Event Session – Building Universal Windows Apps for Smartphones and Tablets with XAML & C#

Universal-Apps-Devices

by Nick Landry

The “Blue Wave” is in full swing. Thanks to the new Universal Windows app templates in Visual Studio 2013 Update 2, it is now easier than ever to build mobile apps for both Windows Store and Windows Phone. Developers are curious about the new features and I’ve been touring around speaking at events to spread the word about Universal Windows apps.

I recently presented this talk at Philly Code Camp 2014 last weekend, at the Microsoft Mobile App Devs of New Jersey (MMAD) Meetup and NYC .NET Developers Group.

Session Description

This session is your fast track into the wonderful new world of app development for Windows device. Come learn how your valuable C# skills now make you a hot mobile developer for smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops. We’ll perform a quick lap around Microsoft Visual Studio 2013 and the new Windows Universal Apps, build our first app using XAML & C#, and debug it with Windows 8.1 and the Windows Phone Emulator. We’ll then explore the converged WinRT API services and features, such as touch input, accelerometers, Live Tiles, etc. We’ll also spend valuable time going over the new app model for Windows device apps, how to share code between phone and tablet, and how to build a converged UI in XAML for Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone. Lastly we’ll go over the app packaging and how to submit your Universal apps to the Windows Store. The converged Windows Platform is more efficient and far-reaching than ever. Come learn how to build mobile apps for hundreds of millions of Windows device users.

Session Slides

You can view & download the slides for this talk from my Slideshare account here, or you can use the embedded viewer below.

Session Demos

You can download the demos and samples for this session using the links below:

Session Links and Resources

If you have questions about this session, you can ask them in the comments section below or contact me on Twitter at @ActiveNick. If you’re interested in inviting me to present this talk at your event or meetup, you can reach me via my contact form here.

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Event Session – Beyond Cortana & Siri: Using Speech Recognition & Speech Synthesis for the Next Generation of Mobile Apps

Cortana Halo 4 HD

by Nick Landry

Speech is probably the topic I’m most passionate about when it comes to app development (ok, I have a soft spot for GIS too). From HAL9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey and Joshua in WarGames, to Star Trek computers, Siri and Cortana, having conversations with a semi-sentient computer using natural language and speech is probably the ultimate frontier of technology. But speech can also be a responsibility for us developers to make sure our apps are usable by all, and to keep our users – and those around them – safe. This talk is one of my favorite. It’s about using Speech Recognition & Speech Synthesis to build the next generation of mobile apps.

I recently presented this talk at Philly Code Camp 2014 last weekend, and at the Microsoft Mobile App Devs of New Jersey (MMAD) Meetup. I’ve also presented it at Internet Week NY 2014 last month, and I’ve done variations of this talk at other events in the past including VSLive, CodePalousa, DevTeach, DVLUP Day Boston and M3 Conference.

Session Description

Our society has a problem. Individuals are hooked on apps, phones, tablets and social networking. We created these devices and these apps that have become a core part of our lives but we stopped short. We failed to recognize some of the problematic situations where our apps are used. People are texting, emailing and chatting while driving. Pedestrians walk into busy intersections and into sidewalk hazards because they refuse to put their phone down. We cannot entirely blame them. We created a mobile revolution, and now we just can’t simply ask them to put it on hold when it’s not convenient. It’s almost an addiction and too often it has led to fatal results.

Furthermore, mobile applications are not always easy to work with due to the small screen and on-screen keyboard. Other people struggle to use traditional computing devices due to handicaps. Using our voice is a natural form of communication amongst humans. Ever since 2001: A Space Odyssey, we’ve been dreaming of computers who can converse with us like HAL9000 or the Star Trek computers. Or maybe you’re part of the new generation of geeks dreaming of Halo’s Cortana? Thanks to the new advances and SDKs for speech recognition and synthesis (aka text-to-speech), we are now several steps closer to this reality. Siri is not the end game, she’s the beginning.

This session explores the design models and development techniques you can use to add voice recognition to your mobile applications, including in-app commands, standard & custom grammars, and voice commands usable outside your app. We’ll also see how your apps can respond to the user via speech synthesis, opening-up a new world of hands-free scenarios. This reality is here, you’ll see actual live cross-platform demos with speech and you can now learn how to do it. Speech support is not just cool or a convenience, it should be a necessity in many apps.

Session Slides

You can view & download the slides for this talk from my Slideshare account here, or you can use the embedded viewer below.

Session Demos

You can download the demos and samples for this session using the links below:

Session Links and Resources

If you have questions about this session, you can ask them in the comments section below or contact me on Twitter at @ActiveNick. If you’re interested in inviting me to present this talk at your event or meetup, you can reach me via my contact form here.

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Internet of Things Expo Power Panel with Microsoft, IBM, Kaazing, LogMeIn & Aria

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by Nick Landry

I recently had the pleasure of joining a team of experts on the Things Expo Power Panel about the Internet of Things (IoT). The panel was recorded on Monday June 9, right before the Internet of Things Expo – which is part of SYS-CON’s Cloud Expo – which was held June 10-12 2014 at the Javits Convention Center in New York City.

In this Internet of Things Expo Power Panel, conference chair Roger Strukhoff led a discussion with several industry experts on how the future of computing lies in things and how, as computing takes a much more active role in our lives, it will at the same time become much more invisible. We discuss various company strategies for IoT, the effects of Moore’s Law on IoT, how to connect all these billions (or trillions?) of things in a realistic manner, how can companies get started, and much more.

The panelists were:

You can watch the panel on YouTube here or using the embedded player below:

Here are a few of the things that I mentioned in the panel:

Also, make sure to watch my interview with Kevin Benedict about Microsoft strategy in the Internet of Things recorded the very next day. Watch it here.

Where do you stand in the issues discussed in the panel? What does the Internet of Things mean to you? Is your company a player in that space? Are you a maker? What cool ideas do you have for connecting “things” with devices, computers and the cloud? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter at @ActiveNick.

Dads: Teach Electronics to your Kids

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My Three Dads

by Nick Landry

Yesterday was Fathers Day. I feel very lucky because I didn’t grow up with one father, I grew up with three fathers. My father, my stepfather and my godfather. All three had a presence and an important role in my life. I am eternally grateful to them. My dad was a career lawyer (pictured above right), and was always quite busy (he’s 76 and still not fully retired). He was there as a great provider and a role model, but he was not the kind of dad who would sit down and play with me, do home projects or spend too much time in my world. Thanks to him I grew up in a nice home with everything I needed, I learned good values, I had unforgettable summers of fun at camp, I learned tennis, I had private ski lessons and a season pass every winter, I got to go to a private high school, and I didn’t pay a dime for University. I’m only scratching the surface here, of course. Thanks Dad.

My godfather was also important to me. My godparents are family friends and I would spend a few weekends a year with them. He was always full of great advice and wisdom, he was fun, and it was thanks to his purchase of the original Macintosh in 1984 that I fell in love with computers. His son was also my childhood best friend, and my godfather treated me like a son. He was also there to listen to me and support me when I had a tough decision to make about my studies and my career. He taught me to follow my dreams. Thanks Pierre-André.

My parents got divorced when I was 9, which is about the age I was when my stepdad entered my life (pictured above left), and I entered his. I know that many unfortunately grew up in a life of conflict with stepparents, but I was blessed to have experienced the most “amicable and stable” divorce you could have for your parents. Both my mom and dad found new soul mates shortly after their separation – and have been with them since – for over 30 years now. My stepdad became that dad that spends time with you, plays with you, listens to you, works on projects with you, and gives you his full attention. We did video projects together – from live action to stop-motion LEGOs. He built a tree house at our summer cottage for me. He did so much renovation work for my new bedroom in the basement, or new apartment, or new house. He filmed and created unforgettable video montages of so many happy moments of my life – including my wedding video. He did so much more, and he always treated me like his own son. Thanks Gaëtan.

Yesterday was also a special Fathers Day for me: it was my first “real” one as a dad. My kids were born shortly before Fathers Day last year but they came early and spent a few weeks in the hospital NICU. I was a father already but I was not truly taking care of them yet, we had an amazing staff of nurses and doctors to do that. Today my kids are 1 and it really felt like Fathers Day. Every since my wife got pregnant I’ve been reflecting on the kind of dad I want to be, in essence striving to take the best of my 3 dads and adding my own touch.

This post is not about how to be a good dad. I barely know that myself and I’ll be learning how to be one for the rest of my life. This post is about one special thing amongst a million that you can do to be a great dad: spend time with your kids and teach them electronics.

 

Science Fair 160 Electronics Projects with Page 1

Left photo courtesy of MightyOhm

My First Electronic Kit

I got my first electronics kit in my early teens. It was a birthday gift from my stepdad. It was one of those popular Science Fair Electronic Project Labs by Tandy | Radio Shack. Mine was the awesome “160 choses à faire” (French for 160-in-1). Oh man, I had so much fun with this. For years I played with it. It was one of those things I could easily pack and bring with me to our cottage. It was safe thanks to these little coils letting you easily connect components without soldering. It was fun, I felt like I could create anything. I learned some electronics basics with it, but I also learned to read carefully. I was learning by reading, but it didn’t feel like homework because it was fun. And I learned patience. Some of those projects could get quite complex, requiring a lot of wiring. And I learned debugging, a skill that I still use today, which also requires a lot of patience. I would many times make a mistake when wiring a project, and I’d have to backtrack and figure out where I went wrong.

It didn’t end there. For years I would look at the Radio Shack catalog, searching for other cool stuff I could beg my parents for. There was a bigger version of this kit, the “200-in-1”. I can’t remember if I actually put it on some wish list, or if I never pulled the trigger to buy one with my savings, but I never got one. I eventually completely destroyed my 160-in-1 for a shop class project in high school and I regret it to this day. I do have fond memories of this kit, and this is something I want my kids to experience.

My kids are only 1 year old, but when they’re old enough, I’ll teach them electronics, and so should you.

 

Video Games and Kids

Electronics, Video Games, Your Kids and You

There are many options you can explore if you want to teach your kids electronics. If you don’t know electronics, learn it with them. All the kit suggestions I’m listing below are pretty much self-explanatory. If you’re a technical individual (chances are good that you are if you’re reading my blog), you’ll pick it up in no time, and can then explain your kid how stuff works. You can spend time together, share victories and frustrations, you can build something, be a maker!

I want to be clear: I am not suggesting that you focus on electronics instead of other important developmental youth activities, such as sports or learning a musical instrument. I am suggesting that you add this to your “dad to-do list”. Extra curricular activities are super important, but they usually all involve driving your kid somewhere and adhering to a fixed schedule. Once your kids are back home, what do they usually do? Hopefully they enjoy reading and do their homework, but chances are they also like watching TV and playing video games.

I have nothing against TV and video games, I’m a huge gamer myself and I grew up with video games. But we’ve come a long way since Pac-Man and Donkey Kong and today’s games are much more “engrossing” (I hate using the word addictive when it comes to gaming). Fighting the lure of an Xbox One is a tough thing to do, and denying them access only leads to frustration on all sides. Video games played in moderation are just fine, but when it becomes too much, try redirecting their attention and interests towards electronics. If they inherited any of your techie genes, they’ll hopefully have fun and pursue it on their own.

Another clarification: Don’t be a cliché. Electronics are not just for boys. Have your little princess learn technical stuff too. You’ll be surprised. Girls are often more patient than boys, and might stick with it even more. She’ll be happy to share something with her dad.

Electronic Kits for All Ages

There are quite a few options to learn electronics. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but as far as I know, these are the most popular options.

Elenco Snap Circuits

Elenco Snap Circuits (age 8+)

Snap Circuits makes learning electronics easy and fun. Just follow the colorful pictures in the manual and build exciting projects such as AM radios, burglar alarms, doorbells and much more. You can even play electronic games with your friends. All parts are mounted on plastic modules and snap together with ease. Enjoy hours of educational fun while learning about electronics. No tools required. Many kits are available, each with more or less parts, letting you create 100, 300 or 750 projects. There is a physics kit and other options too.

 

Start

littleBits (age 8+)

littleBits consists of tiny circuit-boards with specific functions engineered to snap together with magnets. No soldering, no wiring, no programming, just snap together for prototyping, learning and fun. Each bit has a specific function (light, sound, sensors, buttons, thresholds, pulse, motors, etc), and modules snap to make larger circuits. Just as LEGO allows you to create complex structures with very little engineering knowledge, littleBits are small, simple, intuitive, blocks that make creating with sophisticated electronics a matter of snapping small magnets together.

There are several kits available, even a space kit! Newer kits even let you teach programming to your kids. The diversity of projects being created with littleBits is quite astounding.

 

Elencto Electronic Project Labs

Elenco Electronic Project Labs & Playgrounds (age 10+)

Elenco’s Electronic Project Playgrounds & Labs are the spiritual successors to Radio Shack’s popular Science Fair kits. A wide selection is available. These are classic electronics trainers for expanding the depths of electronics understanding. They uses the same spring-wire connection methods as Radio Shack’s Science Fair kits (and a breadboard as well) for quick and easy modifications and troubleshooting. With the projects in this kit, learn about transistors, transformers, diodes, capacitors, oscillators, basic electronic circuits, and schematic symbols. Everything you need to build exciting electronics projects including: Delayed Timer, Optical Volume, Digital Light Dimmer, Tone Burst Generator, Audio Signal Tracer, Voice Level Meter, Voltage Drop Alarm, Function Generator, Voltage Control Amplifier and many, many more.

 

Lego Mindstorms EV3

LEGO Mindstorms EV3 (age 10+)

While technically not an electronics kit – it’s actually a robotics kit – I just couldn’t publish this blog post without talking about LEGO Mindstorms. Some kids will actually be more motivated by stuff that moves rather than stuff that blinks. I grew up with LEGO and while a few kits included some basic electrical motor functions (I never got one of these) I really wish we had a robotics kit like this. The LEGO Mindstorms EV3 is the third generation of Mindstorms and was released in 2013. Combining the versatility of the LEGO building system with the most advanced technology ever developed by LEGO, create and command robots that walk, talk, think and do anything you can imagine (assuming you have the proper parts, of course). Follow the step-by-step 3D building instructions to create multiple pre-designed robots and bring them to life with an easy, intuitive and icon-based programming interface. Grab the enclosed remote control and take on challenging ready-made missions or download the free app and command your robot using your smart device. You can also visit LEGO.com/mindstorms to access loads of cool content and interact with a huge online community of other LEGO MINDSTORMS fans – kids and adults alike.

 

Gadgeteer

Microsoft .NET Gadgeteer

We’re now starting to enter the big leagues. Microsoft .NET Gadgeteer is an open-source toolkit for building small electronic devices using a wide variety of hardware modules and a powerful programming environment based on the .NET Micro Framework and Visual Studio/Visual C# Express. Even someone with little or no electronics background can build devices made up of components like sensors, lights, switches, displays, communications modules, motor controllers, and much more. Just pick your components, plug them into a mainboard and program the way they work together. .NET Gadgeteer uses the .NET Micro Framework to make writing code for your device as easy as writing a desktop, Web or Windows Phone application.

For educators, .NET Gadgeteer is a great way to excite students about programming, electronics and design. For hobbyists and inventors, bring your ideas to life in hours instead of days or weeks. Develop your inventions easily and show your friends and potential investors. Even professional prototypers can go from concept to test in less than a day. Hardware, software and physical design come together to enable quick assessment of sophisticated concepts. A .NET Gadgeteer system is composed of a mainboard containing an embedded processor and a variety of modules which connect to the mainboard through a simple plug-and-play interface. There are lots of .NET Gadgeteer modules available today, including: display, camera, networking, storage and a variety of sensors and input controls. New modules are being designed all the time!

 

Boards

Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Netduino, etc.

Whether you have older kids or you want to learn electronics for yourself, all roads eventually lead to the Arduino and/or the Raspberry Pi. This is where you step beyond just electronics and into the full Internet of Things.

Arduino can sense the environment by receiving input from a variety of sensors and can affect its surroundings by controlling lights, motors, and other actuators. The microcontroller on the board is programmed using the Arduino programming language and the Arduino development environment. Arduino projects can be stand-alone or they can communicate with software running on a computer. The Netduino is an Arduino-compatible development board by Secret Labs that uses .NET Micro Framework to let you build electronics projects with Visual Studio and C#. Secret Labs also has the Netduino Go which offers a plug & play architecture similar to the .NET Gadgeteer.

The Raspberry Pi completely revolutionized the maker space. The Raspberry Pi is a low cost, credit-card sized computer that plugs into a computer monitor or TV, and uses a standard keyboard and mouse. It is a capable little device that enables people of all ages to explore computing, and to learn how to program in languages like Scratch and Python. It’s capable of doing everything you’d expect a desktop computer to do, from browsing the internet and playing high-definition video, to making spreadsheets, word-processing, and playing games. What’s more, the Raspberry Pi  has the ability to interact with the outside world, and has been used in a wide array of digital maker projects, from music machines and parent detectors to weather stations and tweeting birdhouses with infrared cameras.

This world is huge and providing enough details to get started with Arduino or Raspberry is beyond the scope of this post. I’ll be posting more info in future blog entries. Here are a few reference links in the meantime:

 

What’s your story? Did you learn electronics as a kid? Are you teaching electronics to your kids? Do you have advice for other moms or dads who want to go down this path with their kids? Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter at @ActiveNick.

Oh, and remember that 200-in-1 Science Fair kit I never got? I found one on eBay and 30 years later one of my childhood wishes came true. I can’t wait to show my kids in a few years…

Twins and 200-in-1

Live from New York, it’s the Internet of Things!

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by Nick Landry

I’ve been spending the last couple of days at SYS-CON’s Cloud Expo in New York City – which also includes the Internet of Things Expo (amongst others). It’s been fun so far to connect with attendees at the Microsoft booth and discuss all the goodness that is in Microsoft Azure, and I’ll be back there for another day tomorrow. Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting Kevin Benedict from Cognizant and MobileEnterpriseStrategies.com. We sat down for a short interview to discuss the Internet of Things, how Microsoft plays in that space, where things have been, where things are going, and also discuss some cool scenarios. The possibilities are truly endless.

You can watch the interview right here below. I’ve also included various links to some of the topics discussed at the bottom of this post.

Links from the Interview

What does the Internet of Things mean to you? Are you a maker? What cool ideas do you have for connecting “things” with devices, computers and the cloud? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter at @ActiveNick.

App Spotlight: MakerBot Thingiverse

StarTrekReplicator

by Nick Landry

3D printers fascinate me. I’m sure I’m not the only one. I do not own one (yet) though. There are several reasons for that:

  1. I have to convince my wife to let me buy one. No further comments.
  2. I’d have to cough-up a few G’s because I’d buy a really good one, like a tried-and-true MakerBot. There are cheaper alternatives but what I hear is they might have some flaws you only discover after 50-100 prints. Reviewers often don’t get that far before grading a 3D printer. I have more research to do.
  3. What would I print?

The third one used to be the key issue for me. My 3D design skills are quite rudimentary and I’d be afraid of wasting a lot of time and filament (i.e. 3D printing material) only to produce really crappy objects, parts and prototypes.

Then I discovered MakerBot’s Thingiverse.

Oh man, I think I’m gonna have to buy a MakerBot soon. Thingiverse is a portal for 3D designers and makers to share their designs, turning 3D printing into living community where ideas literally come to life. Think of Thingiverse as the internal database of the Enterprise (or Voyager or DS9) replicators. I never saw any Star Trek character play with 3D models before they replicated anything. I bet they had great 3D design engineers at Starfleet to seed the database. The crew just “queried” the database (using voice) and the replicator made it. This truly makes a 3D printer a tool for everyone.

Thingiverse is available on the web, but also as an app for iPhone, Android and now for Windows 8! The Windows Store version works both on Windows 8 and on Windows RT.

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App Description

MakerBot’s Thingiverse is a thriving design community for discovering, making, and sharing 3D printable things. As the world’s largest 3D printing community, we believe that everyone should be encouraged to create and remix 3D things, no matter their technical expertise or previous experience. In the spirit of maintaining an open platform, all designs are encouraged to be licensed under a Creative Commons license.

The Thingiverse app lets you browse Thingiverse from the comfort of your computer. See what we’ve featured, what’s new and noteworthy, what the community has made, and what’s popular. When looking at the things themselves, scroll through beautiful slideshows of photos. Like items, add them to your collections, and quickly share them to your social networks or email.

Make. Share. Discover.

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Impressions

If you’re familiar with the Thingiverse community on the web, you’ll feel right at home in the Windows app. There are featured collections, creations from MakerBot challenges, a global feed showing the latest activity in the community, and a list of recently made “things”. There are even customizable creations which you can personalize with the Customizer app accessible straight from within the Windows app.

You can of course search to your heart’s content. No voice search like Star Trek yet though, hopefully that will come someday. The first thing I searched for when I launched the app? Raspberry Pi cases. Yes, there are tons of them. My next search was cases for the Intel Galileo. Since I’m doing some really cool stuff with mine right now.

When viewing the details page of a “thing” design, you will get:

  • One or more photos of the final result as posted by the designer
  • Instructions (if made available by the designer)
  • Community stat counters for likes, collected, how many makers made one and more
  • User comments
  • Suggestions for other designs
  • File downloads

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If you do not have a community account on Thingiverse, you can create one straight from the app. Once logged in, you can “like” various creations, and create lists of favorites called “Collections”. If you create something someone else designed, make sure to say so in the app and post a nice comment for the designer. It’s a community after all. You can fill out a full profile in the app and also sign-in with your Twitter account.

I was also happy to see the Thingiverse app supporting Snapped View. Snapping Windows apps is in my opinion one of the most underused and underestimated features of Windows 8.x and I find it critical for app developers to support it. MakerBot Thingiverse supports snapped view very well. If you squeeze the app even more, its responsive design will even adapt to the allowed app width and you can use another app side-by-side. It’s amazing how browsing for replicator models works well while watching Star Trek on Netflix.

Overall, I love the app. I highly recommend you take it for a spin. Go download it now!

Do you own a 3D printer? Which one? What do you use it for? If not, are you thinking of buying one? Let me know in the comments section below, or contact me on Twitter at @ActiveNick.

 

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(re)Introducing Windows Platform Developer Magazine

WPDEV Magazine Cover 2014-6-6-1280

Almost a year ago, I decided to test the waters on a new feature of my (then) favorite iPad app: Flipboard. Flipboard is still one of my favorite apps on the iPad, and I also use it on Android and Windows 8. Flipboard was basically my favorite way to read all the articles gathered under my own Google Reader, with everything neatly organized like a magazine layout. Flipboard has evolved beyond its RSS roots, especially given the closure of Google Reader. I now use Feedly instead, but Flipboard doesn’t integrate with it. You can still add individual RSS feeds to Flipboard however.

Flipboard also offered article feeds from well known news sources, and later introduced a feature to curate your own magazines, and then share them with the world. Not only limited to mobile devices (especially tablets), Flipboard announced last year that Flipboard Magazines could now be enjoyed on the web.

I decided to experiment with the idea and launched my first Flipboard magazine: Windows Phone Developer – featuring news,  tips, and techniques for mobile developers passionate about Windows Phone. The launch “issue” included 66 articles from the past month, covering Windows Phone both the end user and the developer point of view. The months went buy, the magaine grew with more articles and more readers and I can honestly say that so far this has been a successful experiment:

  • Over 300 articles!
  • Over 48,000 readers!!
  • Over 1 million page flips!!!

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Today I am re-branding and re-launching my Flipboard magazine for a new world of Universal Windows apps for phones, tablets, laptops, desktops & other Windows devices. Introducing:

Windows Platform Developer Magazine! Access it here at http://aka.ms/wpdevmag

The articles in Windows Platform Developer Magazine are curated from various sources, including official Microsoft blogs, DVLUP, Conversations on Nokia, Windows Phone Central, and other sources including blogs from MVPs, community experts and such. If you feel there is another source of articles I should be drawing from, feel free to let me know in the comments below. I also individually select and curate each article that goes in. I do not use scripts to populate the magazine from RSS feeds. As such, the appearance of new articles is not always regular, and I promise to stay on top of things to keep the content fresh.

So go try it out. Download the Flipboard app on Windows 8, iOS or Android, and subscribe to Windows Platform Developer Magazine at http://aka.ms/wpdevmag. You can also use the link to flip through in a web browser.

What do you think? Do you like the magazine? I will be announcing a couple more magazines soon. Are there more topics you’d like me to cover in other magazines? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter at @ActiveNick.

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