Tag Archives: EvenTiles

EvenTiles Until Now (A Windows Phone Development Series)

Looking at all the different topics that the EvenTiles series covers, I think it makes sense to at least have a table of contents for the series so far. For instance, if you are interested in reading something about tombstoning, it is not necessary to read through the entire series (although of course I invite you to do so anyway). At this moment, EvenTiles explains how to use Windows Phone Tiles, including Secondary Tiles. It also show how you can update content on your Tiles locally by using a Background Agent. Also don’t forget that all source code is available and each individual episode of EvenTiles contains a demo on video as well. The latest sample source code can be downloaded.

Here is the table of contents for the first 14 parts of EvenTiles:

Introducing the EvenTiles application

  • Creating a new project in Visual Studio 2010 Express for Windows Phone
  • Defining an Application Tile from within the WMAppManifest.xml file
  • Using the emulator to run the application

PageNavigation and ApplicationBar

  • Using Expression Blend to create an Application Bar
  • Navigating to different pages by using the NavigationService

Using the Silverlight for Windows Phone Toolkit in your application

  • Defining page transitions in XAML and using them in your application
  • Using styles in XAML
  • Declaring and using a ToggleSwitch control

Creating the Settings Page

  • Designing a Windows Phone page using Expression Blend
  • Executing code as a result of page navigation (using OnNavigatingTo and OnNavigatingFrom)
  • Using event handlers to execute code on user interaction with UI elements

Using IsolatedStorage

  • Storing data in between different times an application executes
  • Introducing the application life cycle
  • Using IsolatedStorageSettings to persist information

Using the Isolated Storage Explorer Tool

  • Examining the contents of our application’s IsolatedStorage

Fast Application Switching and Tombstoning

  • A Windows Phone Application’s life cycle
  • Saving application state when moved to the background
  • Restoring application state when returning to the foreground

More on Tombstoning

  • Maintaining Page State
  • Restoring a page to exactly the same situation it was when the application moved to the background
  • Restoring focus of input UI elements

Creating a Secondary Tile

  • Creating a Secondary Tile inside your application
  • Navigating from the Secondary Tile to the application
  • Determine if a Secondary Tile is currently visible on the Start screen of a Windows Phone through a lambda expression
  • Setting the front and back contents of a Secondary Tile

Background Agents

  • Different types of Background Agents
  • Properly creating a PeriodicTask
  • Starting and stopping a PeriodicTask
  • Relation between an Application and a Background Agent

Debugging Background Agents

  • Using conditional compilation to test Background Agents
  • Properly using the LaunchForTest method
  • Using the debugger to debug a PeriodicTask

The lifetime of PeriodicTask

  • Rescheduling a PeriodicTask
  • Exceptions that might be thrown when scheduling a PeriodicTask

Communication between an Application and its PeriodicTask

  • Passing data between an application and a PeriodicTask
  • Protecting variables against simultaneous access by different threads
  • Using a Mutex to synchronize threads

Exchanging data between an Application and its PeriodicTask

  • Using a file in IsolatedStorage to exchange data between an application and a PeriodicTask

Even though there are many more episodes of EvenTiles planned, attention will now move beyond tiles as we focus on using built-in applications and accessing device hardware.

Advertisements

EvenTiles from Start to Finish–Part 5

In episode number four of this series about how to develop a Windows Phone application from scratch we created the SettingsPage using a combination of Expression Blend and Visual Studio 2010. The SettingsPage has limited functionality, but it can modify a string that will eventually be displayed on the backside of a Secondary Tile. In this episode we will take a look at how to store data in IsolatedStorage.

If you watched the video of episode 4 you have noticed that the string containing the text to be eventually displayed on the Secondary Tile’s backside was not saved when the application was closed, because a default string showed up when the application was started again. In order to store the string so it will be available when the application starts again, we are going to store it into a specific part of the our IsolatedStorage. IsolatedStorage can be used to store files and system settings. It just acts as a hard drive with one little but important difference. IsolatedStorage is …. isolated. Everything that is stored in IsolatedStorage is exclusively available for the application that owns it, so other applications can not access it.

When a Windows Phone application starts, it will be running in the foreground, with its MainPage visible. As long as the user is working with the application, it remains n the foreground. An application can be terminated by the user by pressing the Back key on the phone until the last page of the application will be closed. An application can also be moved to the background. This happens when the user activates another application, or for instance when the user answers a phone call. On starting, a Launching event is raised. The App.xaml.cs file already has event handlers defined for the Launching and Closing events. These are the events that we are going to use to store / retrieve our string containing the backside text for our Secondary Tile.

NOTE: The sample code, retrieving and storing data in the Launching / Closing event works fine. However, all code executing upon firing those events has a time limit of 10 seconds. If an event handler takes longer to execute, the application will be immediately terminated. If you have much data to store / retrieve, you should take an alternative approach. You can for instance make use of a separate thread in those situations to retrieve / store information. To keep our sample lean and mean, we will directly retrieve / store data into IsolatedStorage from within the Launching / Closing event handlers.

Since all functionality is already available inside the SettingsPage to store the backside text of the Secondary Tile, we are only adding some functionality to the App.xaml.cs file. First thing to do is get access to the IsolatedStorageSettings for our application, which is in fact a dictionary in which values can be stored / retrieved through a key. The IsolatedStorageSettings are implemented as a singleton and are created the first time we try to access them. IsoloatedStorageSettings can be accessed from inside our entire application, although right now we will only use IsolatedStorageSettings inside the App.xaml.cs file.

IsolatedStorageSettings
  1. public const string DefaultSecBackContent = "Having an even # of tiles on my StartScreen";
  2. public const string keyActSecBackContent = "K_ASBC";
  3.  
  4. public static string ActualSecBackContent { get; set; }
  5.  
  6. private IsolatedStorageSettings appSettings = IsolatedStorageSettings.ApplicationSettings;

In the code snippet you can see a declaration of a key (just a string variable) that is used to store / retrieve the string containing content for the back side of a Secondary Tile. You can also see how a private variable is declared that is initialized with the one and only instance of our application’s settings in IsolatedStorage.

Application_Launching
  1. // Code to execute when the application is launching (eg, from Start)
  2. // This code will not execute when the application is reactivated
  3. private void Application_Launching(object sender, LaunchingEventArgs e)
  4. {
  5.     if (!appSettings.Contains(keyActSecBackContent))
  6.     {
  7.         appSettings[keyActSecBackContent] = DefaultSecBackContent;
  8.     }
  9.     ActualSecBackContent = (string)appSettings[keyActSecBackContent];
  10. }

Each time the application is started, the Application_Launching method will be executed. In this method we check if an object is stored under the key keyActSecBackContent. If this is not the case, we create a new entry in the dictionary of application settings and assign it with a default text that can be written to the back side of the Secondary Tile. If an entry already exists (which is basically always after creating one during the very first time), we retrieve the actual string from that entry. Since an application settings dictionary stores objects, we need to cast the actual value to a string.

When the application is terminated, the contents of the string that contains the text for the back side of the Secondary Tile might have been changed in the SettingsPage. That is the reason why we store that string always when the application ends.

Application_Closing
  1. // Code to execute when the application is closing (eg, user hit Back)
  2. // This code will not execute when the application is deactivated
  3. private void Application_Closing(object sender, ClosingEventArgs e)
  4. {
  5.     appSettings[keyActSecBackContent] = ActualSecBackContent;
  6. }

It looks like we now have stored our application settings properly. However, that is not entirely the case, since our application might be temporarily interrupted because the user can start other applications without terminating our application. In those situations we have to take a look at the life cycle of an application. That will be topic of another episode of EvenTiles. It is also interesting to take a look at exactly what information is stored in IsolatedStorage. In order to do that, you can make use of the Isolated Storage Explorer Tool, a handy little tool that will be covered in episode six of EvenTiles.

In the following video you can see all the steps that you need to make application settings persistent and to retrieve them each time the application starts again.

Using IsolatedStorage to store ApplicationSettings

Note: Every now and then I will make sure that you can download all source code that we created so far. I strongly recommend you to do so and to start experimenting with that code. After all, looking at real code, modifying it and understanding your modifications will hopefully help you to become a great Windows Phone developer fast.

If you want to keep up with the code of EvenTiles that is available until now, you can download it as a Zip file from this location. After downloading and unzipping it, you can open the EvenTiles solution in Visual Studio 2010 Express for Windows Phone. You must have the Windows Phone SDK 7.1 installed on your development system to do so. If you have a developer unlocked phone you can deploy the application to your phone, if you don’t have a developer unlocked phone you can still experiment with this application inside the emulator.

EvenTiles from Start to Finish–Part 4

In the third part of this series about how to develop a Windows Phone application from scratch we looked at the Silverlight Toolkit for Windows Phone and page transitions. Today we will work on some functionality in the Settings Page of our application. We will take off where we finished in Part 3, and start with an empty SettingsPage (except for the application name and page title).

The purpose of our complete sample application is to create a Secondary Tile programmatically and pin that to the Start Screen of the user. The Secondary Tile has a front and a back. The text on the backside of the tile can be modified by the end user. EvenTiles is not meant to be extremely useful, it is there to help introduce lots of programming aspects to develop Windows Phone applications.

In this episode we will add a few UI Elements to the SettingsPage to realize the follow functionality:

  • The text that will be displayed on the backside of the Secondary Tile is visible;
  • The backside text can be modified;
  • If the backside text differs from a default text, a button is displayed to allow easy restoration of the default backside text, otherwise the button is invisible.

The SettingsPage gets the following layout:

image

The layout of the UI is relatively simple. In the ContentPanel of the PhoneApplicationPage we have a StackPanel containing 3 different items (a TextBlock, a TextBox plus a hidden Button) and a ToggleSwitch (that is defined in the Silverlight Toolkit for Windows Phone). The ToggleSwitch is already visible but does currently not have any functionality associated to it. The ContentPanel itself is a Grid. Initially, a Grid has one row and one column. To place UI Elements in the Grid and to position them at a particular location you typically make use of multiple rows and/or multiple columns that you first have to define. To get the desired layout, the Grid contains 3 separate rows. In the first row (being row number 0), the StackPanel is hosted. This row takes the height it needs to display all visible UI Elements of the StackPanel. The next row on the Grid takes up whatever space is left on the grid and the last row takes precisely the height it needs to display the ToggleSwitch. The XAML for the ContentPanel looks like this:

SettingsPage UI
  1. <!–ContentPanel – place additional content here–>
  2. <Grid x:Name="ContentPanel"
  3.         Grid.Row="1"
  4.         Margin="12,0,12,0">
  5.     <Grid.RowDefinitions>
  6.         <RowDefinition Height="Auto" />
  7.         <RowDefinition />
  8.         <RowDefinition Height="Auto" />
  9.     </Grid.RowDefinitions>
  10.     <StackPanel>
  11.         <TextBlock HorizontalAlignment="Left"
  12.                     TextWrapping="Wrap"
  13.                     Text="Set your own tile text (approx. 45 characters)"
  14.                     VerticalAlignment="Top"
  15.                     Margin="12,0" />
  16.         <TextBox x:Name="tbBackContent"
  17.                     TextWrapping="Wrap"
  18.                     MaxLength="45"
  19.                     d:LayoutOverrides="Height"
  20.                     TextChanged="tbBackContent_TextChanged" />
  21.         <Button x:Name="btnRestore"
  22.                 Content="Restore Default Text"
  23.                 Margin="0,0,0,3"
  24.                 d:LayoutOverrides="Height"
  25.                 Click="btnRestore_Click"
  26.                 Visibility="Collapsed" />
  27.     </StackPanel>
  28.     <toolkit:ToggleSwitch Header=""
  29.                             Grid.Row="2"
  30.                             Content="Allow using Location?" />
  31. </Grid>

You can see our Grid.RowDefinitions being defined. There is also a possibility to define Grid.ColumnDefinitions, but for this particular simple UI we only need rows. Scrolling through the XAML you can see all individual UI Elements being defined. The TextBox and the Button connect events to event handlers. For the Button, the Click event is connected to a method called btnRestore_Click. Each time the user Clicks the Button, the code that is defined in btnRestore_Click will execute. That code is defined in C#. We will take a look at the code later. The TextBox uses the TextChanged event, that will be fired each time the value of the Text property of the TextBox changes. If this happens, code inside the method tbBackContent_TextChanged will execute.

In Part 2 of EvenTiles we looked at the NavigationService that can be used to navigate from one PhoneApplicationPage to another PhoneApplicationPage. Each time the user navigates to a particular page, the OnNavigatedTo method on that page is called. You can override that method to extend its functionality. When the user navigates away from a PhoneApplication, a similar method (OnNavigatedFrom) is called that you again can override to add specific functionality you need on a particular page. In the SettingsPage of EvenTiles we are overriding both these methods to add some functionality:

OnNavigated …
  1. protected override void OnNavigatedTo(System.Windows.Navigation.NavigationEventArgs e)
  2. {
  3.     base.OnNavigatedTo(e);
  4.     tbBackContent.Text = App.ActualSecBackContent;
  5.     btnRestore.Visibility = tbBackContent.Text.Equals(App.DefaultSecBackContent) ? Visibility.Collapsed : Visibility.Visible;
  6. }
  7.  
  8. protected override void OnNavigatedFrom(System.Windows.Navigation.NavigationEventArgs e)
  9. {
  10.     base.OnNavigatedFrom(e);
  11.     App.ActualSecBackContent = tbBackContent.Text;
  12. }

Both these methods contain a call to a similar method, preceded by the keyword base. These methods execute functionality that is defined in the base class of our derived PhoneApplicationPage class. To make sure that we don’t skip that code (which might contain important functionality for page navigation) we have to call those methods. Immediately under the call to the base class methods, our own functionality is added. When we are navigating to the SettingsPage, we initialize the TextBox with the currently stored backside content for a Secondary Tile that we will create later in this series. This content is defined in a string property in the App.xaml.cs file. Next we determine if the Button that can be used to restore a default text needs to be visible. This is only the case when the TextBox displays something different from a default text that is also defined in App.xaml.cs. In App.xaml.cs the default text is assigned to the actual text.

When the user is leaving the SettingsPage (for instance by pressing the Back button on the phone), we simply store the current content of the TextBox for later use.

Let’s now take a look at the event handlers for both the Button and the TextBox:

Event Handlers
  1. private void tbBackContent_TextChanged(object sender, System.Windows.Controls.TextChangedEventArgs e)
  2. {
  3.     btnRestore.Visibility = tbBackContent.Text.Equals(App.DefaultSecBackContent) ? Visibility.Collapsed : Visibility.Visible;
  4. }
  5.  
  6. private void btnRestore_Click(object sender, System.Windows.RoutedEventArgs e)
  7. {
  8.     tbBackContent.Text = App.DefaultSecBackContent;
  9. }

If the text in the TextBox changes, the TextChanged event handler code will execute. Just like in the OnNavigatedTo method, we determine if the Button that can be used to restore a default text needs to be visible. If the Button is clicked, we simply restore the default text. Since this also fires a TextChanged event (after all, the text of the TextBox is changed), executing code in the TextChanged event handler will now result in the Button to be hidden.

In the following video you can see all the steps that are needed to add the described functionality to the SettingsPage.

Extending the SettingsPage for EvenTiles

We are still far away from having all functionality in place to actually make a Secondary Tile visible on the Start Screen. However, we need to understand a few fundamental concepts in order to create successful Windows Phone applications, so we will continue with the ground work for another couple of episodes. In the next episode we will look at persisting data in IsolatedStorage to make sure that we store data when the user stops using our application.

EvenTiles from Start to Finish–Part 1

As I promised a few days ago, in between other blog entries I will show you how to create a complete Windows Phone application from scratch. This project starts with running Visual Studio to create an initial solution and it stops after having updated the application a few times and successfully submitted each different version to MarketPlace. Initially I will focus on creating the application without thinking too much about testability and reusability. I just show you the possibilities of Visual Studio, the Emulator and later on Expression Blend, Marketplace and additional tools. Later in this project we shift focus towards creating a more maintainable application, also using modern design patterns like MVVM. This series of articles is not meant to be a complete programming course for Windows Phone. If you want to know more about developing applications in C#, you should take a look at the Rob MilesYellow Book. Not only an excellent resource to learn the C# programming language but also fun to read. If you want to learn more about Windows Phone application development, I can highly recommend Rob Miles’ Blue Book, and Charles Petzold’s book titled Programming Windows Phone 7. The good news is that all these books can be downloaded for free and they are all very valuable resources.

Ok, back to application development. In this first part, you will learn how to create the initial solution for your project, how to modify the default Application Tile, how to write something on the back of the Application Tile through the manifest file and how to modify the default Icon. You will also see the application in action for the first time. All steps that are necessary are not only documented, but also accompanied by a short video that can be viewed in this blog entry as well. If you already want to have a sneak preview of the application we are going to develop, it will be published on Marketplace soon. I will update this line with the link to the application once it has been certified.

To begin with, we create a new Windows Phone Silverlight Application, call it EvenTiles and modify both the ApplicationIcon.png and the Background.png files to have a transparent icon for the application and a transparent Application Tile. The cool part about adding transparency is that the area’s of the art work that are transparent show up in the theme accent color that is selected by the user of the phone. Of course we are also setting the application name and a page name on the application’s main page.

image

For this first version of EvenTiles we are not going to add additional functionality, although we will change the behavior of the Application Tile. Instead of showing a static Application Tile, we want it to alternate between displaying the front and the back. We can achieve this by providing back side content for the Application Tile. This can actually be done in code, but also by adding definitions for background content to the application’s manifest file. Each Windows Phone application has a manifest file with the name WMAppManifest.xml that contains information about the application, including an optional definition of content that needs to be displayed on the back side of the Application Tile. We will modify the WMAppManifest file to specify what we want to see on the back side of the Application Tile (as shown in the following code snippet):

Defining the Application Tile
  1. <Tokens>
  2.   <PrimaryToken TokenID="EvenTilesToken" TaskName="_default">
  3.     <TemplateType5>
  4.       <BackgroundImageURI IsRelative="true" IsResource="false">Background.png</BackgroundImageURI>
  5.       <Count>0</Count>
  6.       <Title>EvenTiles</Title>
  7.       <BackBackgroundImageUri IsRelative="true" IsResource="false">Backbackground.png</BackBackgroundImageUri>
  8.       <BackTitle>EvenTiles</BackTitle>
  9.       <BackContent>Click me to start EvenTiles</BackContent>
  10.     </TemplateType5>
  11.   </PrimaryToken>
  12. </Tokens>

In order to clearly see the content on the back side of the Application Tile, it’s image is simply an entirely transparent image, meaning it will show a solid theme color as background of the back side content.

If you deploy this application to the emulator or to a real device, you will see a rotating Application Tile after you have pinned the application to the start screen. You can watch the application being created in this video:

EvenTIles:Part 1 – Add a back side to the Application Tile

So far, the following additional EvenTiles episodes have been published:

  1. Introducing the EvenTiles application
  2. ApplicationBar and Page Navigation
  3. Using the Silverlight Toolkit for Windows Phone
  4. Creating a Settings Page
  5. Storing Application Settings in IsolatedStorage
  6. Using the Isolated Storarage Explorer Tool
  7. Fast Application Switching and Tombstoning
  8. More on Tombstoning
  9. Creating a Secondary Tile
  10. Background Agents
  11. Debugging Background Agents
  12. The lifetime of a PeriodicTask
  13. Communication with a PeriodicTask
  14. Exchanging data with a PeriodicTask
  15. Adding an About Page
  16. Accessing Marketplace from within a Windows Phone Application
  17. Implementing Trial Mode