Tag Archives: Windows 8 Development

AzureChatr: Building a Cross-Platform Chat App for Windows, iOS & Android

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by Nick Landry (last updated on 10/7/2014)

Have you ever witnessed a big news announcement about some mobile app or website being acquired for millions (or billions!) of dollars, only to tell yourself:

Wow, that’s a lot of money, and to think that I could have been the one to build that!

This is exactly how I felt when WhatsApp was purchased by Facebook for a whopping 19 BILLION dollars earlier this year. Why? Because like all of you, I have technical skills and I know how to build apps, and I knew I could have built that app. It seems that chat/messaging apps are all the craze now. Microsoft got things going early when Skype was acquired back in 2011 (though Skype is so much more than just a chat app). Yahoo just acquired MessageMe, and now Google is apparently building their own too. So what am I to do here? Admit that it’s too late or challenge myself?

I decided I would prove it to myself. I decided to build a cross-platform chat app that lets people on Windows, iOS and Android chat with each other. I knew it wouldn’t be that hard because I have a (not so) secret weapon called Microsoft Azure. My goal is ultimately to show everyone how easy it can be to build cloud-powered mobile apps, no matter if you are a Windows, iOS or Android developer using C#, Objective-C or Java. What better way to do this than to build a live app, and then share the source code with the community as I blog about the internal “how to’s”?

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Introducing AzureChatr: A Chat App Powered by the Cloud

AzureChatr (pronounced “Azure Chatter”) is a cross-platform chat client that I now use to demonstrate mobile development techniques with a cloud backend using Microsoft Azure. While AzureChatr can be used to chat about anything, the intent of the app is to bring users together to talk about cloud development. Last June I shipped the initial beta release of AzureChatr for Windows Phone 8.1. AzureChatr will soon be available on Windows 8.1, iOS and Android too. The cool thing is you do not have to wait until I publish AzureChatr on the other platforms. You can find the source code for Windows, iOS and Android below.

AzureChatr lets you chat live in real-time with other users in a global chat room. You do not need to invite anyone, it’s just a big central meeting place (for now). There is currently no support for private chat and all conversations should be considered public

PRIVACY NOTICE: All chat conversations are saved in the cloud for history purposes. Chat conversations should be considered public but will not be distributed to any third parties or used for any other purposes than displaying conversations in the app. Do not divulge any private or confidential information in AzureChatr.

AzureChatr Features

The current version of AzureChatr is certainly not as full-featured as WhatsApp or other popular chatting apps. My goal is to keep adding features over time and document their implementation at the same time here on my blog.

Common Features: Windows, iOS, Android

  • All chats are posted in a global public chat room. There is no private chat yet.
  • Send chat lines to the cloud and save them in Azure Mobile Services.
  • Receive chat lines from the cloud via push notifications (i.e. WNS, APNS, GCM).
  • Display new chat conversation items as toast notification / popup alerts when the app is not running. Tapping the toast / alert launches the app.
  • Integration with the Action Center / Notification Centers on Windows Phone, iOS and Android.
  • Support for Portrait or Landscape orientation.

It should be noted that there is currently no built-in way to mute or disable the notifications. This is obviously an upcoming feature. The only way to mute the notifications is either to disable them in your phone settings where allowed, or uninstall the app.

Extra Features in the Universal Windows version

Since the Windows Phone 8.1 version is already live in the store, there are additional features I’ve already added to polish the app a bit more for public use. Though the Windows version is not live yet, some features have already been integrated should you play with the source code yourself. This is because the Windows and Windows Phone versions are built as a Universal Windows app that virtually shares 100% of its source code. The extra features already available in this version are:

  • Integrated login with default Microsoft Account on the device.
  • AutoScroll the chat window down after each new chat entry is posted.
  • Multiline text entries with wrapping.
  • Only retrieve the last 20 entries on app startup / refresh.
  • Added an extra Send button when using the Windows version since the default send button in the app bar is not visible by default.
  • Send chat line on ENTER key in Windows for mouse & keyboard users.

Upcoming Features

Other than bringing the iOS and Android to parity with the Windows version, I already have a long shopping list of features that I plan to eventually add to AzureChatr across all versions.

  • Display time stamps on individual chat items.
  • Support for additional chat rooms by topic, and private chat rooms where you can invite your friends.
  • Access the chat log history by scrolling back.
  • Speech synthesis integration to hear what your friends are saying without looking at the app.
  • Voice command activation with Cortana (on Windows Phone).
  • Display user profile images and allow users to provide additional profile data in the app.
  • Customize the UI such as font sizes, colors, etc.
  • Support for hyperlinks and emojis in chat.
  • Support for posting images in chat.
  • Muting notifications when you don’t want to be disturbed.
  • Authentication via Twitter, Facebook and Google+.
  • Allow users to “Like” someone else’s post.

And this is just a partial list. I have a lot more in my backlog. Feel free to post your own suggestions in the comments section below. Note that AzureChatr is not something I’m working on full-time. I’ll bang out some code and keep adding features when I find time, but do not expect this to because the be-all-end-all of all chat apps anytime soon.

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Download the AzureChatr App

Wanna try the app? So far I have only published the Windows Phone 8.1 version of AzureChatr. The others will come soon enough.

  • Download AzureChatr for Windows Phone 8.1 (Note that this is currently a BETA release only available to a few countries: USA, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, India and Finland).
  • Download AzureChatr for Windows 8.1 (coming soon)
  • Download AzureChatr for iPhone & iPad (coming soon)
  • Download AzureChatr for Android tablets & phones (coming soon)

I’ll be sure to update this blog post as the other versions become available, and also when I add additional features to the app. Of course, the whole goal here is to learn how to build this yourself or how to add similar features to your own apps, so keep on reading to discover what goes on under the hood.

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AzureChatr: Under the Hood

AzureChatr has a lot of moving parts and this section will host links to several blog posts that dissect specific aspects of the AzureChatr components, including the following:

  • AzureChatr client for Windows and Windows Phone
  • AzureChatr client for Android
  • AzureChatr client for iOS
  • Cloud components, including Azure Mobile Services, Authentication Services and Notification Hubs

You can get started by watching this video interview about AzureChatr from the Visual Studio Toolbox show on Channel 9. It features the show host – Robert Green – and myself geeking out over how AzureChatr was built, what it does, and how Azure powers it all.

Bookmark this page and stay tuned as blog more about AzureChatr. All the links will be added here.

Dive Into the Source Code & the Azure Services

Before you download the source code for any of the AzureChatr versions, you have to create a Microsoft Azure account and configure the appropriate Azure services for table storage via Mobile Services, authentication via Microsoft Account, and push notifications via Notification Hubs.

The following links will help guide you through this process, including several tutorials from the Azure documentation.

Obtaining a Microsoft Azure Account

Setting-up the Required Azure Components

  • Create a new Mobile Service for your version of AzureChatr. You can use the tutorial here to learn how to get started but all you need is to create the mobile service by picking a name, selecting/creating a SQL database, picking a region affinity, and selecting the desired backend (JavaScript/Node or .NET). My version of AzureChatr uses JavaScript so if you want to use the same server-side code that I am sharing with you, you should pick JavaScript. Note that you do not have to repeat this step for the 3 clients. There is only one Mobile Service commonly used by the Windows, iOS and Android clients.
  • Follow the same tutorial to create a new table called ChatItem.
  • Authenticate your Windows app with Live Connect single sign-on: Follow the steps in this tutorial to register your app for the Windows Store, restrict permissions to authenticated users and install the Live SDK for Windows. Note that in the current implementation of the code, the iOS and Android versions do not yet support authentication. The authentication code has already been added to the Universal Windows app.
  • Please refer to the README.MD file in GitHub. There is a version for each of the 3 client versions. It contains a block of code you need to edit the ChatItem table Insert script.

Source Code Links in GitHub

The source code for all three versions of AzureChatr is available in my GitHub repo under the following links:

  • Source code: Windows Clients for a Cloud-based Cross-Platform Chat App for Windows Phone and Windows Tablets, Laptops and Desktops. Written in C# as a native Universal app using Visual Studio.
  • Source code: Android Client for a Cloud-based Cross-Platform Chat App for Smartphones and Tablets. Written in Java as a native app using Eclipse. This is just a basic prototype for now and is not ready for publication to the Google Play Store.

    Source code: iOS Client for a Cloud-based Cross-Platform Chat App for iPhone and iPad. Written in Objective-C as a native app using Xcode. This is just a basic prototype for now and is not ready for publication to the Apple App Store.

You’re probably wondering why I chose the “silo approach” to build these 3 versions. After all, building the 3 versions with 3 different languages, 3 different SDKs and 3 different IDEs is basically the hardest way possible. Personally I would have preferred to use Xamarin to build a cross-platform app and share as much code as possible. But I felt it was important to stick with the native tools already known by the developers indigenous to each mobile ecosystem.

Feel free to use the source code in your own apps. This is why I’m posting my source here, I want you all to learn how to use Azure for such online apps. You can use it to add chat capabilities to other domain-specific apps, or even to your own games. If you intend to simply create another “competing chat client”, that is fine too. All I ask is that you extend the code with your own ideas and features – make it your own (not just a clone) – and publish your chat apps under a different name of your own choosing (i.e. NOT AzureChatr).

If you have questions about AzureChatr, any of the mobile versions discussed here, the features, source code, design decisions or if you need help standing-up your own Azure services to support your own chat features, you can post them in the comments below, or you can ping me on Twitter at @ActiveNick.

Ultimate Guide & FAQ to Setting-Up a Windows Phone Development Environment

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by Nick Landry (last updated on 9/22/2014)

Mobile development is full of exciting opportunities, but setting-up your development environment can sometimes be a challenge depending on what your current hardware is, and what mobile platform you want to target. I work with a lot of developers at hackathons, workshops and meetups, and helping developers get started with Windows Phone development is a part of my day to day.

The goal of this post is to be a one-stop shop for any developers getting started with Windows Phone development to help them prepare their development environment using either free tools or using their current Visual Studio setup. For most developers using a recent Windows computer, installing the Windows Phone developer tools will be a breeze accomplished through a one-step process. But for other developers using legacy hardware, a lot of questions arise as to whether or not their current machine is up to snuff to run the Windows Phone SDK. I’ll try to address most of these questions I’ve been getting over the last couple of years. If there are important questions I am missing, feel free to ask them in the comments below and I will do my best to amend them in this post.

How much are the Windows Phone Dev Tools?

Totally free! You can install a single package called Visual Studio Express 2013 with Update 3 for Windows completely for free and you will get the following all at once:

  • Visual Studio 2013, the premier Integrated Development Environment (IDE)
  • Windows Phone 8.1 SDK (to build apps for Windows smartphones)
  • Windows 8.1 SDK (to build Windows Store apps for Windows tablets, laptops, hybrids & desktops)

To learn more about developing apps by using Visual Studio 2013, refer to the official documentation here.

I want to install the Windows Phone dev tools now. Where is the link?

Download the Windows Phone tools here. Remember to choose Visual Studio Express 2013 with Update 3 for Windows (NOT the version “for Windows Desktop”). Check out the requirements below first to make sure you have all you need.

What do I need for Windows Phone development?

The following lists the requirements to install the Windows Phone SDK:

  • Operating System: Windows 8.1 (x64). To run the Windows Phone Emulator, you’ll need Windows 8.1 Pro.
  • Processor: 1.6 GHz or faster
  • Memory: Your machine should really have no less than 4GB of RAM, and I definitely would recommend 8GB or more if your machine allows it
  • Storage: 11 GB of available hard disk space on a 5400 RPM hard drive. I highly recommend getting a fast hard drive (10K RPM) or a Solid State Drive (SSD)
  • Video: DirectX 9-capable video card running at 1024 x 768 or higher display resolution

There is one exception to the 64-bit rule. You can use a Windows 8.1 32-bit (x86) development machine to build Windows Phone 81. (but not 8.0) apps if you do not intend to use the emulator and debug your apps exclusively using an external Windows Phone device connected over USB.

To learn more about the requirements for Windows Phone 8 development, refer to the official documentation here.

What about Windows Store apps for tablets, Surface & desktop?

That’s an easy one. All the instructions provided in this blog post automatically give you the dev tools you need to build Windows Store and Universal apps. Universal apps let you share over 90% of your code when building apps for the phone, tablets, hybrids, 2-in-1’s, notebooks, laptops and desktops (and Xbox too in the near future). Note that I am spending extra time in this blog post on the Windows Phone side of things due to the extra requirements of the Windows Phone emulator.

Why is Windows 8.1 required?

Simple, because the core operating system for Windows Phone 8.x is the same: it’s Windows 8. Whether you’re building an app for Windows Phone, for the Windows Store, or the new Universal Windows app model, the underlying runtime is WinRT (not .NET), and WinRT was introduced with Windows 8. The Windows Runtime is part of a reimagining of the developer experience for Windows. It’s the modern Windows API surface used to create new Windows Store apps on Windows 8.x.

Why is Windows 8.1 Pro required for the Windows Phone Emulator?

Windows 8.1 (x64) Professional edition or higher is required for the Windows Phone emulators since those emulators are actually Hyper-V Virtual Machines (VM) running the Windows Phone operating system. Hyper-V is a feature of Windows 8.1 Pro. From a hardware point of view, you’ll need a processor that supports Client Hyper-V and Second Level Address Translation (SLAT). If your computer is running on an Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 CPU, you should be fine as those will typically support SLAT.

Hyper-V enables fast hardware virtualization to accelerate virtual machines and provide maximum performance. If you want to see how slow an emulator can get without hardware virtualization, go try the emulators in Google’s Android SDK.

Note that while you may have Windows 8.1 Pro, it does not necessarily guarantee that Hyper-V will be installed. To be sure, follow these steps:

  1. In Control Panel, click Programs, and then click Turn Windows features on or off.

  2. In the Windows Features dialog box, click Hyper-V. The list of options expands.

  3. In the expanded list of options, select at least the Hyper-V Platform check box, and then click OK.

HyperV-Feature

For more information about the Windows Features dialog box, see Turn Windows Features On or Off.

To learn more about how to enable Hyper-V for the emulator for Windows Phone, refer to the official WP8 documentation here.

What is SLAT? How do I know if my computer supports SLAT?

As discussed above, the Windows Phone emulator requires Hyper-V, which in turns requires a processor that supports Client Hyper-V and Second Level Address Translation (SLAT). PCs that support SLAT are Intel-based processors that start with i (e.g., i3, i5, i7, i9) or any CPUs based on Nehalem, Westmere, Sandybridge, Ivy Bridge & Haswell micro-architectures. The AMD equivalents are supported too.

To determine if your machine supports SLAT, perform the following steps:

CoreInfoSLAT

  • If you have a hyphen/dash (“-”) next to EPT, then you should start looking for a new computer. I hear the Surface Pro 3 is really nice Smile. You’re not entirely out of luck though, you can still use the tools to build Windows Phone apps, but you’ll have to use an external Windows Phone device to run & debug your apps. More on that below.

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There are also scenarios where the hypervisor is not turned on by default and you have to enable it in your computer BIOS. If you’re running Windows in Bootcamp on a Mac, there are no BIOS settings you can edit. The only way to force the a Mac to turn on the hypervisor is to cold-boot into Mac OS X, and then perform a warm reboot/OS switch to Windows.

To learn more about how to enable BIOS settings and Hyper-V for the emulator for Windows Phone, refer to the official WP8 documentation here.

I don’t have Windows 8. Can I use Windows 7 instead?

No. Windows 8.1 is required for the reasons explained above. You can still use Visual Studio 2010 and Windows 7 to build Windows Phone 7.x with the Windows Phone 7.1 SDK. You’ll unfortunately miss out on a lot of the great features introduced in Windows Phone 8 in 2012, and Windows Phone 8.1 in 2014. These great features include In-App Purchasing, Background Tasks, Cortana & the Speech SDK, a new map control & geofencing, support for more screen resolutions, and hundreds of other essential features that Windows Phone users are now taking for granted.

A question I often get is “Why isn’t Microsoft releasing additional updates for Windows 7 to get the Windows App Store and all the bits required for Windows Store & phone development?” There is an easy answer to that. We already did: it’s called upgrading to Windows 8! Seriously, Windows 8 builds on Windows 7. Everything that was in Windows 7 is in Windows 8.x.

What do I install if I already have Visual Studio 2013?

If you already use Visual Studio 2013 Professional Edition or higher, you simply need to install Update 2 or higher to get support for Windows Phone 8.1 and Universal Windows app development. At the time of this writing, Update 3 for Visual Studio 2013 is already available, so you might as well install the latest update:

  • Launch Visual Studio 2013
  • In the Tools menu, select Extensions and Updates
  • Expand the Updates branch in the tree of options on the left
  • Select Product Updates
  • Select Visual Studio 2013 Update 3 in the list of available updates and launch the installation

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Alternatively, you can download and install the latest update package for Visual Studio 2013 here.

Can I still build Windows Phone 8 apps using the WP8.1 tools?

Yes! You can use Visual Studio 2013 Update 2 and above to build the following types of Windows Phone projects:

  • Windows Phone 8.1 apps (i.e. WinRT)
  • Universal Windows apps for Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 8.1 (also WinRT)
  • Windows Phone Silverlight 8.0 (i.e. WP apps based on the classic .NET architecture introduced with Windows Phone 7.x)
  • Windows Phone Silverlight 8.1 (i.e. same as above, but with access to the new 8.1 APIs too)

Can I use Visual Studio 2010 or 2012 instead?

If you want to build Windows Phone 8.1 apps or Universal Windows apps, you’ll need Visual Studio 2013 Update 2 or above. You can install the Windows Phone 8 SDK on Visual Studio 2012 to build WP8 or WP7.x apps, and you can install the Windows Phone 7.1 SDK on Visual Studio 2010 to build Windows Phone 7.x apps.

The table below summarizes the various SDKs, Visual Studio versions, app targets supported and required development operating systems.

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I use a Mac. Can I still do Windows Phone development?

Not out of the box, but there are ways to achieve this. Since I’m a cross-platform mobile developer, I use a MacBook Pro for a lot of my development work. You’ll essentially need to install Windows 8.1 on your Mac, and there are two main ways you can achieve this:

  1. Use the Boot Camp Assistant on your Mac to setup a secondary operating system partition on your Mac, and then install Windows 8.1 on that new partition. Boot Camp basically lets you create a dual-boot machine.
  2. The alternative is to use virtualization software like Parallels Desktop for Mac or VMware Fusion to setup Windows 8.1 as a virtual machine (VM) on your Mac. You’ll have to enable something called “Nested Virtualization” to run the Windows Phone emulator, which is itself a VM that therefore needs to run within another VM.
  3. The third option is actually a combination of the first two, and the one I use on my Mac. First, setup Boot Camp on your Mac, and then install Parallels or VMWare. The difference is that when you create your Windows VM, don’t create a new Virtual Hard Drive (VHD) and instead virtualize your Bootcamp partition. This gives you the ability to choose how you run Windows: natively (aka “on the metal”) using Bootcamp, or virtualized when co-habitation is required (e.g. for Xamarin development).

To learn more about Boot Camp, visit Apple’s Support site here.

I don’t have a Windows Phone. Is there an emulator?

Yes, all Windows Phone SDKs ship with their corresponding emulators. As discussed above, the Windows Phone emulator is a full image of the Windows Phone operating system running in a Hyper-V virtual machine. This level of emulation provides full fidelity for testing your apps when compared to a physical device, as opposed to device simulators (e.g. Apple’s iOS Simulator) which provide very little in terms of advanced compatibility with physical devices.

Read more about the Windows Phone 8 emulator here. The Windows Phone 8.1 emulator supports the same capabilities and more. You can download additional images for the emulator here.

How can I use my own Windows Phone to debug apps?

Windows Phone development can be done with entirely free tools. However, to use your own phone for app testing & debugging, you’ll have to register as a Windows Developer on the Windows DevCenter.

  • You do not need a Windows Phone Developer account to download the SDK and start developing apps
  • You do need a developer account to unlock a phone for development and to submit apps for testing and publication in the Windows Phone Store (formerly known as Windows Phone Marketplace)

To get a Developer Account:

Note that the registration now includes both the Windows Store and Windows Phone Developer registration in the same account! The $19 charge used to be a yearly fee but Microsoft recently announced that it is now a lifetime subscription, effectively making Windows Phone the cheapest modern device app store you can publish to.

To learn more about developer licenses for store apps (i.e. Windows & Windows Phone), refer to the official documentation here.

Once you are registered as a Windows developer, follow these steps to register your Windows Phone device for development.

How can I get a cheap Windows Phone for development?

I’m glad you asked. The Windows Phone ecosystem has a wide range of devices for all budgets. We have flagship devices like the Lumia 1520 or the Lumia ICON (aka Lumia 930 worldwide). We also have very affordable yet full-featured phones that you can buy off-contract (i.e. without any carrier subsidized discount or two-year contract) for less than $100 USD. Here are some options:

Note that these phones either ship out of the box with the latest Windows Phone 8.1 software, or with Windows Phone 8. All these phones are upgradeable to Windows Phone 8.1 with all the new features like Cortana, Action Center, Universal Apps, folders, geofencing, triggered tasks, and so on.

Next Steps: Learning Resources

Congratulations! You should now have a working development environment to built Windows Phone apps and Universal Windows apps. In terms of resources to get started, my whole blog is dedicated to helping mobile developers across the board, but if you’re looking for a short list of resources to jumpstart your learning, start digging in the following:

If you have any questions or issues regarding your setup, feel free to ask me questions in the comments section below, or you can ping me on Twitter at @ActiveNick. if there are common questions or issues that I have not addressed here, feel free to let me know what those are and I’ll append them to this post.

Good luck with your apps, and make sure to let me know when you publish new apps in the store. I always love promoting the work of our community.

Getting Started with 2D Game Development Using GameMaker

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by Nick Landry

Anyone who knows me personally or follows me on Twitter knows that I’m a huge gamer. The problem is that between work, community events, social life, my wife and twin babies, I virtually have no time to play games. I now game vicariously through occasional mobile games, listening to gaming podcasts when I drive, and buying games I’ll probably never have time to play. I have over 20 MMOs installed on my home rig, and I’m addicted to Steam sales (I even have the 250+ badge on Steam).

The cool thing is that Steam started selling software a while back and during one such Steam sale over the holidays, I snagged a copy of GameMaker: Professional for only $25 (that’s 75% off). I decided to take it for a spin (thanks to my colleagues Joe Healy and Daniel Egan for the push). I’m no game development expert. I’m more of a game development enthusiast. I’m also learning Unity on the side, and my game development background is with XNA – a topic I have covered at many conferences and user groups over the last 7 years.

Game development has to be one of the most rewarding forms of software development. You’re basically using your programming skills to make something fun! But game development is also not for the faint of heart as it can truly test your programming skills, knowledge of math, creative juices, imagination and patience. Fortunately, there are cool game engines and IDEs like GameMaker to simplify our lives as we seek to produce fun games in less time.

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What is GameMaker?

As its name implies, GameMaker is a game development environment and engine produced by YoYo Games that lets you design and build cross-platform games for desktop computers, the Web, mobile phones and tablets.

How much does GameMaker cost?

GameMaker: Studio starts out free with the Standard edition. You can download it here from YoYo Games. There used to be 4 editions of GameMaker, where the free edition was limited in the number of resources you could use in your game projects (which translates in the complexity of the game you can build). The free version now has unlimited resources, and that is great news. In terms of support platforms for your games, the free Studio edition used to support Windows Desktop, Mac OS X and Windows Apps (i.e. Windows Store apps on 8.x). Now the free version only supports Windows Desktop.

This means you can start building Windows games for free and anyone with a standard Windows 7 or 8 computer can play your game from the desktop. Distribution won’t be easy though. Publishing to Steam is not that easy and self-publishing outside of public stores can be frustrating. You’ll probably want to publish it to the Windows Store. For that you need to upgrade to the Professional edition for $100. There are other features you will get in the Professional edition, such as texture management, multiple configurations, mobile testing and more. It’s a great bargain and if you already work as a professional developer during the day, surely you can afford a $100 tool.

Important Note: YoYo Games is currently running a Summer sale at the time of this writing. You can get GameMaker Studio Professional for a mere $60. That’s the cost of a single console video game. I strongly encourage you to take advantage of this deal. Other deals have been announced on the other modules. Read more about the sale here.

Beyond Windows Desktop and Windows Store, GameMaker also support additional mobile platforms, but you’ll have to first upgrade to the professional edition, and then buy these modules separately:

  • Windows Phone 8
  • iOS
  • Android
  • Web / HTML5
  • Mac OS X

And quite a few other platform exports are supported too. The following table shows the three editions of GameMaker, their respective features and add-ons. More details on the YoYo Game website here.

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You might be wondering where to buy GameMaker: from Steam or directly from YoYo Games? I’m told that the Steam version has a tendency to lag behind a bit in terms of updates, so you should probably buy direct from YoYo Games if you’re about to pay full price. You’ll also get the option of getting early access builds this way too. Steam does run sales often, so if you can get a great deal, get it on Steam instead.

GameMaker vs. Unity, Construct2, XNA/MonoGame, etc.

Why should I use GameMaker?

Why not use Unity? I hear it’s great and it gives me more exports for free?

These are valid questions. Game development preferences – just like with games – can be quite subjective. Unity is great and I’m learning that engine too. It’s true that GameMaker is not exactly a professional tool, it’s more of a hobbyist & indie tool. That said, I love how GameMaker is much easier to pick-up and build something fast compared to Unity. Unity is by far more powerful than GameMaker, and has a much larger and richer ecosystem around it, but the learning curve with Unity is steeper. Unity was also originally designed as a 3D game development engine. The 2D support added in Unity 4.3 makes it much easier to build 2D games, but it’s not exactly as easy as GameMaker to get started with it.

My game development background is with XNA. It was an awesome framework that simplified game development by creating a level of abstraction above DirectX in managed code and it made it accessible to C# developers. The XNA Content Processing pipeline also made it easy to import media assets in your projects. Unfortunately XNA is no longer being developed on at Microsoft. While it lives on across multiple platforms thanks to the awesome MonoGame project, once you’ve tasted the ease of use of a game development engine like Unity or GameMaker, it’s hard to go back to coding everything yourself, be it in C++ or C#.

There are countless other popular game engines like Construct 2, GameSalad, Cocos2d and Torque, but I’m not familiar with any of them yet. Some are even simpler than GameMaker as they try to avoid scripting/coding as much as possible, while other engines like Unreal, Havok, Marmalade and Hero Engine are for the “big leagues” professional game developers who only swear by C++.

Choosing a game engine is ultimately a personal choice. You should first look at the cost, the programming skills required, the learning curve and the supported platforms. This post is about GameMaker and once you’ve tried it, you’ll know soon enough if it’s for you, or not.

 

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Some Games Built with GameMaker

GameMaker may not have the impressive portfolio of professional AAA or indie games that Unity has, but there are still quite many good games that are powered by GameMaker. It’s a great engine for mobile and indie game development. Some examples include:

There are of course many more games built in GameMaker. Check out the Showcase page here for 30+ more featured GameMaker titles. if you know of other cool games made with GameMaker (even your own), feel free to link them in the comments below.

Learning GameMaker Through Tutorials

This blog post is not about teaching you GameMaker (yet). YoYo Games already has a great set of learning resources for you to get started, and I won’t pretend to supersede that with my own walkthrough. My recommendation is that you go through the tutorials baked directly in the product:

  • Install and launch GameMaker
  • The New Project dialog will be shown. Select the “Tutorials” tab
  • Expand the “Beginner” tutorials branch on the left, select 01_My_First_Game and go through that tutorial, following the step by step instructions for the “bouncing clown” game.

This should give you a good taste of the GameMaker experience. Once you’re done, you can explore the other tutorials.

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There are many more great tutorials available, including:

  • GameMaker Tutorials by YoYo Games
  • GameMaker Tutorials by Shaun Spalding
  • RPG Tutorial Video Series: This series by rm2kdev is fantastic and I’m still going through it myself. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in building a retro RPG in 2D. Note that the series uses the art from the RPG Maker RTP engine, and you are not allowed to use it in games that you publish or sell. This is for learning purposes only.

Speaking of art… where should get your graphics and other media assets for your games?

Obtaining Art Assets for your Games

Since most developers (including myself) are not artists, figuring out which art files to use can be a big challenge when getting started with game development. You can partner-up with an artist to build a joint project together, but it’s usually a good idea to get started on your own with some pre-made assets as you learn the tools of the trade. Once you’ve built one or two test games, you’ll have a better idea on what to look for in an artist, and you’ll be more productive as you collaborate together on a game.

Here are some sources where you can look for pre-made art:

  • YoYo Games Marketplace: This is still new and in the “Early Access” stage. You’ll need the early access version of GameStudio too.
  • OpenGameArt.org: Carefully review the license for any art assets you find there before using them in your games.
  • Unity Asset Store: While this store is optimized for Unity developers, you can still find some good assets there too – some paid, some free.

If you have other sources of open art assets for game developers, please post it in the comments section below and I’ll add it to my post after review.

Remember that you are legally not allowed to simply lift any graphics from the Internet or other games for your own projects. It’s ok to do so if this is just for your own learning experience, but don’t publish these games until you’ve replaced the art with assets you are legally licensed to use.

 

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Packaging Your Game for the Windows Store

Running your game locally or creating an executable capable of running on the Windows desktop is all fine and dandy. That said, I bet you’d like to publish your game in a mobile app store to make it available to millions of users and (hopefully) make some money. You’ll need to buy GameMaker Professional and some additional export modules to package & publish your games to iOS, Android or Windows Phone. Luckily for us, packaging & publishing your game to Windows 8 or Windows RT computers, laptops or tablets via the Windows Store is included in the base Professional edition of GameMaker without the need to buy any extra modules.

If you have an existing GameMaker game you’d like to port to the Windows Store, make sure to read this blog post by my colleague Amanda Lange.

Read this knowledge base article to prepare your GameMaker environment for Windows Store development (referred to as Windows 8 in GameMaker).

Read this other knowledge base article to publish your game to the Windows Store.

For any other questions you might have about publishing GameMaker games to the Windows Store, refer to the GameMaker Windows 8 Knowledge Base here.

GameMaker Reference links

If you have other GameMaker resources to recommend, feel free to include them in the comments below.

You can expect more posts on this blog about game development in the coming weeks and months. Some will be for GameMaker, and others will be for Unity as I explore both tools. have you tried GameMaker before? What did you think of it? Have you published GameMaker titles? Let me know in the comments section below or on Twitter at @ActiveNick.

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

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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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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

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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!!!

WPDEV Magazine First 6 Covers-1280

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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Join ActiveNick for Studio Time in New Jersey + New Win8 Dev Contest

BAMcontest

What is Studio Time?

Studio Time – also known as Office Hours – is a block of time set aside to allow Windows Phone & Windows 8 developers to work on their apps/games and get some help and guidance in technical areas or with their app UX, design, and marketing. This is also a good opportunity for you to do some real user testing or get some guidance and feedback on how to improve the overall functionality and/or aesthetic of your applications.

This work session is the first of many I will be hosting at the Microsoft Iselin office in New Jersey. Studio Time sessions are open to anyone looking for some time and help to finish their project before publishing, or work on driving more downloads for their apps and games. Formal presentations are NOT held during office hours and these events will remain unstructured. Office hours will typically open at 4:00PM but feel free to arrive when you want. Check the schedule on the New Jersey Windows & Windows Phone Dev Meetup site for the exact schedule and hours.

Cross-platform developers who work on iOS and Android as well as the Windows device platforms are welcome – whether they use native tools or PhoneGap, Xamarin or various game engines. Note that Studio Time is about guidance, learning, sharing & testing. This is NOT a premier-level technical support service. If you have some esoteric bug or technical issue for which you cannot find any help online, don’t expect miracles during Studio Time.

If you have any questions about Studio Time, feel free to ask in the comments section below.

Please RSVP for Studio Time

Your name must be added to the building security list so please RSVP and do not show-up unannounced. Since there is a limited number of seats, please keep your RSVP up-to-date. If you RSVP and later realize you cannot make it, please cancel your spot as a courtesy to the event host and other attendees.

To RSVP and get the Studio Time schedule, times & location, visit my Meetup page. I will be adding more sessions over the following weeks and months. Join the Meetup to stay informed.

Microsoft’s Best App a Month Contest

I also want to let you know about a new contest we are running from March to June 2014 that might be of interest to some of you working on your Windows 8  apps. It’s called Microsoft’s Best App a Month Contest.

We want to find and showcase cool and innovative apps and games on the Windows 8 platform. Have you created something recently we should know about and have attended one Studio Time that month? Do you have an idea for a cool Windows 8 app or game and you’re just getting started? If so, enter your app / game into the Best App A Month Contest, where you could win a new Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet.

Who Can Enter

Legal residents of the US and DC 18 years and older who attend at least one monthly in-person Microsoft app development session (aka Studio Time) in an eligible location. I will be hosting the Iselin, NJ location. The other locations are New York City, Boston, Rochester, Atlanta, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Philadelphia, Raleigh and Washington DC.

How to Enter

Publish an app during one of the Monthly Prize Periods Mar-Jun 2014 and submit your entry via the city-specific web site form. Note that since Studio Time is only starting now in the Iselin, NJ office, the March & April entries will be combined for the April prize.

Entry form for Iselin, NJ: http://aka.ms/BAMnj

Prizes & How to Win

One winner will be chosen from each location each month using the following criteria:

  • Use of modern design and features
  • Performs as described without crashing
  • Originality and uniqueness
  • Use of Azure cloud services or storage

Prizes: Each monthly winning developer will receive a Dell Venue 8 Pro Windows 8.1 Tablet (ARV $299).

Terms & Conditions: You can win more than once in each city, but you cannot win in more than one city. This Contest starts at 12:01 A.M. Pacific Time (PT) on March 1, 2014, and ends at 11:59 P.M. PT on June 30, 2014 and will consist of monthly prize periods and participating locations. Important: For the Iselin, NJ location, the months of March & April will be combined into a single prize, then followed by separate prizes for May and June. Please read the terms and conditions for more details.

Good luck! Get started with your Windows 8 apps and I’m looking forward to seeing you at my upcoming Studio Time sessions. Please feel free to hit me up on Twitter at @ActiveNick or in the comments below with any questions you may have.

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.

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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.