The folks over at Microsoft’s Xbox Music Developer group announced on July 3 that they were extending the Xbox Music API more generally to all third party developers. This REST-based API, announced at //Build earlier this year, encompasses metadata, deep linking, playback and collection management.
This means, a developer with any interest in pulling up information or content related to music, can now use the Xbox Music catalog and resources and integrate them into their apps. There are various possibilities like a video editor being able to use background music, video game makers allowing custom soundtracks, or something as simple as a band’s fan page pulling up metadata from their catalog on Xbox Music.
The more interesting news in the blog post comes later, where they announce an affiliate program:
Every user you redirect to the Xbox Music application can earn you money on content purchases and Xbox Music Pass subscriptions. You currently will earn a 5 percent share on purchases and as the Xbox Music pass is at the core of our service, 10 percent on all music pass payments for the lifetime of the subscription. In the US for example, that’s one dollar, per user, per month!
That’s no small change, if you ask me. The Xbox Music Pass is a pretty good deal as it is, and if a developer can lead someone to that vastly underrated product and their customer is able to sign up, a 10% commission is pretty sweet.
The headwinds are strong for Xbox Music because established players like Spotify have also opened up their catalog to developers in a similar fashion. It remains to be seen if the developers find the API and/or the affiliate terms strong enough of an incentive to build against the Xbox Music API vs the others.
One thing to bear in mind is the new Microsoft is not going to remain uni-platform anymore. They have shown all signs of being completely platform-agnostic to prepare for the new normal where Windows becomes just another platform that Microsoft services support.
Are you a developer building apps which require music? Are you using Spotify or anything else? Would you sign up for Xbox Music Developer program? Let me know below.
[All images courtesy Microsoft/Xbox blogs; header image is from the author’s computer]
At its annual developer conference //build/ on April 2, Microsoft announced an update to Windows 8.1 simply called Windows 8.1 Update. This update will arrive via Windows Update on April 8 and is available via msdn from April 2.
As the name suggests, this is an update to the operating system but as you will see, the changes implemented in this update are all made to make it easier for mouse users to navigate and use Windows 8.1. Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 are obviously touch-friendly so tablet usage is not a concern. Also, there are tons of keyboard shortcuts including power user shortcuts like Winkey+X which allow heavy keyboard users to navigate their way around. Mouse users, especially on larger displays, had to move their mice too much in order to get things done. Not anymore. Some key user experience changes:
Adding common controls to Start Screen: A power button and a search icon get added to the top, right next to the user name/photo on the Start Screen, making it easier to shut down the computer and intuitively search the computer. Similarly, a PC Settings tile gets added by default to open up Control Panel. These are small changes but given that these actions are taken quite frequently, it makes a lot of sense that they are bubbled up to the Start Screen rather than having the users try to find them or stumble upon them accidentally.
Title bar in Modern Apps: The action to “close” a Modern App today is to take the mouse to the top of the screen and drag down the app in a single motion from top all the way to the bottom until the app disappears. That action, to say the least, is mouse user-unfriendly. On a small tablet, it would seem ok since taking a finger from the top of the tablet to the bottom is simple enough of a gesture.
In order to simplify this task, Windows 8.1 Update introduces a small (auto-hidden) title bar at the top of all Modern Apps and that title bar includes a minimize and a close button just like today’s Windows desktop applications. This makes a lot of sense, since a mouse user would normally go to look for those actions where they are used to seeing them in pre-Windows 8 operating systems.
Right-click context menu on Modern Apps: Another setting that completely makes sense. In non-Windows 8 environments and even in Windows 8’s desktop realm, anytime a mouse user wants to do something to an item, they would right-click. But in Modern Apps, a right-click does not pop up a menu where the cursor is, but instead it opens up the App Bar which could be at the bottom and/or at the top. By making the same Windows 7-style context menu now pop up where the mouse cursor is, Microsoft is making it easier for Windows XP and Windows 7 users to transition to Windows 8.
Pinning Modern Apps to taskbar: Yet another step towards making it easy for users to transition from Windows XP and Windows 7 is the ability to pin Modern Apps to the taskbar. That way, if someone spends most of their time in the desktop environment, they are not “cut off” from the Start Screen. Also, in a move to increase interest in the Modern Apps, Microsoft also announced that the Windows Store app will be auto-pinned to the taskbar on a default Windows installation. This, they hope, will prompt more visits to the Store because of the nature of being defaulted in Windows, thereby increasing the chances of someone downloading Modern Apps.
As you can see, the trend in the key updates coming as part of Windows 8.1 Update is to make the OS more welcoming to those migrating from Windows XP and Windows 7. If the transition is eased, more users will end up not wanting to avoid or being afraid of Windows 8, and thereby increasing the installed base and the developer opportunity. An introduction to the update in the video embedded below:
Are you looking forward to this update? Anything you had wanted to see that they did not include? Sound off in the comments!
//build, Microsoft’s annual developer conference kicked off on April 2 and the marathon keynote included several announcements that finally bring Microsoft’s “One Windows” vision closer to reality.
Although it may not be an official or formalized mission, “One Windows” seems to be an ever-so-close possibility since the time Windows Phone moved to NT kernel to make it very similar to Windows 8 on PCs. First, the relevant announcements:
Windows Phone 8.1: The version number incremented by .1 would seem to imply an incremental change, but that is absolutely misleading. The number, and magnitude, of changes in Windows Phone 8.1 from Windows Phone 8 is perhaps far greater than the changes Windows Phone 8 itself introduced over Windows Phone 7. Consumer features like lock screen themes and Start Screen background image and enterprise features like VPN support are just a few. The biggest change perhaps, is the presence of digital personal assistant called Cortana, which seems to be a smart mix of Apple’s Siri and Google’s Google now.
Windows Phone 8.1 walkthrough by Joe Belfiore
Universal apps: Even though it is possible to create apps for Windows Phone and Windows 8 where a lot of code is shared between the two, Microsoft announced what they are calling “Universal apps“. These apps are actually built with the intention to be run on the phone as well as on tablet and PC. It is a single binary which potentially could render differently depending on the device on which it runs. In order to make this possible, developers would need to modify their apps and with the appropriate changes applied, have their customers purchase once and (optionally) use it on multiple devices. Until now, even though much of the code could be reused/shared, it was not possible to have a single binary nor was it possible to allow the customer to buy on a phone and use it on a tablet. That has now changed, and is a huge step in the unification of Windows. What’s more, in their “vision” part of the keynote, Microsoft executives also promised that the Universal apps would extend to the Xbox as well, thereby making these apps truly “universal”.
Windows Universal app icons
Windows for “Internet of Things”: Also as part of the vision, Microsoft introduced a new as yet unnamed version of Windows aimed at all other kinds of devices which are proliferating around us, and generically called it “Windows for the Internet of Things“. These devices, until now, have all been using Android or something else, but definitely not Windows, so it was clearly an opportunity Microsoft did not want to miss out on. The operating system will be released in preview form this Spring.
Windows license cost of $0: Along with this announcement, Microsoft also took a bold step towards increasing interest in and adoption of Windows among developers by making all versions of Windows free for devices under 9 inches in size. Essentially, this signals that device makers making devices in this hugely growing category would have no barrier in terms of cost, to sell Windows in those devices. Given that Android indirectly costs money (potentially to use Google Mobile Services on top of Android Open Source Project, but additionally, surely for patent licensing fees), device makers will find themselves looking at Windows as the *cheaper* OS for their devices!
Shared experiences: In addition to announcing keyboard and mouse user-friendly updates to Windows 8.1, Microsoft also demonstrated how experiences will span Windows Phone and Windows on tablets and PCs. With Internet Explorer 11 on Windows Phone 8.1, users will now be able to share IE settings, tabs, passwords, favorites, etc. between the phone and tablets/PCs. Similarly, via their Microsoft account, customers will also be able to have the same theme across phone and tablet/PC along with several other settings that are already possible to be synced between Windows 8.1 devices.
There were several other announcements but the above items show the steps Microsoft has taken, listening to customer feedback as well as executing on their product roadmap, to make it seamless for customers to use Windows regardless of the device they use it on. The developer story therefore becomes even more compelling because it is not just phones or not just tablets that is the addressable market. Suddenly, any device that ships with Windows, will be able to consume the apps and games developers build and not just in theory. This has always been the advantage of the iOS ecosystem and Apple executed it well from the beginning because they were in a much better position to do so, having defined the entire path themselves. Google’s Android followed, although in a slightly different way – Android phone apps stretch out on a larger screen if there is no specific tablet version available. Microsoft’s vision is definitely more like iOS but at the same time, due to the excellent tooling in the form of Visual Studio, it also seems like it may be much easier to build a universal app targeting Windows. The devil of course is in the details and we will see how developers react to this vision by observing how many existing developers convert their apps to Universal apps and how many new developers enter the ecosystem with their creative ideas.
This is a solid move by Microsoft and while some (including yours truly) may say it was long overdue, it is also better late than never. Microsoft is doing its best to court all kinds of developers including many in the Silicon Valley and many with an affinity towards open source projects, and they will have to continue to do even more going forward. Nothing matters more though, than hard numbers. If Windows devices get a decent market share and continue to prove to be higher revenue generators than the competing platforms, developers will automatically flock to the ecosystem.
Until then, Microsoft can only hope that “One Windows” matters to a developer as much as it is necessary for Microsoft.
In January this year, Microsoft announced Visual Studio Achievements for Developers – a fun way bringing Xbox LIVE-like points to everyday programming tasks. The fascinating program makes sure your hard day’s work doesn’t go unnoticed and after over 80,000 downloads since the initial release, Microsoft has now extended the game to enroll developers working on Windows Azure.
The Visual Studio Achievements Extension has now been updated to include fifteen new achievements, all focused on exercising features of Windows Azure. Using the extension, various achievements are unlocked based on your activity. When you unlock an achievement, Visual Studio lets you know visually with a pop-up. In addition, your Channel 9 profile is updated with any achievements you earn. So, head over to Channel9, sign up for an account and download the plugin.
,There are 15 new Azure achievements, such as publishing to Windows Azure from Visual Studio (Heading into the Cloud), using page blobs (Attack of the Blob), using SQL Azure (Database Darling) and configuring start up tasks (It’s My Party). Two of the achievements – Phone in the Cloud and Game in the Cloud – require use of Windows Azure toolkits.
Need bragging rights as a developer? Don’t have enough points and badges from Xbox Live? Well, Microsoft has the answer for you, Visual Studio Achievements!
In what seems to be an effort to rile developers up through ‘gamification’, Microsoft has announced a beta campaign called “Visual Studio Achievements”. By installing the Visual Studio Achievements Extension, you can unlock badges and earn points by simply writing code that you were already going to write! Analysis is done in the background each time you compile your project to test it. When you hit a certain objective, you unlock an achievement.
Next comes the leaderboard. All the points and badges you earn are tallied into a score and you’re stuck up onto an online leaderboard with all other registered developers who are taking part in the campaign. You can view challenging developer points, avatars and maybe eventually see what they are working on. It would be a great way to get developers to collaborate on ideas and projects.
If sharing your achievements with alike developers wasn’t enough, you can share badges through Twitter and Facebook. This can help you raise awareness for your application, and get recognition from your peers.
There are over 32 different badges you can unlock, from as easy as loading more extensions into Visual Studio, to as hard as having 50 different projects tied to a single solution.
There are fun badges, like the “Potty Mouth” achievements which rewards you for using 5 different curse words in a project, or the “Time for an Upgrade” badge that is unlocked if your project takes over 10 minutes to compile. It’s a simple way to add a level of fun to programming and give developers a way to show off their skills.
Even though Nokia has gone full tilt to Windows Phone 7, and in the process, taken the design of the recently announced Lumia 800/900 from the N9, they are adamant in providing updates to the dead-on-arrival handset.
Among the 3,500 expected changes, the ability to create folders on the homescreen, copy and paste in the browser, and face recognition within the camera, are the top additions. Although no official changelog has been released, likely due to the fact that the OneClickFlashers for the N950 have not been released, screenshots from an N9 already running PR1.2 have been shared online.
While Nokia does have a fairly strong track record of providing updates and fixing serious bugs on released devices, some have indicated that PR1.2 will be the last update for the N9, as the company moves forward headstrong with Windows Phone 7. Hopefully the update also brings with it, the much requested (and promised) ‘open-mode’, giving developers more low level system access — which will also allow the community to continue updating their devices when Nokia stamps it as EOL.
If you’re a lucky (or unlucky) user of an N9, you’ll likely be waiting anywhere from a few week or a few months until PR1.2 is officially released for your N9. Hang in there, this might be the last hurrah for you and your coveted MeeGo device.
Google Reader has been in the news of late after its recent changes, which have had a very sharply negative reaction from passionate fans. I had earlier written about how there are no good Google Reader alternatives in the market today and had mentioned NewsBlur then. Since then, I have been using NewsBlur daily, and have been extremely pleased with it. I got in touch with the developer, Samuel Clay, and he gladly made himself available to discuss life as an indie developer, developing NewsBlur, and how he plans on competing with Google.
Samuel Clay is an indie developer of NewsBlur. He just moved from Brooklyn to San Francisco. Previously, he worked at DocumentCloud, where they wrote Backbone.js, VisualSearch.js, Underscore.js, and many other open-source libraries. He is now at Tasty Labs, making a more useful social application on the web. Samuel can be reached on twitter at @samuelclay and NewsBlur is also on twitter at @newsblur.
Techie Buzz (TB): What is NewsBlur? Samuel Clay (SC): NewsBlur is a feed reader with intelligence. It tries to do two things very well:
Shows you the original site instead of a context-less feed. Read the original and NewsBlur marks the stories you’ve read as read.
Filter stories you either like or dislike. A three-stop slider goes between dislike, neutral, and like (red, yellow, and green). Training is super-easy and all click-based (as opposed to you having to writing out what you like in a site, NewsBlur asks you, semi-Hunch-style, your opinions on facets of the site).
I started working on NewsBlur to see if I could do it, put the AI together with the back-end feed processing and fetching, along with the nifty front-end of the original site. This is one of those projects where I just kept pushing in all directions until I felt I had something good, not knowing if I could do it at all, but believing the entire time that I was able to complete the project.
This is the first in, hopefully what will become, a series of interview with independent developers. The goal is to profile developers building great apps (mobile, desktop, web) and hopefully get some honest answers about what works and what does not work being an independent developer.
Chris Sainty is an Australian software developer with over 10 years experience developing desktop and web applications for retail clients. An early and eager supporter of the direction Microsoft has taken with the Windows Phone 7 platform, Chris had an app in the marketplace and a phone in his hand at launch. A year later his app, gReadie, remains a popular choice for Google Reader users on Windows Phone 7.
Chris Sainty (CS): gReadie is a Google Reader client for Windows Phone 7. In a highly competitive segment of the app marketplace, gReadie targets powerusers who follow a lot of feeds and need to quickly scan their feeds to find the posts of real importance. This is done by using a clean and simple UI, that is well tuned for finding the posts you want and then either reading them in-app or saving them to an external services (such as Read It Later, Instapaper etc.) for later follow up.
TB: What made you decide to write a gReader client and that too for an unknown platform?
CS: Prior to Windows Phone 7, I was using an iPhone 3GS. By far, my most used app on iOS was a Google Reader client. So I knew when switching to WP7, I was going to need an app to do the same. Having prior C# and Silverlight knowledge, I was very keen to write something for the WP7 platform. So it was a natural fit that my most used app should be my own.
It was a risk to invest so much effort into a new platform, and one that has not been financially rewarding yet. However, I believe things are just getting started for apps on Microsoft platforms and do not regret for a moment the experience gained from being an early mover on the platform.
TB: What technology/ies have been used in the making of gReadie? Any open source tech/libraries? Is the gReadie code open sourced?
CS: The current version of gReadie is using only two open source libraries ServiceStack.Text (https://github.com/ServiceStack/ServiceStack.Text) for JSON processing and the Silverlight Toolkit (http://silverlight.codeplex.com/) for a couple of UI elements. Though, I am very unhappy with the latest version of the Silverlight toolkit which broke every single control I was using without explanation or documentation. Previously gReadie has used many other libraries for various purposes, but these are the only two still in use. Internally gReadie is using the new SQL Compact support enabled in Mangowhich allows it to provide excellent offline reading capabilities even with thousands of posts downloaded.
The developer conference that RIM hosts, DevCon, takes place over the next few days in San Francisco and then moves to Asia and Europe in the following months. New devices, new endeavors and anything new to RIM is normally announced at the event. So far, BBX has been the most ‘exciting’ thing. No new smartphones, no new tablets, and most certainly no devices running BBX have been discussed thus far.
So, what makes BBX so special? For starters, it’s a completely new platform — except it’s already on the PlayBook, which was an abysmal failure in comparison to other tablets. Okay, well they now have new development environments! HTML5 with WebWorks, Adobe Air, Native C/C++ and an Android Runtime. Even if developers don’t flock to using “web technologies” for their apps, you can surely rely on the vast Android Market, right? Before you do that, be sure to check out what will and won’t work with their Android Player — almost nothing useful will work as it should.
What did RIM do properly? They announced they were abolishing some of the barriers to start developing for the platform. You no longer need to register to download the SDK. You no longer need to show ‘notarized papers’ to start developing. Leave the credit card in your wallet, it’s now free become a BlackBerry third party developer. That’s right, previous to today, you had to create an account, identify yourself and fork over cash before you could write a single line of code with their tools. If anybody was wondering why RIM was having a hard time attracting real talent, wonder no more!
RIM plans to use BBX to provide unification to their smartphones, tablets and other embedded devices they have in the works. BBM is there, push notifications are there, and their now-defunct proprietary communications backhaul is there too! Everything you love (and hate) about BlackBerry is basically going to stay the same for the foreseeable future.
If RIM plans on gaining back the confidence they lost earlier this month, they will have to pull out all the stops over the next 2 days. We can only hope that the Waterloo-based company has an ace in the sleeve before they end the game.
Last year, Sony Ericsson was criticized heavily for releasing a sub-par high-end Android phone, the X10. To add to their woes, the company took ages to update the handset to Android 2.1 Ã‰clair, and decided not to upgrade the handset to Android 2.2 FroYo. For developers, the locked boot loader on SE’s handsets made things tough for them.
However, since the beginning of this year the company has changed for good. The 2011 range of Xperia handsets have decent specs, and most important ran the latest version of Android Gingerbread. The company has also been providing timely software updates to its Xperia handsets, with every new software update adding new features. The company also released a boot loader unlocking tool for its handsets, and wrote a guide on how to build a Linux kernel, showing their support to the developers and their work.
Today, in a bid to support help the developers more, the company has decided to assist the FreeXperiagroup of developers. The FreeXperia’ group of developers have played a major role in bringing CyanogenMod 7 to all Xperia handsets. However, the CM7 ROM for all Xperia handsets have one major issue the camera does not work properly. This is because Sony uses some proprietary drivers for their camera module, making things tough for developers to reverse engineer them.
Now, Sony Ericsson has decided to help the FreeXperia’ team of developers on many issues, including the camera, where they will be providing debugged and rebuilt library binaries to them. SE will also be supporting the devs. by providing them with approximately 20 devices.
Earlier this year, Samsung also supported the Team Hacksung’ developers by providing them with a Samsung Galaxy S II. However, while the developers have been successful in porting CM7 to the device, there are still some major issues to be resolved, including Bluetooth audio (A2DP). Hopefully, Samsung will learn something from Sony Ericsson and help the Team Hacksung developers with the Bluetooth Audio issue.