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Posts Tagged ‘Windows 8’

If you are a Windows 8 or Windows Phone developer you probably already know the importance of the Segoe UI Symbol font and how it provides a wealth of great “metro” icons that can be used in appbar buttons. If so, then you are also probably aware that finding the right character/glyph can be a laborious task.

There are a number of helpful, but incomplete lists on the web, and of course there is the dated ancient character map tool that comes installed with Windows but all have serious shortcomings.

After wasting a fair number of hours myself trying to hunt for glyphs, we at Vertigo set out to build the ultimate character map tool with developers in mind.

screenshot1

Download Character Map for free from the Windows Store

 

Easy to browse: scroll through the list of available glyphs in any font installed on your system. The icons are large enough to easily see so you won’t ruin your eye sight trying to find one 😉

All glyphs are accounted for: the app queries the OS (DirectWrite actually) to find the unabridged list of glyphs for the given font. You might be surprised to see what you’ve been missing.

Filter by Unicode range: Want to exclude certain Unicode ranges to reduce the number of glyphs for a given font? We’ve got that too.

Dark and light theme: You can tap on the large glyph on the right to toggle foreground and background colors – or – you can go to the settings charm to change the theme of the entire app from dark to light.

Get the enumerated named: Some of the Segoe UI Symbol fonts have names. This is the preferred way to reference the icon in code and also helps give you an indication of the intended meaning for that glyph.

Get the Unicode name: sometimes glyphs have a defined meaning and name in Unicode that can be useful to know.

Get hex, decimal, and markup. Markup is especially useful for referencing the glyph in code, Xaml, or HTML when an enumerated name does not exist.

Search: Type in what you’re after into any of the fields on the right to find the glyph you’re looking for. For example: search by enumerated name by just typing into the “Enum” text box.

Save as transparent image: Save the given glyph as a transparent png of any size. Remember, you can simply tap the icon to reverse the colors before saving if you needed.

Copy to clipboard: No character map tool would be complete without the ability to easily copy the selected character to the clipboard.

 

Complete source code is also available

Since both this post and the app were written with developers in mind and because we developers tend to be a curious bunch, I’m guessing a few of you might also be interested in how this app was built. Therefore, we decided to fully open source Character Map to offer a way to see what’s under the hood or even contribute if you come up with a must-have feature.

 

Happy icon hunting and I hope you enjoy! Please rate the app in the store if you like it and please post suggestions, bugs and requests in the discussion forum on CodePlex to make them easy to track.

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The other day I was looking at the Google Analytics data for my Windows 8 app and discovered that almost 5% of my users were running a resolution of 1371.42858886719 x 771.428588867188. Huh!?

The bad news is, this was due to a bug in the Google Analytics SDK for Windows 8 and Windows Phone — which I wrote! 🙂

The good news is, I have since fixed it, learned a lesson (that I should have already known), and can now share my findings with you.

The point of this post is to walk through the subject of detecting physical screen resolution from within your Windows 8 and Windows Phone apps. Although not terribly complicated, it is slightly more involved than you might expect. The cruxes are 1) there is no single API to query the size of the screen your app is running on and 2) you need to understand how a certain magical feature called scaling works.

First, what not to do:

You might be tempted to determine screen resolution via the following mechanisms…

For Windows Phone 8:

Size resolution = new Size(

    Application.Current.Host.Content.ActualWidth,

    Application.Current.Host.Content.ActualHeight);

For Windows 8:

Size resolution =

    new Size(Window.Current.Bounds.Width, Window.Current.Bounds.Height);

The problem with this code (there are actually 2 issues for Windows 8 but I’ll get to that next) is that it doesn’t account for scaling.

Scaling is an awesome feature built into the platform where the OS attempts to stretch everything on the screen so an app will display at an ideal and consistent DPI regardless of the physical screen size and resolution. It does this by fooling the app into thinking that it’s running at a lower resolution than it actually is, but internally scales everything up to the real resolution before showing it on the screen. Also important to know: assets will not lose quality when they have more pixels than the pre-scaled size (this will make sense after my example below).

An example of scaling:

Let’s take an example of a 10.6” 1080p monitor (note: this is one of the screen resolutions you can set the Windows 8 simulator to).

Because this resolution is fairly high but the physical screen size is fairly small, Windows will automatically enable scaling and fool your app into thinking it is running on a lower resolution monitor. To re-iterate, this is a good thing because it means you as a developer or designer don’t have to worry about your UI looking really tiny on this particular device. To your app, the dimensions of the app (as reported by the APIs above) will actually be 1371.42858886719 x 771.428588867188 and so fonts and icons and shapes, …etc in your app will conveniently layout nicely and end up appearing at a similar size and position as it would on a 10.6” 720p monitor. Scaling gives you this little gift for free without you as the developer writing special code to change font sizes, …etc depending on physical screen DPI.

Avoiding pixilation!

I won’t get too much into the weeds about pixilation or best practices but I feel obligated to discuss 2 important things:

1) If you build your UI using a vector language (Xaml & HTML are vector languages), Windows and Windows Phone will be able to scale your UI to get the most out of every pixel without pixilation. Your app doesn’t need to do anything extra; scaling will automatically occur when visual elements are rendered and every pixel will be used. Learn more about vector graphics if that doesn’t make sense.

2) Assets like images and videos will automatically scale to fit the final resolution, not the fake application resolution. This one might be a little counter-intuitive. Imagine the following Xaml to display a 300×300 image:

<Image Source="/img300.png" Stretch="Uniform" Width="214" Height="214"/>

Because we set the width and height on the image control explicitly, your first impression might be that the image will always be stretched (Stretch = Uniform after all) to 214×214. The correct answer is: it depends.

If Windows has determined not to scale (because your monitor and resolution are close enough to the ideal DPI), then yes, the image above will be shrunk down to 214×214 when displayed on the screen.

However, if Windows scaling is occurring (lets assume at 1.4x), the image will actually be displayed on the screen in it’s full 300×300 glory. (214 * 1.4 = ~300)

To prove it, here are 2 images I created in Photoshop from the same vector source. One is saved at 214×214 pixels and the second is saved at 300×300 pixels. Using the following Xaml:

<StackPanel Orientation="Horizontal" Background="White">

 <Image Source="///img214.png" Stretch="Uniform" Width="214" Height="214"/>

 <Image Source="///img300.png" Stretch="Uniform" Width="214" Height="214"/>

</StackPanel>

When scaling is turned off (1x scaling):

image

Notice, the images look identical. This is because Windows will shrink the 2nd image (300×300) down to 214×214 before displaying it on the screen just like the Xaml says to do.

When Windows is scaling at 1.4x:

image

If you look closely, you can see that the second image is crisper. This is because the 300×300 pixel image is actually being displayed on the screen at 300×300 pixels despite what our Xaml’s height and width say will happen. The first image is actually being stretched to 300×300 when it is rendered to the screen.

Back to detecting resolution. And the correct answer is…

Easy, simply get the scaling factor (accessible via an API) and multiply it by the dimensions we gathered earlier.

For Windows Phone 8:

var content = Application.Current.Host.Content;

double scale = (double)content.ScaleFactor / 100;

int h = (int)Math.Ceiling(content.ActualHeight * scale);

int w = (int)Math.Ceiling(content.ActualWidth * scale);

Size resolution = new Size(w, h);

For Windows 8:

var bounds = Window.Current.Bounds;

double w = bounds.Width;

double h = bounds.Height;

switch (DisplayProperties.ResolutionScale)

{

    case ResolutionScale.Scale140Percent:

        w = Math.Ceiling(w * 1.4);

        h = Math.Ceiling(h * 1.4);

        break;

    case ResolutionScale.Scale180Percent:

        w = Math.Ceiling(w * 1.8);

        h = Math.Ceiling(h * 1.8);

        break;

}

Size resolution = new Size(w, h);

Almost there, don’t forget about snapped mode and orientation.

…I warned earlier that there was a 2nd problem with the Windows 8 code at the top.

For the Windows Phone, you actually don’t have to do anything. There is no such thing as snapped mode on the phone and Application.Current.Host.Content.ActualHeight and .ActualWidth always return values as if the app is running in portrait mode (even when it’s landscape).

For Windows 8, you do need to account for both snapped mode and orientation.

To help with this, you can compensate based on the ApplicationViewState. For example, here is the code I use to calculate the actual screen size, even when in portrait mode or filled mode (filled mode is when another app is in snapped mode next to your app).

if (ApplicationView.Value == ApplicationViewState.FullScreenLandscape){

    resolution = new Size(w, h);

}

else if (ApplicationView.Value == ApplicationViewState.FullScreenPortrait)

{

    resolution = new Size(h, w);

}

else if (ApplicationView.Value == ApplicationViewState.Filled){

    resolution = new Size(w + 320.0 + 22.0, h); // add the width of snapped mode & divider grip

}

The only thing lacking here is detecting the screen size when the app is snapped mode. While this bothers the purist in me, I find that most users don’t start apps in snapped mode so as long as you get the resolution at the beginning of your app’s lifetime and remember it, 99.9% of the time you will be able to accurately determine the actual screen resolution.

Worthy of mention…

Apparently it is possible using DirectX and C++/CX to determine the actual screen size. I haven’t tried this for myself but there is a blog post on how to detect screen resolution from a C++ WinRT component here.

Additional resources

Scaling to different screens

Guidelines for scaling to screens (Windows Store apps)

Multi-resolution apps for Windows Phone 8

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The Windows 8 and Windows Phone developer dashboards offer some fantastic and useful metrics without developers having to lift a finger. This is great for tracking the basics such as purchases, downloads, & crashes but if you’re serious about understanding your users and improving your apps, you’ll quickly realize there are easily dozens of questions this data fails to answer. Or maybe you just want near real time information.

In a quest to improve my own apps: PuzzleTouch for Windows Phone and PuzzleTouch for Windows 8, I created the Google Analytics SDK for Windows 8 and Windows Phone and am excited to share my work with other developers. This SDK is a full featured Google Analytics client-side open source library to help your app report data to the new Google Analytics service just released last month. It supports both Windows 8 store apps and Windows Phone 7 & 8 apps and includes the same features offered in the Google Analytics SDKs for iOS and Android.

ga_realtime

Aren’t there already some great open source Google Analytics libraries out there for Win8 and WP developers?

The short answer: Yes, but they don’t work with the latest version of Google Analytics. If you want all the great new features supported today by Google Analytics or if you are setting up Google Analytics for your app for the first time, you are are required to use an SDK that supports the new Google Analytics Measurement Protocol. This new protocol is completely different from the older UTM protocol and is not backward compatible. As far as I am aware, no others libraries exist at the time of this post.

Find out more on the Google Analytics for Windows 8 and Windows Phone SDK CodePlex page about how and if this affects your existing apps.

What additional features does the new Google Analytics service include?

The ability to track and filter by app name and version.

This is extremely powerful and allows you to:

  1. Create one property for all your apps (Windows 8, Windows Phone, Android, iOS, …etc) and use filters to view them separately.
  2. On the flip side, it also allows you to compare all apps against each other.
  3. Create arbitrary filters to allow you to group certain apps (for example, you could see data for both the WP7 and WP8 version of your app as well as see that data separately.
  4. Radically change what data you track from one version to the next and create a new filter to only view data from newer versions of your app without loosing old data or having it pollute new data.
  5. Track different editions of the same app. For example, you might have a free and a paid version that you want to track together yet be able to filter on.

Track exceptions and crashes

The Windows Phone and Windows Store dashboard both offer a way to see stack traces from crashes. However, the Windows store requires some effort to see your stack traces (for Xaml based apps) and both take at least two days before data data shows up (often much longer from my experience).

When you release a new version of your app, one of the most valuable things you could possibly know is “did I break something”? The new Google Analytics service offers a great way to capture errors (handled and unhandled) in near real-time so you can analyze what went wrong and try to ship a fix before more users are affected. Don’t think you’re immune to needing this! 🙂

Custom dimensions and metrics

Custom dimensions and custom metrics are like default dimensions and metrics (e.g. sessions and page views), except you create them yourself. You can use them to collect up to 200 data points that Google Analytics doesn’t automatically track. These offer numerous advantages to the old custom variable feature. Read more about custom dimensions and metrics.

Screen views and more

If you’re familiar with the classic version of Google Analytics, you may remember that screen views were displayed as page views. Google Analytics classic tried to treat your app like a website and with it came irrelevant information such as bounce rate and referrers. The new version of Google Analytics knows if you’re tracking an app and the reporting tools have been overhauled to easily help you find information relevant for apps, not websites.

Additionally, there are some additional improvements to allow you to tie custom events to specific screens in your app. No longer will you have to create 2 different events and prefix the name with the name of the page from whence it came.

E-Commerce

Possibly the best new feature of all is E-Commerce tracking. Now you can treat transactions like transactions and not have to stuff them in custom events with overloaded point values. Google Analytics easily shows you how much money you’re making in your currency of choice and information about what lead up to a purchase.

Much More

Plus, there are many other new features in Google Analytics like app timings (e.g. how long did it take my game play screen to load?), social network tracking (e.g. do users like sharing on FaceBook or Twitter more?), and much more.

How do I get started?

If you have an iOS or Android app, Google has already built SDKs for you.

If you want to track a Windows Phone (7 or 8) or Windows 8 Store app (JavaScript, C++, or .NET), go to CodePlex to learn more about the Google Analytics SDK for Windows 8 and Windows Phone or download it from NuGet.

Google Analytics itself is free (at least until you reach its quota). It’s extremely easy to spin up a new account, property and profile and start testing immediately.

The Google Analytics SDK for Windows 8 and Windows Phone is free and open source under the Ms-PL license (basically don’t sue me and use it for whatever you want).

What about other 3rd party analytics services?

There are other 3rd party analytics services available today with their own SDK. Some of these might be better than Google Analytics but I haven’t had a chance to check them out personally. Feel free to post a comment from your own experience with another analytics services.

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A few months ago I was speaking with a reporter and was asked which development model the industry was gravitating toward for Windows 8 apps. My impression was that Xaml + C# appeared to be strongest out of the gate but only time would tell if JavaScript+HTML would slowly close the gap.

So far, this hasn’t happened. C# (and VB) + Xaml development has held its ground as by far the most popular development model for Windows 8 Metro Store apps. In fact, preference is now over 3 to 1 over JavaScript + HTML.

Since early April, I’ve been taking random snapshots of the number of posts on the MSDN Windows 8 development forums and here are the results…

UPDATE for Oct 28: C#/VB gains even more ground…

image

image

Raw data:

Model 9-Apr 14-Jun 31-Jul 22-Aug 28-Oct
JavaScript 3645 5926 7831 8573
10631

C++ 2779 4494 5647 6263
7914

C#/VB 10030 16337 21921 24798
34562

What is the trend? If anything C# is gaining share…

imageimage

imageimage

I have numerous opinions about why this is the way it is, but I’ll leave this speculation for another day. Why do you think C# and Xaml are more popular for Windows 8 development? Or is counting forum post a poor way to measure?

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In case you missed the news, Microsoft just hit a major milestone on its road to shipping Windows 8 with the public launch of the Release Preview version. With this new version comes new features and as expected: a number of trivial, yet importing changes that will affect app developers and their apps.

Meanwhile, here at Vertigo we’ve been toiling day (and sometimes night) to help developers and clients prepare for this update so they can hit the ground running and create some of the first apps to ship on the new platform.

One such effort that we were proud to release alongside the launch of Windows 8 Release Preview is the update to the Microsoft Media Platform Player Framework (an open source video player component for Windows 8 metro style apps).

win8_pf.jpg

While Windows 8 includes some essential and great components to help building top notch media apps (namely the MediaElement for Xaml developers and the Video tag for JavaScript/HTML developers), the purpose of these components is primarily aimed at providing the fundamentals and low level support for playing audio and video. We here at Vertigo Software know video and we know that there is still a mountain to climb before you can ship a great media app. In a joint effort with Microsoft, we’ve worked hard to fill this gap by building a media player framework to make it simple and straightforward to accomplish the vast majority of your media app needs in Windows 8.

The Microsoft Media Platform Player Framework ships with a JavaScript and Xaml version of the framework that offers out of the box features to build great video apps without the fuss and months of development required to build your own media player. Besides support for the Windows 8 Release Preview, our latest update also includes support for major features such as player DVR controls (scrubbing, FF, RW, play/pause, …etc), player styling and branding, closed captioning, and just released today: video advertising!

Video advertising is very different from traditional banner advertising – which is already included with the Microsoft Advertising SDK. Video advertising allows you to seamlessly connect to video ad servers and stitch together commercials, overlays, and companion ads with your own content.

Advertising is an extremely important monetization strategy for many media companies and an equally significant undertaking to build from scratch. With the latest version of the player framework, you can simply add the new advertising plugin, schedule when ads should play and point your app at a VAST standards compliant ad server to play ads with your content. Ad scheduling, downloading, playback, and tracking is all handled for you by the player framework using IAB recommended standards such as VAST and VPAID.

Download everything you need today to start (or finish) your media app for Windows 8:

Microsoft Media Platform Player Framework

Windows 8 Release Preview

Visual Studio 2012 RC

Smooth Streaming SDK

PlayReady DRM SDK

 

Enjoy!

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Need to build an app that plays video? This week we released a new version of the MMP: Player Framework (formerly the Silverlight Media Framework) made for Windows 8 Metro style applications.

With guidance the Windows 8 and IIS teams, we (Microsoft Media Platform team & Vertigo Software) created an open source media player framework that you can use for both HTML-based and XAML-based Metro style applications.

image

Support for HTML and XAML

The player framework supports both HTML/JavaScript and XAML/C#/VB based Metro style applications. Technically, there are two different components (one for HTML and one for XAML based apps), but they share very similar APIs, feature sets, and in some cases even share the same source code. Under the hood, the XAML version is built on top of the MediaElement that ships with .NET and similarly, the HTML version is built on top of the HTML5 <video> tag.

Our primary goal was to ensure both flavors felt natural and familiar to both HTML and XAML developers. If you are an HTML/JavaScript developer, using the JavaScript version will be very similar to using the other JavaScript controls that ship with Windows 8 as well as those already familiar with the HTML5 <video> tag. If you are a XAML/managed code developer, you can expect the XAML version to adhere to the practices and patterns of .NET & Silverlight controls.

Extensibility

The framework: We refer to the player framework as a framework as opposed to a control or component because it is intended to be a mini-platform in it’s own right. While these details will be hidden to the majority of developers using it as is out of the box media player, the player framework is built on a plugin style architecture that enables the feature set to be expanded and evolve after the fact without touching the core code base. In fact, many of the features currently in the framework are implemented as plugins. For example: the main control bar that the user interacts with is technically a plugin that could be swapped in our out for a radically different implementation.

Styling: One of the most common requirements in building a media player is to be able to skin the UI to match your brand. By default, the player framework ships with a Metro style skin, but you can easily modify the look and feel of the player from CSS or XAML without having to build a custom player.

Open source: the player frameworks ships with full source code under the liberal Ms-Pl license. Crack it open and see how it ticks or make changes to suite your needs.

How similar is it to the existing HTML5 or Silverlight versions of the player framework?

You may already be familiar with the existing HTML5 for the web or Silverlight for the web/desktop and phone versions of the player framework. The Windows 8 version of the framework should feel familiar and is in fact based on much of the same code. However, you should not expect full compatibility. We wanted to make sure the player framework felt like it was made for Windows 8 Metro style apps and it’s respective development model (HTML vs. XAML). We also wanted to meld the two versions and their APIs when it made sense. Lastly, we used this opportunities to make architectural improvements that would better position the framework for a long and bright future.

Features

You’ll find that the player framework has an extensive API chocked full of many useful hooks and features. From 30,000 feet, here is a sampling of features you will find in v1 of the player framework.

  • VOD
  • Progressive video
  • Smooth streaming
  • Rich DVR (Play, pause, stop, fast forward, rewind, skip next & back, seek-able timeline, volume, slow motion, instant replay)
  • Full screen
  • Closed captions (plain text for Xaml and WebVTT for js)
  • Styling support
  • Buffering and error/retry visual states.
  • Poster image
  • Click-to-play UI to let the user choose to start watching.
  • All features already included with the MediaElement and <Video/>
  • Playlist
  • Chapters
  • Timeline markers
  • Support for localization
  • Compact UI for snapped view
  • Support for DRM (e.g. PlayReady)

What’s next?

The fun doesn’t stop here. We’re already hard at work on more features. Here are some prominent ones in the cards.

  • Adaptive streaming APIs
  • Advertising
  • Audio player
  • TTML closed captions
  • Audio track selection (multi-language audio)
  • Live video

Got feedback?

We’d love to hear your feedback and make sure the player framework offers the features and functionality you need in your apps. We encourage developers to check out the player framework on CodePlex and post feedback on the CodePlex forum.

Hope you enjoy!

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