Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Robot Work - Reducing the Windows Phone Localization Friction a bit

Windows Phone 8 now supports 3 different screen resolutions which is very nice since there are some great high resolution devices out there and the user has the choice and isn't forced into a one fits all model. However  there's also a downside for Windows Phone developers since now also 3 times the amount of screenshots have to be submitted to the Store. If an app has localized versions this adds up very quickly. For example, Pictures Lab supports 11 languages and the soon-to-released v5 update for WP8 also all 3 resolutions: 11 x 3 x 8 screenshots = 264! That's a crazy amount of mindless click-through work to take all those screenshots, not to mention the Dev Center submission process.
Unfortunately there is no automated way or better support by the tools, so one has to do this ridiculous amount of manual work.  In a future version of the tools I'd really love to see some kind of macro recorder which records certain steps including screenshot actions and can then use the recorded steps to play this for all supported app languages and generate the remaining screenshots automatically.

In this quick post I want to share some practices I used in order to reduce the work at least a bit for the Pictures Lab v5 update:
  1. Only create screenshots for the 720p (720 x 1280) and the WXGA (768 x 1280) resolution. The WVGA (480 x 800) screenshots can be generated from the WXGA images by scaling those down by 1.6. In contrast to upscaling, are the downscaling artifacts hardly visible if a good algorithm is used. I used my favorite image viewer IrfanView and its batch processing feature which can scale down by the longest side, rename by a pattern, convert, etc.

  2. Add some code to easily switch between UI languages in your app so you don't only rely on the system language and need to reboot the emulator to switch languages. An app's UI language can be set globally by using
    For example:
    System.Threading.Thread.CurrentThread.CurrentUICulture = new CultureInfo("de-DE");
    in the App.xaml.cs Launching event.

  3. Use a macro recorder / scripting to save a bit time with the repetitive tasks of taking screenshots only with different UI languages. I used a little free tool called Mouse Recorder Pro. This tool records your mouse and keyboard actions and can then play it back also with up to 40% faster playback speed. Of course this doesn't work for all apps and only when using the emulators, esp. uncontrollable live content would likely not work, but it worked for my scenario quite well and saved me from creating all 264 screenshots manually. In fact I watched the magic ghost mouse do its job most of the time and worked on other stuff.
    A few gotchas when using the Mouse Recorder Pro with the WP emulators:

    1. Don't click on Pivot headers and rather use the swipe gesture to change between Pivot items. The header texts will have different lengths in different languages.

    2. Try to avoid the bounce effect of the ScrollViewer, it would result in random offsets and the Mouse Recorder playback will then have non-matching offsets recorded.

    3. Do a dummy save in the destination folder for the screenshots before each playback so the playback will save the files to the right folder. This will avoid file name collisions which would need manual input.
Of course there's a lot of room for improvements, but maybe the described practices help to reduce the friction that comes with localization at least a bit until a better solution is known.