You've written the great app. You are pretty sure it will pass. You've tested it on your emulator and on your device (the only device you own). Good enough, ship that baby!
But hold on a moment. Is it as great as YOU think it is? I've found over the years that something I think is great isn't nearly as great as I thought once other people start looking at it. You put buttons in places that make perfect sense to you but a friend, looking over your shoulder points out that you probably don't need buttons at all. Or you are showing off your fabulous app to your 15 year old son and, after he stops laughing, points out that your app is "quaint" but probably too much work.
Beta Test Mode
So you want to get your friends to try it first right? But you can't side load onto friends phones (well maybe your 2 best friends, but what of the rest? Beta testing in the Windows Phone Store works mostly pretty good. There is one gotcha that I find most annoying but do not know how to fix it. I'll talk about that later. Basically Beta test allows people you know to download your app and install it on their device (even devices not developer registered) using the phone store itself. Beta Test Mode gives you a nice way to test in-app purchases with actual items (listed as free during beta process). Otherwise you are just simulating the in-app purchase process.
You submit the app for certification. At the bottom of part 1, you click the "more" indicator then check the beta button. Then, just paste in the email addresses of those that will be able to try out your fabulous work of art. All you need to do is finish your submission as you normally would. The certification process usually happens within one to two hours (they don't do a lot of checking) at which point you will receive an email with a link to the app in a non-public part of the store. Just put together some test notes (if you want) and send the link to your testers. They can click the link on their phone and the store will load up with your app read to be installed.
Hopefully you put some sort of link in your app so they can email you all the glowing wonderful comments they will undoubtedly have for your app. They can also just do ratings in the store with review comments. It's generally hard to get comments just like on ratings and reviews in the store, so stay in communication with your testers through email or twitter or something else.
The One Thing
Maybe it's just me but I find with a beta app, the "update" feature doesn't seem to work. I publish beta version 18.104.22.168 and then publish an update (like you would for in-store apps). When your tester goes to the private app store location, they see the update but it is the original version. I could not figure a way to get the update available and on the phones. So I end up creating a new beta for each version. A bit annoying but workable.
When You are Done
When you are done with the beta, you can re-submit the app as a new app in the store. Just fill in all the blanks and submit it like you normally would. You can then delete the beta app if you wish (recommended).
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