Creating a TV schedule grid in UWP

I am currently working on a UWP app for a cable TV company. The app allows their clients to watch the TV channels they are subscribed to with additional information like the TV schedule, information about TV shows, recording TV shows for watching later, etc. One of the main functionalities of the app is a TV schedule grid. Creating this TV schedule grid in UWP is not so easy, especially because of the poor XAML rendering performance.

TV schedule grid

The TV schedule grid shows a TV schedule for all the subscribed channels for a given day. The channels are being shown in rows and the columns represent TV shows. The grid is scrollable in both directions and the channel logos are sticky. The users can be subscribed up 70 channels and all of this should work reasonably well even on a Windows Phone.

This is how the result looks in a Windows Phone emulator. Spoiler: there is just no way to make it so smooth on a real Windows Phone device.

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My (negative) experience with the Microsoft MVP awards

Getting a MVP is a big thing when you are a developer working with the Microsoft stack. It is supposed to be some kind of approval a sign that you are doing something well. I applied for the MVP award back in 2012 and then got nominated in 2016. I want to tell you about both cases because they really made me think that the whole MVP concept is just wrong.

Disclaimer: First, this post is not a hate post because I did not get an MVP award. I do not really care about it. I just want you to know how it works and what is it like. Second, I am in no way generalizing and saying the MVP awards work like this in every region. This is my experience with the Czech Microsoft branch (2012) and later with the CEE, Russia & CIS (2016). I suspect things may work differently in different regions and with different Microsoft branches.

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Creating a simple Windows 10 game with Win2D

Some time ago while looking at some pixel art work I got an idea to create a retro pixel art game for Windows 10. The choice was obvious, Sokoban. I have a very special relationship with the Sokoban game. The Delpi version of Sokoban was the first game I ever created. I later ported it to all the platforms I played with, namely J2ME (for my Siemens S60 phone), Linux (using Kylix which was basically a Delphi for Linux), Windows Phone 7 and now Sokoban Pixel for the Universal Windows Platform.

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Creating better forms in Windows Phone apps

If you are a Windows Phone user you must know that filling in forms in apps is usually a real pain. There is no good way to move from one input to another or to collapse the keyboard. The whole process becomes a struggle, tapping outside the input fields to collapse the keyboard allowing you to scroll to the next input or to the submit button at the top of the screen, usually occluded by the keyboard.

The typical struggle to get to the last input fields and the submit button may look like this

There is no guidance on how to approach this. Take a look at the Store app on Windows 10 mobile, the perfect example of bad UI and UX directly from Microsoft and try review an app. You fill in the title of the review, then struggle to go into the review text input, you have to tap somewhere above the input to hide the keyboard, but not to hit the stars control … just an UX disaster.

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Using Tooltips to make better menus in Windows apps

If you use Windows apps with navigation menus consisting of icons, you may have noticed that some of those apps show you a text when hovering above those icons. This is a nice touch for the users, allowing them to quickly grasp the meaning of the menu icons without the need to click them or to expand the menu (if available).

Implementing this kind of hovers is really easy thanks to the ToolTipService that is available in Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 UWP. You can add <ToolTipService.ToolTip> with any element and include basically any XAML content as the tooltip. Here is a sample from the animation using a simple localized TextBlock

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Choosing an image from gallery or camera a bit better in Universal Windows apps

When developing Windows Phone apps you may encounter a use case when you have to allow the user to either pick a photo from the photos gallery in the photo or a take a new photo using the phone’s camera. One example of this may be the registration process when the user may choose a profile picture.

In Windows Phone 8.1, this task is quite simple, just use the FileOpenPicker. It allows you to pick a photo from the gallery or take a new photo. Just take a look at this animation showing how the users takes a new photo using the phone’s camera.

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Using Hockey App to distribute Windows Phone apps

Distributing Windows Phone apps to testers has always been a pain. The Private Beta in the Windows Store intended for this is not very flexible and it got much worse with Windows 10 (generating promotional code that can take up to 24 hours).

One of the better ways to solve the beta build distribution is using a service like Hockey App, that Microsoft recently acquired. To be able to use Hockey App (or any other service) you need to buy a $299 certificate from Symantec.

You then use the certificate to sign the XAP or APPX files of your app. Those signed binaries can be than installed on devices with the correct application enrollment token directly from Hockey App, bypassing the Windows Store.

One of my clients got persuaded to try this approach after some problem with the Windows Store Private Beta and bough the certificate. It took a week for the purchase to go through and another week to finally get the certificate in the correct PFX format from Symantec.

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How to handle localization strings provided by the client in a Windows Phone app

I currently work on a Windows Phone 8.1 app for a client with an interesting approach to app localization. They have a Google Docs sheet with all the localization string for the app in all the supported languages and a tool that converts this localization strings in to per-language versioned JSON files. The generated JSON files are kept in a git repository. The Android, iOS and now my Windows Phone app should have the git repository added as a submodule. When a new version of the JSON files with the localization appear in the submodule, the app should use them.

Deciding the localization approach

In the old days of Windows Phone 7 and Windows Phone 8 I would simply write an utility that reads the newest version of the JSON localization files and generate a RESX file for each language. RESX is XML format that is simple to generate. If you had a localized string with a key say Game, you would put it everywhere when the localization of the word game was needed. Simple

In Windows Phone 8.1 (and 10) you should use RESW files for localization. This is the new x:Uid approach that, in my honest opinion, really sucks. It forces you to duplicate string if you use I string in multiple places, there is no design time support, you never know what UI element are localized and what you forgot to localize. Simply put, it is a mess. This approach is not usable at all with the string client provides.

[Read More] Converting Windows Phone 8 apps to UWP? Not really

When Microsoft announced the Windows 10 developer platform, they also announced bridges to make porting apps from Android, iOS and Web easier. Those bridges are now either dead (Android) or unusable (iOS) but there is another tool that can be considered a bridge left. It is called Silverlight Bridge and it is not from Microsoft. It promises converting existing Windows Phone 8 (Silverlight apps) to the Universal Windows Platform. Considering the majority of apps in the Windows Phone Store are Windows Phone 8 apps and the fact that Android and iOS developers do not really care about Windows, seem to be the most useful of the bridges, because there is no easy porting apps from Windows Phone 8 to UWP, just rewriting. So I tried it out. is currently in technical preview. After you download and install it, it integrates into Visual Studio 2015 and there is a new context menu for Windows Phone 8 project, allowing you to convert them to UWP apps. If you use it, you get a dialog windows and a conversion process that will fail most of the times with a strange error. At least for me it did.

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Detecting gestures over WebView on Windows Phone

If you develop Windows Phone apps, you surely had to use the WebView component at least once. Any you must have realized, that it kind of sucks. One of the problems is that it swallows all the gestures and manipulation events. This means you cannot put it into a Pivot, you cannot detect swipe left or right events to navigate to next or previous article .. or can you?

In a recent project, I had to implement exactly the mentioned functionality, swiping between articles displayed in a WebView. I did some research and I could not find any solution. So I had to get creative and I find a way involving JavaScript.

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