Monday, 24 September 2012

Intel Ultimate Coder Challenge - Part Six

Journey’s End

Well boys and girls, I hope you enjoyed our adventure into the mind of a software coder and hopefully gleamed some useful insights into the world of Ultrabook development! From a five page design document to a finished Ultrabook app, it’s been a labour of love through a mine-field of cutting edge technology.

Reflecting on the journey, my decision to create an entire WinRT engine in six weeks was simply bonkers. I don’t recommend it to anyone who values their sleep!

As much as you might expect this blog to be a nice neat (and short) wrap up of the project, I spent every day of the allotted six weeks coding my little socks off to ensure I could get as much into the final app as possible. I have something for everyone in my final episode, including a ten minute video of the Love Hearts(r) app and a gallery of screen shots.

I also want to cover the technology I implemented in my final week, including in-app purchasing, Ultrabook camera and social integration. Before we charge headlong into the technology, let's see the final Love Hearts(r) app in action:


I'll be the first to agree my video recording skills are less than passable, so I have created a wall of images which explodes the app so you can see each screen at a glance in a little more detail:


An app crammed with sensor goodness
can you find them all?

You can send custom photo messages through
all your favourite social outlets


Maintain a friends list to make sending
more messages a breeze

Type your message using the Ultrabook keyboard,
no need for a virtual one

Use the built-in Ultrabook camera,
or access the Photo Library
  
Position and crop the capture
for that perfect wave

Take your photo into the art tool,
ready to customise your picture

Use coloured pencils and brushes, plus rubber
stamps for a beauty make-over
  
Swipe the screen to reveal a
new surprise from the app

One surprise might be a piece from a jigsaw,
can you tell what it is yet?

Another activity is the Love Train

Can you beat your friends highest score?
  
Discover love poems, and send them
to your friends and loved ones

A red star notifies you of unopened
presents within the app

You are also notified of unopened presents
from the Windows 8 tile page

One of the surprise items might
be a joke you can share

You can also send messages to
another Love Hearts app

A bubble appears when a message
is waiting for you

Windows 8 tile page also lets you know
when a message is waiting
  
Tapping the bubble opens the message,
this one is a joke someone sent me

The joke is added to the joke heart at the
top of the page, just tap to laugh

The app monetises through the Windows 8
in-app purchase system

When published to the Windows Store, the app will
give you a price to buy unlimited credits

Find a love compass, always pointing to
your true love (providing it's north) 

Create photos and then share them
through your social graph

The app re-creates your message in the cloud
and allows you to tweet the link
  
You can also send the link as a Facebook update

Clicking the link takes you to your message,
courtesy of the cloud
For more information about app availability, I will continue running this blog site so check back in a few weeks to find out which stores you can download it from.

Windows Store 'Share' Button

The ‘Share’ option on the right slide-in bar enables apps to share content with other third party apps. The guidelines suggest that most if not all Windows 8 apps should take advantage of this feature which is expanded upon here: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windows/apps/hh465251.aspx

I was intending to add this feature but soon realised that optimal use of the feature would need some design changes to the app. For example, the current app asks you to click the Twitter icon, and then compose a message and finally takes you to the browser to enter your twitter account details and post the message link.  With the new Windows 8 ‘Share’ feature, the app could have been designed to have the Message Editor independent of the delivery method. When a message had been created, the user could simply swipe from the right, press Share and select Twitter, Facebook, Email or Browser. It's an elegant feature, and one I shall be taking full advantage of in the future.

Monetising an Ultrabook App

Initially I thought the Windows 8 Store did not allow in-app purchasing, but on closer inspection I discovered that it actually supports multiple forms of monetisation and enough documentation for me to get started supporting this under WinRT.

A great place to start the learning, and the starting point of my own mini-adventure was here: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windows/apps/br230836

With less than a week to go, I figured it made sense to register my particulars for a Windows Store developer account which lead me to the part where I had to pay £37 and fill in some rather aggressive online tax forms. This would give me the back-end ingredients I needed to create in-app tokens that represent what I chose to sell from within the app.

Finally, I located a C++ sample which in theory would contain all the code I needed to get in-app purchasing off the ground, found here: http://code.msdn.microsoft.com/windowsapps/Licensing-API-Sample-19712f1a

I did discover when creating in-app tokens that Windows Store does not allow internal currency as such, instead opting to sell in-app features which last a set time from 1 day to forever. As I needed a ‘buy credits’ feature, I set the ‘More Love Credits’ token for one day and would use some internal code to store app credits manually.

The first integration step was to create some in-app purchase commands for Freedom-Engine, and some code which would be handed over to Steve to add to the BUY button in the app:

rem Set the name of the app for Purchase Dialog
InAppPurchaseSetTitle ( "Love hearts" )

rem List out all in-app products and setup
InAppPurchaseAddProductID ( "More Love Credits" )
InAppPurchaseSetup()

rem If 'click', attempt to purchase the first item
if BUYButtonPressed=1
 InAppPurchaseActivate(0)
 while GetInAppPurchaseState()=0
  rem app is busy obtaining in-app feature
  Sync()
 endwhile
endif

rem Detect if first in-app product purchased
if GetInAppPurchaseAvailable(0)=1 and NoNewCreditsToday=1
 rem User has purchased 'More Love Credits'
 inc LOVECREDITS,50
 NoNewCreditsToday=0
Endif

Of course behind the scenes, this looks a little different in WinRT code, and after some initial wrangling managed to distil it down to some essential blocks of code. The first section is the classes we would be using:

using namespace Windows::ApplicationModel;
using namespace Windows::ApplicationModel::Store;
using namespace Windows::Storage;

Second, we are using the Store Simulator to test in-app purchases prior to publishing to the Windows Store, so we need to load in ‘pretend’ products, which is done with an XML file and the following code:

create_task(Package::Current->InstalledLocation->GetFolderAsync("data")).then([this](StorageFolder^ proxyDataFolder)
{
    create_task(proxyDataFolder->GetFileAsync("in-app-purchase.xml")).then([this](StorageFile^ proxyFile)
    {
create_task(CurrentAppSimulator::ReloadSimulatorAsync(proxyFile)).then([this]()
            {
        });
    });
});

Finally, the essential WinRT code to detect if a product has been purchased, and also to buy the product on demand is only a few lines:

auto licenseInformation = CurrentAppSimulator::LicenseInformation;
auto productLicense = licenseInformation->ProductLicenses->Lookup("product1");
if (!productLicense->IsActive)
{
create_task(CurrentAppSimulator::RequestProductPurchaseAsync("product1", false)).then([this](task<Platform::String^> currentTask)
     {
            try
            {
                currentTask.get();
                auto licenseInformation = CurrentAppSimulator::LicenseInformation;
                if (licenseInformation->ProductLicenses->Lookup("product1")->IsActive)
                {
                    // You bought Product 1.
                }
            }
            catch(Platform::Exception^ exception)
            {
                // Unable to buy Product 1.
            }
        });
}

As you can see, it’s relatively simple to monetise your app, and when you are ready to publish, simply substitute the CurrentAppSimulator with CurrentApp and you’re ready to go. For a working sample of in-app purchasing, Google ‘Trial app and in-app purchase sample’ for the example.

Submitting an Ultrabook App that uses DirectX and Webcams

Although there are a huge number of things to test when preparing your app, there a few gotchas that apply specifically to how you describe your app when submitting it. For example, you need to specify what the minimum DirectX feature level is for the app (9_3, 10_0 or ALL)? For Love Hearts, I am using a relatively simple shader which means I can choose ALL, but if you are for example making use of the special features of the Intel HD Graphics 3000/2000 Sandy Bridge chipset, then you need to specify 10_0 when submitting your app.

Also, if your app uses the webcam, which Love Hearts does, you cannot set the age rating to 3+ and the guidelines recommend you set this instead to 7+. Given my market, this was not an issue. The store also allowed rating board approvals to be optional for many target countries, which was a blessing for a small developer like me.

Windows, Drivers, Countryman!

A quick tip for developers who are working their way out of Windows 8 Release Preview to Windows 8 RTM, also check to make sure you are not using the Visual Studio Express 2012 RC which was only designed for the release preview OS. You can now find the official VS Express download from the Microsoft website. I highly recommend downloading the ISO to avoid bandwidth issues when using the web installer!

Another gotcha for DirectX developers is that the Windows 8 RTM uses the Intel HD 4000 driver (31/07/12) on the reference Ultrabook, but the drivers misbehave and flicker wildly. I had to dive into the Display driver and replace it with the older Microsoft WDDM 1.2 version (26/05/12) to restore visuals. To me, that’s a driver issue, and I hope I don’t get punished for this by the judges. Sometimes, I’m so cutting edge I chop my nose off!  Here is the fix:

1.       Go to desktop, right click Screen Resolution
2.       Click Advanced Settings
3.       Click Properties button
4.       Click Driver tab
5.       Click Update Driver
6.       Click Browse My Computer for drier software
7.       Click Let me pick from a list of device drivers on my computer
8.       Choose the WDDM 1.2 driver from the list and select Next
9.       Click Close and reset the Ultrabook if promoted

Yet another jungle trap is the 650MB Intel Sensor Solution driver set which lacks certain firmware updates required by the Ultrabook sensors. After some digging around challenge emails, I found a zip called SensorFirmware.zip sent to me by Norman@Intel which contained a file called ‘READ ME with Pictures’ which explained how to update the sensor firmware in six easy steps. Turns out steps two and three don’t play nicely in England unless you delete the <language> section of the dpinst.xml files, and even then step three decided to flip my screen vertically just as I was to press Finish. Tilting the Ultrabook forwards sorted that one out. Step six froze at the end, meaning you had to force as restart of the system but when the Ultrabook rebooted for the final time my sensors where once again working!

One thing to note though is that Windows RTM switches auto-orientation ON by default, which means as soon as you start moving the Ultrabook around, your page starts flipping.  To stop this, go to the Desktop, and right click and select Screen Resolution. Now deselect the ‘Allow the screen to auto-rotate’ tick box, and you are good to go.

Getting Social with the Ultrabook

Another feature of Love Hearts which had been postponed until after IDF was the Facebook, Twitter and Email functionality. On my return, some of the email functionality had started to take shape but the first two had not been touched.  After much research into a good way to involve these social feeds, it turns out the solution was a single command in Freedom-Engine.


Where ‘Hello’ is the link to the message we want to share. By employing the built-in browser, we allow Facebook and Twitter to handle their own log-in and authentication, and instil trust in the user who may not be happy entering their passwords into a third party application.

The WinRT code is a few more lines, but considerably easier than the Win32 equivalent:

Platform:String^ str = ref new String(“www.facebook.com/etc”);
Windows:Foundation:Uri^ uri = ref new Windows:Foundation:Uri(str);
Windows:System:Launcher:LaunchUriAsync(uri);

The last two message styles, Email and App2App rely on PHP scripts sitting on our server, called with a number of HTTP commands built into Freedom-Engine. For all the cleverness contained in the app, a core ingredient of the technology is our server, which runs a series of scripts to take the Love Hearts message text and images, and produces a unique link which can be viewed through a browser, send emails, authenticate and direct queues of messages to the appropriate user for delivery through the app.

In WinRT, the WinSock API is not available for Windows Store apps and instead promotes the use of XMLHttpRequest2 to handle the sending and receiving of HTTP POST and GET calls. These commands alone took two days of solid coding, and a great source of code can be found by searching for the ‘HttpRequest’ sample on MSDN code.

Ultrabook, let there be Sight

In the pursuit of ever more Ultrabook sensors, it is easy to overlook the biggest sensor of them all, the built-in camera. I intended to leave this to the end as it was not an exciting sensor to bedazzle the world with. Nonetheless, it is a vital part of the Ultrabook experience and should not be dismissed out of hand. One of the pearls I took away from IDF is that Perceptual Computing, the technology of understanding what the user is doing when not touching the device, will become key to the evolution of the Ultrabook.

For the here and now, the actual camera capture was catered for rather elegantly by handing it over to the Ultrabooks built-in camera capture tool:

CameraCaptureUI^ dialog = ref new CameraCaptureUI();
dialog->PhotoSettings->CroppedAspectRatio = Size(16, 9);
concurrency::task<StorageFile^> (dialog->CaptureFileAsync(CameraCaptureUIMode::Photo)).then([this] (StorageFile^ file)
{
     m_CameraPhotoFile = file;
}

Coupled with the DirectX texture loader I created earlier in the project, I could use the file to load the image into the app allowing Love Hearts to capture and transmit lovely faces.

I also added WinRT code to allow the user to select a Picture from the Ultrabooks Photo Library, but ran into some issues. The trick here is to copy the image file from the sandbox protected Pictures folder to the Application Data Temporary folder; you can then load and use the image as above. Any developer reading this far into the blog will save about two hours of researching ‘access denied’ and getting nowhere.

Glancing Back

Six blogs is a lot to take in, so before I bid you farewell I would like to list out all the lovely Ultrabook goodness that we've added during our time together:

* A brand new WinRT application created in Visual Studio Express 2012
* An abstraction layer which allows OpenGL to run using DirectX 11 technology
* Using DirectX 3D calls to get super fast 2D rendering on Intel HD 4000
* Used PPL parallel coding to multi-thread loading of shaders and textures
* Re-writing old Win32 functions to their shiny new WinRT equivilant
* Followed Windows 8 guidelines for tile page and app launching graphics
* Tapped the Ultrabook accelerometer sensors to improve app visuals
* Added notification to alter the Windows 8 tile as the app state changes
* Added NFC detection between the Ultrabook and any enabled device
* Adjusted the app to handle any resolution from 1024x768 to 1600x900
* Added multi-point touch detection to scale and rotate on-screen assets
* Used high quality HD graphics to support the highest Ultrabook resolutions
* App checks for new messages every 5 seconds, ideal for Instant Connect
* Added Geo-location commands to detect the city the message is sent from
* One of the presents within the app is a fully working compass
* App detects ambient light and fades to night-mode if the room is dark
* Added Windows 8 in-app purchasing so the app can monetize easily
* Added webcam and photo library support to feed the app with rich media
* Added HTTP commands to access numerous services in the cloud

Phew! I'm sure there's more, but I think that's enough for one post.  I would have loved to add more, such as the Share option, but often in the case of development the act of creating an app produces more app ideas. The mark of a good developer is to know when to draw a line in the sand, bottle those ideas up for another day and share your creation with the world. I'm pretty happy that Love Hearts embodies many of the qualities that make a great Ultrabook app. Something you can pick up and play casually, but also has depth, allowing you create as well as consume. An app that integrates closely with the underlying OS and exploits as many of the unique features of the device as possible.

I also hope I did not get carried away on the technical side and delivered an app that is also bright, colourful, easy and fun to use, provides a touch, sensor and keyboard experience that befits the Ultrabook's capabilities and feels like a natural extension of the Windows 8 user experience.

Farewell

It’s fair to say that developers who want to create a true Windows 8 experience will have to learn WinRT. We’ve learned that the majority of Win32 APIs do not carry over. It’s clear that with the introduction of C++/CX, programmers must adopt a basic grasp of parallel coding to deal with asynchronous operations. Resulting code allows the app to take full advantage of the multiple cores and produce a smoother experiences for the user. The most exciting thing has been the Ultrabook itself, which proved itself most capable as a fully fledged development machine.

It’s been a real privilege to get early access to the reference design Ultrabook, and I’d like to thank the folks at Intel for allowing me to participate in the challenge. I'd also like to wish my fellow challengers the best of luck in their future endeavours, it was an honour to be counted amongst the very best our industry has to offer.

Time for me to perform an ultra-backup, clear my ultra-desk and go to ultra-sleep for an ultra-month. Happy coding and be well.

Lee Bamber
The Game Creators


Monday, 17 September 2012

Intel Ultimate Coder Challenge - Part Five

Welcome back to my penultimate chapter which chronicles the adventures of writing an Ultrabook app in just six weeks. Last time you saw more of the app design and some of the sensor additions, and I expect you are looking forward to more of the same. Well all developers need to blow off steam, and this blog covers some of that too.


Lee Bamber at the EXPO, wearing his coveted Exhibitor badge

All six developers competing were given the previous week off to attend IDF 2012, and to participate in some of the events. My calendar was particularly busy hosting two live coding events in the decompression lounge, manning the Ultrabook stand in the Expo area three times, sitting on a beanbag for a few hours with Tom and the HTML5 Hackathon students, attending an Intel fellowship and Ultimate coder get together, and of course, attending the Black Belt dinner where I gave a short speech which I hope was at the very least entertaining. One day and 20 hours of travelling later, I was back in the UK, ready to continue my coding quest.

Two Weeks Left

Despite not posting a blog last Monday some progress had been made by then, primarily to get our live demo of Love Hearts ready for IDF. I also made a short video of the demo, just in case my Ultrabook exploded en-route:


video

For the IDF 2012 demo, I managed to coax the following out of the Ultrabook:

DirectX for 2D/3D performance
Accelerometer used by Clouds
Light Sensor for Night Time Mode
Swipe Gesture for Touch Interface
Keyboard for Messaging
Multi-finger for Image Rotate & Resize
Notification for New App Events
NFC for Free Love Credits
Compass in Main Screen
Geo-location in default Message

I discovered a driver issue with the accelerometer, light sensor and geolocation, but nothing that prevented the live demo during the event, and on the whole the Ultrabook performed admirably under event conditions.

Notification in Windows 8

To prevent this blog turning into an IDF report, I wanted to single out one of the technical hurdles defeated in order to prepare the final IDF demo, and unique to developers of Ultrabook apps. Windows 8 offers app developers the opportunity to modify the tile that represents their app that appears in the main tile page. In the Windows API, you will find it in the Notification section.

I wanted my app to change the tile icon if my app wanted to alert the user of a pending action (such as an untapped feature or a message had arrived). Rather than write all the code from scratch, I highly recommend you seek out an example that includes the 'NotificationsExtensions' project. This project includes a whole slew of helper functions that allows you to change the tile icon with just a few commands:

auto tileContent = TileContentFactory::CreateTileSquareImage();
tileContent->Image->Src = "ms-appx:///Assets/LogoNotify.png";
tileContent->Image->Alt = "Love";
TileUpdateManager::CreateTileUpdaterForApplication()->Update(tileContent->CreateNotification());

As you can see, the code is almost self-explanatory at this level and means you can carry on with more important features. I used this code as part of the AGK / Freedom-Engine command called SetNotificationImage which simply changes the icon by passing in the new image index.

The 'NotificationsExtensions' project goes on to allow a whole host of additional functions to create double wide tiles, additional text notifications and all manner of hooks into the Windows 8 notification system. Given the present deadline, these wonderful calls will have to wait for another app.

New Feature Ahoy

During the IDF event, I learned a few more tricks Windows 8 and the Ultrabook could do including a swipe from the right which would call up a button called ‘Share’, which when selected would list all the apps I could export to.  

Discovering the Ultrabook - The all new 'share' feature for apps

That is, any apps installed which are compatible with Love Hearts would be listed and allow me to send ‘media’ to that app. It also occurred to me that an app such as an Art Package could send the image directly to Love Hearts and forwarded as a message. This feature was added to my ‘must learn more’ list with the hope I can squeeze it into the app before my deadline.

Meanwhile, back in England

Approximately, half an orbit away, my backup coder Steve was busy in a darkened room adding wonderful new things to the app.  He started the cupid mini-game which will form part of the ‘Play Games’ feature within the app. Work also started on the innards of the messaging system:


Keep track of your friends in the Love Hearts app

The messaging code which both sends and receives messages between apps, with new functional and visual elements integrated to keep the ball rolling. A particularly difficult issue was encountered whilst attempting to send images to the server, but was quickly overcome and the latest version of the app can now send and receive image messages between two Love Heart apps.

Development Items Remaining

With less than two weeks to go, it was time to itemise the tasks left to do. Clearly, we needed to complete the integration of the graphics, removing the last of the place holder artwork, and we also needed to integrate the monetisation component that would allow in-app purchasing within the Windows 8 Store. A particularly neat trick when you consider that Windows 8 Store does not have an in-app purchasing API. We also had a few loose ends to tie off such as adding 3D shader and engine code plus optimising the DirectX code to run smoothly on the Ultrabook.

The goal for the competition is a deliverable that will install and run on the judges Ultrabook devices. Getting the app submitted and available on the Windows 8 Store is unlikely given the validation time required by Microsoft. It is also unclear if submitting the ‘former-Metro’ package will also succeed given the issues discovered at IDF when moving from one version of Windows to another.

INSIDER TIP: A Windows 8 app package created in ‘Windows beta preview’ will likely not work in ‘Windows RTM’ when sharing a developer licensed version of that app. As this is largely undocumented, I highly recommend upgrading to Windows RTM for the sanity of your end users.

Freedom for Everyone

As an aside, I am pleased to report the launch of the Freedom Engine went very well (www.freedom-engine.com), and even provoked disbelief among IDF attendees.

We also snatched some time with Bob Duffy, who kindly agreed to interview me about the Ultrabook app, IDF and Freedom Engine. Looking back at the video, I think I was on my fifth cup of coffee. Until technology exists to dial down the insane grin on my face, you'll have to take me as is:


During the IDF HTML5 Hackathon, I also learned how to tap the Ultrabook sensors from a browser using Javascript and a Chrome extension, which means we now have a method of bringing Ultrabook sensors to the browser via Freedom Engine. Visit the website above for more details!

Ultrabook at the Airport

Over the course of this competition, I have really subjected the Ultrabook to some extreme tasks. Not only from the inside by pushing WinRT as far as it can go, but also from a users perspective by deciding to code the entire engine from the Ultrabook itself. This was taken yet further on my way back from San Francisco when I broke out the Ultrabook at an Airport cafe, activated my 3G hub and carried on coding as though I was back at home.



On re-reading my blog before I click 'Publish', I got the sense the connection between Freedom Engine and the Love Hearts app might not be clear. The connection is that Love Hearts is written in AGK, which is really Freedom Engine by another name. The upshot is that when Love Hearts is finished, and running nicely on the Ultrabook, it will also instantly become available for all the other supported platforms such as HTML5 and Android. This means Love Heart app users can exchange messages and play games, irrespective of which device they are on at the time. Cross-platform development is no longer optional!


More Information

For more information about the Ultimate Challenge, check out the official website at:http://software.intel.com/sites/campaigns/ultimatecoder/


Next Time

Plenty of development and a good deal of research still to come. With IDF obligations complete, I can close all the windows and doors, make an especially large pot of tea, and focus my blunderbuss mind entirely on the mission.  The next time you read my blog, you should be reading about an app that looks and plays like the real thing.

I also want to extend a special hello to the Ultimate Coder contestants and judges who I met at IDF during our fifteen course Pizza meal.


Lee and Andreas at the 'Death by Pizza' restaurant
Had it not been for the Guinness washing it down, I don't think I would have survived all that pizza. As our industry is such a small place, I very much look forward to meeting you all again and hope everyone had a pleasant journey home.



Monday, 3 September 2012

Intel Ultimate Coder Challenge - Part Four


The Week That Was

If you recall, last week I promised you more progress on the Love Hearts® app itself, new artwork and lots of new DirectX and sensor features for the new AGK WinRT engine. I am pleased to report that I can deliver on all of the above. Let me first apologise for the technical onslaught from Week 3, an unfortunate by-product of getting too close to a coder at boiling-point. As a cure, here is a video intro which involves a little less reading.


And for those who like to read, here is another huge blog, with lots of juicy details and lots more videos.

The Week That Is

This week I would like to show you rather than tell you what I’ve been up to on the project, and have decided to use copious amounts of video to do this. I decided to record a typical morning, preparing for Ultrabook development, before playing it back 64 times faster.

video

During the afternoon, we see the current state of the Love Hearts® app, complete with some final artwork and more content.

video

Before you recoil from shock, let me qualify the video by saying it was running in Windows 8 Native Desktop mode using the legacy AGK engine. I just wanted to show you what it’s going to look like running on the Ultrabook when it’s finally running under the new WinRT engine.

The new Windows 8 engine made some huge strides this week, coupling up more OpenGL functions and matching them to the DirectX 11 API. I created an intermediate layer between OpenGL and DirectX which converted regular C++ data into C++/CX references, and stored some internal values which OpenGL relies on to perform it’s chain of instructions. Unlike DirectX, OpenGL sets states which later OpenGL calls rely on, so this had to be mimicked using the new intermediate layer. Bottom line is that we now have our DFNAM engine rendering the exact same pixels as the native OpenGL engine. I also took the opportunity to code the Accelerometer, Multi-touch and half the NFC sensor commands as well.


NFC Ultrabook and Nexus 7 Trick: To get your devices talking to each other, place the Nexus 7 tablet with its back touching the touchpad of the Ultrabook, aligned so that the top of the Nexus 7 is on line with the top of the touchpad.

I can’t describe the buzz I got when I first got the NFC connection working; it was one of those defining moments which slowly shape the technological landscape. I must admit it took me a while to find the aerial for the Ultrabook and the Nexus 7, but after a few Google videos and lots of device foreplay, I found the perfect spot as you can see in the above video.

When the time comes to integrate these cool toys into the main app, one of the overriding factors in making a successful Ultrabook app is the user experience. All the features in the world won’t make a killer app, but a single feature done well can transform a regular app into a leading app.

We must not confuse the Ultrabook with a laptop, a tablet or a small desktop. Users who buy an Ultrabook want the keyboard, the hands-free touch capabilities, the performance and the gadgets, and they want apps that respect their choice of hardware. I was inspired by a fellow contestant’s feature list and decided to make my own to see how each feature lends itself to the Love Hearts® usage scenario of the ideal Ultrabook user.


Completed Tasks

  • Multiple Resolutions: App adjusts layout to fit any landscape resolution
  • Mouse, Track-pad & Touch-screen: Accept all three input styles
  • Single & Multi-Touch: Two finger moving & resizing of message art
  • Rich Graphics: Use high resolution artwork for HD rendering
  • 3D Graphics Performance: Engine uses GPU rendering for 2D & 3D
  • Enhanced Performance: Engine uses PPL for parallel multi-core coding
  • DFNAM: 100% WinRT engine (native code is old code)
  • NFC Kiss: Touch Love Heart apps together to get extra credits for both
  • Accelerometer: - Control a mini-game using forward tilt only


Pending Features
  • iSCT (Always On): Retrieve love messages in background (if connected)
  • Push Notification: Display notification on tile page (if connected)
  • Power Management: Screen rendering freezes after 30 seconds idle
  • iRST (Rapid Start): Cache resources on suspend so can resume quickly
  • Geo-location: All messages stamped with the City they were created
  • Compass: Controls on-screen compass and position of sun
  • Orientation Sensor: Shift clouds so horizon always horizontal
  • Gyro: Spin packet when detect sufficient angular velocity
  • Light Sensor: When in dark room, lower rendering brightness
  • Inclinometer: A mini-game controls first-person flying love catcher

The Last Mile

As you can see from the list above, there appears to be a lot of red but having tackled the big learning curves of WinRT and C++\CX, the last six items can be done in just a few days thanks to a greatly improved Windows API. The middle four; IRST, POWER, PUSH and ISCT are virgin lands to me right now, and promise much agony and elation in equal measure in the weeks to come.

A Cry for Freedom

I have not mentioned my work role before, but at The Game Creators (www.thegamecreators.com) I am best described as the Lead Developer, which means I have a finger in most of the pies spinning at any one time. The lead developer does not have the luxury of working on just one project, and right now I am working on two. The Ultimate Coder Challenge is one of them, and the other project is Freedom Engine.


Simply put, we take our cross-platform technology App Game Kit and make it work entirely in the cloud. We add a browser based IDE and compiler, create an HTML5 WebGL engine to run the apps online and we keep backwards compatibility with AGK so the same app can run on iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, Playbook & Bada. With the Ultrabook work, we’re adding Windows 8 to the supported platforms not to mention an eclectic cacophony of new commands.

For the video, best you visit the official launch site
www.freedom-engine.com

Ten years ago, The Game Creators owned a considerable chunk of the ‘hobby developer’ market with the likes of DarkBASIC, FPS Creator and 3D Gamemaker but the competition today is strong and mature. Instead of competing head to head, we decided to make a paradigm shift in thinking and come up with a whole new way for developers to create and distribute apps. 

A solution that fits with the way we prefer to work, and targets all devices in the compute continuum. With Freedom Engine, your Ultrabook turns into a fully featured cross-platform development studio that offers instant access to every sensor and feature available through Windows 8.

Think of Freedom Engine as the GMAIL of app development, your code accessible from anywhere, apps than run on everything, free to use, fast and powerful. The best way to understand it is to try it, and we’ll be launching the public beta of this service on the 12th September during IDF. For updates on where I’ll be during IDF, follow my twitter feeds @leebambertgc

The Week That Will Be

The next few days will be something special in the calendar of your typical coder, stretching five days into ten days by way of a magical enchantment we like to call ‘a deadline’. I fly from jolly old England on the 10th September to arrive for cocktails, giggles and guffores at the annual Intel Developer Forum event in San Francisco. Before then, I have to finish a version of Love Hearts® to demo during the event, and also finish the Freedom Engine beta for public release on the 12th. I also have to prepare presentation materials and of course, pack my suitcase.


It’s been arranged that all bloggers can have a week off while IDF is in session and so all posts are moved to the following Monday. Even so, in true Harry Potter style, I will be blogging Week 4 and Three-Quarters throughout the IDF event so please do check back next Monday and I’ll find some time to blog something amusing.

More Information

For more information about the Ultimate Challenge, check out the official website at:http://software.intel.com/sites/campaigns/ultimatecoder/

Blog Bambermentry

For everyone who likes 40 hours of video, I decided to make a ‘week in the life’ time lapse video showing a week’s worth of coding. Shot entirely on the Ultrabook for over 40 hours of coding slog, I was a little concerned that I would melt the device, and have nothing to complete the last two weeks with.


Despite my fears, the Ultrabook was a capable work horse and had no problems keeping up with me during the marathon. Let’s hope it survives another long week of coding, a round trip to the states and curious developers poking at it.