Prototype Android Apps in Microsoft SketchFlow

Prototype Android Apps in Microsoft SketchFlow

(If you are a C# | XAML dev and prototype cross-platform apps, Xamarin anyone, these template projects can make your job very easy!)

This is third post in the series of SketchFlow template projects for prototyping apps for mobile devices. Last two posts were for Windows Phone & iPhone 6.

Pull this and various platform template SketchFlow projects from GitHub.

This post introduces Android Lollipop template project for SketchFlow. For this first Android template I chose LG G3 phone skeleton as base and added Lollipop home screen for more in-time feel in prototype. As and when I get time I will add more Android devices which can be easily swapped in the prototype in seconds.

For a quick demo of Android Lollipop prototype template project, have a look at this video:

Some screenshots of the project in action:
Screen_2 Android Lollipop LG G3 Microsoft Blend SketchFlow Prototype App Development in Visual Studio

Screen_2 Android Lollipop LG G3 Microsoft Blend SketchFlow Prototype App Development in Visual Studio

App Mock Up

App Mock Up

Sharp Snippets

You are toying with an idea of creating a new app. If you are not replicating functionality of some other app, you would go through the process of visualizing your idea in the form of app UI. You don’t want to jump into code at this time but want to feel how information in the app will be placed and how it will look inside the screen boundaries. This process is a pre-cursor to UX development or full-fledged wire-frame creation. This process of visualizing the idea takes some time before you are confident about how you want to take your app forward and jump into some sort of coding. Paper+pen or whiteboard+marker are good way to work through fluid ideas and layout information. This is not the phase when you are working on UX or designing UI, but just laying out ideas in rough screens. I personally like drawing and…

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iPhone 6 Project For App Prototyping in Microsoft SketchFlow

iPhone 6 Project For App Prototyping in Microsoft SketchFlow

I have updated Microsoft Blend SketchFlow project for latest iPhone 6 frame. Download projects from GitHub. As earlier the project has built in iPhone 6 frame, animated keyboard image, iPhone 6 home screen, and clickable home button.

My earlier posts have detailed information about other Sketchflow projects and video tutorial of how to use them.

SketchFlow is a powerful prototyping tool. In last post I shared Windows Phone SketchFlow template project. Here I am sharing iPhone skeleton project for SketchFlow. Both these projects are similar in functionality with different phone frames. Android projects are on their way. Read more…

Cortana in Microsoft Office 16 and in Smartwatch (Vine Videos)

Cortana in Microsoft Office 16 and in Smartwatch (Vine Videos)

“Cortana in Office” Vine videos are below in the post.

I heard some new features are coming to Office 16. One of them will supposedly be some assistant similar to Clippy. I suggest, let’s not bother Clippy any more, just say – “Cortana, will you assist Office users on Windows 9”. She gladly will. After all, Cortana is a Personal Digital Assistant. Following are some scenarios I envisioned with MS Office:

  • “Cortana, create a table with 5 rows and 10 columns”.
  • “Cortana, in cell A5, find the average of values in cells A1 to A4.
  • “Cortana, find a 200 word excerpt from Shakespeare’s Macbeth and insert in the document.”

So I virtually (yes) put Cortana in Office 16 in these Vine videos (feels real with sound, so enable sound):






And here is Cortana helping with Formula. (enable sound, disable the first one :D)






How about Cortana reminding on a smartwatch!? (And if you are interested this is my smart timekeeping app for your Windows Phone, free and no adverts)

I like Cortana. If you do too, you might like my other futuristic Cortana integration fact-ions.

Cortana, find me the nearest top-rated coffee shop?

App Marketing: Perspective Marketing Image Template (PSD)

App Marketing: Perspective Marketing Image Template (PSD)

Recently I created an XCF template for app marketing and wrote a post about how to use it.

Nokia Lumia 1520 is a gorgeous phone. So is your Windows Phone app’s hub in panorama. And you do know that a well developed app is just the half way. Getting the app to its audience is the second half. I created this layered GIMP image to easily sandwich a panorama hub between the layers and showcase your app with your own shining colors. You need to do following to create your app’s panorama with this template: Read more…

Some people wanted the template in PSD format. So, here you are.

Hope you find it useful.

Prototype iPhone Apps in SketchFlow

Prototype iPhone Apps in SketchFlow

Edit: Updated for iPhone 6

Download projects from GitHub.

SketchFlow is a powerful prototyping tool. In last post I shared Windows Phone SketchFlow template project. Here I am sharing iPhone skeleton project for SketchFlow. Both these projects are similar in functionality with different phone frames. Android projects are on their way.

Download projects from GitHub.

Excerpt from earlier Post:

Those who have exposure to Visual Studio Blend, WPF/Silverlight developers, SketchFlow comes as natural extension to quickly prototype app ideas. Other prototyping tools are – Pencil, Balsamiq,Axure, SmartDraw, Visio etc. Recently, I wrote an introductory post about open source prototyping tool, Pencil, with example navigation flow screens. In my experience I found SketchFlow to be very efficient in creating high-fidelity prototypes. This project template gives, out-of-the-box, phone frame images, dummy keyboard with interactive states, back button, and home button. The phone frame images included are – Windows Phone emulator stock image, Nokia Lumia 925, Nokia Lumia 1520, and HTC One. Android phones and iPhone are in plans.

For a quick demo, have a look at this video:

Following are some screen shots of the SketchFlow player:

SketchFlow Prototype Project iPhone iOS Keyboard Windows Phone AppDev Blend Visual Studio WFP XAML Animation

SketchFlow Prototype Project iPhone iOS Keyboard Windows Phone AppDev Blend Visual Studio WFP XAML Animation

Prototype Windows Phone App in SketchFlow

Prototype Windows Phone App in SketchFlow

Download the template project from GitHub.

[This post got a mention on Microsoft Channel 9 This Week]

SketchFlow is one of the best prototyping tools available. SketchFlow is part of Blend which is now an integrated tool with Visual Studio. Those who have exposure to Blend, WPF/Silverlight developers, SketchFlow comes as natural extension to quickly prototype app ideas. Other prototyping tools are – Pencil, Balsamiq,Axure, SmartDraw, Visio etc. Recently, I wrote an introductory post about open source prototyping tool, Pencil, with example navigation flow screens. In my experience I found SketchFlow to be very efficient in creating high-fidelity prototypes. SketchFlow provides free form screens to create any type of prototypes – web site, web app, SPI, desktop app, or smartphone apps. This is powerful. But, with great power comes great boilerplate work :D. I so needed some kind of Windows Phone specific template project in SketchFlow which I could use to quickly draw my pages in and let template take care of generic phone specific look and feel (interactions). I didn’t find one. So I created one. This project template gives, out-of-the-box, phone frame images, dummy keyboard with interactive states, back button, and home button. The phone frame images included are – Windows Phone emulator stock image, Nokia Lumia 925, Nokia Lumia 1520, and HTC One. Android phones and iPhone (available now) are in plans.

Watch this video for a quick go through of the project and also to know how you can swap phone frames in seconds, throughout all prototype screens in the project:

Following are some of the screen shots of the project in action:

SketchFlow Prototype Nokia Lumia 1520 Windows Phone AppDev Blend Visual Studio

SketchFlow Prototype Project Nokia Lumia 1520 Windows Phone AppDev Blend Visual Studio

SketchFlow Prototype Application Emulator Windows Phone AppDev Blend Visual Studio

And yes, with my other project you can create prototypes for iPhone in Microsoft SketchFlow.

Happy mocking-up! 😀

App Marketing: Perspective Marketing Image Template

App Marketing: Perspective Marketing Image Template

[This post got a mention on Microsoft Channel 9 This Week]

Nokia Lumia 1520 is a gorgeous phone. So is your Windows Phone app’s hub in panorama. And you do know that a well developed app is just the half way. Getting the app to its audience is the second half. I created this layered GIMP image to easily sandwich a panorama hub between the layers and showcase your app with your own shining colors. You need to do following to create your app’s panorama with this template:

  • Have all your panorama pages in a single image. 4 or 5 pages will work great.
  • Copy aforesaid panorama image in this XCF.
  • Adjust perspective, add your colors, and export!

With very little efforts you can have your app in your choice of colors.

Combined

Following is the detailed step-by-step of the process with example of Windows Phone Channel 9 app:

First, grab the GIMP XCF (PSD here). If you do not have GIMP, download here, it’s open-source and free. Prepare an image of all the panorama items of your app (a little help here).

Layers!

01
Open PanoramaAppShowcaseOn1520.xcf in GIMP. Look at the Layers windows. There are multiple groups and layers inside. Some layers/groups are not editable. Their names start with [DoNotEdit]. So, do not edit them. The layers you will be editing are – “YourApp.YourAppGoesHere”, “UseBucketToolAndFillAnyColorHere”, and “UseBucketToolAndFillBackgroundColor”.

Bring Your App In

02

  1. Open “YourApp” layer group and select “YourAppGoesHere” layer.
  2. Copy or Open As Layer from File menu, your app’s panorama image. If you Open As Layer, drag it down to just above YourAppGoesHere and right click and merge down. If you copy, as you see in image, a floating layer will be created.
  3. Click on Anchor the floating button at the bottom. You will see now your panorama image is in the layer YourAppGoesHere

Prepare to Skew

03

  1. Make sure YourAppGoesHere layer is selected.
  2. Slide opacity to about 50.
  3. Select Layer > “Autocrop Layer” menu to crop this layer. You will see yellow marching ant line around the layer
  4. Choose perspective tool.

Go 3D

04
The layer now has a grid with 4 handles on corners.

  1. Grab a corner and drag it as close as possible to the corresponding corner on white base. Don’t worry about matching corners exactly, just keep close. Repeat the process for all corners. Look at black arrows in the image.

Now your image’s layout looks something like this:
04a

Micro Adjust and Transform

05
You are still in Perspective transform edit mode. Here you will zoom-in to every corner and match every corner exactly with the corner of the white base.

  1. To zoom-in to the corner you want to adjust, take your mouse pointer on the corner, and ctrl+mousewheelup to zoom-in max. Match both the corners pixel perfect. Repeat for all the four corners. Zoom-in and out to make sure all the corners are matching.
  2. Click on Transform button.
  3. Your image now looks something like this:
    05a

Your Colors

06

    These steps are to easily change phone’s color.

  1. Select UseBucketToolAndFillAnyColorHere layer.
  2. Click on foreground color and pick a color from color picker.
  3. Select Bucket tool from Tools menu
  4. Click anywhere inside the image

More Color and Done

07

  1. If you want to edit background color select UseBucketFillBackgroundColor.
  2. Click on foreground color and pick a color from color picker.
  3. Click anywhere on image
  4. Open File menu and select Export As… Type “filename.png” in the File Name field and save.

If everything goes well, you will have a gorgeous image like this for your app:
08

And this is my app in the same template:
Avirall | Windows Phone | Timer | Stopwatch | Sports | Nokia | Nokia Lumia | Windows Phone 8.1 | Panorama

App Mock Up

App Mock Up

You are toying with an idea of creating a new app. If you are not replicating functionality of some other app, you would go through the process of visualizing your idea in the form of app UI. You don’t want to jump into code at this time but want to feel how information in the app will be placed and how it will look inside the screen boundaries. This process is a pre-cursor to UX development or full-fledged wire-frame creation. This process of visualizing the idea takes some time before you are confident about how you want to take your app forward and jump into some sort of coding. Paper+pen or whiteboard+marker are good way to work through fluid ideas and layout information. This is not the phase when you are working on UX or designing UI, but just laying out ideas in rough screens. I personally like drawing and love to draw on paper/whiteboard. It is difficult to work with physical media if you are going through multiple iterations and changes (owing to fluid nature of this phase), even if you are good at drawing. For the reason of sheer manageability I would rather go for some GUI authoring tool with which I can directly drag+drop shapes, connect them, group them, size them and play around with ideas. Using GUI authoring tool is cleaner and easier if you are not into drawing. There are many such tools available out there with their strengths and weaknesses. Microsoft Office Visio, Sketch Flow, Concept.ly, Balsamiq Mockups, etc are some of the popular mockup creation tools. In this post I will talk about Pencil.

[Side note] If you are into SketchFlow and Windows Phone app development, you will find my project template useful. Check it out here. In following episode on Channel 9 Brian talks about my project at 06:12 mark.

Pencil is an open-source and free GUI authoring tool. With Pencil you can quickly create mockups and walkthroughs. Pencil is flexible to extend. It has pre-built basic shapes and also platform specific shapes (Visio calls them stencils, Pencil calls them shape collections) like Web, iOS, and Android. But you could make a mockup for Windows Phone as well. For this post I quickly created this panorama concept with Nokia Lumia, Windows Phone-

WPPencilWireFrame

This mockup is created with Sketchy GUI collection. Sketchy is a nice visual representation of ideation phase. In Pencil you have choice to use other standard and straight shapes. Shapes are flexible for customization to your requirement.

Pencil is a nice and simple tool. For small sized apps and quick ideation processes Pencil is very good. Pencil does not automatically generate code. Though it does generate clickable HTML but they are static HTML’s, not controls. Pencil is not good if your ideation process goes large and you have more than 10 screens to mockup in a single document (you will keep multiple screens in one document because you want to link them for click-through). With more than 10 screens in a single document Pencil goes very slow, painfully slow. Also, it seems, Pencil community may not be actively updating it. Last update was in 2012. If these things bother you, look at Sketch Flow or you might want to consider Visio. You can get 90 day trial of Microsoft Office Visio for free here.

For quick and small ideation process I liked Pencil, with its current abilities. I will soon try to do a quick video on basic tasks in Pencil.

C#|.NET Query String in Uri

C#|.NET Query String in Uri

In a not-so-basic-application you might have pages which are used for multiple similar purposes. You pass query string with many fields with multiple values between such pages (or web pages). In database driven apps, parameter values could be user generated and stored in the back-end and you pull more info from database on the basis of the value in query parameter. This is not the scenario of back-end driven app. This is more about “Field Names” and Values, which are part of the design and known to you while coding, and you want to manage them effectively and make the code more readable.

Let’s take an example:

You have a page in your app which loads different lists (ex: city, state, pin, salutation, etc.) and lets user select an item from the list. At different places in your app you pop this page up with required parameters to load appropriate items. The call to page looks something like this:

this.NavigationService.Navigate("/ListPicker.xaml?ListType=city",UriKind.Relative)

Let’s assume your page also has the ability for editing and you want to activate appropriate functionality (select only || edit). You would add one more parameter to your query, like so:

this.NavigationService.Navigate("/ListPicker.xaml?ListType=city&FormType=select",UriKind.Relative)

If you have many such pages, each have multiple fields and their multiple values, and you make calls to these pages from different places in your code, soon it will be very difficult to manage hard-coded query strings in Uri’s.

Here comes enum based solution:

We will have enums for fields and their values. For the purpose of this example we will keep single enum for fields and multiple enums for values for different fields. Let’s code
First define enums for fields and their values:

        internal enum QueryFields { ListPicker_FormType, ListPicker_ListType };
        internal enum ListTypes { City, States, Zip, Salutation };
        internal enum FormTypes { Select, Edit };

If you do not wish to be more detailed, you could simply build your Uri’s like so:

This.NavigationService.Navigate("/ListPicker.xaml?{0}={1}",QueryFields.ListPicker_FormType.ToString(), FormTypes.Select.ToString());
//The resultant uri - /ListPicer.xaml?ListPicker_FormType=Select

We will see below how you could parse query parameters in the called page and retrieve values in enum types.

Creating Uri as above still has string formatting which is not easy to maintain in multiple uses. To make things manageable and less error prone, let’s create a new enum for pages in the app and shift Uri building code in a single method which could be called from anywhere in the app with different field and values.

        internal enum AppPages {ListPicker, Setting, Main, etc };
        internal static Uri GetUri(AppPages appPage, params KeyValuePair<string, string>[] args)
        {
            string uriString = "";
            switch (appPage)
            {
                case AppPages.ListPicker:
                    uriString = "/Views/ListPicker.xaml";
                    break;
                case AppPages.Setting:
                    uriString = "/Views/Settings.xaml";
                    break;
                case AppPages.Main:
                    uriString = "/Main.xaml";
                    break;
                default:
                    uriString = "/Main.xaml";
                    break;
            }
            int counter = 0;
            string seperator = "?";
            foreach(KeyValuePair<string, string> query in args)
            {
                if (counter > 0) seperator = "&";
                uriString = String.Format("{0}{1}{2}={3}", uriString, seperator, query.Key, query.Value);
            }
            return new Uri(uriString, UriKind.Relative);
        }

With GetUri, you could create page navigation Uri with enums only instead of hard-coded strings:

            KeyValuePair<string, string> query_1 = new KeyValuePair<string,string>(QueryFields.ListPicker_FormType.ToString(), FormTypes.Select.ToString());
            KeyValuePair<string, string> query_2 = new KeyValuePair<string,string>(QueryFields.ListPicker_ListType.ToString(), ListTypes.City.ToString());
            This.NavigationService.Navigate(GetUri(AppPages.ListPicker, query_1, query_2));

Once you are navigated to your page, you need to parse query strings and extract enums which you could use in the page to decide page’s functionality.

At page level you need to have required enum type fields. For this example we will have two fields, one FormTypes type and other ListTypes type. A private processQuery method which accepts a dictionary sets these two fields appropriately.

        FormTypes formType;
        ListTypes listType;
        private void processQuery(Dictionary<string, string> query)
        {
            string _formTypeName = "";
            string _listTypeName = "";
            query.TryGetValue(QueryFields.ListPicker_FormType.ToString(), out _formTypeName);
            query.TryGetValue(QueryFields.ListPicker_ListType.ToString(), out _listTypeName);
            if (_formTypeName.Length != 0) formType = (FormTypes)(Convert.ToInt32(_formTypeName));
            if (_listTypeName.Length != 0) listType = (ListTypes)(Convert.ToInt32(_listTypeName));
        }

You would call processQuery method from OnNavigatedTo method of your page.

        protected override void OnNavigatedTo(System.Windows.Navigation.NavigationEventArgs e)
        {
            Dictionary<string, string> _params = new Dictionary<string, string>(NavigationContext.QueryString);
            processQuery(new Dictionary<string, string>());
        }

If you have 100’s of case statements (to choose a page) in GetUri, and you are concerned about performance, refactore the method to accept page name with path as string. With page path name directly in string, you would not need case statements. By the way, in my case with about 80+ cases to get PageName, the query creation does not take more than 50MS, which is negligible for me. More so, navigation calls are not recursive ones.