Daily Archives: November 18, 2011

Every Windows Phone application deserves Live Tiles (part 4)

My previous post about Live Tiles showed you how you can use a PeriodicTask to update your Application’s Live Tile periodically from inside the phone. Now we are going to move a little beyond Application Tiles and move towards Secondary Tiles.

image_thumb2Matthijs Hoekstra, Microsoft’s Dutch Windows Phone Champ, inspired me to create the following sample application. The application creates a single Secondary Tile and that is about it. This application is great to make the number of tiles on the phone’s start screen even (which simply looks better). At the same time, the application has limited functionality, making it easier to concentrate on functionality that is needed to create and update the Secondary Tile.

Each application can create multiple Secondary Tiles. These Secondary Tiles are created programmatically, and will be pinned on the user’s start screen after they are created. They do have the same properties and update possibilities as Application Tiles. However, an application always has an Application Tile, regardless from it being pinned on the start screen or not. Secondary Tiles are completely optional. End users of course have the possibility to unpin the Secondary Tile again from the start screen, so you should not automatically assume that a Secondary Tile you created inside your application will live on the phone’s Start Screen forever. One important difference between the Application Tile and a Secondary Tile is the possibility for a Secondary Tile to specify a navigation URI. With this URI it is possible to immediately navigate to a particular page inside an application and / or to pass additional data to a particular page. Because users can unpin Secondary Tiles, it is not wise to only allow navigating to a particular page through a Secondary Tile, even though this would be technically possible.

Let’s take a look how to create a Secondary Tile inside an application. The sample code that you will see is all part of the sample application that simply creates a Secondary Tile. The application also has a few options to change the appearance of the tile, which will be described in future blog entries around Live Tiles. In the sample application, a Secondary Tile is created when the user clicks a button. Technically, this could also be done automatically, for instance in the constructor of the MainPage. This code snippet is responsible for creating a Secondary Tile:

Creating a Secondary Tile
  1. private void btnInstall_Click(object sender, RoutedEventArgs e)
  2. {
  3.     ShellTile TileToFind = ShellTile.ActiveTiles.FirstOrDefault(x => x.NavigationUri.ToString().Contains("TileId=Secondary"));
  4.  
  5.     if (TileToFind == null)
  6.     {
  7.         StandardTileData NewTileData = new StandardTileData
  8.         {
  9.             BackgroundImage = new Uri("Tile.png", UriKind.Relative),
  10.             Title = "Even Tiles",
  11.             Count = 0,
  12.             BackBackgroundImage = new Uri("Tile.png", UriKind.Relative),
  13.             BackTitle = "Even Tiles",
  14.             BackContent = "Show even # of tiles on Start Screen",
  15.         };
  16.  
  17.         ShellTile.Create(new Uri("/MainPage.xaml?TileId=Secondary", UriKind.Relative), NewTileData);
  18.         btnInstall.Content = removeText;
  19.     }
  20.     else
  21.     {
  22.         TileToFind.Delete();
  23.         btnInstall.Content = addText;
  24.     }
  25. }

In the above code snippet we first check if the Secondary Tile currently exists. If not, a new Secondary Tile will be created containing both foreground and background information. The Secondary Tile also contains a Uri, containing the address of the MainPage, but it also passes additional data so we can determine if the MainPage was started from the Secondary Tile or not. If, on the other hand a Secondary Tile does exist, it will be deleted and the user has the possibility to create another Secondary Tile. As you can see, the ShellTile class is used to create or access the Secondary Tile. Identical to Application Tiles, the StandardTileData class is used to modify properties on the tile.

In the OnNavigatedTo method the reason for navigating to the MainPage is determined by checking if the Secondary Tile caused this. If so, the user has the possibility to delete the Secondary Tile. If the application was started traditionally, we are checking for an existing Secondary Tile and set Button Content accordingly. This is shown in the next code snippet:

Secondary Tile Navigation?
  1. protected override void OnNavigatedTo(System.Windows.Navigation.NavigationEventArgs e)
  2. {
  3.     base.OnNavigatedTo(e);
  4.  
  5.     btnInstall.Content = addText;
  6.  
  7.     if (NavigationContext.QueryString.ContainsKey("TileId"))
  8.     {
  9.         btnInstall.Content = removeText;
  10.     }
  11.     else
  12.     {
  13.         ShellTile TileToFind = ShellTile.ActiveTiles.FirstOrDefault(x => x.NavigationUri.ToString().Contains("TileId=Secondary"));
  14.         if (TileToFind != null)
  15.         {
  16.             btnInstall.Content = removeText;
  17.         }
  18.     }
  19. }

The initial version of the sample application looks like this:

image_thumb13

image_thumb12

 

 

 

 

 

In the next part of this series we will take a look at additional possibilities you have to update your Live Tiles.

Every Windows Phone application deserves a Live Tile (part 3)

My previous post about Live Tiles showed you how to update the back side of the Application Tile inside an application. The big drawback of this approach is that your tile will only be updated as a result of your application being executed. Depending on the information you want to display on your tile, you might want to take another approach to update your application’s tiles.

This time we will make use of a Background Agent to periodically update the Application Tile without the need for the application to actually run. We again work on the same sample application, Clicker, and extend its functionality by adding a PeriodicTask. A PeriodicTask is supposed to be lightweight and will run at fixed intervals. A PeriodicTask will not run forever, but it expires after at most 14 days. From within the running application, the PeriodicTask can be renewed before the expiration date. In this way, applications that are not used will not continue to use precious device resources through a PeriodicTask forever.

Back to our tile though. The scenario we want to implement is the following. The backside of the tile already displays the high score. It would be nice to alternate between showing the game’s high score and showing the amount of time the game has not been played. To implement this functionality, a PeriodicTask is ideal.

In order to make use of a PeriodicTask, a new project of type Windows Phone Scheduled Task Agent must be added to the solution containing the Clicker application. This newly created project already contains an OnInvoke method that is called each time the PeriodicTask executes. Inside the OnInvoke method, the back side of the live tile is updated. The PeriodicTask will execute approximately once every 30 minutes. It is important to determine how data can be exchanged between the application and the PeriodicTask. The PeriodicTask has access to the application’s IsolatedStorage. In Clicker, a file is used to save the high score, which in turn is read by the PeriodicTask. Since the OnInvoke method will execute on a thread and will be terminated after being executed, data needed for the PeriodicTask must also be persisted in IsolatedStorage. To store and retrieve high scores, a static class is available inside the Clicker application. This class will be used in the application to store high scores. The same class will also be used in the PeriodicTask to retrieve high scores. Together with the high score, also a boolean variable is stored, indicating if the high score or an informational message should be stored on the back of the Application Tile.

Retrieving HighScore info
  1. public static string GetLiveTileBack()
  2. {
  3.     string highScore = string.Empty;
  4.     bool showHighScore;
  5.  
  6.     using (var store = IsolatedStorageFile.GetUserStoreForApplication())
  7.     {
  8.         mtx.WaitOne();
  9.         if (store.FileExists(highScoreFileName))
  10.         {
  11.             string storedHighScore;
  12.  
  13.             using (var highScoreStream = new StreamReader(store.OpenFile(highScoreFileName, FileMode.Open)))
  14.             {
  15.                 showHighScore = Convert.ToBoolean(highScoreStream.ReadLine());
  16.                 storedHighScore = highScoreStream.ReadToEnd();
  17.             }
  18.  
  19.             if (showHighScore)
  20.             {
  21.                 highScore = storedHighScore;
  22.             }
  23.  
  24.             using (var highScoreStream = new StreamWriter(store.CreateFile(highScoreFileName)))
  25.             {
  26.                 showHighScore = !showHighScore;
  27.                 highScoreStream.WriteLine(showHighScore.ToString());
  28.                 highScoreStream.WriteLine(storedHighScore.ToString());
  29.             }
  30.         }
  31.         mtx.ReleaseMutex();
  32.     }
  33.  
  34.     return highScore;
  35. }

The following code shows how the PeriodicTask is created / renewed and scheduled to update the Live Tile of the application.

Creating the PeriodicTask
  1. public static void PeriodicTileUpdater()
  2. {
  3.     PeriodicTask periodicTask = ScheduledActionService.Find(periodicTaskName) as PeriodicTask;
  4.  
  5.     if (periodicTask != null)
  6.     {
  7.         RemoveAgent(periodicTaskName);
  8.     }
  9.  
  10.     periodicTask = new PeriodicTask(periodicTaskName)
  11.     {
  12.         Description = "Periodic Task to Update the ApplicationTile"
  13.     };
  14.  
  15.     // Place the call to Add in a try block in case the user has disabled agents.
  16.     try
  17.     {
  18.         ScheduledActionService.Add(periodicTask);
  19.  
  20.         // If debugging is enabled, use LaunchForTest to launch the agent in one minute.
  21. #if DEBUG_TASK
  22.         ScheduledActionService.LaunchForTest(periodicTaskName, TimeSpan.FromSeconds(30));
  23. #endif
  24.     }
  25.     catch (InvalidOperationException)
  26.     {
  27.     }
  28. }

To make debugging easier, the PeriodicTask will execute every 30 seconds in debug mode, instead of every 30 minutes. The other important piece of functionality is in the PeriodicTask itself. The OnInvoke method is started every 30 minutes (every 30 seconds in debug mode). It retrieves the information to be displayed on the back of the Application Tile.

Heart of the PeriodicTask
  1. protected override void OnInvoke(ScheduledTask task)
  2. {
  3.     if (task.Name.Contains(clickerTaskName))
  4.     {
  5.         // Application Tile is always the first Tile, even if it is not pinned to Start.
  6.         ShellTile TileToFind = ShellTile.ActiveTiles.First();
  7.                
  8.         if (TileToFind != null)
  9.         {
  10.             string backContent = LiveTile.GetLiveTileBack();
  11.  
  12.             if (backContent == string.Empty)
  13.             {
  14.                 backContent = "Isn't it time to play again";
  15.             }
  16.  
  17.             StandardTileData NewTileData = new StandardTileData
  18.             {
  19.                 BackContent = backContent
  20.             };
  21.  
  22.             TileToFind.Update(NewTileData);
  23.         }
  24.  
  25. #if DEBUG_TASK
  26.         ScheduledActionService.LaunchForTest(task.Name, TimeSpan.FromSeconds(30));
  27. #endif
  28.     }
  29.  
  30.     NotifyComplete();
  31. }

At the end of the OnInvoke method you will see a call to NotifyComplete. This call is important because it releases resources of the PeriodicTask. Omitting to do this means the PeriodicTask will not be rescheduled to run again after the specified interval in debug mode or after the fixed interval in release mode.

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