Transparent Live Tile For Windows Phone 8.1

Transparent Live Tile For Windows Phone 8.1

Windows Phone 8.1 Dev Preview

Windows Phone 8.1 developer preview is totally awesome. So what is one of the most important things app devs can do right away, without much fuss, to make their apps look great with Windows Phone 8.1? Revisit your app’s Live Tile images. Why? In 8.1, Start screen is mesmerizing with the parallax effect and Live Tile with background overlay. Dev preview users are going crazy with new Start experience, and I am sure, with public release, end users are going to love to have background image as well. Take a look at this awesome Nokia Lumia 925 Start screen:

wp_ss_20140416_0015[1]

When users have a background image, they might not like to have solid Live Tiles block their beautiful background. So, revisit your app’s Live Tile images – all of them! Check if they are transparent or not? If they are like Cortana, Avirall Time Suite, etc. in the image above, you are all set. You can safely ignore this article and find some other awesome way to improve your app for WP8.1 (think Cortana). If they are not, I suggest to update ‘em ASAP. And it’s easy, too. Let’s see how you can create transparent Live Tile images with Open Source Inkscape. You could choose to use Paint.NET (not MS Paint), Photoshop, GIMP, or any other tool which allows you to export image with transparency. Though I prefer GIMP for image editing but I chose Inkscape for this demo. Let’s go.

Step 1: Setup the page

InkScape01

  1. Open Inkscape and create a new document and Open Document Properties from file menu.
  2. In most cases app icons are solid white, if yours is one too, change the background color of the page, temporarily, to light yellow. This is while working only so that you can see white color. Before exporting we will reset this to transparent (this is very important).
  3. This example is for 336 X 336 medium tile. So set the custom size to 336 X 336.
  4. Make sure Units is “px”.

Step 2: Setup the drawing

InkScape02

Windows Phone 8 Asset Template Guide suggests a 336 X 336 tile to have 110px margin on all sides. Create 110px margin guides on all the sides. To create margin guides click and drag from the horizontal ruler on the top and from the vertical ruler on the left.

Step 3: Create Live Tile image of your app

InkScape03

The center part between the margins is the space where your tile image will go. Create your image here. For this example I simply dragged the box from tool box and made a hole in it 😀

Step 4: Set background to transparent

InkScape03a

To create a transparent Live Tile image we would like to have a transparent background. Go back in document properties and set Background to transparent by resetting “A” to 0. If your image is solid white, you might not see anything after making the background transparent. Don’t worry, your image is there (maybe somebody can tell how working space (not document background) in Inkscape can be made a different color than white).

Step 5: Export

InkScape04

  1. Open Export dialog from File > Export Bitmap…
  2. Set X0, X1, Y0, Y1 as shown in the image above.
  3. Browse for the image location, and make sure you give “PNG” as the extension of the image, NOT JPG or BMP.
  4. Export. (Alternatively, as suggested by Austin Andrews, you could export as SVG, and use his awesome service!)

Step 6: Check Final Image

WindowsPhotoViewer05

Notice that your final image does not have a white background. Windows Photo Viewers’s light blue background is your image’s background.

You are done. You would want to change all Live Tile images of your app in the same way. A transparent Live Tile image will encourage users to have your app pinned to Start screen without obstructing their beautiful background images.

Respect your users!

Cortana, Sing Me A Song…

Cortana, Sing Me A Song…

Here is a quick trial of Cortana on WP8.1 dev preview on my Nokia Lumia 925. The funniest one is:
Me: “Sing me a song”
Cortana: “O Danny Boy the pipes are pipes are calling” 😀

See for yourself some fantastic capabilities of Cortana along with some funny takes, 0_0 :

App Marketing: Panorama Image Template

App Marketing: Panorama Image Template

(An improved one with perspective)

If your app has a panorama hub, an image showing all the pano items with device could be a very impressive marketing image. I have created this template which makes your life a bit easier, if you want to create such image. You can download the template XCF image file here (yes this is a GIMP template 0_0. I may create PSD edition if you insist). Currently the device image in this template is Microsoft Windows Phone stock emulator image, Nokia Lumia device images could also come in future. When you open this XCF in GIMP you get something like this:

MarketingCompInGiMP

Take snapshots of your app’s pano items from emulator and replace screen 1, 2, 3, and 4 in GIMP with respective images. Once you are satisfied with the image, export it to JPG/PNG with File > Export option. You might want to scale the image down before you send it out. Open the exported JPG in GIMP and use Image > Scale option to scale the image to desired scale.

Notes:

  • This is 1080P edition (480X800 version is on its way, see below), so your emulator/device screen shots should also be 1080P.
  • If your pano has BG image, disable it before you take screen shots and give it a plain #00ff00 color. After copying the screens in GIMP, select #00ff00 color in layer and replace it with alpha. Repeat for all pano items. In the end have a stitched, single background image, and copy it on the background layer in GIMP. You are doomed if you have #00ff00 color in other parts of your pano images, other than BG :-D. (Just kidding, choose some other color for BG which is unique).
  • Because of parallax effect in panorama, you will get repetitive panorama title in your app’s screen shots. Initially, copy the screen as they are. Then, in GIMP, with Rectangle selection tool (R), select the title part, Ctrl+X and Ctrl+V to make another layer. Do same with all the pano items. Select Move tool (M) and move pano item 2, 3, 4’s title sections to left to adjust with pano item 1.
  • Watch this space for a 480X800 version. Or follow me on Twitter @sanjayAtPilcrow.

Hi, I’m Cortana.

It’s thrilling to hear Jen Taylor speak through the speakers of your Windows Phone – “Hi. I’m Cortana.” The personal digital assistant in the latest update of Windows Phone, could have been some other name, but Microsoft was forced by a petition to stick to “Cortana”, a name casually given by Robert Howard as a codename. So there are so many things Cortana can do.
ImCortana
The most important thing for developers is that the natural speech recognition services of Cortana will be available to developers. They can integrate VR in their code and need not bother about complex natural language grammar. I am hoping for apps with capabilities to listen to your commands (no special training required for individual apps) and act accordingly. “Cortana, ask ‘XYZ app’ to draw a circle and fill it with red color”! “Cortana, ask Avirall to create and start a 3 hour timer”. I am still not sure when Cortana will be available globally (currently it will be available in US only), and also it’s not clear how Cortana will be opened up for third party developers. So, keep in touch!

XAML|C# Step By Step : UserControl – Wait Spinner

Waiting by moonux, on Flickr
Waiting, a photo by moonux on Flickr.

Something is cooking in the background? Do not forget to inform your user. A modern, flat, light weight, wait spinner is an animated and prominent way to inform user about running background processes (you would not have long running processes on the UI thread, right? See how to effectively free up UI). You would choose to show this control in that area of the screen to which the information, related to which the BG work is taking place – loading/processing etc, belongs. You may have multiple information points on screen for which background work is running.

For this step-by-step we will create this example:

A practical example of implementation of this spinner is this panorama app there are two wait spinners being used, one in Quick Stopwatch pano, and other in Recent pano. When data related to Quick stopwatch is loading, the wait spinner shows beside the title “Quick”, and when data related to Recent is loading, the wait spinner shows near the pano title “Recent”. This way user is informed about which section of the app is doing something in the background.

WaitSpinnerExample

Don’t have this app on your Windows Phone? Visit here

Let’s go through step-by-step of creating a WaitSpinner UserControl and using it in a page.

Step 1 : Create Solution and Project

  1. Create a project in VS with the name “WaitSpinner”. The solution gets created automatically.
  2. Right click on the solution in Solution Explorer, and choose “Add”>”New Project”.
  3. Select Class Library type project and name it “XAMLControls”.

Step 2 : Create UserControl

  1. Right click on XAMLControls and select “Add”>”New item”.
  2. Choose User Control and name it “UCWaitSpinner”.
  3. A new UCWaitSpinner.xaml and its code behind is created.

Step 3 : Open in Blend

Right click on UCWaitSpinner.xaml and choose to open in Blend. Depending on the version of Visual Studio the view you get might be a little different, but most of the UI will be similar. You will get something like this:
01_OpenUCInBlend

Step 4 : Change the type of Layout control

Change the type of Layout from Grid to ViewBox.
02_ChangeLayoutType

Step 5 : Add a new Grid to Layout ViewBox

  1. Choose Grid from control and right click and drag in XAML design view area.
  2. Update Layout properties; Height and Width to 50, HorizontalAlignment and VerticalAlignment to Stretch.

03_AddGridToLayoutRoot

Step 6 : Add Outer border

  1. Choose Ellipse tool from Toolbox and create a circle in the design area. Don’t worry about size and fill at this point.
  2. Make sure Ellipse is selected.
  3. In Properties.Brushes;
    • Set Fill to “No Brush”.
    • Set Stroke to “PhoneForegroundBrush”.
  4. In Layout section;
    • Set HorizontalAlignment to stretch.
    • Set VerticalAlignment to stretch.
    • Set all margins to 0.

04_CreateACircle

Step 7 : Add axis for hands

  1. Choose Ellipse tool from Toolbox again and create a circle in the middle of XAML design. Don’t bother about size at this point.
  2. Make sure this ellipse is selected.
  3. In Properties.Brushes;
    • Set Fill to “PhoneForegroundBrush”.
    • Set Stroke to “No Brush”.
  4. In Layout section;
    • Set Width and Height to 5.
    • Set HorizontalAlignment to center.
    • Set VerticalAlignment to center.
    • Set all margins to 0.

05_CreateAxisForHands

Step 8 : Add minute and hour hands

  1. Choose Rectangle tool from Toolbox and create a rectangle in the design area. Don’t worry about size and placement at this point.
  2. Rename the [Rectangle] to “MinuteHand”.
  3. Make sure you have MinuteHand selected.
  4. In Properties.Brushes;
    • Set Fill to “PhoneForegroundBrush”.
    • Set Stroke to “No Brush”.
  5. In Layout section;
    • Set Width to 2 and Height to 20.
    • Set HorizontalAlignment to Center.
    • Set VerticalAlignment to Bottom.
    • Set Bottom margin to 25 and all others to 0.
  6. In Properties.Transform;
    • Select Center Point tab.
    • Set X to 0.5.
    • Set Y to 1.
  7. Copy and paste “MinuteHand” control and name it “HourHand”. Keep everything same and change only the Properties.Layout.Height to 13.

06_CreateMinuteHand

Step 9 : Create Storyboard for moving hands

  1. In Objects and Timeline, click on “+” sign to add a new storyboard.
  2. Name the storyboard as “MoveHands”.

07_CreateStoryBoard

Step 10 : Create animation for minute hand

  1. In timeline window slide the marker to 3 second.
  2. Select MinuteHand control.
  3. In Properties.Transform select Rotate tab and set Angle property to 1440.

07b_CreateStoryBoard

Step 11 : Create animation for hour hand

  1. Select HourHand control.
  2. In Properties.Transform select Rotate tab and set Angle property to 360.
  3. c. In timeline windows click on play button to see hands are rotating properly (Hour hand completes 1 rotation and minute hand completes 4 rotations in 3 seconds).

07c_CreateStoryBoard

Step 11B : Follow me on Twitter 😀

Step 12 : Review XAML code

Close Blend and go back to XAML view of UCWaitSpinner in VS. You should see following XAML code:

<UserControl x:Class="XAMLControls.UCWaitSpinner"
    xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml/presentation"
    xmlns:x="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml"
    xmlns:d="http://schemas.microsoft.com/expression/blend/2008"
    xmlns:mc="http://schemas.openxmlformats.org/markup-compatibility/2006"
    mc:Ignorable="d"
    FontFamily="{StaticResource PhoneFontFamilyNormal}"
    FontSize="{StaticResource PhoneFontSizeNormal}"
    Foreground="{StaticResource PhoneForegroundBrush}"
    d:DesignHeight="480" d:DesignWidth="480">
	<UserControl.Resources>
		<Storyboard x:Name="MoveHands">
			<DoubleAnimation Duration="0:0:3" To="360" Storyboard.TargetProperty="(UIElement.RenderTransform).(CompositeTransform.Rotation)" Storyboard.TargetName="HourHand" d:IsOptimized="True"/>
			<DoubleAnimation Duration="0:0:3" To="1440" Storyboard.TargetProperty="(UIElement.RenderTransform).(CompositeTransform.Rotation)" Storyboard.TargetName="MinuteHand" d:IsOptimized="True"/>
		</Storyboard>
    </UserControl.Resources>

    <Viewbox x:Name="LayoutRoot">
    	<Grid Width="50" Height="50">
    		<Ellipse Margin="0">
    			<Ellipse.Stroke>
    				<SolidColorBrush Color="{StaticResource PhoneForegroundColor}"/>
    			</Ellipse.Stroke>
    		</Ellipse>
    		<Ellipse Margin="0" Width="4" Height="4" HorizontalAlignment="Center" VerticalAlignment="Center">
    			<Ellipse.Fill>
    				<SolidColorBrush Color="{StaticResource PhoneForegroundColor}"/>
    			</Ellipse.Fill>
    		</Ellipse>
    		<Rectangle x:Name="MinuteHand" Height="20" Margin="0,0,0,25" Width="2" StrokeThickness="0" HorizontalAlignment="Center" VerticalAlignment="Bottom" RenderTransformOrigin="0.5,1">
    			<Rectangle.RenderTransform>
    				<CompositeTransform/>
    			</Rectangle.RenderTransform>
    			<Rectangle.Fill>
    				<SolidColorBrush Color="{StaticResource PhoneContrastBackgroundColor}"/>
    			</Rectangle.Fill>
    		</Rectangle>
    		<Rectangle x:Name="HourHand" Height="13" Margin="0,0,0,25" Width="2" StrokeThickness="0" HorizontalAlignment="Center" VerticalAlignment="Bottom" RenderTransformOrigin="0.5,1">
    			<Rectangle.RenderTransform>
    				<CompositeTransform/>
    			</Rectangle.RenderTransform>
    			<Rectangle.Fill>
    				<SolidColorBrush Color="{StaticResource PhoneContrastBackgroundColor}"/>
    			</Rectangle.Fill>
    		</Rectangle>
    	</Grid>
    </Viewbox>
</UserControl>

Step 13 : Add appear disappear animations

Add AppearClock and DisappearClock animations just below MoveHands inside UserControl.Resource, like so:

        <Storyboard x:Name="AppearClock">
            <DoubleAnimation Duration="0:0:0.3" To="1" Storyboard.TargetProperty="Opacity" Storyboard.TargetName="LayoutRoot" d:IsOptimized="True"/>
        </Storyboard>
        <Storyboard x:Name="DisappearClock">
            <DoubleAnimation Duration="0:0:2" To="0" Storyboard.TargetProperty="Opacity" Storyboard.TargetName="LayoutRoot" d:IsOptimized="True"/>
        </Storyboard>

Step 14 : Update code behind

Open code behind UCWaitSpinner.xaml.cs and add following lines to its constructor:

        public UCWaitSpinner()
        {
            InitializeComponent();
            MoveHands.RepeatBehavior = RepeatBehavior.Forever;
            LayoutRoot.Opacity = 0d;
            DisappearClock.Completed += (object sender, EventArgs e) => { MoveHands.Stop(); };
        }

Step 15 : Add start functionality

Add a public Start method to the class:

        public void Start()
        {
            MoveHands.Stop();
            AppearClock.Begin();
            MoveHands.Begin();
        }

Step 16 : Add stop functionality

Add a public Stop methods to the class:

        public void Stop()
        {
            DisappearClock.Begin();
        }

Step 17 : Build

Build XAMLControls project. If your project builds properly you should see UCWaitSpinner listed in your Toolbox in XAML Controls.

Step 18 : Add spinner to form

Open MainPage.xaml from the main project WaitSpinner and drag UCWaitSpinner from the Toolbox to the page. Open MainPage.xaml in code view and your will find the newly added control in ContentPanel:

        <Grid x:Name="ContentPanel" Grid.Row="1" Margin="12,0,12,0">
                <my:UCWaitSpinner/>
        </Grid>

Step 19 : Edit control properties

In MainPage.xaml name UCWaitSpinner control as “waitSpinner”, add Height and Width properties with a value of 120 in both, and wrap the control in a StackPanel:

        <Grid x:Name="ContentPanel" Grid.Row="1" Margin="12,0,12,0">
            <StackPanel>
                <my:UCWaitSpinner x:Name="waitSpinner" Height="120" Width="120" />
            </StackPanel>
        </Grid>

Step 20 : Add buttons to control test

Add two buttons, just below WaitSpinner, Start and Stop with Click handlers to control WaitSpinner:

        <my:UCWaitSpinner x:Name="waitSpinner" Height="120" Width="120" />
        <Button x:Name="buttonStart" Content="Start" Click="buttonStart_Click"/>
        <Button x:Name="buttonStop" Content="Stop"  Click="buttonStop_Click"/>

Step 21 : Write code in click handlers

Open MainPage.xaml.cs and call Start and Stop of WaitSpinner in buttons’ click handlers:

        private void buttonStart_Click(object sender, RoutedEventArgs e)
        {
            waitSpinner.Start();
        }

        private void buttonStop_Click(object sender, RoutedEventArgs e)
        {
            waitSpinner.Stop();
        }

You can run your code and click on Start button to start spinner. Click on Stop button and spinner will slowly fade out.

Let’s see the example code to integrate the control with background processes.

Make following changes to MainPage.xaml’s ContentPanel control:

        <Grid x:Name="ContentPanel" Grid.Row="1" Margin="12,0,12,0">
            <StackPanel>
                <Grid>
                    <Grid.ColumnDefinitions>
                        <ColumnDefinition/>
                        <ColumnDefinition/>
                    </Grid.ColumnDefinitions>
                    <TextBlock Grid.Column="0" x:Name="textBlockSeconds" Text="..."/>
                    <my:UCWaitSpinner Grid.Column="1" x:Name="waitSpinner2" Height="90" Width="90" />
                </Grid>
                <my:UCWaitSpinner x:Name="waitSpinner" Height="120" Width="120" />
                <Button x:Name="buttonStart" Content="Start" Click="buttonStart_Click"/>
                <Button x:Name="buttonStop" Content="Stop"  Click="buttonStop_Click"/>
                <Button x:Name="buttonBackground" Content="Background" Click="buttonBackground_Click"/>
            </StackPanel>
        </Grid>

And add following code to the code behind MainPage.xaml.cs:

    public partial class MainPage : PhoneApplicationPage
    {
        // Constructor
        Thread bgThread;
        public MainPage()
        {
            InitializeComponent();
            bgThread = new Thread(new ThreadStart(() => 
            {
                Dispatcher.BeginInvoke(new Action(() => { waitSpinner2.Start(); }));
                for (int cnt = 0; cnt < 5; cnt++)
                {
                    Dispatcher.BeginInvoke(new Action(() => { textBlockSeconds.Text = string.Format("Step - {0}/4", cnt); }));
                    Thread.CurrentThread.Join(2000);
                }
                Dispatcher.BeginInvoke(new Action(() => { waitSpinner2.Stop(); }));
            }));
        }

        private void buttonStart_Click(object sender, RoutedEventArgs e)
        {
            waitSpinner.Start();
        }

        private void buttonStop_Click(object sender, RoutedEventArgs e)
        {
            waitSpinner.Stop();
        }

        private void buttonBackground_Click(object sender, RoutedEventArgs e)
        {
            buttonBackground.IsEnabled = false;
            bgThread.Start();
        }
    }

F5. You should see something like this:

Download entire code here.

NokiaX Strategy : WPDev Fears!

I thought Normandy etc were rumors and Nokia+MS will never make the mistake of trying to cross enemy lines (yes, i know there are no enemy lines for businesses. but…) to win some battles on a tough to fight ground. I say Nokia+MS because I am not for believing that at this juncture of the deal Nokia could have gone and built Android devices on its own when it could not do it back then when they were an independent company. Tough fight because, Android scene is totally dominated by a much larger player than Nokia in hardware and much larger player than Microsoft in mobile OS. But, they did it. And, boy, if this is a strategy (as our Daniel Rubino of WPCentral suggests in his post here – Nokia’s shrewd move with the Nokia X undermines Google, bolsters Microsoft), are they really thinking! Are they thinking about those phone buyers who want a simpler Nokia path to stay on? Are they thinking about the confusion they have created for new buyers? Are they thinking about the dent they have made to the psyche of early adopters and loyal Windows Phone users, who did not come to Windows Phone because they couldn’t leave without, but they came to it because they could not stand other platforms? Are they thinking about the developers who helped built an ecosystem of healthy numbers of apps around a new, fresh, and promising platform, i.e. WP? Are they thinking that Windows Phone developers need to reap from their hard efforts they have put into WP? Are they thinking that this move is like shooing away developers from WP development? What are they thinking about? With NokiaX they have confused consumers. With NokiaX they have confused developers.

Just for the sake of argument, have a look at the impact of this strategy, if it is one, on phone buyers’ decision making. Decide for yourself, if this is a helping strategy or confusing strategy.

NokiaXStragegyConfusing

New Buyer’s confusion: Should I buy Nokia Asha or NokiaX?
Nokia Asha Users’ confusion: Now, should I buy NokiaX+ or Lumia 520?
NokiaX users’ confusion: Should I buy NokiaX+ or Lumia 520?
NokiaX+ users’ confusion: Should I buy Lumia or NokiaXL or some other high end Android?

WPDev’s confusion: Should I continue investing in WP ecosystem?

I am hoping Microsoft will soon do something to elevate WPDevs’ confidence in one of the best smartphone platforms, Windows Phone. WPDevs are your own devs, Microsoft. We know you are device and services company now but do not leave the technology and its developers in a fix. Let us know. We are also doing business. Hoping for the best!

Where Are The Buyers of Your App?

Fairly popular timekeeping app Avirall is on Windows Phone Store for about 5.5+ months now and has been downloaded 200,000+ times with 12,000+ reviews and 4.5+ stars average ratings. Download data of Avirall could be a good set of data to know about users’ buying behavior on Windows Phone store. With the help of latest information available in Excel export from Windows Phone Dev Center, I created following graph. The comparison between free, trial, and paid downloads can give a good deal of insight into users’ app download and buying behaviors in different countries. I gather following from the chart:

  • USA is clear leader in both free and paid downloads.
  • US buyers care less about trying before buying.
  • But, Germans care even less, and they are good buyers as well.
  • Indians want it free, also try it (more than even USA) but buy very little.
  • Chinese try more than they download for free, and buy more than Indians but less than English.
  • Your app’s buyers may be in USA, Germany, UK, China, Russia, Australia, France, and HK SAR.
  • [What do you gather?]

PaidTrialFree