Windows Phone 8.1 - Whatโ€™s New for Developers

Introduction

At Build 2014, the annual conference for Microsoft platform developers, Microsoft announced Windows Phone 8.1, the newest mobile operating system from Microsoft. This is a special moment, not just because it marks the introduction of the newest shiny object from Microsoft, but because it finally brings convergence of the desktop and mobile operating systems. But, that is not all. Read on to discover what else is new in Windows Phone 8.1.

Name Change

The first aftermath of this new operating system is that the documentation for Windows Phone applications (also called Windows Phone Store applications) has been merged with the documentation for building Windows Store applications. Since there is so much in common, this should have been anticipated. Once can look at an icon beneath the conceptual topic to determine whether it applies to only one, or both of the platforms.

Expanding Platform Convergence

Windows Phone 8 set the mobile OS on path to convergence with the Windows OS by having a few Windows Runtime APIs. With Windows Phone 8.1, the span of Windows Runtime APIs has expanded, which applies to both mobile and desktop. Developers can now think of building for a single Windows Runtime, which can still target two different platforms.

The application model for Windows Phone 8.1 applications now matches the application model for Windows Phone. The life cycle events for activation and suspension apply for both platforms, as does the support for background tasks. Developers can code once and it will work for both platforms.

Deployment for Windows Phone 8.1 applications now matches the deployment model we have gotten accustomed to with Windows 8 applications.

Windows Phone 8.1 adopts the same XAML UI framework as Windows Store applications allowing use of the same namespace, unlike what Windows Phone 8 applications used.

New Features

Convergence of Windows Phone with Windows Store brings Windows Runtime geolocation APIs to the mobile platform, chief of them being geofencing, which allows applications to receive notifications when the device enters or leaves a specified geographic region.

The story about background transfer has changed as a result of the introduction of the Windows.Networking.BackgroundTransfer in Windows Phone 8.1, which allows to you queue uploads/downloads without the application running in the background.

All the media foundation APIs available on Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 are now available as part of Windows Phone 8.1.

The Windows Push Notification Services available on the Windows Store platform are now supported on Windows Phone 8.1 applications, through support for Microsoft Push Notification Services will continue to be supported for compatibility reasons.

One of the major new customer visible features is the action center, which the developers can use to manage toast notifications sent to the user.

Background audio as we used to know in Windows Phone 8, no longer exists in Windows Phone 8.1. Instead, Windows.Media.Playback.BackgroundMediaPlayer now replaces Microsoft.Phone.BackgroundAudio.BackgroundAudioPlayer, with the former now supporting a two-process background media playback feature.

DirectX support has expanded in Windows Phone 8.1 to include features previously available only to desktop apps, including but not limited to Direct2D APIs, DirectWrite APIs, and Windows Imaging Component APIs.

UI Controls

The Panorama control in Windows Phone 8 has been renamed to the Hub control in Windows Phone 8.1 to match the Windows Store nomenclature. In addition, new controls such as FlipView, GridView, ListView, RichEditBox, PasswordBox and SemanticZoon have been introduced as part of Windows Phone 8.1

Accessibility has been greatly improved in Windows Phone 8.1, with automatic text enlargement and high contrast being supported.

Appointments are now supported in Windows Phone 8.1 via the Windows.ApplicationModel.Appointments APIs.

Storage

Windows Phone 8.1 supports reading and writing from an SD card, a big change from the previous Windows Phone operating systems.

In Addition, all APIs in the Windows.Storage namespace previously available only to Windows Store applications now extend their outreach to Windows Phone 8.1 also.

Compatibility

Besides the features mentioned above, one of the “un”features is the complete backwards compatibility of applications created to target Windows Phone 8. That means, a Windows Phone 8 phone running your application, when upgraded to Windows Phone 8.1, will not result in your application no longer working. This is an immense reassurance to mobile developers whose hard work will continue to work.

Summary

In this article, we learned about all the new features in Windows Phone 8.1. In upcoming articles, we will dive into each new feature with hands on examples.

About the author

Vipul Patel is a Program Manager currently working at Amazon Corporation. He has formerly worked at Microsoft in the Lync team and in the .NET team (in the Base Class libraries and the Debugging and Profiling team). He can be reached at vipul.patel@hotmail.com.



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