Nice use of a Windows Phone 7 live tile?

Work on my first Windows Phone 7 app (www.imaybelate.com) is drawing very close to completion and I’m now spending a little time getting some of the details right. Until I find another bug anyway Winking smile

Part of my app’s functionality is the ability to update the Live Tile with information about the user’s commute to and from work. If any issues occur on their route, the tile gets updated. I really wanted to try and maintain some of the user’s customisation by respecting the theme they had chosen. My girlfriend developed the original logo for my app and after some thinking I came up with a small twist on it!

The primary logo is on the left and features a few tube lines and a running man, the core identity of the app. By altering the logo slightly, we made part of the image transparent, so the theme colour makes forms part of the logo, representing a tube line.

 

I May Be Late_173  image

To then go a little further, we repositioned the running man so that the notification indicator would fit over his head, helping to further integrate the logo.

image image   image

I personally think it looks pretty neat (if you ignore the horrible black borders!)

What do you think?

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UnauthorizedAccessException when adding WebBrowser to WP7

As part of my project to build a Windows Phone 7 client for www.imaybelate.com, I require a WebBrowser component so that I can process the OpenId login requests that my application supports. After adding the WebBrowser to the XAML, I started getting this exception when I navigated to the page.

image

 

Expanding the exception’s details and viewing the stack trace, I immediately spotted that the exception originated in the WebBrowserInterop constructor.

at MS.Internal.XcpImports.CheckHResult(UInt32 hr)
at MS.Internal.XcpImports.CreateObjectByTypeIndex(UInt32 typeIndex, UInt32 managedTypeHandle)
at System.Windows.DependencyObject..ctor(UInt32 nativeTypeIndex, IntPtr constructDO)
at System.Windows.DependencyObject..ctor(UInt32 nativeTypeIndex)
at System.Windows.UIElement..ctor(UInt32 nKnownTypeIndex)
at System.Windows.FrameworkElement..ctor(UInt32 nKnownTypeIndex)
at MS.Internal.TileHost..ctor()
at Microsoft.Phone.Controls.WebBrowserInterop..ctor(Control webBrowser, WebBrowserInteropCallbacks callbacks)
at Microsoft.Phone.Controls.InteropLifetimeMango..ctor(Control webBrowser, WebBrowserInteropCallbacks callbacks)
at Microsoft.Phone.Controls.WebBrowserCompatibility.GetLifetimeManager(Boolean shouldUseQuirkMax7_0, Control webBrowser, WebBrowserInteropCallbacks callbacks, GetCachedWebBrowserPropertiesCallback propertiesCallback)
at Microsoft.Phone.Controls.WebBrowser..ctor()
at System.Reflection.RuntimeConstructorInfo.InternalInvoke(RuntimeConstructorInfo rtci, BindingFlags invokeAttr, Binder binder, Object parameters, CultureInfo culture, Boolean isBinderDefault, Assembly caller, Boolean verifyAccess, StackCrawlMark& stackMark)

After some reviewing of the MSDN documentation, I discovered that in order to use the WebBrowser component, you need to request a capability using the WPManifest.xml file. I added the following line to the Capabilities section.

<Capability Name=”ID_CAP_WEBBROWSERCOMPONENT”/>

And bingo! My app now runs the WebBrowser.

image

Moving to Windows Phone 7 from iOS–and back again!

I’ve been using a Windows Phone 7 Samsung Omnia 7 since the beginning of October. Today, I’m back using my iPhone 4, but the experience has let me to an interesting conclusion:

WP7 is a superior OS compared to the aging iOS. However, the iPhone 4 handset is far, far superior to the Samsung Omnia 7 I’ve been using and probably superior to most currently available WP7 handsets. So, for me, I’m choosing hardware over software.

The WP7 OS has many strengths and is definitely a joy to use. The iPhone 4 however, will remain one of the best handsets I’ve ever used.

More Storage (hardware)

The Samsung device I’ve been using has only 8GB of storage. This has required a constant juggling of space. Deleting music to fit a podcast. Deleting a podcast to take some pictures. Deleting some pictures to fit new music. I only ever ran into issues like that on the iPhone after taking several long videos at a wedding. I’ve always had about 5GB spare space.

Better Display (hardware)

The Retina Display is still one of the most best mobile displays around. I mentioned in some of my earliest posts on the topic that I could definitely noticed the difference when browsing the web. Sure, the Omnia’s AMOLED screen might be brighter etc., but the iPhone’s is easier to read.

Better Sound (hardware)

The Samsung Omnia 7’s sound is just awful in comparison to the iPhone. I struggle to hear people whilst on a phone call, even at full volume. On the iPhone I could hear music and podcasts with ease, despite traffic noise. Not perfect, but a far sight better than the Samsung. This may be specific to Samsung phones and using their headphones might have eliminated that, but I doubt it.

Audible App (3rd Party)

It’s nice to be back listening to Audible again! The lack of an Audible player is something that I really, really missed. This isn’t really the fault of a particular OS, but the fact remains that Audible haven’t released a WP7 client, and that is very disappointing.

Market Place and Zune (Microsoft being useless!)

The earliest issue I had with WP7 was that my Zune account was tied to Ireland, whereas I now live in the UK. Since it’s *impossible* to update the location of a Zune account, I would be forced to create a new Live ID and put that into my phone. Not sure what I’d be required to do with regards to my contacts etc. The thoughts of having to move all that stuff from one account to another is depressing. As a result of this, I’ve not yet purchased a single WP7 app.

In the end…

Maybe comparing these phones isn’t fair. The Omnia 7 isn’t exactly a premium device. I only paid £220 for it as I only wanted a device for testing WP7 apps. Compare that to the £550 I shelled out for the iPhone 4. I know the Omnia 7 is an older device so the lower price probably is partly reflected in that. However, having used the iPhone 4 hardware, it’s hard to imagine anything else being as good.

More storage would go a long way to making the WP7 more appealing to me, but as it stands, 16GB is the largest storage you can get (with out getting bogged down in the “Expandable” memory stuff). iOS has a beautiful flagship phone in the iPhone 4S. Android has an amazing flagship phone in the shape of the Nexus Prime.

Microsoft needs to produce a high-end, flagship device for the Windows Phone 7. And when they do, I’ll line up to buy one!

My GiveCampUK weekend (21st to 23rd October, 2011)

Across the weekend of the 21st of October, I took part in the UK’s first GiveCamp. And what a weekend it was!

 

 

I signed up to participate it a few months back thinking it would be a good way to network, make some new friends and help somebody else out. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect when I turned up at UCL on Friday afternoon for registration. Since I was on my own, I was worried that I’d be surrounded by groups of people who all knew each other and would struggle to get involved. On the contrary! On arrival I soon got talking to a few people and found out that I wasn’t alone. Most people were flying solo, as it were. After some chatting we headed to a lecture theatre to hear the various charities outlining their projects.

 

ntf

 

I’d already read through the lists of charity projects and quickly settled on the Nathan Timothy Foundation’s project as it seemed like something I could relate to the most. It also seemed a good fit with my skillset, ASPNET MVC3, which meant I’d be very productive from day one, something that is important when attempting to build an entire site in one weekend!

Unfortunately, the NT Foundation didn’t have a representative for this part, which was a pity, but I was undeterred. I was actually amazed by the passion of these speakers and how they struggled with their current IT setups. As somebody who takes IT for granted and codes for fun, I really should know better. I see it in my own family members. They struggle to understand email, never mind anything as complex as building a website! It’s very easy to forget that being good with IT is actually quite a rare skill.

After each charity gave their introduction, the various project team leaders were introduced. Thankfully, Bert Craven, the project lead for the NT Foundation project was sitting right behind me, so I just turned around, introduced myself and said I wanted to be involved. As we moved back to the main hall, I took a place at the same table as Bert, still a little unsure how things would then proceed. The guys from the NTF then showed up and started talking about what they wanted. They had some very interesting ideas, ranging from interactive surveys to heat sensing iPad applications! Bert helped whittle them down to just a couple of ideas, announced that anyone sitting at the table would be part of the project and that was it. we were ready to start!

We each did a quick introduction, just to see what skills everyone had. Immediately we found we were short of somebody with Photoshop skills, but we weren’t the only ones!

We then started discussing things like hosting, source control, development technologies etc. We quickly settled on AppHarbour (which led us to GIT source control), MVC 3 and SQL Server. We used Trello to somewhat manage tasks and began assigning bits to various individuals. After breaking for some food, we took out our laptops and started. Wireframes were build and by midnight, we had a running website. Very basic, but running!

As I was staying at home, I headed off to get the last tube and returned at 8am on Saturday morning. Several of the team were sleeping at the university and they were already awake and sitting at their laptops coding away! Over the course of Saturday we ran into all sorts of issues, but progress was consistent and obvious. As we got driven towards insanity by GIT and the night closed in, the various bits we had each been working on started to coalesce into a functioning website!

At 12.30 AM on Sunday morning I got a cab home. This was an eventful journey to say the least, but that’s a story for another day. After a few hours sleep, I returned to UCL at 8am. A few things had broken overnight, but they were easily corrected and slowly we put the finishing touches on the site. GIT continued to infuriate us, but by the noon code completion deadline, we were done. A few last minute check-ins and we stopped. We’d pretty much build everything we had set out to do on Friday. No mean feat!

The sense of accomplishment was palpable across the team.

After taking some time to unwind in the sunshine, take some pictures and enjoy some hog, we all reconvened for the presentations of the projects. Each time gave a talk about five to ten minutes long, discussing what they’d done. The amount of work done by everyone was amazing. Afterwards, Ben, from the NTF came over to express his thanks. He was very pleased to see what we’d done, so that was the icing on the cake I suppose. I hope what we build serves as a base for them to continue forward.

Overall, the weekend was a tremendous experience for me. I’d like to thank Angela, Bert, Enrique, Ethinder, Mark, Simon, Tom and Wong for being a great team.

I also want to thank Paul Stack and Rachel Hawley for putting the event together. The weekend was great craic, but I’m going to have to get lots of exercise to burn off all that Haribo sugar!

Cannot *wait* until GiveCampUK 2012. This time, I’ll bring a tent!

Moving to Windows Phone 7 from iOS–Week 1

I’ve been using the Windows Phone 7 Omnia 7 for about a week now and it has really been a strange ride. I have been an iPhone user since the release of the iPhone 3G in 2008 and overall, I’ve been very happy with the iPhone. As I’ve outlined in a previous post, there are some things that I feel Apple need to fix, but aside from my little complaints, it’s a very, very solid phone. In my first post in this series, I discussed the reasons for trying the WP7 platform, and after a week of use, I have more to say.

All dislikes??

Yes, all of the the things I’m about to list are issues I’ve got with the phone/platform. This is to be expected. Things the WP7 does very well, like bringing together all my social network updates automatically are useful, but could be done using apps on the iPhone. Sure, I had to switch back and forth, but it was possible. They have made the experience more pleasant and integrated, which is no mean feat. However, when switching to a new platform, it’s the missing stuff you notice.

I also want to point out that some of these gripes are hardware related, 3rd party vendor related and OS related. I’ll make the distinction where appropriate. I’ve also given each heading a rating out of ten, indicating how much the lack of the a certain feature or the overall OS bothers me.

I miss my Retina Display – 7/10

One of the big selling points of the iPhone 4 was the new Retina Display, which offered a very impressive DPI on a small screen. The clarity of this screen was impressive, but after using the phone for a while, you forget about it. Since your not always comparing the clarity of the images, you get used to the quality. Well, the Omnia 7 has throw that into sharp contrast. I can really say I miss the Retina Display. When browsing the web it really enhanced the experience. You could easily read small text without having to zoom into it, making it less laborious.

For the most part however, it’s not an issue. The Metro UI doesn’t rely on high resolution to make the phone’s UI appear clean and beautiful. I haven’t really played any games or viewed pictures that much, so I can’t really comment on that at this stage.

Unpredictable Network – 10/10

This is probably my biggest issue with the phone to date. Switching off Wi-Fi has, in the past week, resulted in an almost 100% rate of dropping my internet connection. The phone just seems incapable of moving to the 3G network after turning off Wi-Fi. I don’t know what is causing this, but I have to reboot the phone to get back my connection. Needless to say, it’s *very* annoying.

Email Notifications doesn’t include new email in folders – 10/10

The live tiles on WP7 are very nice and when it comes to the email tile, very utilitarian. The Mail app has a very nice tab for viewing just unread emails or urgent emails so it’s very easy to see what needs attention. Much better than the iOS mail app. Unfortunately, it falls down when it comes to folders. Messages get delivered to my folders by rules in Hotmail, but WP7 never lets you know that new mails have been received in the folders. You have to manually check your folders to see if there are new messages. I can forgive Microsoft a little bit, since this is kind of similar to Hotmail’s treatment. However, when you pin Hotmail to the Windows 7 taskbar, you do get a visual notification that an email has arrived in a folder.

Email status tags aren’t copied from Hotmail – 2/10

The tags I’m talking about here are the “forwarded” and “replied to” tags. When you reply to an email from a web app etc. these tags should be copied across to each device. This was something I really expected to work in WP7. It works in iOS with IMAP I think. Since Microsoft own the Exchange ActiveSync protocol I expected it to just work. It makes email easier to work and should really be included.

Linked Inboxes aren’t separated very well when outside the mail app – 5/10

One of the ways the WP7 platform excels is in its handling of emails. Linking accounts is very easy to do and it simple aggregates them together, allowing you to see all unread emails. The best thing about it is that when you want to compose a new mail, it asks you explicitly what account you want to use. This helps me avoid a mistake I used to make repeatedly on the iPhone which was sending emails from the wrong accounts. Having this explicit step stops that from happening.

But whilst this feature is great, it is let down elsewhere in the system. For example, when you navigate to a contact and hit their email address, you’re prompted with a list of mailboxes so you can choose which one you’d like to send the mail from. Unfortunately, this is useless as it just lists them as, in my case, Hotmail, Hotmail 1 and Hotmail 2. I’ve not found a way to change this. A small thing I know, but a silly mistake.

Can’t paste phone numbers into the Phone app – 2/10

When you copy a phone number from a web page etc., you cannot paste this phone number into the phone app. This is very annoying and means you either need a memory like Sheldon Cooper, or a pen and paper.

Search doesn’t search everywhere – 3/10

Performing a search in the phone only searches when your current area. This isn’t as nice as the iPhone implementation because it requires a few more clicks when trying to find a particular contact. Another thing I find annoying is that it treats XBox games as separate entities, meaning that you can’t search for them within the Apps list. I downloaded Angry Birds and it actually took me a little effort to find the game!

Lack of 3rd Party Apps – (reserving judgement)

So, whilst this isn’t Microsoft’s fault, it is one thing that will really hinder the adoption of this phone by others. I use a few apps very frequently and their absence on my WP7 phone is noticed. This will hopefully be solved in time, but it’s a real chicken and egg situation and Microsoft would do well to throw some money at companies to develop WP7 versions of their apps.

I may be suffering, because I’m using an Irish Zune account and therefore aren’t seeing the full catalogue. I’ll reserve final judgement on this until I have my accounts sorted out.

Very slow USB charging – 10/10

This is device specific I realise, but the charging speed on the Omnia 7 is chronically slow! I could charge my iPhone 4 from fully discharged to fully charged, using USB, in less than an hour. Plugging my Omnia 7 into the same USB port and it takes several hours to charge. Whilst the battery does last a day on a single charge, giving it an emergency top-up actually takes planning.

The same update, over and over again…

My last pain point here highlights one of the neatest features of WP7 is also an annoying one. When you post a status update, the phone can send it to all your social networks automatically. However, anyone reading these status updates will see the same message repeated multiple times in their “People Hub”. WP7 and Windows Live should be more intelligent and actually realise it’s the same update.

Forwards, not backwards and always twirling, twirling, twirling..

I’ll continue my WP7 adventure for another few weeks. On the advice of a friend, I’m going to start making some little videos of these niggles and send them to Microsoft. I do think this platform represents a very unique and impressive entry into the marketplace and Microsoft just need to keep their wits about them to ensure it gains a large foothold.

And who knows, maybe Audible will release a WP7 client and make my journey a little more interesting…..

Moving to Windows Phone 7 from iOS–Day 1

With Apple’s announcement of the iPhone 4S, I skipped my annual early morning efforts of pre-ordering the new handset. For the first time in three years, I wasn’t giving Apple more money!

You see, two weeks ago, I picked up a Samsung Omnia 7, Windows Phone 7 handset for development purposes. I decided that since I wasn’t getting a new iPhone, I might as well give this phone an honest go as my primary handset, just to see if the platform is as good I’m hearing. I will put together a few blog posts over the next couple of weeks, discussing my likes and dislikes of this new platform and how it fits into my daily grind.

The first thing I had to do was get my Omnia 7 unlocked from the 3 network. Thanks to mobileunlocked.co.uk that was very easy. For a price of £14.99, they sent me a code after about 30 minutes and I used that to unlock the phone.

As a note to anyone doing this, my WP7 prompted me for a PIN number after I inserted my microsim (you’ll need the adapter). This is actually the NCK code that you receive from MobileUnlocked. O2’s iPhone sims don’t have a PIN code so it’s a little misleading.

Whilst I was waiting on the code from MobileUnlocked, I forced the device to update to Mango using the unplug your network cable method.

With the phone all updated, I decided to use it this morning on my commute to work and here are a few things that I like and don’t like:

Zune Account debacle! [dislike]

I’ve already posted about this issue, so I won’t go into it again, but basically I cannot sign into Zune using my Windows Live ID as it’s got the wrong country value on it. I hope to resolve this over the coming weekend, by detaching my existing Zune account and creating a new one.

Zune won’t fill my device with music automatically [dislike]

Since this device only has 8GB of storage, rather than my iPhone’s 32GB, I knew the music loading was going to require some sacrifice. What I didn’t expect was Zune’s absolute inability to manage this limited size. Anyone with an iPhone will know that iTunes will just try and cram as much music onto the device as possible, regardless of the space available. It will give you the option to remove podcasts and movies etc., just so it can fit more music onto the device. Zune on the other hand, just says you don’t have enough space. That’s it! You then have to manually select everything you want to copy over. A small thing I know, but another thing that could have done better!

I just dragged a couple of dozen albums onto the phone and let it sync up. Of course I need to decrypt my entire iTunes library, but that’s a project for another day!

No Audible support! [dislike]

This actually shocked me. Audible don’t provide a native client for the Windows Phone 7 platform! I’m an avid audible user and it’s become an essential part of my commute. I listen to Audio books anytime I’m walking or jogging. I hope that I can simply load up the phone with the Audible MP3 files.

Audible, of course, have not committed to developing a Windows Phone 7 app and given how long it too for the Zune HD to get support, I’m not holding my breath.

Onscreen music controls [like]

One thing I do like is that when you’re playing music, the onscreen controls are present on the lock screen. One click to access. iOS offered something similar, but required two clicks. Every click counts okay!

Onwards and Upwards

I’ll be keeping the phone with me over the next couple of weeks and I’ll blog again when I have more likes and dislikes. Anyone else trying WP7 for the first time?