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Windows Phone 7 App Development

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Silverlight Metro Theme

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The WP7 currently has a tiny market share so writing apps to target both the WP7 and the desktop using the same code base makes a great deal of sense to me.  Especially for tools such as Master Key which has as much validity (if not more) on the desktop as it does on my phone.

I picked up a copy of the Metro Theme from a project on Codeplex and copied one of the Master Key XMLA pages over.  It worked pretty well but in the end I’m left in the position of having to do a great deal of work to make the page fit into a browser window rather than the phone.

http://metrotheme.codeplex.com/

There are a number of issues.  Firstly the fonts and lines used to render on the WP7 screen look huge when viewed in normal Windows resolution; secondly the theme is incomplete and has missing features.  While all this can be fixed by modifying the theme it’s a lot of work.

Secondly, and obviously, the browser environment is significantly different to that of the WP7. The hardware back and close buttons have to be provided in Silverlight and handled in the browser. From a browser UX point of view these buttons would typically be at the top of the screen.  Handling ‘back’ is less of a problem as the browser supports this. However the browser also provides ‘forwards’ as well and the user can also pick an item from the navigation history and jump directly there, neither of which are possible in WP7.

Having experimented with directly porting the WP7 app and finding it a less than compelling outcome I searched around for the Silverlight theme to use.  After some experimentation I picked up a Window 7 theme that the Silverlight dev team released (see Tim Heuer’s blog http://timheuer.com/blog) and have used this as the basis for the Windows version.

The project template also provides a navigation framework which is really useful and this integrates into the browser navigation history providing back/forward support.

It was pretty simple to take a WP7 page and convert it to Win7, for the most part the XAML simply pasted directly and only needed to be lightly manipulated to fit.  Over the space of a couple of days I had pretty much replicated the App, however…

However, it was apparent pretty quickly that the integration into the browser navigation was not going to work, the history just kept getting bigger and worse I could jump forward when it was illogical to do so.  I spent a lot of time trying to make it work but in the end it was just too confusing from a UX point of view.  I switched it off and suddenly the navigation became a whole lot more logical as the framework is tabbed

image

The ApplicationBar in WP7 is a great little control and works really well on the phone.  It’s location at the bottom of the screen near to the where your fingers lay makes for a great UX. 

I considered briefly writing a version of this for Silverlight but decided against it as the more normal windows layout is better and the Ribbon interface is clean and well accepted.

In the end I decided that the simplest approach was to revert from having ApplicationBar based button back to a more traditional approach with the buttons embedded into the UI.  This is perfectly valid when there are so few buttons required to make the App work.

It was apparent as soon as I started to think about a Silverlight version of Master Key that combining the item selection and its content into a single page would be the best approach; so for WP7 the user is shown the Vault Entries as a list:

edit_vault

And when an item in the list is selected is is displayed on a separate screen:

edit_entry

This works really well – the UI is easy to use and quite clear in its intent.

Combining the two screens and modifying the UI slightly gives this screen:

image

Master Key on WP7 relies on the phone timeout kicking in to prevent unauthorised access, on my phone it’s set to a minute after which it will tombstone and the user has to re-enter the password to regain access to the information when the app is reactivated. 

In the browser environment this has to be done within the page by running a timer that will prevent access if there is no activity.  I’ve added a progress bar at the bottom of the screen – after 30 seconds of inactivity the page will close and revert to the login screen. Job done!

The core functionality of Master Key for WP7 has moved without change to the Silverlight version.  I’ve not had to touch a line of code in the data access layer to make it work and this includes the WCF service code (though to be fair I added the service reference to the new project and it auto-generated the appropriate code).

You don’t need to be too eagle eyed to see that the two vaults are the same – I simply loaded the demo vault into both versions of the App from the web service.

So the end result is that I now have a WP7 and Windows version of Master Key and the vault files are interchangeable between the two.  Also I now have a good idea as to how much additional effort has to be put in to convert between the two platforms.  I have a bit of work still outstanding to be able to launch the desktop version from the MasterKey service but I don’t anticipate this taking a lot of time.

One thing – I am pretty frustrated with myself for using the Windows 7 theme rather than Cosmopolitan as this is the closest the the WP7 Metro theme.  I was hoping I could simply swap themes but this failed on my first attempt to replace the Windows 7 theme. I’ll have to spend some time working this out when I have a chance.

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Written by metadevblog

July 13, 2011 at 10:50 am

Posted in Master Key, Silverlight, WCF, WP7

Master Key version 2.0 published

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I’ve spent the last couple of months working on upgrading Master Key to version 2.0.  It’s been quite an interesting process as it makes use of the remote storage facility I have written about previously. 

I had this working in version 1.0 to allow me to save/load my data while the App was under development but it was really just prototype code.  I have added full support in this version of the App so that Load Vault and Save Vault are fully defined in the UI and perform robustly.

Master Key version 1.0 was primarily about creating a completed and fully functional App and understanding the Marketplace publishing process.  Version 2.0 rounds this out to create, what I consider, to be a really useful App that can be used day to day to remember multiple passwords; I’ve surprised myself by currently having 21 items stored.

Oh and I’ve not been disappointed with sales either, as they have lived up to my expectations of being pretty minimal.   Writing Apps for the WP7 at this time was never going to be about the money as the potential market is tiny. 

However I have my doubts about writing Apps for any platform; there have been some notable successes but for the vast, vast majority of Apps the cost of development far outweighs the money that can be generated from sales.

I chose to write Master Key because I had a well defined requirement and it’s a very widespread issue that we all pretty much share.  However it is lost amongst a mass of other competing Apps, some good but mostly crap and it’s really hard to get noticed.

When I started writing Master Key I was slightly concerned that it might be refused because it is not unique but this was quickly dispelled when I saw how many password saving Apps had been published – clearly uniqueness is not a criteria that is applied otherwise there would be thousands of ‘squatter’ Apps blocking the quality or more functional solutions.  In an ideal world the quality Apps would bubble to the top but this is not the case, first mover advantage especially with a few good reviews reduce the chances of similar Apps quite significantly.  And of course its relatively easy to ‘game’ the system by creating false accounts and/or getting mates to post positive reviews.

Without throwing money at good old fashioned marketing and advertising its hard to see how an App really stands much chance of being distinguished and as the money to be made is pretty low to start with that’s something of a fools errand.

Written by metadevblog

July 12, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Posted in Master Key, WP7

Master Key published!

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While I’ve not blogged the event in a timely manner my app Master Key was published on 10th May a couple of days after I submitted it.  I’m pretty pleased with this!

I’ve used the app since it was in early development and am now working on V2.0 based on my own user feedback which I hope to upload over the next week or so.  I’ve extended the functionality now beyond simply having the password associated with a caption to include an identity and some additional notes.

I’m up to 20 different entries now, it’s really come as quite a surprise as to how many different identities I have and it’s really great having all the info in one secure place.

As I have blogged previously the phone can easily connect to a web service.  I’ve used this approach to provide a backup and restore facility for the Master Key vault.  As the service is provided as an HTTP endpoint it can run anywhere the phone can access.

When the phone is attached by it’s cable to a PC it has access to the Ethernet the PC is connected to as as the HTTP endpoint can be easily exposed on the network it becomes quite simple to make a connection without having to have any complex security or exposure to the wider internet.

Written by metadevblog

June 5, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Posted in Master Key, WCF

Master Key sent for approval

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I’ve finally sent Master Key off to the App Hub for approval so I now have to wait and see if it passes and gets published.

Writing my first Windows Phone app has been an interesting process.  Like anything new it’s taken quite a long time to go from a blank sheet of paper through to the final solution and now that I’ve done it once I’m pretty confident that next time it will be much quicker.

Writing for the WP7 platform is great, especially as I’m very experienced with Visual Studio, c# and to a lesser extent Silverlight.  Microsoft have excelled themselves in producing such a great development environment.

I’ve now completed version 1.0 of the application and am already thinking of version 2.0; I would have continued to add features but really wanted to complete the first deployment and get onto the Marketplace.  As I follow a RAD process it can be quite hard to be disciplined and stop development as feedback testing suggests new features and better approaches to solving a problem.

Setting up my account on App Hub has been very time consuming.  As a UK based developer I have to jump through a bunch of US IRS hoops in order to get paid the full royalty amount without losing 30% in withholding taxes.  While this is not much of an issue currently as I’m not expecting any significant royalties it will hopefully be worthwhile in the future.

Along with putting the app up for approval I’ve finally deployed the MDL website.  It does not have a great deal of content currently but I have published the help for Master Key.  The web site is at:

http://www.metadev.co.uk

I used the new WebMatrix tool to create the site and am reasonably happy with the outcome.  I use Discount.ASP as my hosting service; I’ve used them for a few years now and am pretty pleased with their level of support and the functionality.

It took me a few goes to get the deployment to work properly but this was partly down to me using .NET4.0, having to configure IIS7 and modify one of the CSHTML pages so that it wasn’t attempting to connect to a database.

I tried to use FTP but it didn’t work very well and read the recommended method was to use Web Deploy. I used the ‘Import publish settings’ to get the correct info from Discount.ASP and all I had to do was enter my password.  You need to use ‘Validate Connection’ and ensure it passes before deploying.

Take a look at this support article on Discount.ASP site:

http://support.discountasp.net/KB/a891/how-to-deploy-an-application-using-web-deploy-feature.aspx

Configure IIS7 by checking the box to give your Discount.ASP login account access.

image

I added the following to the web.config – I am not convinced that this is necessary as I do not have a database.

    <connectionStrings>
        <add name="LocalSqlServer" connectionString="x" providerName="System.Data.SqlClient" />
    </connectionStrings>
I still had errors but this time they were more explicit and commenting out this line: 
 

//WebSecurity.InitializeDatabaseConnection("StarterSite", "UserProfile", "UserId", "Email", true);

in _AppStart.cshtml fixed it and my web site was deployed.

Written by metadevblog

May 9, 2011 at 5:49 pm

Starting an WP7 app with alternate start page

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I have had to change the method for starting Master Key in order to fit in with the way that the WP7 page navigation works.  On the face of it the issue is pretty trivial and one that users would typically only hit once or twice during their use of the App.

WP7 uses a browser based metaphor for moving between pages in an application.  So you can move from page to page and the history is retained on a stack, pressing the back button returns to the previous page.  This can seem confusing, Page1 can invoke Page2 and this can in turn invoke Page1.  However it will NOT be the original Page1 but a new instance of it.  Pressing back on this last page will will return to Page2 and pressing back again will go to the first instance of Page1 (pressing back one more time will close the App).

Master Key requires the user to enter the master key password in order to access the secured information.  However when the user first starts Master Key the user has to enter the password that will be used on subsequent visits and I have a different UI for this.

I originally wrote the code so that the MainPage.xaml checked to see if the users vault (the list of passwords) already exists and if it does not then the page re-directs in the OnNavigatedTo event in MainPage.xaml to a password entry page called EnterPassword.xaml where the user enters the master key.

If the user enters a valid master key and presses ‘ok’ then the vault is set up and the app is ready to use.

However if the user hits the ‘back’ button before entering a valid password then the App is left in a state of limbo and will hit the same OnNavigatedTo event in the MainPage.xaml which will re-invoke the EnterPassword.xaml page again.

I could write code to trap this cycle but wanted to look at the alternatives; one of which is to have different start pages.  I.e. when the vault exists then the MainPage.xaml will be the start page, and if the vault does not exist then EnterPassword.xaml should be the start page.

This is best achieved using Uri remapping by adding the code to the App.xaml.cs Application_Launching event:

private void Application_Launching(object sender, LaunchingEventArgs e)
{
    DAL.LoadVault();

    UriMapper mapper = Resources["uriMapper"] as UriMapper;
    RootFrame.UriMapper = mapper;

    // Update the mapper as appropriate
    if (DAL.VaultExists)
        mapper.UriMappings[0].MappedUri =                   
          new Uri("/MainPage.xaml", UriKind.Relative);
    else
        mapper.UriMappings[0].MappedUri =                   
          new Uri("/EnterPassword.xaml?type=newvault", UriKind.Relative);
}

The App.xaml has to be modified to have a default UriMapper added to it (note the addition of the xmlns:navigation namespace).

<Application
    x:Class="WPVault.App"
    xmlns="
http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml/presentation"      
    xmlns:x="
http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml"
    xmlns:phone="clr-namespace:Microsoft.Phone.Controls;assembly=Microsoft.Phone"
    xmlns:shell="clr-namespace:Microsoft.Phone.Shell;assembly=Microsoft.Phone"
    xmlns:navigation="clr-namespace:System.Windows.Navigation;assembly=Microsoft.Phone"
    >

    <!–Application Resources–>
    <Application.Resources>
        <navigation:UriMapper x:Name="uriMapper">
            <navigation:UriMapping Uri="/MainPage.xaml" />
        </navigation:UriMapper>
    </Application.Resources>

It works and I can see uses for it in other Apps; however it comes at a cost that ruled it out for me as the back button behaviour is to return to the page that was navigated from.  This means that once the user has entered the master key password and started to make entries then hitting the back button will return to the EnterPassword.xaml page again which is not a great UX.

I ended up combining the Open and New Vault pages into MainPage.xaml as there is a lot of overlap in their functionality – I then simply drive changes into the UI in the OnNavigatedTo event as appropriate to what the user is doing.  Thus the ‘new vault’ info is shown when the vault does not exist and then when the user returns back to this page again and the vault does exist the ‘open vault’ page is shown.

image

 

Written by metadevblog

May 1, 2011 at 2:59 pm

Posted in Master Key, Silverlight, WP7