A lot of big announcements were made at the Day 1 Keynote! They finally unveiled the much talked about Windows Phone 8.1 update. In the next few months, Windows Phones will be updated to include an Action Center, some Start Screen changes, and many other features.
One of the more notable Windows Phone 8.1 updates is Cortana, Windows Phone’s version of Siri. Cortana was demonstrated to have powerful natural language understanding, and an impressive amount of functionality. Apart from the basics like setting alarms, and web searches, she can also set reminders based on your contacts or location as well.
With the announcement that Windows would be free on devices with screens less than 10″, they also demoed a large piano that was in fact, running Windows 8. A piano that was running Windows… They could connect the Visual Studio debugger to it, and watch the console output while it was sending statistics to the cloud… I want to know when I can have Windows running in my toaster! ☺
After the keynote, they had the piano setup on the convention center floor for playing with.
After the keynote, I participated in the “Code Challenge”, which consisted of building some simplistic apps working with several announced features and services. Through the Code Challenge, I had the opportunity to experiment with the Cortana Voice Recognition APIs. In under 15 minutes, I had Cortana detecting a variety of natural phrases and passing the decoded message to my app for handling. The way this works is pretty clever: The developer adds an xml file to the project that defines a set of commands. For example, this Voice Command Definition (VCD) file listed below, would allow the user to use the following voice commands:
“Contoso Widgets Show today’s specials”
“Contoso Widgets Show best sellers”
The Contoso Widgets app would receive the parsed voice commands, and direct the user to the appropriate page. I recommend watching the session, which can be found here.
Code reuse is becoming a big focus for Microsoft, and a large portion of the conference was focused on the new Universal apps and code convergence. New project templates included in an update to Visual Studio allow you to create Universal projects, which allow you add multiple platforms to a single solution that reference a “Shared” project. The solution ends up looking like this:
This allows you to share as much or as little of your code, xaml, and resources as you want. Soon, consumers will be able to buy an app once, and access it on all of their devices, phones, tablets, desktops, even Xbox One. As a developer, this is incredibly exciting.
Another big topic at the conference was Microsoft Azure, and the various improvements that have been made. Azure now supports the creating, management, and deletion of virtual machines right within Visual Studio. Some other notable improvements include the general release of auto-scaling and a staging system to make it easy for developers to push changes to a staging server, and swap into production easily. I’ll admit I’m not much of a backend developer, but Azure looks to be powerful and easy to integrate and I’m interested in poking around with it.
All in all, it was an exciting conference filled with good information, and I headed back to Chicago filled with inspiration and an eagerness to develop.