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Launched : AU Weather Pro + AU Newswire for Windows 8 Metro

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Today was a pretty big day for me – as it marked the ‘official’ debut of mobilewares into the Windows 8 Metro/RT space – with 2 x titles (AU Weather Pro + AU Newswire) appearing in the Windows 8 App Store launched with today’s ‘Windows 8 Release Preview’ launch.

I was caught a bit unaware/unprepared for the the actual release this morning – so have not yet had a chance to get the new Windows 8 section of my site up and live where I’d normally provide details of my apps. Luckily for me AU Weather Pro was featured on the AU Store start page today (along with the SBS On Demand app – which is sortof like ABC iView but all metro goodness)  – see https://twitter.com/techAU/status/208354899954642945/photo/1 for a snap shot (big thanks to @TechAU for posting this pic on twitter – hope they don’t mind me linking here).

Both apps have been ported from Windows Phone 7 platform – and when I say ‘ported’ that’s really only referring to some of the underlying ‘business logic / data services’ – as the UI layer in Windows RT and the type of user interactions being targeted for is just a whole different beast.  (nb: In fact I would go as far to say that the suggestion by anyone that you can ‘just port your wp7 apps across to win8’ – is generally a pretty sure fire indication that they’ve never actually done it themselves).

It’s also important to note that both these apps are currently considered to be ‘Release Preview Editions’ – and although I wasn’t really allowed to mention this point in my app or App Store description (due to some strange certification rules) – they are basically ‘previews’ of some of the features you can expect to see in the final versions (aimed at the GA release of Windows 8).

So for the time being they are both completely free / free of any advertising – and yours to play with – warts/bugs and all.  I will of course try to get some updates in over next few weeks/months, gradually adding features – and moving towards what the final product may look like (until then you’re all part of one big experiment #evillaugh)…

AU Weather Pro :
AU Weather pro displays a lot of similar information to the WP7 sibling (ie. BOM observations, forecast, Radars etc) – but the UI, flow, interaction and presentation is quite radically different (and I very much ‘re-imagined’ the whole experience from what the WP7 version had).  Rather than having a lot of drill down pages (hanging off a central observation summary or forecast) – the widescreen/panning content groups all the information about a particular location in one place.

The way you do your settings and find locations is also quite different – basically mostly controlled by either location services lookups or entering a postcode (or suburb name). 

Here’s a few screenshots below of it running in Landscape mode (it also supports portrait, snapped and filled views) – using the resolution/scaling found on the reference 10.3” 720p tablets.

Online Windows 8 Marketplace Deep Link : http://apps.microsoft.com/webpdp/en-AU/app/au-weather-pro/7b4f55b8-6e4c-48a8-8789-b29b9c1f892d

screenshot1 screenshot2 screenshot4 screenshot3

 

AU Newswire :

This app was probably a lot simpler/faster to get going – as unlike AU Weather Pro (which had some quite unique types of information to present) – the traditional Windows 8 panning grids/lists design being promoted via the template apps worked pretty well with it to begin with. 

One of the new things I added (over the functionality in WP7 version) was the ability to tell the app which Australian State you reside in – and it then filters the available default topic feeds and ‘suggested other feeds’ (ie. If you say you’re in Victoria it will show you feeds from Herald-Sun, TheAge, ABC Victoria etc – whereas NSW users will be offered content from Sydney Morning Herald etc). 

Another feature I added was ability to download an updated catalogue of feeds from the settings – so that way I can correctly handle changing RSS feed locations over time without having to deploy new versions of the app. (in fact there’s already an updated feed catalogue offered from what was submitted to the store with the app).

The look+feel of the app is also quite different to the WP7 version and tries to create a black+white/print style feel. See screenshots below :

Online Windows 8 Marketplace Deep Link : http://apps.microsoft.com/webpdp/en-AU/app/au-newswire/9e416d1f-f961-4934-a275-a28a7c17f8f8

screenshot1    screenshot5

screenshot6   screenshot8

 

Some thoughts for those about to rock (that is ‘those wanting to get some Win8 apps on the store’).

There’s quite a few gotcha’s for Win8 Development I should mention– particular for the RP version + submitting to the store.

1) If you ‘think’ you’ve got everything 80% there on Windows 8 CP build you can’t just recompile for RP. There’s a massive amount of ‘subtle but painful’ changes – such as virtually every ‘allegedly’ constant Resource name for colors/brushes being changed slightly (and there’s no direct mapping for many).  Additionally the logic and structure if you’re using the LayoutAware base class on pages has changed quite a bit – so you’re best off re-creating every single page in VS2012 and importing XAML and code behind into the new structures (making use of the LoadState overrides to initial everything – instead of OnNavigatedTo etc as you may have done earlier).  In fact as a rough guide – it took me around 4 days to ‘recompile’ these apps for RP. (and quite a few XAML bugs were actually introduced – which I hope but doubt were fixed for the build released today).

2) If you’re about to ‘port’ from WP7 – reality is you can’t (unless you want your apps to really suck and fail certification) – and keep in mind a Win8 Metro apps is really about 4 times as much effort .  Putting aside the completely different XAML layer/controls, .NET v4.5 framework changes, missing core classes (things are quite different and use cool new async based classes/code which is really nice but NOT compatible with your own code) – Win8 apps must work in Landscape, Portrait, Snapped and Filled views (requiring a lot of fancy footwork to adapt the layout) and then to make things really tricky – the screen scaling (based on the screen pixel resolution and the actual physical size) needs to be handled in a number of ways. Oh and then they need to support ALL of touch, pen, keyboard and mouse input – so this may throw many of your original designs sideways too. Then of course you need to redesign the user experience so more content is shown on each page (as you don’t have the limited screen real-estate you have on a wp7 device – with the exception of ‘snapped’ view which is kind of similar).

3) Certification is hard – really really hard.  I’m hoping things improve for new developers signing up over the next few months – but for those of us who battled it out to get apps approved for the RP – it was a very hard slog. Apart from the certification rules not being actually documented in full anywhere just yet (was getting failed on points I didn’t even know existed – such as requiring an Age rating of 12+ because app had used location services) – like with the initial WP7 Marketplace launch – it’s clear the testers themselves have a bunch of different interpretations of the rules.   Both apps each failed certification 3 times before they were passed – and each time I was given only a certification clause number a no explanation at all (and suspect I was given a hail mary the last time around lest the RP store launched with no apps at all).  Let’s just say certification involved a week of pulling my hair out and several times I almost just gave up and put it in the ‘too hard I’ll come back in 6 months when they sort it out’ basket (really big thanks to some local/regional guys at Microsoft who helped me through this and restored my sanity).

4) There’s still quite a few bugs – hopefully some of them were ironed out for todays build (have not checked yet) – and others are possibly going to be sorted with finalized Display drivers. One which stumped me totally for a whole week (and seemed to first appear in RP) was that 8 bit transparent PNG’s won’t work properly (transparent pixels would turn black after 3 seconds) – the fix for that was to set images as being 0.99999 opacity instead of 1.0 (don’t ask me why but it worked). Another which caused a lot of grief – was using the GridView with Item template containing Variable Sized Wrap Panel seems to throw a berko when panned with touch – if you have groups with different sized items (I had one group with large tiles and another group with some smaller tiles that were shorter height wise). I actually had to redo the entire page and recreate the experience the GridView *should* have provided by using a scroll panel with child stack panels. 

Anyhow the lesson learned is that it’s ‘still a beta’ (as is certification and everything else) – so expect the completely unexpected and make sure you test everywhere (many bugs didn’t rear their heads until I used simulated touch on the simulator or threw it on the Series 7 slate).  Then get any timeframe you had in mind (particularly if your first attempt) and multiply that by about 3 or 4 – there’s likely to be a massive learning curve involved.

But don’t worry – no pain no gain – and I think when I get going on app #3 I will used my newly gained knowledge of what ‘not to do’ to a big advantage and will hopefully be making the right design/functionality and UX decisions up front (rather than scaling back original ideas after failing to get them going to my satisfaction).

Anyhow I hope this is a new platform I can grow to love – and the end results seeing my apps running on a Samsung Series 7 Slate were likely getting that perfect golf tee shot (golf hacks like me will get what I mean here).

 

Oh and if you’re up and running with the RP release – be sure to give my apps a shot – and if you’re feeling generous stop in to the store and give me a nice review too (5 star reviews make me quite warm and fuzzy!).

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Written by mobilewares

June 1, 2012 at 11:51 pm

Big Screen EPG v1.5a Beta Available (with Win8CP Support)

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It’s been a while between releases – however the new version of Media Center (in Windows 8 Consumer Preview) warranted some new releases for Big Screen EPG . As the new version of Media Center  is different (under the hood but not above it) – the existing Windows 7 version was broken and needed to be updated.

For Windows 7 users – I developed this with the original users in mind too – so have released updates for both Windows 7 + Windows 8 (which both have all the new enhancements).

You can grab the download now from : http://bigscreenglobal.com/bgproductdownload.aspx?PID=BSEV1  – assuming you are a registered Big Screen EPG user (otherwise you can sign up for the trial and get access that way).

This new v1.5a release provides the following enhancements / new features :

  • (Optional) Windows 8 CP Support for both x32+x64 versions (and like will support final release of Windows 8). A separate replacement .exe is provided for this platform (see install notes).All EPG and related features of Big Screen EPG in Windows 7 are now working with Big Screen EPG on Windows 8 (including support for increasing the default number of tuners) – however do note there are some problems with Win8 CP itself (see release notes) with regards to Scheduled Tasks and Network shares.
  • New Online updating TV Series Database: The new version will now download ‘metadata files’ for tv series – so you can get the latest updates without having to get a new version of Big Screen EPG. The new database has 2500+ new tv shows + artwork including 2012/2011 titles (and available for download after you install the new version).

    image

  • New UI to make increasing number of tuners much easier – previously was a command line option only :
    image
  • Enhanced Metro(ish) style User Interface –  this is still a work in progress – but I’ve tried (where doable) to enhance the UI to use metro style buttons and layout. There’s a few bits which still look a little ugly.Here’s the new start page for example :
    image
  • Some Bug fixes :– Fixed Support for following XMLTV providers :

    Schedules Direct sources now properly parses the Episode ID.
    – Added additional support for xmltv_ns with extraction of ‘Part’ numbers
    ie. “2 . 23 . 0/2 “ + “2 . 23 . 1/2

    – Fixed Add Provider Wizard bug where it was ignoring selection of Enabled/Disabled Channels – plus enhanced some other logic (such as supporting server based presets without passwords).

The new beta release is exactly that (a beta) – so please be sure to not do anything mission critical with it.  To use it – you will still need the original setup package (this new version is only provided as a patch at this time).

It’s been tested locally – but may need some more work for release (as well as requiring a proper standalone setup package).

Enjoy!

Written by mobilewares

March 19, 2012 at 4:41 pm

3rd Party EPGs on 8MC (and some other interesting bits)

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Today I finally got around to getting Media Center up and running on Windows 8 Consumer Preview – aka ‘8MC’ (which was delayed due to my existing ASUS USB Tuner not having correct drivers).

Although it might be a while until I actually use Win8 for real on my HTPC (reality – maybe never) – a number of users out there will no doubt dive headfirst into doing wanting to run the latest and greatest..

I was particularly interested in getting 3rd party EPG imports going (the #1 must have feature for me and for a lot of people using my products) – as it was becoming obvious that under the hood of the ‘seemingly’ identical product – certain things had changed (such as it being recompiled with .NET Framework v4 – previous versions used v2).

As suspected (due to these changes) – the latest released version of Big Screen EPG did not work, and although it reported the EPG import was complete – no imported data was not showing up at all in the system. (NB: this would be the case for all other 3rd party epg tools designed for use with Windows 7)

So hence a bit of tinkering, recompiling and the like was required (using a modified Big Screen EPG version). That is – a test of my kung-fu, pitted against the dastardly plan by Microsoft to provide no technical/developer information or release notes to the public under any circumstances. Luckily I won – and was able to get my first EPG import going. I suspect this may have been the very first successful import done by anyone outside of MSFT (as quite a few things needed to be changed) – so I proudly took a screenshot below for safe keeping :

win8epg

Note that this is not EIT data  – and has channel logo’s, repeat/hd flags, episode title (and all the other bits you’d want from a custom xmltv source).  A little later I had all the bits going that I had in Windows 7 (including series images, full Movie Guide support with auto downloading artwork/reviews/etc).

Anyhow – for all the Big Screen EPG users out there wanting to use Win 8 CP – I will try to release something soonish (there’s a few more steps to be done for it to be packaged up + user friendly) – however for the meantime you can sleep safely in your beds knowing 8MC will in fact support 3rd party EPG’s and wasn’t ‘broken’ (when you do get around to using it).

 

In terms of the other Big Screen products and compatibility with 8MC  – here’s the wrap :-

– I successfully Installed and used all 4 of the Big Screen 10 foot addins on Win8CP (‘Weather 2’, ‘Headlines 2’, ‘Photos 2’ and ‘Contacts 2’) – so everyone who has these products will be able to use the currently released version.  I’m not going to officially offer any support (or updates) of these for Windows 8 – however they do appear to work as expected.  Note that you need to install the .NET v2/v3.5 Windows features (it will prompt you during first setup) – before these addins will install properly.

– Although I’ve not tested it yet – it’s highly unlikely ByRemote will work in it’s current form (without being recompiled using .NET Framework v4 and referencing the new Win8 CP DLL’s – which hopefully shouldn’t be too difficult).  I’ll have a look at that product later.

Also – for those struggling with drivers on Win8 CP (particularly tv tuner ones) – from what I’ve seen the deal is this : Win8 likes Windows 7 certified drivers but doesn’t seem to play with ones not updated since Vista Certification. This can be a problem as many of the tuner cards didn’t get Windows7 specific drivers ever written for them (such as the ASUS U3000 Mini USB stick I have) – which was acceptable as Windows 7 worked fine with Vista drivers.

Stay tuned for more..

 

Written by mobilewares

March 3, 2012 at 4:09 pm