Microsoft announces multi-device hybrid mobile applications

posted May 16, 2014, 3:09 AM by Chandan Datta

Microsoft has to convince app developers to write for Windows, not just iOS and Android, in order to sell more devices.

This week during its developer conference, the company unveiled a grand strategy to break the stalemate. It announced a plan to deliver what’s known as the “Holy Grail” of app development: write the app once and it runs on everything, Windows 8 devices, Windows Phone 8, Xbox, iOS and Android.

Microsoft’s plan consisted of lots of new development software, updates to existing software and new features in its app-hosting cloud Azure. Plus, Microsoft also launched a new software foundation that will bring even more “Holy Grail” tools to app developers, for free.

Apache Cordova

Next, Microsoft has released a preview of Visual Studio tooling support for Apache Cordova, an open source platform for building multi-device hybrid mobile applications using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Most notably, Cordova includes support for Android and iOS, as well as support for Windows and Windows Phone thanks to Microsoft’s contributions to the project.

Microsoft lists five advantages for developing these hybrid apps:

  • Code Editor: These app take advantage of all the code editing features in Visual Studio such as IntelliSense, syntax highlighting, and many other features are available for HTML, CSS, JavaScript or TypeScript web projects.
  • Building UX: Multi-Device Hybrid App interfaces can be built using various open-source front-end frameworks such as Angular, Bootstrap, Backbone, Underscore, and WinJS (samples will be made available at TechEd).
  • Debugger: Set breakpoints, inspect performance issues, analyze memory usage, and perform other debugging and diagnostics tasks on Android 4.4 and Windows Store.
  • iOS – Remote Agent: A remote agent can be used on a Mac to enable building for iOS right from Visual Studio. The agent can also launch the iOS Simulator on the Mac.
  • Integrating with Services: Microsoft services that speed up development for mobile apps can be integrated into these apps through the Service Manager and NuGet.

The Cordova tools in Visual Studio support end-to-end development of cross-platform mobile applications, meaning Web developers can use their existing skills to create hybrid packaged apps for multiple devices while still taking advantage of each device’s capabilities. In fact, Microsoft is offering templates for both JavaScript and TypeScript to provide a standard blank Cordova starter project. Developers can pick their HTML/JavaScript framework of choice, including Backbone and jQuery UI, Angular.js and Bootstrap, or WinJS.

Projects can be built, deployed, and debugged directly in Visual Studio against a variety of devices, device emulators, and Web-based mobile simulators. The default option is to use the Apache Ripple simulator to test your application in the browser before deploying to a device.

That being said, the preview also supports attaching the Visual Studio debugger to Ripple as well as a local emulator or a device. In other words, you can stay in Visual Studio while debugging your JavaScript and DOM layout running on an Android 4.4 device.

Microsoft seems most excited that developers will be able to use Visual Studio to develop, test, and launch a Cordova app directly on an Android device or iOS device. The company isn’t hiding that its goal is to turn Visual Studio into the best tool for creating multi-device apps across Android, iOS, Windows, and Windows Phone. Microsoft already offers the option of native apps powered by .NET and Xamarin, but now it is also pushing into the world of standards-based development provided by the Apache Cordova platform to further its push for helping build apps that share a large amount of code across devices.