Windows Phone App Studio Now Supports Windows 8.1 too!

App Studio is a really cool online application that Microsoft launched last August to make it easy for developers – or anyone, really – to create data-driven Windows Phone apps without writing any code. The whole experience is driven from within a web browser and anyone can build an app – no programming skills required. Of course, if you’re a developer you can download the source code generated by App Studio and use that codebase as a starting point for your own custom apps. FYI, the code generation is a one-way street, i.e. you cannot customize the code in Visual Studio and then do a round-trip back to App Studio for more customizations.

I actually published my own Windows Phone app based on App Studio called Watch Corner Gas last October, but I had to take it down since the third-party YouTube channel I was using was closed (you can see a live video I recorded here). App Studio has been a very popular tool. Microsoft reports that over 300,000 App Studio projects have been created to date, and more than 20,000 apps have been published in the Windows Phone Store. I can always feel the excitement of attendees every time I demonstrate it at events. My youngest attendee to date was even featured in a recent Nokia Conversations blog post where this really sharp 8-year-old kid attended my App Studio session at Dvlup Day Boston. He created his first app while attending my talk, and was a published developer within a week. What’s your excuse?

New Version

Today Microsoft announced a new major version of App Studio. First, we have a new url to access App Studio: http://appstudio.windowsphone.com.

The first thing you’ll notice is a major UI redesign (see below). Quite nice if you ask me, and now it’s touch-friendly to boot. You can easily create Windows Phone apps on your Microsoft Surface, Nokia Lumia 2520 or Dell Venue 8 Pro (to name just a few). Your projects built with the prior version of App Studio will all show-up nicely under “My Projects”. Nothing was lost. Microsoft will also send you an email to confirm that all your projects were successfully migrated.

The Content section is where you configure your screens and respective data sources. The workflow has really been streamlined here and the UI is much more intuitive.

AppStudioContent

Load up one of your existing projects (or create a new one), and start digging around. There is also a How To section you can read to get a better idea of the capabilities and configuration options. The data sources supported are still the same, nothing new was added for now. They are:

  • RSS – A list of sets of information based on an RSS feed that you enter when creating the data source.
  • Youtube – A list of videos with titles and descriptions based on a YouTube channel or search that you enter when creating the data source.
  • Flickr – A list of images and their corresponding data based on a Flickr UserId or search that you enter when creating the data source.
  • Bing – A list of news search results based on a Bing search that you enter when creating the data source.
  • Html – A single page of static text that you enter.
  • Collection – A list of items with columns of characteristics. This is your personal data that does not depend on a website.

I was hoping to see new data sources in the list, hopefully we’ll get to see more added over time. My wish list includes:

  • Multiple RSS sources aggregated into a single feed.
  • Twitter
  • More image sources like Bing Images, Instagram, Twitpic, Google Images, etc.
  • JSON-based collections coming from a REST service

I’ll save the full tutorial for another day. To be honest the tool is so easy to use that a tutorial is not really required. I do intend to write more blog posts about various tips & tricks you can use with App Studio.

Code Generation

Now jump to the final section and hit that big “Generate” button. You’ll be greeted by a nice surprise:

AppStudioGeneration

Yes! App Studio now supports code generation for Windows 8.1 apps that you can publish to the Windows Store. This is huge! The feature is still in beta (aka “Preview”) and has the ability to generate a full Microsoft Visual Studio 2013 solution containing both a Windows Phone and a Windows 8.1 version of your app, making it easy to publish to both stores. The Windows Phone solution can be edited in Visual Studio 2012 or 2013, but the Windows 8.1 solution requires Visual Studio 2013. See my Getting Started page for a list of reference links to the various developer tools you can download.

Some of the new features in this version of App Studio also include:

  • New web-based emulator: The on-screen emulator in the web designer now supports dynamic text updates, so you can see your changes on the fly. This is working MUCH better than the previous one which was mainly for show. Now you can actually play with your app in the browser.
  • New templates for business: Building mobile apps quickly that showcase company and product info. I have not tried those yet. I’ll revisit them in a future blog post.
  • New code generation: The source code produced by App Studio now benefits from a better structure, readability, and performance.

AppStudioGenerate

The generated source code was one of the main criticisms of the previous version of App Studio. The source was generated by a tool from a company called Radarc. While App Studio appealed to neophytes, the generated source code required quite advanced developer skills since it made full use of code decoupling patterns such as Inversion of Control (IoC) and Dependency Injection (DI). The source code structure in App Studio is now more aligned with MVVM and I cannot find any references to the Radarc comments, which leads me to believe this is  a completely new code generation engine. I have not done a full comparison or analysis of the code yet and I’ll be sure to dig deeper in future blog posts.

Once the Windows Phone 8.0 version is generated, you’ll get several downloads available to you :

  • Install package you can deploy to your own phone for testing (unlocked phone not required)
  • XAP package ready to be published in the App Store
  • Source code package ready to be edited in Visual Studio

For the dual-platform option, you get the same downloads for Windows Phone, but you only get the source code for Windows 8.1. No binaries are produced (yet!) Go ahead and download the source code, make sure to “Unblock” the zip file in the File Explorer properties before extracting it (or you might bet Build errors), and open the solution in Visual Studio 2013. This is what the full dual-platform solution looks like:

AppStudioSolution

While it looks like there are duplicate projects in there – e.g. there are two data projects, one for Windows Phone, one for Windows 8.1 – the solution is structured in a way that each of those Data projects actually uses linked files to the Shared folders above. This is how code sharing is achieved without duplication. I’m not sure why PCLs (Portable Class Libraries) were not used instead, I’ll have to investigate further. So far I like the code structure much better than the previous version. MVVM fans will like it too and this is a good way to promote best practices to developers.

Windows 8.1 App Support

Of course, I couldn’t wait to see what my project would look as a Windows 8.1 app for Windows Store. I’m using a modified version of a demo app I built for my Dvlup Day presentations last Fall in Boston and Vancouver. It pulls the Dvlup blog RSS feed, the Nokia YouTube channel and Lumia 1020 41 megapixel photos from Flickr.

First, here are some screens from the 3 panorama panes in the Windows Phone 8.0 version:

WP8Screens

Now this is what the same project looks like as a Windows 8.1 app. As you can expect, the full panorama is now a single screen on a larger display, and each of the 3 “columns” scroll independently. I imagine that if I had 6 sections instead of 3, the whole screen would scroll horizontally. I’ll have to try that later. This generated app is a great starting point and you can tweak the UI further in XAML if you want. All the code is pre-wired to get the data, so nothing stops you from making the Windows 8.1 experience more unique. Then of course, this is still in beta and I’m sure we’ll see cool new features in the coming months.

Win81Screen

I’ll be covering App Studio projects in future blog posts. In the meantime, head-on over to the App Studio How To page to learn more about the capabilities and get started on your own projects here. If you build something cool with App Studio and get your app in the store, be sure to come back here and let me know in the comments below. I do a lot of presentations at conferences, user groups, code camps and other events and I’m always looking for great examples of successful apps built with App Studio. I would love to showcase your apps to my audiences.

Will you build apps with App Studio? What kind of features or data sources would you like to see supported in App Studio? Tell me in the comments below or on Twitter at @ActiveNick.

New Jersey Event: Get Your Windows Phone App Published – Finally!

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Is something stopping you from finishing your Windows Phone app?

Welcome to WPdev Saturday!

I would like to invite you to join me and other Windows Phone community experts for WPdev Saturday on February 22, 2014 in New Jersey for a fun day of mobile app building. WPdev Saturday is an event brought to you by Nokia DVLUP and sponsored by Microsoft.

Why?

The goal is to help you overcome any obstacles that might be preventing you from publishing an app. Whether you’re working on your first app or putting the polish on your 20th, all are welcome. If you do not have any apps in the works, then come and build a Microsoft App Studio app with our help.

When & Where?

Microsoft New Jersey Office – Iselin
101 Wood Ave South, 9th floor
Iselin, NJ 08830

Click for a map and directions

Register on Eventbrite here to reserve your ticket.

Important: This is a very limited seating event and is intended for developers in the NY Metro, NJ, PA and mid-Atlantic states, please do not register if you are 2,000 miles away or do not intend on showing up, you’ll only be taking a seat away from another dev who needs it.

Who?

This event is primarily for developers who have never published apps for Windows Phone. Professionals and students are welcome. We assume that you already got started with Windows Phone development and need some help to cross the finish line. If you need help getting started, see the Preparation section at the bottom of this post. If you’re already a published developer and you’re working on a new app, you can join us too.

While the day is mostly focused on Windows Phone app development, game developers are welcome to join the fun.

We also have some “Sensei slots” for experienced Windows Phone developers who want to join in as Subject Matter Experts (aka Sensei). Sensei must be published developers who want to attend the event primarily to help other developers with their apps.

Important: Do not register as a sensei unless you are qualified and willing to help other attendees. Otherwise, use a regular attendee slot.

DO NOT REGISTER AS A SENSEI AND A DEVELOPER, PICK ONE OR THE OTHER. OTHERWISE YOU ARE TAKING A SPOT ANOTHER DEVELOPER COULD USE. YOU ONLY NEED ONE TICKET PER PERSON.

Schedule

Here is the preliminary schedule (subject to tweaking):

  • 08:00 AM – Registration opens: Caffeine intake session. BYOB (Bring Your Own Breakfast)
  • 09:30 AM – Welcome & DVLUP Walkthrough (30 minutes)
  • 10:00 AM – Build an app in 30 minutes with App Studio (30 minutes): See how to build an app from an idea to publishable in 30 minutes, literally. No joke.
  • 10:30 AM – Hands-on time
  • 12:30 PM – Lunch: Food and snacks will be served
  • 02:00 PM – DevCenter Submission Walkthrough (30 minutes): See just how easy it is to submit and publish an app worldwide
  • 02:30 PM – More hands-on time
  • 07:00 PM – Event closes

The experts /sensei’s will be available to help during the hands-on time. They will be walking around helping and/or attending to requests for help. By the end of the day I fully expect everyone’s apps will be ready and submitted to DevCenter and on its way to the Windows Phone Store.

What you need to bring

  • Willpower! This is not a day to just listen to talks and hang out. This is a day to act, build and publish an app.
  • Laptop: If you need help on an app you already started, bring your laptop dev environment with your app on it.
  • If you want to build an app without any code, bring a laptop that has a modern browser (IE10-11, Chrome). You’ll only need your browser to build and submit the app to the store. If you do not have a Windows Phone, the experts will be able to help you test the app on their phone. You will still need a DevCenter account to publish (see Preparation below).

What we will provide

  • Workspace with Internet access & power
  • Morning coffee & lunch
  • Windows Phone development experts / sensei
  • Test devices: We’ll have a few test phones available on loan for those that need a physical device for testing
  • Prizes / giveaways
  • Fun!

Giveaways

Everyone who attends and publishes their app will be entered to win a “hero” Nokia Lumia (1020, 928, 925, or 920) of their choice, and we have more prizes for attendees, see below. Note that sensei are also eligible for prizes even if they do not publish an app as a “thank you” for their help.

Prize Pool: Anyone that publishes an app on event day is eligible to win

  • 1x Nokia Lumia “Hero” device (i.e. winner’s choice between a 920, 925, 928 or 1020)
  • 2x Nokia Lumia 820 Phone Dev Kits (courtesy of Microsoft)
  • 1x Nokia Qi Wireless Charging Plate
  • Other Nokia DVLUP swag (TBD)

Giveaways: Anyone who attends will get all of these

  • Nokia DVLUP t-shirt
  • Nokia DVLUP USB car adapters
  • Bonus 250 points to spend on DVLUP rewards

I’ll probably have other goodies on-site too like NFC stickers, 8-bit sunglasses for kids, and such. Microsoft will also be bringing some prizes of their own!

Note: If you accept a prize from me, you agree to these terms.

Preparation for the Event

You’ll have a bit of homework to do to get ready for the event:

  • Install the Windows Phone developer tools: See my Getting Started page here.
  • DevCenter Registration: It takes a few days to be accepted as a registered Windows Phone developer. Take care of this now so you’re ready to publish on Feb 22. It only costs $19. Check the offers below if that’s too much for you.
  • Nokia Developer Offers: This package gets you a free DevCenter registration and additional tools from Telerik, Infragistics and others. Get started here.
  • BizSpark: Start your own business as an app developer and apply for BizSpark. You’ll get a free MSDN subscription, free DevCenter registration, free Azure credits and more. Sign-up here.
  • DreamSpark: If you’re a student, sign-up for DreamSpark instead and get many of the same free benefits.
  • Start working on your app: This is highly recommended if you already have an idea. Unless your app idea is very simple, going from start to finish in one day is hard. The more you code ahead of time, the better. If you get stuck, bring your code and your problems and our experts will help you out.

If you have more questions about the event or how to prepare, post them in the comments below.

See you soon!

Nokia Promotion: ActiveNick’s February Giveaway for Windows Phone Developers

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Greetings Windows Phone developers!

One of the fun things of being a Nokia Developer Ambassador is running contests. I love the Windows Phone developer community and I love giving away free stuff. So here I am, kicking off February with a bang for the developers in my region. This includes the states of NY, NJ, PA, DE, MD, DC, VA, WV & KY. If you do not live in those states, be sure to check the promotions by your own Ambassador. The full list can be found here.

How to Participate in the Contest

Simple: Build a new Windows Phone app! Here are the criteria:

  • You must live (and your DevCenter account must be registered) in one of the following US States: NY, NJ, PA, DE, MD, DC, VA, WV & KY. No exceptions. I will ask for verification evidence if you win something.
  • You must must build a brand new app for Windows Phone 8 or Windows Phone 7.8, NOT an update to an existing app (though we always encourage you to update existing apps too).
  • The app must first be published between February 1st and February 28th 2014.
  • This contest is available for new and existing Windows Phone developers.
  • You must build a real app, no crapware please. It doesn’t have to be a complicated app but it must have real value. I will be the final judge. No arguments.
  • Your app must have at least 5 reviews by March 8 2014, with an average of 4+ stars.

Once your app is live and meets the downloads & ratings criteria above, send me your entry via my Contact Me form here. Please include the following in your entry:

  • Subject: ActiveNick’s February Nokia Giveaway
  • Your name
  • Your city & state
  • Your preferred email
  • Your DVLUP username (sign-up here if you do not have one)
  • Link to your app

What You Can Win

At the end of February (only 28 days, act fast) I will compile the names of all the participants and draw names randomly

  • 5x Nokia Lumia 800 smartphones (Black, GSM US bands, carrier unlocked, upgradeable to Windows Phone 7.8)
  • 5x DVLUP-branded Wenger Swiss Gear backpacks
  • 1x JBL MD-51 PlayUp Portable Wireless Speaker for Nokia – Black
  • 10x NFC “Testing Kits” (1x programmable NFC card and 5 DVLUP-branded NFC stickers)
  • 5x Reward Cards worth 250 points to spend on DVLUP rewards

I will do the drawing on March 8 2014 to allow enough time for late entries to reach the 5 required reviews. I will notify the winners via email.

Sounds good? Now go build some apps. Remember that your app must be published and in the Windows Phone Store by February 28 2014.

How Do I Get Started?

If you’ve never built a Windows Phone app before, visit my Getting Started page for a whole set of resources to get you started.

Disclaimers

  • If you already received/won/earned a free Lumia 800 from me (or my predecessor) as part of the “Build your First App” promotion in 2013, you are not eligible to win another Lumia in this contest. However you are still eligible for the other prizes.
  • Apps entered in this contest cannot be combined with other promotions I might run in the region.
  • Don’t try to fake your location to participate in this contest. I will find out.
  • By entering this contest you agree to my terms of service.

Q&A

Is this a Microsoft or a Nokia promotion?

This is a Nokia promotion available for all Windows Phone developers in the following US states only: NY, NJ, PA, DE, MD, DC, VA, WV & KY.

Can I choose my prize?

No. I will assign the prizes at random when I do the drawing on March 8 2014.

Can I build an app with Microsoft App Studio?

Yes you can, but try to apply yourself to make it a nice one. Build something real around a common theme, don’t just throw a bunch of random links together and call it a day, otherwise I’ll throw your app in the “crapware” category. And remember that you’ll need to reach the 100 downloads and 5 ratings milestones to qualify.

Can I build an app with PhoneGap?

Yes, as long as the app is also published in the Windows Phone Store. If you want to target many App Stores, PhoneGap can be a good alternative.

Will I get more than one entry in the contest if I build more than one app?

Totally, yes! The more apps you publish, the more chances you have to win. You can even win more prizes! But you can only win ONE prize of each category (i.e. one phone, one backpack, etc.)

Can I enter the contest by updating an older app?

No. Though we always encourage you to update existing apps, this contest is only for new apps.

Will I still get DVLUP xp for my new app?

Of course! All Windows Phone apps are eligible for DVLUP challenges as long as you’re in a supported country.

Can I build a Windows 8 app instead?

You can, but it won’t be eligible for this contest. This Nokia promotion is only for new Windows Phone apps.