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The following is a guest blog – by Derek Foster, University of Lincoln, School of Computer Science
With consumer uptake of smartphone platforms growing exponentially on a global scale in recent years, particularly for accessing social media, news, streaming media and games through the lens of ‘mobile apps’, we felt it was time to overhaul our existing final year ‘Mobile and Distributed Computing’ module in the Lincoln School of Computer Science. Task-driven computing on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet PCs is beginning to edge out the traditional desktop space, for example social media use on mobile devices has now surpassed the desktop; as the processing power of mobile devices increases they are likely to run more desktop application tasks. We took a close look at the development tools for the major mobile OS’s currently available with a view to selecting a suitable platform for inclusion in delivering content for teaching. Mobile development for a contemporary mobile platform was seen as an important skillset and significant boost for students’ CV’s and better equipping them for a mobile-geared job market. Computing students at Lincoln are taught in state-of-the-art labs with high-spec machines ensuring the best development experience possible. Students are largely empowered in their development needs by being able to select, suggest and install development software of their choice in the labs; for example choice of IDE’s, source control and other tools.
In previous years we taught Java ME and realised the shelf life of the platform as a viable mobile OS had come to an end, indeed a roll call for mobile devices owned by our students revealed very low ownership for Java/Symbian based phones. Firstly, we had to consider our students current development skillsets and the main Computing degree streams they were enrolled on – this was to ensure we set the teaching style, pace and content at the right level. Secondly, consideration was given to the role of cloud computing in the development of mobile applications. Lastly, as a large part of the context of mobile use is social; for example social media, check-in services, recommender apps and photo sharing, we decided to include a significant amount of Human Computer Interaction and design methods in the updated module. This was bolstered by the expertise of the researchers delivering the module’s content who are active HCI researchers across multiple disciplines. By embracing a ‘designing for real users’ approach, the inclusion of HCI provides students with a strong focus on who they are developing for and the type of tasks their target end-users want to carry out. This approach was carried out well in advance of thinking about the development space; a design first:develop second approach.
By the time students progress to their 3rd year at Lincoln they’ve had experience using various programming languages and IDE’s, including Visual Studio, which is used to teach C# programming, ASP.NET/MS-SQL, and XNA for games development. With the use of VS widespread in Lincoln’s computing degree programmes, it was a logical step to look at including it for mobile phone development. The question was ‘How good are Microsoft’s mobile development tools for Windows Phone when stacked up against the competition?’ The answer to this was straight forward after a few days experimenting with the tools and Windows Phone SDK. We were impressed by the integration of the Windows Phone SDK in Visual Studio, and further impressed by the emulator tools, easily edging out the competition in features for sensor emulation, debugging and ease of use through VS GUI building elements. The stage was pretty much set with the updated module aptly named ‘Social Applications Development’ and planned to run over the full academic year with 35 students in its first iteration.
The structure of the module’s development content was inspired by a combination of resources available from the Windows Phone Developer website as well as our own research interests. To involve students in aspects of our current research we built 5 WCF services (themed on our research interests) and deployed them to Azure, the services were designed to enable students to easily create cloud-connected mobile apps; service details are listed below. The first half of the module was largely delving into development supported by a user-centric design ethos and included delivery of the following lectures and workshops structure:
1. Intro to module. Development environment and installation. for WP (VS2010)
a. Workshop – Hello world app
2. Windows Phone – Hardware and Software (Silverlight, XAML)
a. Workshop – UI and navigation app (Panorama & Pivot Interfaces)
3. Windows Phone Sensors / Client-Server vs. Cloud
a. Workshop – Launchers and choosers app (location, photos, maps)
4. Windows Azure – Cloud Connected Mobile Applications
a. Workshop – Saving data to isolated storage (text files, photos)
5. Overview of REST API’s
a. Workshop – Basic Twitter client using Twitter REST API and sentiment analysis WCF service
6. API mashups and breakout session – generating novel mobile app concepts around multiple and diverse datasets
a. Workshop – Photo app that saves photos to Azure using WCF service
b. Workshop – Top 40’s music chart app using WCF service
c. Workshop – Lincoln Campus hourly energy usage app using WCF service
d. Workshop – Crime by location app using Bing Maps, UK Crime API and WCF service
The development part of the module was well received by students, some of whom had basic coding experience and yet where able to produce novel cloud-connected mobile apps after a few months of attending lectures and workshops. Screenshots of the student apps with their comments are below.
AT: “The module Social Applications and Development was an introduction for me into the world of mobile applications; learning and implementing the following application based technologies, such as: Cloud Services, APIs, SDKs I was able to create a mobile application that allows a user to find out the crime statistics of given area.”
MW: “I found the module very interesting and expertly delivered. I even enjoyed it so much I have already contributed my own content for use in future years. (a dll for converting a UK postcode to long and lat cords)”
The second part of the module focussed on the user-centred design approach, mobile context-of-use, global mobile demographics, and ethics. We believe a blend of development skills, design theory and an understanding of end-users’ needs and desires when interacting with mobile devices equipped the students with requisite knowledge to carry out the design, implementation and evaluation of mobile apps on a cutting edge platform. We were also fortunate enough to arrange a Windows PhoneCamp which took place during the second part of the module and was a great success. Over 50 students attended and attempted the task of hacking together Windows Phone apps in the space of an afternoon; a blog post on Lincoln’s PhoneCamp is here.
With the start of the new academic year fast approaching we are working on new Azure Cloud additions to the module and the potential inclusion of the Gadgeteer platform. With Gadgeteer being particularly suited to rapid prototyping, the possibility of using the platform for sensor stations and interactive prototypes that support our practical research would enable the creation of novel and engaging mobile apps.
Upon reflection of a successful first year teaching Windows Phone development, we came to realise the importance of the cloud and its implications for building mobile apps and services. Further to this, we were successful in an application for an Azure Educators grant and plan to use the grant’s free academic accounts for our students to introduce more cloud computing development by allowing hands on experience of creating their own web services hosted in the cloud.
Huge thanks to Derek.
If you would like to share you academic experiences of using the Microsoft stack? Please get in touch or share your views comments and experiences on our linkedin group
Windows Phone SDK 8.0 Preview now open. Apply Today!
Self-nominations are now being accepted for access to the Windows Phone SDK 8.0 Developer Preview Program. With this program, we will provide tools to developers of the top apps, giving them a chance to fix known issues and to optimize their current apps for Windows Phone 8. To apply for program access, please visit Microsoft Connect to complete a short survey and accept the program terms. You will need the following:
Application Product ID
Name of your local Phone Champ (if you don't know, check out the Find My Champ app)
Self-nominations will be accepted until Monday, Sept. 17. Those accepted will hear from us in the following week with instructions for how to proceed. For more detailed information, please check out Todd Brix's blog post outlining the program. Additionally, please read on, as we have included many useful tips for creating a great app, whether you participate in the preview program or not.
Future-proofing your Windows Phone apps
Utilize these quick tips as you build your Windows Phone 7.5 apps so they work well on Windows Phone 8 and beyond. Take a look at the article we posted today on the Windows Phone developer blog on "future-proofing" your apps. To summarize, here are a few tips.
Avoid unsupported and undocumented features, such as event ordering, timing dependencies and non-public APIs.
Prep for hardware diversity by actually checking for everything your app uses and taking appropriate action if it's not there. For example, to reach the widest possible target market, constrain your app to run within 90MB of memory to run on low-memory devices.
If you choose to obfuscate your code to protect IP, do so conservatively to ensure version-resilience. Specifically, try to avoid optimization features of obfuscators that eliminate unused code and data, coalesce strings and merge assemblies.
For more great suggestions on how to best develop your Windows Phone 7.5 apps, we've put together this list of MSDN Magazine articles that cover camera use, data binding, feed-readers, and more.
Using Cameras in Your Windows Phone Application
Windows Phone Data Binding
Get Your Windows Phone Applications in the Marketplace Faster
Behind the Scenes: A Windows Phone Feed-Reader App
Pragmatic Tips for Building Better Windows Phone Apps
Maximize your opportunity - build apps in the top downloaded categories
In January we published an infographic that provided an at-a-glance view of Marketplace statistics. Since it was one of our most popular and shared posts, we thought we'd do it again. Here's a snapshot showing a few key stats, including overall growth of apps in Marketplace, as well as the breakdown of most downloaded apps by type, both free and paid. Watch the Windows Phone Developer blog later this week for the full graphic containing more quick and useful facts.
Dream.Build.Play Challenge brings high-quality, fun games to Windows Phone
Microsoft recently announced the winners of its annual Dream.Build.Play Challenge, which invites developers to compete for cash prizes by creating games for Windows Phone or Xbox 360. Check out the winners here – all were selected based on the following criteria – Fun Factor, Innovation and Production Quality. Inspired? Submit your game and be the next big game developer for Windows Phone!
Windows Phone partner offerings
Tap into offerings and resources from partners, communities and people from the Windows Phone developer ecosystem. For a complete list of what's available from Windows Phone partners, from components and tools to Web API & Cloud services – visit our partner resources page.
Add sleek, smooth and finger-friendly experiences to your Windows Phone applications with Bee Mobile XAML components.
Handle scoring, leaderboards, in-game notifications, game achievements, player login, built in CRM features, game management and more the with Scoreoid server platform.
Student Developer? Start here!
"Interested in developing Windows Phone Apps, but not sure how to get started? Meet Peter, a student developer with 2 apps on the Windows Phone Marketplace. Also, check out this guest post from Martin Gernegross, student developer of Windows Phone App Flying Tiles. Ready to get started building Windows Phone apps? Download the Getting Started Guide here. "
Windows 8 Game Apps - World Record attempt for the Largest GameJam in a single location
Friday, Sept 14th to Sunday, Sept 16th
University of Bedfordshire, Luton
For the past few weeks we have been working closely with a specialised gaming institution called Train2Game to ensure that their students are firstly aware and secondly up to speed on developing beautiful stunning and awesome games on Windows 8.
So this weekend Microsoft will be supporting Train2Game. Guinness World Record Attempt GameJam.
Yes… we have taken over the University of Bedfordshire in Luton for the weekend. The University IT Team have successfully upgraded to Windows 8 and Visual Studio 2012 via DreamSpark premium.
The IT team have built a custom image and have successfully deployed this to the current PC estate for use throughout the event.
All the PC’s located in the computer labs and study spaces are now Windows 8 and the event images compromises of Windows 8 RTM, Visual Studio Ultimate RTM and various design and graphics packages and tools necessary to build amazing games.
The event will start on Friday and last for the next 48 hours we have over 330 game development students, these students will work in teams developing Windows 8 Game Apps using only C++ and DirectX. A unknown theme will be announced at the keynote by Scott Henson of MS Studios and officials from Guinness World Records will be present throughout the event adjudicating the proceedings. The existing World Record is held by Singapore at 301 game developers so we will all hopefully be successful record breakers on Sunday.
In preparing for the Game Jam the 330+ students have, for the past six weeks, been developing Windows 8 games to practise their skills. These 330+ students can also now take advantage of these skills and build and deploy games for FREE to the Windows Store using their DreamSpark subscriptions which provide them free developer accounts for the Windows Store and Windows Phone MarketPlace.
The experience and our involvement will help encourage them continue developing games in C++ and DirectX for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. Give the students some real practical example of working within teams and provide them with evidence and portfolios of real apps, with user ratings and feedbacks which they can then use to demonstrate skills to potential employers.
We are also working with Train2Game in building a Windows 8/Phone 8 Game Development module for their 9,000 students to take as an option on their Degree/Masters courses.
Happy coding! Oh yes, I will be playing some of the games developed on Sunday. So expect more details after I have recovered from sleep deprivation.
Today we are announcing the following changes to www.dreamspark.com
1. An new site design which is the result of improvements to the user experience based on internal and external feedback. Notably creating more clarity around the fact that the DreamSpark program is both a direct to student program and a subscription based program for academic institutions. As a result we have created two hubs with distinctive colour branding through the site to direct users to the right information and software access depending on their role:
a. DreamSpark for Students – direct access to the individual students experience (www.dreamspark.com/Student/default.aspx )
b. DreamSpark for Academic Institutions – information about the DreamSpark subscription such as program benefits, EULAs, usage guidelines, and the steps to purchase a subscription etc. (www.dreamspark.com/Institution/Subscription.aspx )
The site today is going live in English only. Customers selecting other languages will fall back to English UI. The DreamSpark team are working as fast as we can to launch the localized versions. They should become available in the week of 24th of Sept.
As part of this site redesign we are rebranding the DreamSpark subscription to DreamSpark Standard in response to the feedback received by customers and to avoid confusion with DreamSpark for students.
2. The new site has shifted from focusing purely on software downloads to bringing tools and resources related to development on our platforms (Windows 8, Windows Phone and Games) and most importantly a new section under Student dedicated to App Development) also accessible from the Student sub-navigation .
3. A page dedicated to Windows 8 App Development where students can find the resources and tools they need to start developing Windows 8 apps, including a pointer to downloading the getting started guide. .
4. Free access for students to the Windows Store: From the Windows 8 App Development page, users will be direct to the Windows Store Access Page on DreamSpark where they can verify their user status and then get a Registration code to use in the Windows Store to register for FREE.
a. Overview of the DreamSpark program explaining what it is? www.dreamspark.com/what-is-dreamspark.aspx
b. New Software Deployment guide for institutions, www.dreamspark.com/Institution/Software-Deployment-Guide-en-us.pdf , detailing step by step how administrators can provide software access to students, faculty and labs via a DreamSpark MSDN Subscriber Portal and ELMS Webstores
c. ELMS overview: www.dreamspark.com/Institution/ELMS-Overview.aspx
d. DreamSpark Standard usage guidelines page added to academic institution overview section, www.dreamspark.com/Institution/DS-Usage-Guidelines.aspx
e. DreamSpark Premium usage guidelines page added to academic institution overview section, www.dreamspark.com/Institution/DSP-Usage-Guidelines.aspx
f. STEM definition page, www.dreamspark.com/Institution/STEM.aspx
g. New DreamSpark Standard EULA:www.dreamspark.com/Institution/DS-EULA.aspx
h. DreamSpark Premium EULA page to www.dreamspark.com/Institution/DSP-EULA.aspx
i. Revised FAQ’s; more information, more relevant to each audience (student, educator, and institution) accessible from top nav bar.
j. Separation of Student support from Subscription support with two dedicated pages: www.dreamspark.com/student/support.aspx and www.dreamspark.com/Institution/Support.aspx
k. DreamSpark for Academic Institution, and the Academic Institution Hub nav bar explaining how access an existing subscription:
I received a question at yesterdays ALT-C conference on what articles and resources Microsoft had for cross-platform development, our team (Microsoft Open Technologies) have been working with the open source communities on various projects such as PhoneGap for Windows Phone 7 or jQuery Mobile theme for Windows Phone.
You can find information and resources here http://windowsphone.interoperabilitybridges.com/
You will find pointers to interesting related articles in these posts:
These articles don’t bring a strict recommendation but rather raise the questions a developer should ask himself when considering a cross-platform project.
Do you have students who love to write games? The competition has specific categories focused on Windows 8 and Windows Phone.
Have you individuals or teams to enter the UK’s Uni Game Jam 2012, hosted at the Nottingham Trent University on the 17th – 18th Nov. Why not use this event to refine your entries for this years gaming competition at the www.imaginecup.com
For further details and entry requirements see http://www.devsoc.co.uk/game-jam
This week sees the launch of Visual Studio 2012. On the 12th of Sept we launch Visual Studio 2012 with Jason Zander CVP who will be presenting the keynote.
This is where the development of apps really starts! Visual Studio 2012 is the most significant Tools product we have ever launched and has been 18 months in the making.
Visual Studio 2012 is key to enabling Agile software development.
Tim Anderson has been recently been undertaking interviews for The Register and The Guardian. If you’re not familiar with his work then you can see the first review he has written here: Visual Studio 2012: 50 Shades of Grey by Microsoft
The launch of Visual Studio 2012 on the 12th of September will be streamed on line: http://www.visualstudiolaunch.com/vs2012vle/Home
Visual Studio 2012 Roadshow
During the first week of Oct the UK Visual Studio team will be travelling the country bringing the launch experience to Edinburgh, Manchester, London and Reading. Further details about the Roadshow can be found here: Visual Studio 2012 Launch Roadshow
Download Visual Studio Now
Visual Studio 2012 can be downloaded for free from Microsoft DreamSpark
We all now demand beautiful, elegant apps that are alive with activity. If your an IT Academy you can now get your students demonstrating there expertise at designing and developing the fast and fluid Windows 8 apps by earning the Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD)
If your interested in IT Academy please visit http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/itacademy/
With new certification for Windows Store Apps. There are two paths to achieving this certification—using HTML5 or C#.
To earn the MCSD certification, take the exams indicated below
If you want to upgrade your current certification to validate your up to date skills:
Find out more about upgrade paths
Take the exams needed to upgrade to MCSD: Windows Store Apps
If you’re new to certification, check out the Microsoft certification tracks available to you.
Get your MCSD: Windows Store Apps Using HTML5
Get your MCSD: Windows Store Apps Using C#
Note: Exams 70-480, 70-481, 70-482, 70-483, 70-484, and 70-485 will become available in beta version during the summer of 2012. If you are interested in taking the beta exams, be sure to complete a Microsoft Learning SME profile to indicate your skills and experience with Visual Studio 2012, or watch for announcements about upcoming beta exams at Born to Learn. MCSD certification requires candidates to show continued ability to perform in their chosen solution area by completing a recertification exam every two years.
Upgrade your MCPD certification to MCSD: Windows Store Apps Using HTML5
Upgrade your MCPD certification to MCSD: Windows Store Apps Using C#
Note: Upgrade exams will be available in the spring of 2013.
So if your interested in developing application of games for Windows 8 ARM devices the following white paper on ARM Development is an essential read
Additionally we have produced some best practice guidance for developing applications and games using HTML5/JS C# C++
For more details on Windows 8 see http://www.microsoft.com/uk/msdn/windows8
Microsoft supports the dreams and aspirations of the next generation of technology innovators the students now studying will drive the next wave of technology innovation and Microsoft is committed to helping them achieve their goals through programs such as Microsoft Students to Business (“S2B”).
What is the S2B Program?
The Microsoft S2B program connects companies with talented university or post-graduate students like you for entry-level jobs or internships in the technology industry by matching qualified candidates with open positions.
Why should you register?
In one word: access! Students are given FREE access to
· Training and certification offers to help them develop the necessary skills for a successful career;
· Software via DreamSpark
· Jobs via Microsoft’s vast network of partner companies looking for qualified students to help their businesses grow.
At S2B, we believe: Skills + Software + Experience = Jobs
Register today at www.microsoft.com/s2b