Archive for February, 2012

WPDev Sin: Lust

Posted: February 5, 2012 in Windows Phone 7
Tags: , ,

null This is the Day #7 & last post in the article series “7 Deadly Sins for Windows Phone Developers!“.

What is Lust ?

From http://deadlysins.com:

Lust is an inordinate craving for the pleasures of the body.

Why: Oh, please.

How does Lust relate to Windows Phone development ?

– excessive desires ..

Upfront, we’re not going try to map Lust in the true sexual sense, since that would be difficult & a slippery slope :). Let’s see how we Windows Phone developers can be wary against being over-zealous. Zest is good; craving without taking any appropriate action – not so much:

  • Bandwidth: Coming from a strong web background, we developers might end up blatantly using the user’s bandwidth. While rich content is good, we need to be aware that the phone is a mobile wireless device & not everyone is on an unlimited data plan. So, think twice when making data requests from the phone & have a solid caching strategy when possible. Use the DeviceNetworkInformation API to figure out state of network connections; may be we can do some heavy-lifting when appropriate (like data sync through ResourceIntensiveTasks while on WiFi).
  • Start-Up: While a dynamic flashy panorama/pivot home screen on your App may be a lucrative proposition, be aware of the cost. You only have a few seconds on the Splash page (if using one) before loading up the Home screen/MainPage. And while you can dummy up a Splash-screen-like pop-up on Home screen (like here), users usually do not want to wait too long. Consider using cached data from prior run of the App & indicate visually that you are fetching fresh data. And any time you are working with pop-up or login pages that you do not want to leave in page Backstack, make sure to clear them up.
  • Live Tiles: You desire your App to be like ones built by the cool kids. Don’t worry, we all do. One of the best favors you can do for your App is to support Live Tiles. This is one of the unique selling points of the platform, epitomizes Glance & Go and keeps inviting the user back into your App. Application Live Tiles or Secondary Live Tiles with backend support would be great; at the very least, you should consider presenting a slice of your App data as a local Secondary Live Tile.
  • Emulator Skins: We grew up knowing it’s not polite to stare, right? Yet when it comes to fancy new gadgets like smartphones, we openly drool .. and you know what, it’s ok :). Sadly, we live in a society of perpetual buyer’s remorse where newer electronics tickle our wallets every day. Now, fancy new Windows Phones will come up every now & then, which you may not be able to jump to given your contract cage. However, instead of drooling, you can go one step closer while you develop Apps for Windows Phone. Check out the cool Windows Phone Emulator Skin Switcher — choose between any one of 25 different Windows Phone skins. Or make one yourself. If you’re doing Windows Phone Dev on spare time, might as well make it a little fun!
  • Marketplace Woes: In the zest to get our dream App live in the Marketplace, we can all get trigger-happy in Marketplace submissions; but beware of these potential ingestion hiccups. Also, some newer Markets may have additional Certification obligations to meet local regulations .. check all details with the Application Certification Requirements. If you go with worldwide distribution, your certification time would be longer and your App will be subject to extra scrutiny. If you see failures, resubmit after fixing the issues or you could deselect the troubled Markets to get your App live in the Marketplace quicker.

Today is the last article in this series of “7 Deadly Sins for Windows Phone Developers!“. Apologies if the tone of anything I said sounded awkward .. by things “you” need to do, I really meant me. I simply wanted to document all the resources I want to keep in mind during my next Windows Phone app. Hope the articles were somewhat fun .. thank you very much for reading. Lot of good times ahead for us Windows Phone developers .. cheers to that.

Adios!

WPDev Sin: Gluttony

Posted: February 4, 2012 in Windows Phone 7
Tags: , ,

null This is the Day #6 post in the article series “7 Deadly Sins for Windows Phone Developers!“.

What is Gluttony ?

From http://deadlysins.com:

Gluttony is an inordinate desire to consume more than that which one requires.

Why: Because you were weaned improperly as an infant.

How does Gluttony relate to Windows Phone development ?

– over-indulgence/over-consumption ..

Gadgets. They just keep coming .. new & improved, faster & better, smarter & more personal. Tablets & computers of today easily match the computing & storage capabilities of super machines from a few years back. All this, in my opinion, is making us developers a little lazy. We are having to pay less attention to performance as the available horsepower simply swallows potential issues.

Mobile development is a great leveler in that regard. Just the constraints of the smartphone form factor give it limited resources and this brings our code closer to the metal & demands restraint. We need to worry about performance optimization, since lack of it leads to crappy user experience. Let’s take a look at how we Windows Phone developers can avoid Gluttony while developing for the Windows Phone ecosystem:

  • Resources: Overconsumption of phone’s resources is bad. The Windows Phone team has worked very hard to make the core OS very very lean .. our resource hungry app will stick out even more in this context. Make sure your memory footprint is small; this ensures that your app runs efficiently when loaded in device RAM and stays longer in memory as Mango does Multitasking/Fast Application Switching(FAS). Managed code helps; but make sure you do not have extra Using statements or referencing any library that you do not need. Beware of using multiple 3rd party toolkits, specially if there is overlapping functionality. Also, animations are nice & an integral part of Metro; but too much of it is not good. I have personally seen performance degrade when swapping out the default PhoneApplicationFrame (one that houses your XAML pages) with 3rd party tooling for custom animations; but that could be just me. Anyways, point is, know exactly what you need & don’t go over. This is an awesome checklist for performance tuning.
  • Threading: Surely no one needs to be told that locking up the UI thread is just not an option on tablet/smartphone applications. You may be counting national population/debt; but your App UI needs to be responsive. Most Silverlight programming forces us to do heavy-lifting asynchronously, by intelligent use of Background threads for processing, Composite threads for animations & auto-merging with UI thread. You may use an explicit Background worker, if needed. Hang tight as life is gonna get better when the now-supported Async CTP is finalized .. no more gobblygowk Dispatcher.BeginInvoke() or DownloadCompleted() APM/EAP patterns (details here) .. you should just be able to do async-await to achieve asynchrony.
  • Caching: Cache anything possible to prevent making the same web HTTP call twice. This specially applies to images/flat data. Check out the following resources to cache artifacts in Isolated Storage here, here & here.
  • Execution Model: Now that you know Windows Phone Mango supports FAS through a in-memory application backstack, did you stop caring to handle Tombstoning? We cannot just write a resource-heavy App and expect it to be held in memory for long. Coming out clean from Tombstoning is a must .. this article on Execution Model could be a good place to start :).
  • Alarms/Reminders: The new APIs to create Alarms/Reminders are great; but please do not over-indulge in reaching anywhere close to the limit of 50 or create them without user intervention.
  • API Exploitation: The new Calendar & Contacts APIs are super handy, aren’t they? But again, with power comes responsibility. Do not exploit them to do things without user intervention. Uninstallation & bad reviews will follow.

That’s it for today. Crux of this post: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should! Hopefully, you come back tomorrow for the Day #7 article in this series of “7 Deadly Sins for Windows Phone Developers!“.

Adios!

WPDev Sin: Greed

Posted: February 3, 2012 in Windows Phone 7
Tags: , ,

null This is the Day #5 post in the article series “7 Deadly Sins for Windows Phone Developers!“.

What is Greed?

From http://deadlysins.com:

Greed is the desire for material wealth or gain, ignoring the realm of the spiritual. It is also called Avarice or Covetousness.

Why: You live in possibly the most pampered, consumerist society since the Roman Empire.

How does Greed relate to Windows Phone development ?

– sin of excess, desire for quick riches ..

Our greed as Windows Phone developers often surfaces when we jump the gun, before knowing consequences. Allow me to elaborate on how we can avoid some greedy pitfalls:

  • Patterns: So, you have made up your mind on a dream Windows Phone app. What’s next .. File->New Project? Wait .. think it through a little. I’m not saying you dwell forever before getting started; but a little thinking ahead helps. May be you start with a subset of what you eventually want to achieve in your app. Having some vision about the future features of your killer app will help you better architect the solution. We all hate codebases which are a hot mess, right? Take a look at a few software patterns and see if any appeals to you. The goal should be to keep your application code clean & have separation of concerns, so it’s easy to test. Is your UI tied too closely to some business logic, making it difficult to push out updates/fixes? Turns out, patterns like MVVM work really well in Silverlight/Windows Phone type development. You can roll in your own or start with some awesome toolkits which help you along the way. Some prominent ones are MVVM Light, UltraLight MVVM & Caliburn Micro.
  • Localization & Globalization: Did you think you could write once & reuse your app many times over to make money? While there is nothing stopping you from releasing your English app worldwide to all Markets, eventually the laziness will take a toll on your fame/money. Have you considered that the fact that non-native speakers may not have the best UX on your app unless it is localized/globalized? Yes, it’s difficult; but bite the bullet & you will see plentiful rewards. A great starting point is here. Pick your favorite translation service & see how far you can get. Seek localization help from friends or fellow Windows Phone developers across the world, so that your App language feels natural.
  • Performance: Understand Data Virtualization, period. This helps in making sense of the price you pay for the choices you made, both in your Listbox DataTemplate & the actual data list it is bound to. Great articles here, here & here. Still in doubt about your App’s performance & rendering of XAML pages? Whip out the Windows Phone Profiler tool to identify performance problems in your app .. a great starting point is here.
  • Background Agents: Using your single allowed Background agent? Good. But do not take your Periodic Task to its deathly limits. Remember, there are constraints on such Periodic Tasks, meant to be small amounts of code run for a small amount of time on a regular recurring interval. If you try doing too much, you enter the realm of unknown where the OS will simply shut down your background process. Result – bad UX since “Both periodic and resource-intensive agents are unscheduled if they exit two consecutive times due to exceeding the memory quota or any other unhandled exception. The agents must be rescheduled by the foreground application.”
  • SQL CE: I know we all hankered for SQL CE support prior to Mango; and now we have it. Nice walkthrough here. But unless you have truly relational data & a very very good reason to use it, don’t. Because, it is a layer of orchestration on top of Isolated Storage and you are taking a little performance hit.
  • Design: Remember Metro – simple, elegant & chromeless. There is a fair amount precision behind Metro though .. spacing & placement matters. The MetroGridHelper nuget should help. First rule of Metro – just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. I have mentioned this before, but again the 31 week article series by Arturo Toledo explaining the crux of Metro is a fantastic read.
  • Icons: In your zeal to get started & do everything yourself, do not forget to look around to see if the Metro AppBar or other icons you need are already available or not. There are great collection of Metro icons available here & here.

See? Little restraint & our Windows Phone app codebase can flourish systematically, without having to reinvent the wheel. Happy You & Happier Users. Hopefully, you come back tomorrow for the Day #6 article in this series of “7 Deadly Sins for Windows Phone Developers!“.

Adios!

WPDev Sin: Wrath

Posted: February 2, 2012 in Windows Phone 7
Tags: , ,

null This is the Day #4 post in the article series “7 Deadly Sins for Windows Phone Developers!“.

What is Wrath ?

From http://deadlysins.com:

Wrath is manifested in the individual who spurns love and opts instead for fury.

Why: You’re wired for it. Also, the people around you are pretty damn irritating.

How does Wrath relate to Windows Phone development ?

– uncontrolled rage as developer ..

So, you have decided to spend one of your precious free weekends to code up your dream Windows Phone app. You start, but soon find yourself needing fancy controls, animations or some peculiar tweak. Result – anger. To rub it in, you heard a buddy just made a similar app on a competing platform & is now making buckets of money. *&!@#$%^^& .. right? Well, let’s chill. There are plenty of ways we can help ourselves by taking a look around & not reinventing the wheel. So, let’s see how you, a Windows Phone developer, can avoid Wrath.

  • Toolkits: Think you need a special control for your Windows Phone app? Some custom animation for your pages? STOP & look around! There is plenty of help to prevent you from reinventing the wheel. Some awesome toolkits to choose from for your developer arsenal are the Windows Phone Silverlight Toolkit, Coding4Fun Windows Phone Toolkit, Sterling DB, GZipWebClient & many others.
  • 3rd Party Tooling: Quite a few MSFT partners are making the Windows Phone ecosystem richer by adding a lot of love for developers. These are mostly in the form of custom controls/animations/frames which really make your life a lot easier. Check out Windows Phone specific offerings from Telerik, ComponentOne & Infragistics.
  • Trials & Pricing: Price your work sensibly. If you have spent a lot of effort & think you have a genuinely good app, you absolutely should not give it away for free. Trial mode is a great way to give users a taste of what’s to come & hold back a few features when they actually buy your app. Read both sides of the story here and here .. bottom-line, do what makes sense for your app.
  • Monetization: Along the same lines, if you want to make a free app, there absolutely nothing wrong in putting a few advertisements to earn you a few bucks. Yes, ads are annoying; but users will easily overlook the ads if your content stands out. MSFT’s PubCenter Ad Control is a part of the Windows Phone Mango SDK .. adding it to your apps is as easy as dragging a control & registering your app for ad categories. Another great option is AdDuplex - an ad exchange network where you promote other apps & help fellow Windows Phone developers. If you are picky about Ad revenues & low eCPMs, specially in newer Markets, consider using the Windows Phone AdRotator – a single control that fetches Ads from multiple providers for better utilization of your Ad space.
  • Stay Tuned-in: Mad at yourself for missing out on some latest marketing offer or Windows Phone developer sweepstake? This is a very happening ecosystem & it helps being as plugged-in as possible. Can you spare an hour every week? Do yourself a favor & listen to Windows Phone Dev Podcast for all that’s latest & greatest for Windows Phone users/developers.
  • Just Ask: Stuck late into the night with a roadblock while coding your Windows Phone app? If you have exhausted your own resources, simply ask. Chances are someone else also faced the same quirky problem and there is a way around or there is an awesome open source project to help you out. And the Windows Phone developer community is among the very best you shall get .. we help each other out. So, hit up your fellow Windows Phone devs on StackOverflow or Twitter or some other forum. You’ll be surprised by how far collaboration can get us.

So, next time we get mad, let’s take a step back & evaluate our options. The koolaid isn’t all that bad :). Pick up some fancy controls & make your dream app .. and then make some money! Hopefully, you come back tomorrow for the Day #5 article in this series of “7 Deadly Sins for Windows Phone Developers!“.

Adios!

null This is the Day #3 post in the article series “7 Deadly Sins for Windows Phone Developers!“.

What is Sloth ?

From http://deadlysins.com:

Sloth is the avoidance of physical or spiritual work.

Why: You’re shiftless, lazy, and good fer nuthin’.

How does Sloth relate to Windows Phone development ?

– failure to utilize resources ..

As highly as you may think of our smartphones, they are still tiny devices with limited memory/processing power & precious battery life. Any work we can offload from our smartphones helps in extending battery life and putting data/common processing out somewhere else aids in multi-user/multi-platform mobile solutions. This is where cloud solutions step in with ubiquitous computing, massive scalability & high availability on a pay-per-use model. Cloud & mobility simply makes sense.

So, if you are a Windows Phone developer, have you considered leveraging Windows Azure to augment your Windows Phone solutions? If your answer is anything other than “I went with Amazon/other cloud providers ..”, it is not satisfactory. Here are few ways Windows Phone developers can get around being a Sloth & consider utilizing Azure’s cloud infrastructure for their Windows Phone applications:

  • Windows Azure: Learn more about it here. Read up on the possibilities with features, subscriptions, business model & how to get started as a developer. Hint – it is very easy!
  • Freebies: As with anything, try it out first & see if it makes sense. There are free Azure Trials for you to play around with. Also, if you have MSDN Subscriptions, significant Azure benefits would come free .. learn more here.
  • Data: This is the crux of any mobile app – relational or non-relational. Family members will want to share data between apps running on their devices. You, as a developer, will want to support multiple platforms to maximize your reach. Both of these suggest that data could be cached on devices; but needs to be stored centrally. Enter Azure. Relational data goes into SQL Azure & non-relational data goes into Blobs/Tables .. both with massive scalability & high availability.
  • Glance & Go: Remember the “Really” commercials for Windows Phone? Push Notifications in Windows Phone is one of it’s best-selling features and epitomizes the Glance & Go approach. Why the need to launch an app when a simple Live Tile suffices? With Mango, the flipping Live Tiles are also an opportunity for developers to be creative in what gets pushed out as Live Tiles .. invite your users back into your app. Azure can serve as the perfect backend to your Windows Phone app; one that hosts services that wake up to send Push Notifications as Tiles/Toast/Raw to registered phones running your app. And you can fine-tune exactly how much backend horsepower you need depending on your user-base.
  • Scalability: You make a seasonal app, like ones that go with NFL season. Or you make an app that skyrockets in downloads but slows down within a month. If your Windows Phone app was leveraging any other backend for services/data, how else will you scale up & down? You might either lose users or overpay your ISP/ for hardware. This is where Azure gives you on-demand elasticity so you pay for only what you consume.
  • OData: Accept it .. we’ll live in a hybrid mobile platform world for a very long time. Wouldn’t it be nice to not have to re-invent your data access layer between iOS/Android/Windows Phone apps? Enter OData – the Open Data Protocol. Based on the simple premises of HTTP and Atom/JSon, OData acts an platform-independent data interchange protocol. Like RSS for real updateable data. And it comes with proxy-building libraries for various ecosystems. So, do once & apply to all platforms .. really. Check out details about OData on it’s home site or the many articles we’ve written up on Silverlightshow.
  • CDNs: Yes, you can host your application backend with your local ISP or even under your desk. But if you are serving up imagery, maps, media or anything heavy, and you have users all over the world, our app will see lag. This is just because of the physics of delivering content across continents. Wouldn’t it be nice to serve up the content from some servers close to where the user is? Enter Azure Content Delivery Network .. an unique advantage of cloud infrastructure that includes edge cache nodes across the world. Your content essentially gets cached & Azure does the DNS magic to serve up requests closest to where the user of your app is. Very easy to set up & must-take-advantage of cloud computing. Learn more here & here.
  • Azure WP7 Toolkit: To make it a little easier for Windows Phone developers to leverage Azure, the Azure DPE team has done a lot of work around toolkits & helper libraries. There are now Azure Toolkits for Windows Phone, iOS & Android. So, no matter what mobile platform you are building your apps in, it should be easy to leverage Azure, since these toolkits essentially abstract out some of the Azure intricacies for the mobile developer. The Azure Toolkit for WP7 (details here) has awesome templates which give you a great starting point if your Windows Phone app had to use SQL Azure, Tables, Blobs & Push Notifications from the cloud. Get the bits, start a New Project & hit F5!
  • ACS, Notifications & Nugets: Is the full Azure Toolkit for WP7 too much for your scenario? Worry not, as MSFT has also released individual features as Nugets (details here), for easy consumption. Need to authenticate users to your app using federated identity from Google/Live/Faceboook etc? There is a Nuget that just does ACS (Access Control Service) through Azure .. this is superbly easy way to leverage the user’s existing identity by allowing Azure to act as a broker for tokens. Need to send out Push Notifications to your apps .. there is a Nuget for that too. So, grab what you need & fire away.
  • Live APIs: Use SkyDrive? Yeah, who doesn’t like 25 Gigs of free cloud storage? Chances are your Windows Phone users with Live IDs already use SkyDrive. If you need to augment storage in your app & push something off to cloudverse, why the need to spin up storage yourself when there’s SkyDrive? MSFT recently opened up Live APIs & a SDK which give you secure access to user’s SkyDrive & much more through the Live Services suite. More details here, along with this article on how to leverage SkyDrive SDK from your Windows Phone App.
  • Reuse: So, you know all about Push Notifications & the MSFT Push Notification Service (MPNS) for Windows Phone. Building Metro apps for Windows 8? Thankfully, the Push Notification architecture is quite similar & your knowledge/services could be easily leveraged. So, why not build one backend to feed both Windows Phone & Metro Apps? There is even a Azure Toolkit for Windows 8 (details here) to help you out.

Tell me I didn’t make my case? :) So, go ahead .. give Azure a shot when it comes to building a supporting backend for your Windows Phone app. Off course, if it is viable & makes sense for your solution. Hopefully, you come back tomorrow for the Day #4 article in this series of “7 Deadly Sins for Windows Phone Developers!“.

Adios!