gets you those basic, expected things like the animated transitions between pages, the subtle tilting effect on buttons when you touch them, context menus, date pickers, list pickers, an easier API for gestures, etc.

The best way to learn how to use the stuff in the toolkit is to download the Source & Sample package and take a careful look at the sample code.

Use the Platform’s Theme Resources

WP7 comes with a lot of theming resources that you can reference using the StaticResource markup extension. Keep this MSDN page open in your browser while developing and use it as a reference. I highly recommend you use them everywhere you can, because they help keep your application’s look and feel consistent to the WP7 standards, and also come with the side effect of making your application automatically compatible with the user’s chosen background style (light/dark) and accent colour. So when the user selects black text on a white background, your text will automatically apply that styling. Neat!

While testing your application, I would encourage you to regularly switch between the different background styles and accent colours to make sure your application looks good no matter what theme the user chooses.

Take Advantage of the SDK’s Icon Library

The SDK comes with a library of icons you can use in your application, saved in C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft SDKs\Windows Phone\v7.0\Icons. Take advantage of them to ensure your icons are consistent with the WP7 look & feel and are familiar to your users.

Watch out for the Inbuilt HTTP Request Caching

As far as I can tell, WP7 seems to automatically and transparently cache HTTP requests for you based off their caching HTTP headers. This doesn’t seem to be documented on the HttpWebRequest class page, but at least one other person has noticed this behaviour. So if you’re calling a REST service and that REST service is setting cache headers saying cache the result for a day, your users won’t see new data for a day. Keep this in mind and perhaps change your service’s caching headers.

Borrow Code from the Expression Blend Samples to Enable VisualState binding to ViewModels

In Silverlight 4, you might change your visual state based off a property in your view model by using the DataTrigger in XAML. However, since WP7 is a sort of Silverlight 3 with extra bits, it doesn’t have DataTriggers. I chose to borrow some classes from the Expression Blend Samples code (licenced under Ms-PL), in particular the DataStateSwitchBehavior. It’s very elegant and lets me write XAML like this:

    <local:DataStateSwitchBehavior Binding="{Binding IsLoading}">
        <local:DataStateSwitchCase Value="True" State="IsLoading" />
        <local:DataStateSwitchCase Value="False" State="HasLoaded" />
    <local:DataStateSwitchBehavior Binding="{Binding HasFailed}">
        <local:DataStateSwitchCase Value="False" State="HasNotFailed" />
        <local:DataStateSwitchCase Value="True" State="HasFailed" />

To use the DataStateSwitchBehavior, you will also need to take the BindingListener class, the ConverterHelper class, and the GoToState class. In the example above I’m binding to a bool, but it even works if you bind to an enum.

Recognise and Handle the AG_E_NETWORK_ERROR from a MediaElement Control

While testing your application on a hardware device, you’ll likely be testing it while connected to the PC and the Zune software. However, for some reason the MediaElement control will fail with the AG_E_NETWORK_ERROR when you try to use it. Don’t panic, simply disconnect your phone from the Zune software and try again, or try connecting your phone using the WPConnect tool (C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft SDKs\Windows Phone\v7.0\Tools\WPConnect\WPConnect.exe) instead of Zune. Be kind to your users and show them a nice error message telling them to try disconnecting their phones from Zune if you detect that error.

Work Around Issues with the Pivot Control

There are reports on the Internet that the Pivot control has crashing issues when setting its SelectedIndex. Caliburn Micro has a PivotFix class in its WP7 samples you can use to work around it, plus you might like to try the workarounds on this page. However, if you still can’t get it to work (like I couldn’t), try simply slicing and reordering the array of pivot items so the one you want selected is first, which avoids this issue. For example, if you want pivot item C to be first, reorder A,B,C,D,E into C,D,E,A,B. Your users won’t notice the difference since the Pivot control automatically wraps the end of the list to the start and vice versa.

I found it very difficult to tell that it was the Pivot control causing the crashes; my application would trigger a break by the debugger in the App.xaml.cs’s unhandled exception handler method and the exception’s description would be “The parameter is incorrect” and there would be no stack trace (??!). If you see this exception, investigate how you’re using your Pivot control.

Support Infinite Scrolling

Everyone loves infinite scrolling of lists, where more content in the list is loaded dynamically as you scroll down. Unfortunately, WP7’s SDK doesn’t give you any help out of the box in regards to doing this. Thankfully, Daniel Vaughan has developed a neat attached property you can attach to list boxes that will call a data bound ICommand when the user scrolls to the bottom of the list. You can use this to load more data into the ListBox.

Daniel’s ScrollViewerMonitor class uses a BindingListener class, which isn’t the same class as the one you’ve borrowed from Expression Blend Samples, but you can easily modify his code to use that class instead.

Be aware that infinite scrolling will likely require careful monitoring of your memory usage (WP7’s max is currently 90MB for phones with 256MB of RAM); you will probably need to put an upper limit on how far you can scroll. It will probably also mean you’ll be using a VirtualizedStackPanel inside of your ListBox (that’s the default) to keep memory usage down, but keep in mind the performance for scrolling rapidly up and down in a VirtualizedStackPanel-powered ListBox is poor on WP7 at the moment.

Learn How to Hide the System Tray using Visual States

A typical case where you’d want to hide the system tray using visual states is when you’ve got a visual state group for device orientation (ie Portrait and Landscape. Use a DataStateSwitchBehavior and bind it to the Page’s Orientation property). Visual states use animations to change properties on objects, but unfortunately animations in XAML don’t work with “custom” attached properties, such as shell:SystemTray.IsVisible.

To get around that, you’ll have to add that animation to the visual state’s storyboard in code. Here’s some code that goes in your page class’s constructor, underneath the call to InitializeComponent, that hides the system tray when the device is turned horizontally:

ObjectAnimationUsingKeyFrames animation = new ObjectAnimationUsingKeyFrames();
Storyboard.SetTargetProperty(animation, new PropertyPath(SystemTray.IsVisibleProperty));
Storyboard.SetTargetName(animation, "Page");

DiscreteObjectKeyFrame keyFrame = new DiscreteObjectKeyFrame();
keyFrame.Value = false;
keyFrame.KeyTime = KeyTime.FromTimeSpan(TimeSpan.Zero);

Landscape.Storyboard.Children.Add(animation); //Landscape is my visual state

I highly recommend hiding the system tray when in landscape orientation, because it takes up a ridiculous amount of room on the side of the screen and looks horrible.

Learn How to Involve the Application Bar in Visual States

Incredibly annoyingly, nothing on a page’s application bar is data-bindable, which instantly makes it very hard to use in an MVVM way, not to mention making it so you can’t do things like hide it or disable certain buttons using visual states in Blend. However, there is a workaround that can enable you to change the application bar’s properties using visual states if you’re willing to write some C#. In your page’s constructor, underneath the call to InitializeComponent, you can set up hooks off your visual states’ animation storyboard’s Completed events and make your changes there. For example:

IsLoading.Storyboard.Completed += (o, a) => Page.ApplicationBar.IsVisible = false;
HasLoaded.Storyboard.Completed += (o, a) => Page.ApplicationBar.IsVisible = true;


WP7 is a great platform to develop on because it’s Silverlight; it means if you’ve got some Silverlight (or WPF) experience you can be instantly productive. However, there are some limitations to the platform at the moment and for some things you need to go outside the box to be able to achieve them. Hopefully this post has made some of that easier for you.