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Windows Phone Preview for Developers Released

Courtesy Keith Ward, VisualStudioMagazine.com

WindowsPhone8.1_0

The wait is over for Windows Phone developers anxious to get their hands on a copy of Windows Phone 8.1 so they can start updating their apps. The Windows Phone Preview for Developers was released by Microsoft this morning. 

A blog entry by Microsoft’s Cliff Simpkins announced the release. He added that the Windows Phone Store is starting to take app submissions and enable app linking, all of which allows the building of universal Windows apps. They allow an app to work across Windows 8 devices whether they’re on a desktop, laptop, tablet or phone (and, eventually, Xbox). Universal Windows apps were first announced and previewed at last week’s Build developer conference.

The preview version of Windows Phone 8.1 is important for developers since some aspects of apps need to be tested on a real device, rather than just an emulator. Simpkins, for example, wrote that he uses an emulator for testing whether the code works properly, while using the app on a working Windows Phone provides valuable information about an "app’s real-world usability (e.g., touch target sizing, load times)."

As a supplement to the Windows Phone Preview for Developers, MSDN published a reference app to help developers learn how to integrate their apps with Cortana, the new voice assistant that’s also part of Windows Phone 8.1. The app, called MSDN Voice Search, provides voice-enabled search capabilities to documentation and source code for building Cortana functionality into new or existing apps.

There are a few requirements to get the Windows Phone Preview for Developers. A developer either needs to register as a Windows Phone developer, which is $19 annually, or register as a developer with App Studio, which is free. The other option is to download the developer tools to register and "developer unlock" a Windows Phone (Microsoft provides instructions on how to do this).

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.NET to iOS/Android? Microsoft Buying Xamarin?

Courtesy Keith Ward, VisualStudioMagazine.com

Mary Jo Foley’s reporting that Microsoft may be either buying tool-maker Xamarin outright, or making a big investment in the company. It’s all speculative at this point, but this is an idea that just makes too much sense.

Xamarin makes it possible for .NET/C#-focused developers to create apps for the two most popular mobile platforms — iOS and Android — without leaving the comfort of their favorite language  and IDE (that would be Visual Studio, of course). Xamarin has been making these products for a number of years now; they used to be called MonoTouch and Mono for Android, and have morphed into Xamarin.iOS and Xamarin.Android. Xamarin has been churning out frequent updates, and furtherintegrating the products with Visual Studio. I’ve felt for some time that Xamarin would be absorbed into Visual Studio, eventually becoming a transparent part of the IDE.

Note that these reports are only substantial rumors at this point. But the rumors have credibility, at least in part, based on the natural fit of these parts. It’s not the type of head-scratcher that some other deals were. Xamarin and its founders, Miguel de Icaza and Nat Friedman, are serious software developers, and make a serious product that many developers think is the best way to write cross-platform code for the mobile platform (you may have noticed that we think it’s serious enough to have a column dedicated to the topic).

It would also be a forward-looking move for Microsoft. It needs to get iOS and Android developers to use both Visual Studio and Windows Azure, and integrating Xamarin into its core IDE would do that. It would also encourage more development in C# among the non-C# crowd, who may like what the language offers, but are wary of any Microsoft-branded stuff.

It’s hard to think of any downsides for developers of such a deal. One fear could be that the pace of innovation that Xamarin now shows could be slowed, once it’s absorbed in the Redmond behemoth. But, at least in the dev area, Microsoft has truly adopted a speedy release cycle of upgrades and fixes. After all, Visual Studio 2013 came just a year after the previous major version, and is now approaching Update 2. It’s hard to imagine that Xamarin wouldn’t be similarly upgraded, especially since it’ll be baked in.

Worth noting, too, is that new CEO Satya Nadella is a techie, so the potential acquisition might appeal to his geeky nature. He understands development in a way ex-CEO Steve Ballmer couldn’t hope to, and may be quicker to understand the benefits involved.

This is all speculation, of course, but it’s something I think should happen. What do you think?


Why Does My Cell Service Suck. Check OpenSignal

Courtesy Mark Gibbs, NetworkWorld.com

Whenever one of my friends calls me from the 118 just east of Somis her cell signal gets choppy then dies. Why? Go to OpenSignal and you can see why; according to their data there’s a stretch of several miles of road where cell service completely vanishes.

OpenSignal is a great tool for checking which carriers provide the best service in any given locale and their heat map display shows the signal strength data collected by crowdsourcing users of their eponymous iOS and Android app, OpenSignal.

The site lets you filter the data by coverage or towers and cell service type (any combination of 2G, 3G, and 4G) as well as by provider. The Web service also shows the percentage that the selected location is better or worse than the average city and similarly for worldwide average.

An OpenSignal cell service heatmap of Nairobi

The app shows the same data as the Web site plus it adds

  • a "signal compass" that shows you the direction your current signal is coming from
  • which carrier you are currently using and the connection quality
  • the WiFi network you’re connected to and the number f networks nearby (it can also show you a list of all nearby WIFi networks)
  • a Wi-FI map to locate nearby public networks.
  • a speed test feature allows you to see the true speed of your connection.
  • a stats page to track your cellular and Wi-Fi data usage

You can also share your findings on Twitter and Facebook and compare your connection with other users. To round all of that off, OpenSignal even provides an API so you can access and massage the data yourself.

This is a great service and one of the best ways to figure out why you, or your friends, have lousy cell service.


Microsoft will pay you for your iPhone or iPad

Courtesy Alex Wilhelm, TechCrunch

Screen Shot 2013-09-27 at 4.21.00 PM

Microsoft wants to take your Apple product off your hands, today expanding its trade-in programs to allow owners of dated iPhone hardware to cash in their now-passé electronics.

If you own an iPhone 4S or 5 that is “gently used” and not much worse, Microsoft will offer you no less than $200 for it. The kicker? The funds come in the form of Microsoft Store credit, so you are trading in your Apple hardware for the chance to buy Microsoft goods.

What does Microsoft want? That you drop that iPhone off with them and wander out with a Surface 2 pre-order or a Lumia Windows Phone handset. Microsoft has cash and wants market share; this is a natural outgrowth of those two facts.

Microsoft also has in place a deal that will grant store credit for iPads. In short, if you have an Apple device that Microsoft competes with – recall that Microsoft doesn’t build PCs that are not tablet-based, through its Surface line – it wants to buy it from you and get you onto its own hardware.

In a way the move is ballsy: Microsoft is betting its own money that you will be content with its wares after a long stint on Apple silicon. And it is paying to make the wager. Precisely what Microsoft intends to do with all its accumulated Apple hardware remains opaque.

Microsoft is in the process of purchasing Nokia’s handset business, and recently announced new Surface hardware that replaces its first-generation attempts at OEM supremacy. Expect more moves like this to support Microsoft’s yet-nascent devices business.