Windows Phone, Silverlight 5 Beta, Kinect Spotlighted at MIX 11
The second day of Microsoft's MIX 11 conference, ongoing this week in Las Vegas, was a busy one.
Microsoft unveiled more developer news during Wednesday's keynote talk, including upcoming Windows Phone tooling, a released Silverlight 5 beta, and a new Kinect for Windows SDK beta to come.
The company announced plans to issue a major tools update in May for its Windows Phone release, code-named "Mango." The Mango update is slated for delivery to existing and future Windows Phones later this year, arriving one year after Microsoft debuted the Windows Phone operating system at MIX 10, where the company pledged its commitment to free tooling for mobile apps development.
Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president in charge of Windows Phone Program Management, outlined improvements to Mango's user experience during Wednesday's keynote, highlighting the performance of the upcoming Internet Explorer 9 (IE 9) and HTML 5 integration, as well as the importance of what he called "standards-based native browsing." The HTML 5 integration will enable Windows Phone users to hear audio parsed from code in the browser and view video parsed from Web sites supporting HTML 5 video, taking advantage of IE 9's support for hardware acceleration.
The IE 9 browser to come with the Windows Phone Mango upload will support the same HTML 5 codebase as an IE 9 browser running on a PC. "The way markup [and scripting] is handled in the phone and the PC will be the same," Belfiore explained.
Mango will also introduce support for TCP/IP sockets and provide developers with access to the built-in SQL Server Compact Edition database, new motion sensors (compass and gyro) and a raw camera API. Developers will also have access to contact and calendar features.
The Windows Phone platform update will support multitasking capabilities for fast app switching, background audio, file download services and pop-up notifications (alarms). Apps that take advantage of this new functionality include Angry Birds for Windows Phone, which will be available on May 25, and Spotify, expected to ship when the Mango platform is released.
Microsoft is introducing "Live Agents," aimed at managing multitasking and real-time interactions for users. Live Agents will enable deeper linking to applications, live tiles, background agents and push notifications.
Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president of the .NET Developer Platform, demonstrated Visual Studio 2010 Express for Windows Phone with Mango tooling built-in. The Mango tooling offers 1,500 new APIs, according to Guthrie, including the full Silverlight 4 API feature set. The current platform is based on Silverlight 3 with some Silverlight 4 support. In the upcoming tools, developers also will be able to build apps using both Silverlight and XNA Game Studio, which is not supported in the current toolset. In addition to the local SQL database, the Mango tooling will support LINQ and full ORM, he said.
With Mango, developers can simulate the accelerometer in the Windows Phone emulator and use a Location tab to simulate multiple locations. Mango will also introduce profiling support for troubleshooting Windows Phone apps and provide time-slice analysis based on frame rates, CPU and memory usage, story boards, image loads and garbage collection.
Guthrie emphasized Microsoft optimizations in the upcoming platform that will improve app performance without requiring any code changes. These improvements are focused on smooth scrolling and user input, image decoding, generational garbage collection and memory usage.
Expanded Developer Opportunity
Microsoft is also working to expand the opportunity for Windows Phone developers. Wednesday's keynote showed off Windows Phone apps created by Brandon Foy, who posted a "fan video" on YouTube. If the video gets more than 200,000 views, Microsoft will use it for a TV commercial.
The Mango upload will support 16 additional languages for Windows Phone. It will also increase the number of countries where developers can create and submit apps -- from 30 today to an eventual 36.
Nokia's head of developer experience, Marco Argenti, joined Belfiore onstage to frame the opportunity afforded by Microsoft's strategic partnership with Nokia. Argenti cited Nokia's global reach in 190 countries with more than 100 mobile operators.
The Mango upload will offer several improvements for finding and installing apps, such as alphabetized jumplists, text typing to search for apps and a "Search Marketplace" feature. The "extras" feature for finding related applications currently associated with Hubs will be expanded into a "Search Extras" feature that lists apps along with search results.
Microsoft reports close to 13,000 apps in the Windows Phone Marketplace -- 1,500 more than what Microsoft reported at the end of March -- and about 1.5 million downloads of the Windows Developer Tools. Despite that number, there are roughly 38,000 registered members of the Windows Phone Developer AppHub.
Like the Windows Phone Developer Platform, the last major update to Silverlight for the browser was released about a year ago. The Silverlight 5 beta builds on line-of-business functionality found in the Silverlight 4 platform. It includes advanced data binding, improved text rendering, XAML debugging and implicit templates, among other features. Guthrie emphasized the beta's support for premium media experiences, such as hardware-based video decoding, automatic pitch correction for audio in a new feature called "Trickplay" and remote control. Silverlight 5 also supports GPU-accelerated XNA-compatible 3-D. Microsoft highlighted the U.S. Navy Blue Angels new Web site, which went live on Wednesday, as an example of HTML integration with Silverlight HD video streaming.
Those interested can get the Silverlight 5 beta here. The beta requires Silverlight 5 Beta Tools for Visual Studio 2010 SP1. Microsoft also released the Expression Blend Preview for Silverlight 5, which also supports Silverlight 5 Sketchflow projects.
Kinect Beyond Xbox 360
Wednesday's keynote ended with more details about the upcoming Kinect for Windows SDK beta, which supports the gesture-based technology beyond the Xbox 360 platform. It is designed to allow developers to use Kinect sensors in Windows apps written in VB, C# or C++. The SDK will be available later this spring with a noncommercial license.
More than 10 million Kinect for Xbox 360 units have sold, according to Jeff Sandquist, Microsoft senior director, who said that it was "the fastest-selling electronics device ever." His statement echoes last month's announcement by the Guinness Book of World Records, which confirmed the Xbox 360 add-on to be the fastest-selling consumer electronics product in Guinness' history. The technology from Microsoft Research is designed to allow users to interact with applications without a controller by using gestures and voice.
The Kinect team offered a conceptual overview of how to program for Kinect, showing several creative demos, including a Kinect-driveable lounge chair. That application will be available on Coding4Fun when the SDK is released.
Upcoming functionality in Kinect shown at MIX 11 included skeletal tracking, advanced audio features and a depth camera showcased in an app that supports navigation for the visually impaired, developed by researchers at the University of Konstanz in Germany. Microsoft Research also showed Worldwide Telescope, which lets users travel through space and time, for example to see a future eclipse.
After sitting through a two-hour keynote, attendees got the news they had been waiting for: All registered MIX attendees will receive a free Kinect for Xbox 360.
Kathleen Richards is the editor of RedDevNews.com and executive editor of Visual Studio Magazine.