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Introducing Windows Phone 8 : Application Lifecycle, Driving Your Development with Services, Live Tiles

12/10/2012 6:07:59 PM
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Application Lifecycle

The user experience is the most important feature in Windows Phone. After learning many lessons from the competition and from its own experience with Windows Mobile devices, Microsoft decided it would control process execution on the phone. The main reason for this is that on a device like this, the number of applications running can severely impact the quality of the user experience. On the Windows Mobile platform and Android devices full multitasking is allowed, but most users quickly learn to use a task-killer application to kill applications that no longer are required to be opened. This is an adequate solution for multitasking but does require that the memory on the device be managed by users. While power users will be comfortable with this, most users will not.

To enable developers to build rich applications that act and feel as though multitasking is enabled, Windows Phone uses an approach that allows applications to be paused, made dormant, and suspended without having to alert the user that the application is being paused. It does this by notifying the application when it is being paused; then the application is also notified when it is to resume running. In the pause and resume states, the application is given a chance to save and load data to give the user the impression that the application never stopped. In Figure 1 you can see how an application will go through the five states during its lifetime. This lifecycle is called tombstoning.

Figure 1. Application lifecycle (tombstoning)

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If you ignore the pause and resume states, your application will simply act as though it was restarted by the operating system. This lifecycle is used for the majority of applications. Microsoft allows only a small number of partners to run outside this lifecycle.

Driving Your Development with Services

While some applications will only access data on the phone, in practice many applications will need to use the data connectivity to interact with servers and the cloud. The phone is a connected device (meaning Internet connectivity is available most of the time). This means you can power your applications via traditional services such as Web APIs or Web services. These are typically services that are either Web-enabled (like Amazon’s Web APIs) or custom services you write in the cloud.

To power the phone, Microsoft has also exposed a number of services to simplify phone development, as described in Table 1.

Table 1. Microsoft Phone Services

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Live Tiles

The center of the entire user interface paradigm in Windows Phone is the notion of the Start screen. The hub is the main screen that users will be presented when they boot up or turn on the phone. Unlike the interface that the two main competitors (iPhone and Android devices) present, the hub is not just a collection of application icons, but rather a set of Live Tiles. These tiles include information about the state of the information inside the application. For example, the People tile in the Start screen will include pictures of the last few updates the people on your device have had. This is an indication that you may want to go to the People application on your phone to see the updates. Figure 2 shows this transition from tile to application.

Figure 2. A tile in the hub

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This lets you, the application developer, control what the tile looks like. So you could decide on just a simple numbering system like the Phone or Outlook tiles, or you could change the look and feel completely, like the People tile.

The way that tiles get updated is powerful as well. Ordinarily you might consider that applications themselves would update the tiles, but that would assume your application would need to be launched whenever the tile needs updating. Instead, the phone uses the Notification Service to allow you to send an update to the phone through Microsoft’s own service to update the tile. This works well because the update is very performant (as the update simply includes the information about the updated tile and never needs to start your application to update the tile). In addition, this means that ordinarily cloud services (like server-side applications) can update the tile as well in a very efficient way. Figure 3 illustrates a simple update to a tile.

Figure 3. Updating tiles

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While it is easy to treat the hub like the Desktop in Windows, it should be treated differently. It’s the dashboard to the user’s data, not just shortcuts to applications. Users should be able to view the hub and see the basic information they need in order to decide how to interact with the data. For example, if there are new email messages, voice-mail messages, and Facebook updates, users should be able to see at a glance what is happening to themselves online and allow their phone to be a window to that world.

 
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