Pontoon – Yet More Platforms

What started as a Windows project (unifying the then separate Phone and PC APIs) has since expanded through the Xamarin platforms (iOS and Android) and beyond. The latest NuGet package adds Apple tvOS, macOS and the recently announced Tizen .NET Preview.

The usual caveat applies that not all platforms support all functionality but there is already support for the Windows.Storage style file API, and Geolocation, Accelerometer and Gyrometer sensors, Badge and Toast notifications, VibrationDevice and PowerManager (obviously don’t expect all of these to be present in a Smart TV).

Currently there isn’t a unique NuGet platform ID for Tizen so the dll is “advertised” as .NET Standard 1.3. This will only work on Tizen and if you try to consume in any other .NET Standard project will result in errors. We’ll update this as and when a new NuGet TFM is supported.

I’ve also been updating the documentation with more platform information, so most classes should now have a table like the example below. I’d welcome any feedback on better ways to surface this information.


Building an Etch-a-Sketch with Surface Dial

Microsoft have demonstrated how the Surface Dial can be used in conjunction with Pen input for drawing, but what about drawing with the Dial itself?

For those of us with warm memories of the Etch-a-Sketch I thought it would be fun to replicate the experience with the Surface Dial. Now of course there is a big caveat – you only have a single Dial to use at a time. This can be worked around by using the Click functionality of the Dial – Tapping the top of the dial switches between horizontal and vertical drawing.

The code to achieve this is very simple, and I’ve pasted it in a Gist here:-

You could extend this to support keyboard input too as at the moment the app will do nothing if you don’t have a Dial setup on the PC. The output is created using the InkCanvas control along with a small Ellipse to show the current location:-


Pontoon – Available Functionality

As with the Universal Windows Platform itself, Pontoon has a rich API which supports functionality which may not be available on all platforms. There are two reasons for this – either the platform doesn’t natively support the feature or I just haven’t got around to implementing it yet.

There is a simple mechanism to test for functionality at runtime – and as with the rest of the API it’s the same as UWP – InTheHand.Foundation.Metadata.ApiInformation. Using this class you can check for the availability of types, properties, methods etc. via name. The only difference being that all classes have the root InTheHand namespace.

Currently there are a number of APIs which aren’t available on all platforms. Today’s release adds Accelerometer and Gyroscope for Windows (except Win32) and iOS. Another new API is LaunchFolderAsync on the Launcher class which is only present on Windows UWP and Win32 platforms – you would check for this using IsMethodPresent.

As always I welcome all constructive feedback – please use GitHub to raise any issues.

NuGet: https://www.nuget.org/packages/InTheHand.Pontoon/

GitHub: https://github.com/inthehand/Pontoon

Docs: http://inthehand.github.io/

Introducing Pontoon – A flexible bridge to the Universal Windows Platform

I first created the “Charming” libraries for Windows Phone in order to add some APIs which were added to Windows 8 but not available on phone. Many of the early ones replicated the “Charms” related functionality (Sharing/Search/Settings) hence the silly name.

When I created version 9 about a year ago I consolidated lots of separate libraries into just two – InTheHand and InTheHand.UI. The latter contained UI specific functionality such as MessageDialog, ToastNotification and ApplicationSettings. Following this I extended the library with support for iOS and Android using Xamarin and exposing the same UWP style API.

As I’ve been doing Xamarin development recently I’m constantly having to look for or write wrappers for native APIs to use across platforms. You sometimes find libraries which claim to provide a cross-platform API but actually only support iOS and Android. I looked at the large codebase I already had and thought about other areas which could be implemented across all the Windows and Xamarin platforms. Among the Windows platforms I added Win32 support so you can use these same APIs from Console, WinForms or WPF applications on versions prior to Windows 10. Since a lot of desktop apps still support Windows Vista and 7 this was very important to provide future code compatibility with Windows 10.

I’d toyed with changing the name before because it’s now irrelevant in an OS which no longer has the concept of Charms. I thought about the Windows 10 “bridges” – to take Desktop Apps, iOS and Silverlight to UWP and thought what I have here is effectively another bridge. It’s a flexible one though and it also works in both directions. You can code C# on numerous platforms and that code will be instantly portable to UWP. You can also use your UWP knowledge to easily target some of the more fiddly aspects of Xamarin platforms consistently. If you consider a Xamarin Forms application which might target iOS, Android and Windows once you step beyond laying out forms with the built in controls and basic page navigation there is no common API to work with Settings, Files, Geolocation, Network connectivity and more. If you are able to find a NuGet library which supports all the platforms you need you’ll have to learn a whole new API too. One word which kept springing to mind with the concept of a flexible bridge is Pontoon and so this is what I chose. Wikipedia says “A pontoon bridge, also known as a floating bridge, uses floats or shallow-draft boats to support a continuous deck for pedestrian and vehicle travel”. Although I renamed the GitHub repository this is a direct continuation of the Charming codebase but there will be a few breaking changes hence the new NuGet package and major version change.

If you are interesting in contributing to the library please do get in touch. There are a number of open issues which are still to be addressed and many more API areas which would make sense to implement in this way. I’ve consciously avoided most UI areas because this is something you’ll need to approach differently for each platform (unless you use Xamarin Forms) and I didn’t want introduce any additional dependencies. There are some UI elements such as StatusBar, MessageDialog, Toast/Badge notifications, CameraCaptureUI etc. I consider these to be part of the “Chrome” rather than your app UI – they will all have a very different look and feel depending on the platform but perform the same functions.

I’m still working on a sample application. I’ll probably use Xamarin Forms in order to create a simple UI to surface as much of this functionality as possible.

As always I welcome all constructive feedback – please use GitHub to raise any issues.

NuGet: https://www.nuget.org/packages/InTheHand.Pontoon/

GitHub: https://github.com/inthehand/Pontoon

Docs: http://inthehand.github.io/


Latest Version of InTheHand.Core

I’ve just updated the NuGet package for InTheHand.Core. This adds a VibrationDevice which works across all Xamarin Platforms (hardware permitting) and fixes a bug with PowerManager.RemainingChargePercent on iOS. The library now has 18 namespaces full of UWP APIs for all Xamarin platforms (and this doesn’t count the sister library InTheHand.UI). Check it out here:-


Interactive Toasts and Windows Phone 8.1

Windows 10 brings a whole range of new APIs and functionality for building apps. However in the phone space it’s important to be mindful that there are a lot more Windows Phone 8.1 devices in use than Windows 10. Many (but not all) will get an update to Windows 10. A lot of clients are keen on supporting 8.1 to cover the largest group (as an 8.1 app will just run on 10). Of course your users on Windows 10 may miss out on cool features in this way unless you are prepared to maintain both 8.1 and 10 versions of your app. There are a number of areas of the Charming Apps libraries which support “lighting-up” of functionality. That means exposing Windows 10 APIs to Windows 8.x projects. In some cases this is a remapping of existing functionality from an old-style API to one which is source compatible with UWP. In other cases there is functionality which is just not there on 8.x but you can make it available when your app is run on a Windows 10 device.

In order to support this a bit of Reflection is required but we’ve hidden that messy stuff for you – you just call the same APIs and get graceful failure or the “light-up” experience when running on Windows 10. For many of these APIs the Charming Apps library provides iOS and Android implementations while exposing the same UWP API surface. There are a number of possible ways of detecting whether the device at runtime is running Windows 10. One of these is to use:-

if (InTheHand.Foundation.Metadata.ApiInformation.IsApiContractPresent("Windows.Foundation.UniversalApiContract", 1))

Another is to check:-


(caveat – On 8.x we can return only Major.Minor.0.0 versions)

One of the new features in Windows 10 is the interactive toast notification. There is no API change to set these locally – it just requires a different XML template. So once you’ve checked your OS version you can switch between a traditional dumb toast or an interactive one such as:-

string xml = "<toast launch=\"yourstring\"><visual><binding template=\"ToastGeneric\" ><text>Big text</text><text>smaller text</text></binding></visual>"
                    + "<actions><input id=\"time\" type=\"selection\" defaultInput=\"2\"><selection id=\"1\" content=\"Breakfast\"/><selection id=\"2\" content=\"Lunch\"/><selection id=\"3\" content=\"Dinner\"/></input>"
         	    + "<action activationType=\"foreground\" content=\"Primary Action\" arguments=\"primary\"/><action activationType=\"foreground\" content=\"Secondary Action\" arguments=\"secondary\"/></actions>"
                    + "</toast>";

Notice that I’ve specified foreground activation. In a UWP project you’d also have the option of background activation where a background task is launched to carry out an action. In the case of foreground activation the system calls your app’s OnActivated method. However this is where it gets a bit more fun. The ActivationKind is not specified in Windows Phone 8.1, nor is the ToastNotificationActivatedEventArgs which is passed through. However the value of ActivationKind.ToastNotification is documented as 1010. The event args contains two items of interest, the Argument – the action which was selected and UserInput which is a string keyed dictionary of input id and selection id or input id and text entered in the case of a text field. I’ve added the following code in my OnActivated method to build up a string containing these values which can be passed to the applications main page using rootFrame.Navigate:-

	    string navigationParameter = null;

            switch (args.Kind)
                case (ActivationKind)1010: //ToastNotification:
                    StringBuilder sb = new StringBuilder();
                    IDictionary<string,object> selections = (IDictionary<string,object>)args.GetType().GetRuntimeProperty("UserInput").GetValue(args);
                    if (selections.Count > 0)
                        foreach (KeyValuePair<string, object> pair in selections)
                            sb.Append(pair.Key + "=" + pair.Value.ToString() + "&");

                        //remove trailing &
                        sb.Length -= 1;
                    navigationParameter = sb.ToString();

This is just another way of adding value to the user while still maintaining a Windows Phone 8.1 codebase. If you later update your app to Windows 10 it’s very easy to do without much alteration to your code. You don’t even have to go as far as adding interaction to your toasts but you could use this technique of detecting the OS version and simply use the new toast templates.
There are other areas of the Charming Apps libraries which “light-up” when running on Windows 10. For example there is a UWP style Clipboard API which just works on Windows 10 whereas the separate Clipboarder app is required for Windows Phone 8.1 (not Silverlight).