Helper class to easily display local toast notifications (Windows Universal app)

Often , we need to display a confirmation that some action in our app has been finished (like some data has been updated etc.). There are several ways of doing this, like displaying a MessageBox or MessageDialog. This however breaks the user interaction, and a lot of users will start complaining on that if your app keeps doing so. There needs to be a better way.

With the Coding4fun Toolkit floating around, you can mimic a toast notification – sadly only on Windows Phone (at least for the moment, but Dave told me he will work on implementing it for Windows, too). Also, Toastinet library is floating around, which is also able to mimic the toast notification behavior (although for Windows Universal app, the implementation is not that intuitive as for Windows  Phone). Both are fantastic libraries that I used in the past, but I wanted a solution that is implemented easily and works with my Universal app. So I did some searching in the Web and the MSDN docs, and found out that is pretty easy to use the system toast notifications on both platforms locally.

There are 8 possible ways to format toast notifications (as you can see here in the toast template catalog). This gives us pretty much options on how a notification can be styled. However, most options just work on Windows 8.1, while Windows Phone 8.1 apps will only show the notification in the way “app logo”  “bold text”  “normal text”. However, the notification system takes care of that, so you can specify some other type on Windows 8.1, while knowing that it gets converted on Windows Phone automatically. This allows us to write a helper class that implements all possible options without any headache.

the code parts for the notification

Let’s have a look at the code parts for the notification. First, you need to add two Namespaces to the class:

using Windows.Data.Xml.Dom;
using Windows.UI.Notifications;

After that, we can start writing our code. Toast notifications are formatted using Xml. Because of this, we need to get a reference to the underlying Xml template for the system toast notification:

ToastTemplateType xmlForToast= ToastTemplateType.ToastImageAndText01; 
XmlDocument toastXml = ToastNotificationManager.GetTemplateContent(xmlForToast);

System toast notifications can hold Text (and an Image on Windows 8.1). So we need to declare the elements of the toast notification. We are using the Xml methods of the DOM namespace to get the text elements of the chosen template first:

XmlNodeList toastTextElements = xmlForToast.GetElementsByTagName("text");
toastTextElements[0].AppendChild(xmlForToast.CreateTextNode("text1"));
//additional texts, depending on the template:
//toastTextElements[1].AppendChild(xmlForToast.CreateTextNode("text2"));
//toastTextElements[2].AppendChild(xmlForToast.CreateTextNode("text3"));

This is how the image element is implemented:

XmlNodeList toastImageElement = xmlForToast.GetElementsByTagName("image");
//setting the image source uri:
if (toastImageElement != null) ((XmlElement) toastImageElement[0]).SetAttribute("src", imageSourceUri);
//setting optional alternative text for the image
if (toastImageElement != null)  ((XmlElement) toastImageElement[0]).SetAttribute("alt", imageSourceAlternativeText);

You can attach local or remote images to the toast notification, but remember this works only on Windows, not on Windows Phone.

The next part we are able to set is the duration. The duration options are long (25 seconds) and short (7 seconds). The default is short, which should be ok for most scenarios. Microsoft recommends to use long only when a personal interaction of the user is needed (like in a chat). This is how we do it:

IXmlNode toastRoot = xmlForToast.SelectSingleNode("/toast");
((XmlElement) toastRoot).SetAttribute("duration", "short");

What we are doing here is to get the root element of the template’s Xml and add a new element for the duration. Now that we finally have set all options, we are able to create our toast notification and display it to the user:

ToastNotification notification = new ToastNotification(xmlForToast);
ToastNotificationManager.CreateToastNotifier().Show(notification);

the helper class

That’s all we need to do for our local notification. You might see that always rewriting the same code just makes a lot of work. Because the code for the toast notification can be called nearly everywhere in an app (it does not matter if you are calling it from a ViewModel or code behind), I wrote this helper class that makes it even more easy to use the system toast notification locally:

    public class LocalToastHelper
    {
        public void ShowLocalToast(ToastTemplateType templateType, string toastText01, string toastText02 = null, string toastText03 = null, string imageSourceUri = null, string imageSourceAlternativeText = null, ToastDuration duration = ToastDuration.Short)
        {
            XmlDocument xmlForToast = ToastNotificationManager.GetTemplateContent(templateType);
            XmlNodeList toastTextElements = xmlForToast.GetElementsByTagName("text");

            switch (templateType)
            {
                case ToastTemplateType.ToastText01:
                case ToastTemplateType.ToastImageAndText01:
                    toastTextElements[0].AppendChild(xmlForToast.CreateTextNode(toastText01));
                    break;
                case ToastTemplateType.ToastText02:
                case ToastTemplateType.ToastImageAndText02:
                    toastTextElements[0].AppendChild(xmlForToast.CreateTextNode(toastText01));
                    if (toastText02 != null)
                    {
                        toastTextElements[1].AppendChild(xmlForToast.CreateTextNode(toastText02));
                    }
                    else
                    {
                        throw new ArgumentNullException("toastText02 must not be null when using this template type");
                        
                    }
                    ;
                    break;
                case ToastTemplateType.ToastText03:
                case ToastTemplateType.ToastImageAndText03:
                    toastTextElements[0].AppendChild(xmlForToast.CreateTextNode(toastText01));
                    if (toastText02 != null)
                    {
                        toastTextElements[1].AppendChild(xmlForToast.CreateTextNode(toastText02));
                    }
                    else
                    {
                        throw new ArgumentNullException("toastText02 must not be null when using this template type");
                    }
                    ;
                    break;
                case ToastTemplateType.ToastText04:
                case ToastTemplateType.ToastImageAndText04:
                    toastTextElements[0].AppendChild(xmlForToast.CreateTextNode(toastText01));
                    if (toastText02 != null)
                    {
                        toastTextElements[1].AppendChild(xmlForToast.CreateTextNode(toastText02));
                    }
                    else
                    {
                        throw new ArgumentNullException("toastText02 must not be null when using this template type");
                    }
                    ;
                    if (toastText03 != null)
                    {
                        toastTextElements[2].AppendChild(xmlForToast.CreateTextNode(toastText03));
                    }
                    else
                    {
                        throw new ArgumentNullException("toastText03 must not be null when using this template type");
                    }
                    ;
                    break;
            }

            switch (templateType)
            {
                case ToastTemplateType.ToastImageAndText01:
                case ToastTemplateType.ToastImageAndText02:
                case ToastTemplateType.ToastImageAndText03:
                case ToastTemplateType.ToastImageAndText04:
                    if (!string.IsNullOrEmpty(imageSourceUri))
                    {
                        XmlNodeList toastImageElement = xmlForToast.GetElementsByTagName("image");
                        if (toastImageElement != null)
                            ((XmlElement) toastImageElement[0]).SetAttribute("src", imageSourceUri);
                    }
                    else
                    {
                        throw new ArgumentNullException(
                            "imageSourceUri must not be null when using this template type");
                    }
                    if (!string.IsNullOrEmpty(imageSourceUri) && !string.IsNullOrEmpty(imageSourceAlternativeText))
                    {
                        XmlNodeList toastImageElement = xmlForToast.GetElementsByTagName("image");
                        if (toastImageElement != null)
                            ((XmlElement) toastImageElement[0]).SetAttribute("alt", imageSourceAlternativeText);
                    }
                    break;
                default:
                    break;
            }

            IXmlNode toastRoot = xmlForToast.SelectSingleNode("/toast");
            ((XmlElement) toastRoot).SetAttribute("duration", duration.ToString().ToLowerInvariant());

            ToastNotification notification = new ToastNotification(xmlForToast);
            ToastNotificationManager.CreateToastNotifier().Show(notification);
        }

        public enum ToastDuration
        {
            Short,
            Long
        }
    }

As you can see, you just need to provide the wanted parameters to the ShowLocalToast method, which will do the rest of the work for you.

One word to the second switch statement I am using. The image element needs to be set only when we are using the ToastImageAndTextXX templates. There are three ways to implement the integration: using an if with 4  “or” options, the switch statement I am using or a string comparison with String.Contains. The switch statement is the cleanest option for me, so I decided to go this way. Feel free to use any of the other ways in your implementation.

In my implementation, I added also some possible ArgumentNullExceptions to make it easy to find any usage errors.

For your convenience, I attached the source file. Just swap out the namespace with yours. Download

The usage of the class is pretty simple:

var _toastHelper = new LocalToastHelper();
_toastHelper.ShowLocalToast(ToastTemplateType.ToastText02, "This is text 1", "This is text 2");

audio options

The system toasts have another option that can be set: the toast audio. This way, you can customize the appearance of the toast a bit more. I did not implement it yet, because there are some more options and things to remind, and I haven’t checked them out all together. Once I did, I will add a second post to this one with the new information.

As always, I hope this is helpful for some of you.

Happy coding!

How to easily check the pressed keyboard button with a converted event using MVVM (Windows Universal)

In case you missed it, I lately am deeply diving into MVVM. Earlier today, I wanted to implement the well loved feature that a search is performed by pressing the Enter button. Of course, this would be very easy to achieve in code behind using the KeyUpEvent (or the KeyDownEvent, if you prefer).

However, in MVVM, especially in a Universal app, this is a bit trickier. We need to route the event manually to our matching command. There are surely more ways to achieve it, but I decided to use the Behaviors SDK to achieve my goal. The first step is of course downloading the matching extension (if you haven’t done so before). To do so, click on TOOLS/Extensions and Updates in Visual Studio and install the Behaviors SDK from the list:image

The next step we need to do is to add a new Converter (I added it to the common folder, you may change this to your preferred place). As we are hooking up the KeyUpEventArgs, I called it KeyUpEventArgsConverter. After you created the class, implement the IValueConverter interface. You should now have a Convert and a ConvertBack method. We are just adding two lines of code to the Convert method:

            var args = (KeyRoutedEventArgs)value;
            return args;

That’s it for the Converter. Save the class and build the project. For the next step, we need to go to our View where the Converter should do its work. Before we can use it, we need to give our Converter a key to be identified by the Binding engine. You can do this app wide in App.xaml, or in your page:

<common:KeyUpEventArgsConverter x:Key="KeyUpEventArgsConverter"/>

Also, we need to add two more references to our View (besides the Common folder that holds our converter, that is):

    xmlns:i="using:Microsoft.Xaml.Interactivity" 
    xmlns:core="using:Microsoft.Xaml.Interactions.Core"

The next step is to implement the Behavior to our input control (a TextBox in my case):

<TextBox  Header="enter search terms" PlaceholderText="search terms" Text="{Binding KnowledgeBaseSearchTerms, Mode=TwoWay, UpdateSourceTrigger=PropertyChanged}" >
    <i:Interaction.Behaviors>
         <core:EventTriggerBehavior EventName="KeyUp">
             <core:InvokeCommandAction
                   Command="{Binding SearchTermKeyEventArgsCommand}"
                   InputConverter="{StaticResource KeyUpEventArgsConverter}">
             </core:InvokeCommandAction>
          </core:EventTriggerBehavior>
     </i:Interaction.Behaviors>
</TextBox>

With the EventTriggerBehavior, we are able to hook into the desired event of a control. We then only need to bind to a Command in our ViewModel and tell the Behaviors SDK that it should route the “KeyUp” event using our Converter.

Let’s have a final look at the command that handles the event:

        public RelayCommand<KeyRoutedEventArgs> SearchTermKeyEventArgsCommand
        {
            get
            {
                return _searchTermKeyEventArgsCommand
                    ?? (_searchTermKeyEventArgsCommand = new RelayCommand<KeyRoutedEventArgs>(
                    p =>
                    {
                        if (p.Key == Windows.System.VirtualKey.Enter)
                        {
                            //your code here
                        }
                    }));
            }
        }

As you can see, we are using a Command that is able to take a Generic (in my case it comes from the MVVM Light Toolkit, but there are several other version floating around). Because of this, we are finally getting the KeyRoutedEventArgs into our ViewModel and are able to use its data and properties.

The VirtualKey Enumeration holds a reference to a lot of (if not all) keys and works for both hardware and virtual keyboards. This makes this code safe to use in an Universal app.

As I am quite new to MVVM, I am not entirely sure if this way is the “best” way, but it works as expected with little efforts. I hope this will be useful for some of you.

Useful links that helped me on my way to find this solution:

http://blog.galasoft.ch/posts/2014/01/using-the-eventargsconverter-in-mvvm-light-and-why-is-there-no-eventtocommand-in-the-windows-8-1-version/

https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windows/apps/xaml/hh868246.aspx

Happy coding, everyone!

Simple helper method to detect the last page of API data (C#)

When you are working with APIs from web services, you probably ran already into the same problem that I did recently: how to detect if we are on the last page of possible API results.

Some APIs (like WordPress) use tokens to be sent as parameter  with your request, and if the token is null or empty you know that you have reached the last page. However, not all APIs are working that way (for example UserVoice).

As I am rewriting Voices Admin to be a Universal app, I came up with a simple but effective helper method that allows me to easily detect if I am on the last page. Here is what I did:

	public static bool IsLastPage(int total, int countperpage, int current)
        {
            bool value = false;

            if (current < Convert.ToInt32(Math.Ceiling(Convert.ToDouble(total)/countperpage)))
            {
                value = false;
            }

            if (current == Convert.ToInt32(Math.Ceiling(Convert.ToDouble(total)/countperpage)))
                value = true;

            return value;
        }

As you can see, I need the number of total records that can be fetched (which is returned by the API) and the property for the number per page (which is one of the optional parameters of the API). On top, I need the current page number to calculate where I am (which is also an optional parameter of the API and returned by the API result).

Now I simply need to divide the total records by the result count per page to get how many pages are used. Using the Math.Ceiling() method, I always get the correct number of pages back. What does the Math.Ceiling() method do? It just jumps up to the next absolute number, also known as “rounding toward positive infinity”.

Example: if you have 51 total records and a per page count of 10, the division will return 5.1 (which means there is only one result on the 6th page). However, we need an absolute number. Rounding the result would return 5 pages, which is wrong in this case. The Math.Ceiling() method however returns the correct value of 6.

Setting the method up as a static Boolean makes it easy to change the CanExecute property of a button for example, which will be automatically disabled if we just have loaded the last page (page 6 in my case).

As always, I hope this is helpful for some of you.

Happy coding, everyone!

Review of a geek’s 2014

We are close to the end of this year 2014, time for a little review.

At the beginning of the year, I was mostly busy with working on my UserVoice library that makes it easier for me and other developers to integrate UserVoice into Windows Phone apps. I also launched Voices Admin, the companion app for the library. I will start to rewrite this library in 2015 to make it a true Universal library for Windows, Windows Phone as well as Xamarin (and make it return objects instead of naked JSON strings).

I also had some troubles with my former hoster, which lead to a total domain chaos and finally ended in January, too. Thanks to Azure Websites, the transition should have been without problems.  At Telefónica, I was busy finishing the internal App “Friends & You” for Android and Windows Phone. I learned a lot using Xamarin for the Android version, and even more about corporate rules and requirements. In the beginning of December, I also finished the iOS variant of the app (using Xamarin.Forms) – which is sadly set to be not launched for the moment (mostly because of my departing of Telefónica).

During the year, we also received the Windows Phone 8.1 Developer Preview. It removed the ability to cross post on social networks on Windows Phone. As this was one of my most used features, I decided to solve this problem for myself and started to write my own cross posting solution. As some of my followers recognized this, I continued my efforts to a more public and polished version, the result is UniShare for Windows Phone.

ae4dc8ca-2d86-4e36-bf9b-d7c2985a68b1

Since the first WP8.1 Developer Preview, we also have Cortana. Cortana is an awesome piece of software – if you are willing to use your phone with English and US region settings. I tried the UK version as well as the Italian and German version, but was only satisfied with the US one. I truly hope that the other countries will be on par in 2015.

I also updated my very first app ever (Fishing Knots +) to a Windows Phone 8 only version, leaving the old version for WP7 users. Also my NFC Toolkit received some love (and will receive even more in 2015). On top, I started to work on a Universal library for WordPress, which I will also continue to work on in 2015 to make it even better.

One of my saddest geek moments was when the screen of my Intel developer Ultrabook broke shorty before Christmas. As I need to be able working while on the go, I needed a replacement. I found it in the ASUS TP300L Transformer Flipbook, which is an awesome piece of an Ultrabook. On top, Santa (aka my wife) gifted me an HP Stream 7 tablet, that perfectly fits my needs for a tablet use (reading, surfing, playing some games). And so this part also turned well.

The most significant thing happened in September, when I read about a job as a C# Junior developer in Switzerland. I am truly happy about the fact I got this job (read more on it here), and already learned some new things in WPF. Currently, I am also working on my first WPF application, that is a practicing project for my new job I am going to start next year. Which leads me to the end of this short review.

2014 was a year with ups and downs like every year. I had some trouble in “first world” that we were able to solve as family (and friends), but made some good success in my geek and dev world. I am looking forward to 2015, where I am starting a new chapter in my dev story (with becoming a full time developer). But there are also some nice side projects, like maybe porting some apps to Android as well as the Internet of Things, which I am looking forward to dive in deeper. And of course, like any other MS fan, I am looking forward to the next evolutions of Windows 10!

What are you all looking for? How was your 2014? Feel free to comment below.

158340786

Happy New Year, everyone!

Goodbye Telefónica (Germany), Hello ShareCommService (Switzerland)

Yes, you read that right. Today was my last work day at Telefónica, where I worked since June 2007. During that time, I learned a lot about how good customer service should be, and even more about mobile networks and mobile devices (phones, tablets and more). During that time, I also started my dev story in my spare time – all because there was not a single fishing knots application available for Windows Phone (read more here).

This lead to get recognized also within Telefónica as a developer, and so I was asked to concept and develop the application Friends & You (nope, you can’t download it as it is an internal app).  I learned a lot about how corporate apps aren’t that easy to concept and build during that time, as well as as how restrictive corporate rules can be. After all, I had a few challenges to complete. Thanks to Friends & You, I was also able to dive into the world of Xamarin, where I learned a lot about the application structures of Android and iOS (which will be helpful for eventually porting some of my Windows Phone apps to those two).

I want to say thanks to my colleagues, you´re awesome! Keep up the great work you´re doing in Customer Service.

Back in September then, I opened up my Twitter app and the first tweet I read was this one:

image

I opened the attached document and read the job description. As an self-thought developer, I first was about to close it and put it aside as “read and done”.

Due to the head count freeze at Telefónica after acquiring e-Plus from KPN, there are no chances to become a real full time developer within Telefónica for the next time. But that is what I want to do. After reopening the document and reading it again, I decided to get in contact with Roman Mueller (who I knew from Twitter already).

We talked about the job itself and the circumstances behind the announcement. After a few talks and a visit in Switzerland, the decision was made. I am starting the next chapter of my developer story in January, moving to Switzerland, where I will add deeper SQL knowledge, WPF and a lot more to my development knowledge.

At this point, I want to thank ShareCommService and especially Roman for all the help I received already to make this all happen and get started.

It is going to be an exciting journey for me (and my family), and we are ready to go.

Happy coding everyone!

My experiences with Xamarin.Forms

Xamarin-logo-hexagon-blue

As I have finished my first iOS app with Xamarin.Forms, I want to share my experience that I made during writing it.

It sounds great. Build the code once, run it on Android, iOS and Windows Phone (8). Xamarin is using the well known PCL to achieve this goal, or a shared asset project.

As I am familiar with the PCL structure, I decided to go with this one. The application I wrote for Telefónica had already their Windows Phone and Android counterpart. My thought was to bring together all three after finishing the iOS app into the Xamarin.Forms project to make it easier to maintain them (that was before it was clear that I would leave, but that’s another story). In the end, I focused on the iOS platform and implementation, leaving the other two out.

It was far easier to start a new iOS app with Xamarin.Forms than in the traditional way. Although there are some XAML gotchas (like Nicolò wrote already on his blog), it is pretty easy to get started with it.

The number one tip I can give you is to wrap everything in a principal Grid and set you ColumnWidth (also if you have only one single Column). This will help you to better position your controls on the page.

One really annoying thing is the missing IntelliSense support when you’re writing your XAML code. What does that mean? It means your will spend a lot of time with trial and error as well as reading the documentation in the beginning.

One thing that is solved in a good way is the access to native functions that are not implemented in the Forms project. Connecting through interfaces and Xamarin’s DependencyService, you can write the implementation you need in the native project and call the function from the Forms PCL. I will cover this in another blog post.

Often, you want/need your app to be designed in a different way (like I had to for Telefónica). Some basic modifications are possible from the XAML part. But the most effective way to achieve this goal for the whole app is to use Custom Renderer. This will be another post’s topic in the coming days.

Overall, Xamarin.Forms is already impressive. But you need to know that you will work with some workarounds when you start. If you are willing to do this, you might be able write a cross platform app in little time.

If you do not want to dig into the documentation or use the techniques I wrote about, Xamarin.Forms might not yet be your starting point for your cross platform app.

One last tip: To make it easier for you, there is the Xamarin.Forms Lab project. This community project has already extended Xamarin.Forms, and is worth a look and a second thought if you truly want to do a cross platform app with Xamarin.

Happy coding, everyone!

How to use WordPress to display remote notifications in your Windows Phone app

Sometimes, we need to display information to our users on demand. The easiest way is to do this in our app via a remote notification service.

If you have a WordPress blog, my solution may also be helpful for you.

I am using a page that is not linked anywhere in my blog to display the message. To add a new page, go to your WordPress Dashboard and hover over “Pages” and click on “Add New”.

image

Fill in the title and your notification and publish the page. Before closing your browser, save/remember the id of the page, we will need it later.

image

The next step is to download my WordPress Universal library, which can be downloaded right here from my Github. You can add the project directly to your solution or build it and then reference the library you will find in the bin folder of the WordPress Universal project folder. If you want to learn more about the library, visit http://bit.ly/WordPressUniversal.

Now that we have everything in place, let’s add the code that does the magic for us:

        public async void ShowNotification()
        {
            //initialize the client and load the list of pages from your blog
            wpClient = new WordPressClient();
            var pages = await wpClient.GetPostList("msicc.net", WordPressUniversal.Models.PostType.page, WordPressUniversal.Models.PostStatus.publish, 20, 0);

            //select the notification page
            var notificationContentPage = from p in pages.posts_list where p.id == 4248 select p;

            //check if has content
            if (!String.IsNullOrEmpty(notificationContentPage.FirstOrDefault().content))
            {
                //convert parapgraphs into NewLines
                //you might have more HTML content in there which needs to be converted
                string content = notificationContentPage.FirstOrDefault().content.Replace("

", string.Empty).Replace("

", "\n\n"); //App.SettingsStore = ApplicationData.Current.LocalSettings //change this to your appropriate storage like IsolatedStorage etc. //this displays the message only once to our users, but keeps the door open for an easy update mechanism if (App.SettingsStore.LastNotificationContent != content) { MessageBoxResult result = MessageBox.Show(content, notificationContentPage.FirstOrDefault().title, MessageBoxButton.OK); switch (result) { //the button click saves the actual message case MessageBoxResult.OK: App.SettingsStore.LastNotificationContent = content; break; //BackButtonPress does this as well case MessageBoxResult.None: App.SettingsStore.LastNotificationContent = content; break; } } } }

What does this code do? First, it fetches all pages from our WordPress blog. Then, we are selecting the page we created via its id. If your WordPress blog does not show you the id in the url of the page, set a BreakPoint at the “var notificationContentPage = …” line. you will then easily be able to get the id:

image

Naturally, the returned content is HTML formatted. To remove the paragraph tags and but respect their function, we are using a simple String.Replace pattern. You may have more HTML tags in your message that needs to be removed or converted.

To generate an easy way to display the message only once but keep it open for updates, we are saving the converted message locally. In this case, I used the LocalSettings of my Windows Phone 8.1 app. I am using the MessageBoxResult to make the method saving the message either at the point of the OK click as well as on BackButtonPress.

This is how the above generated WordPress Page looks as a Notification:

wp_ss_20141127_0001

As my WordPress Universal library works cross platform for C# apps, you should be able to adapt this for your Windows 8.1 or  Xamarin apps as well.

As always, I hope this is helpful for some of you.

Happy coding!

Editorial: We are all humans (why racism sucks)

We_Are_The_World

Last night, the news were full of the decision of the grand jury in Ferguson (USA) (because of a young black man that got killed by a white police officer) and the following riots.  A lot of discussions took place, be it at work or also on social media. The common bottom line: racism just sucks. I normally avoid such harsh words or decorate them with an asterisk, but today I need to write it out.

What is racism?

There are two common definitions for racism:

  • the prejudice that members of one race are intrinsically superior to members of other races
  • discriminatory or abusive behavior towards members of another race

What I learned is that both are closely tied together. If one thinks that his race is superior, it leads to bad behavior against those from the other race.

My Family and me are experiencing this quite often. Being an Italian family living in Germany, we often got discriminated because of this. I do not want to got to deep into details, because drilling into old (and not so old) wounds isn’t helpful for the message of this post. The only comment I am leaving: it can be quite challenging to overcome this.

During our history, a lot of racism took place. Be it the Roman empire or the Spanish conquistadors, the early Americans or the Germans (this could be an endless list): they all have behave racist. This needs to come to an end. No race on this planet is truly superior in all aspects to all others. All races have their own aspect where they are superior to others. But instead of discriminating the other race and search for the point where your race is better than mine, we should look into where we can learn from each other.

We are all strangers here, no matter where we are born or live.

I like how my wife thinks about this:

We are all strangers here, no matter where we are born or live. We don’t own this planet. We are only guests that are tolerated on this planet. Instead of being violent to each other because of different races, we should more collaborate to continue being tolerated at this planet.

She is right. It does not make any sense that we fight against each other because of the color of our skin, our language, our nationality or religion. It does not make any sense to be abusive against each other because a few people scream out loud that they think they are better because of their race. In fact, they are screaming out that they think to be better than everyone, even those of their own race. There will always be people that follow blindly just because they want to live as convenient as possible. But it is up to everyone of us to change that.

I can’t help, but at this point of writing I feel in the mood for “We are the world”. One of the lines is “We can’t go on pretending day by day that someone somewhere will soon make a change.”

Everyone is responsible for his/her behavior.  Everyone is responsible to NOT be a racist.

Everyone is responsible to be a human.

 

 

Image credit: University of California

 

How to capture a photo in your Windows Phone 8.1 Runtime app – Part III: capturing and saving the photo

This is the third and last post of this series. In the first two posts I showed you how to start the preview of MediaCapture and some modifications we can apply to it. In this post, we are finally capturing and saving the photo – including the modifications we made before.

The easiest way – capture as is:

The easiest way to capture the photo is to use MediaCapture’s CapturePhotoToStorageFileAsync() method. This method shows you how to do it:

            //declare image format
            ImageEncodingProperties format = ImageEncodingProperties.CreateJpeg();

            //generate file in local folder:
            StorageFile capturefile = await ApplicationData.Current.LocalFolder.CreateFileAsync("photo_" + DateTime.Now.Ticks.ToString(), CreationCollisionOption.ReplaceExisting);

            ////take & save photo
            await captureManager.CapturePhotoToStorageFileAsync(format, capturefile);

            //show captured photo
            BitmapImage img = new BitmapImage(new Uri(capturefile.Path));
            takenImage.Source = img;
            takenImage.Visibility = Visibility.Visible;

This way however does not respect any modifications we made to the preview. The only thing that gets respected is the camera device we are using.

Respecting rotation in the captured photo:

In our ongoing sample, we are using a 90 degree rotation to display the preview element in portrait mode. Naturally, we want to port over this orientation in our captured image.

There are two ways to achieve this. We could capture the photo to a WriteableBitmap and manipulate it, or we could manipulate the image stream directly with the BitmapDecoder and  BitmapEncoder classes. We will do the latter one.

First, we need to open an InMemoryRandomAccessStream for our the captured photo. We are capturing the photo to the stream with MediaCapture’s CapturePhotoToStreamAsync() method, specifing the stream name and the image format.

The next step is to decode the stream with our BitmapDecoder. If we are performing only rotation, we can directly re-encode the InMemoryRandomAccessStream we are using. Rotating the captured photo is very simple with just setting the BitmapTransform.Rotation property to be rotated by 90 degrees, pretty much as easy as rotating the preview.

The last steps are generating a file in the storage, followed by copying the transcoded image stream into the file stream. Here is the complete code that does all this:

            //declare string for filename
            string captureFileName = string.Empty;
            //declare image format
            ImageEncodingProperties format = ImageEncodingProperties.CreateJpeg();

            //rotate and save the image
            using (var imageStream = new InMemoryRandomAccessStream())
            {
                //generate stream from MediaCapture
                await captureManager.CapturePhotoToStreamAsync(format, imageStream);

                //create decoder and encoder
                BitmapDecoder dec = await BitmapDecoder.CreateAsync(imageStream);
                BitmapEncoder enc = await BitmapEncoder.CreateForTranscodingAsync(imageStream, dec);

                //roate the image
                enc.BitmapTransform.Rotation = BitmapRotation.Clockwise90Degrees;

                //write changes to the image stream
                await enc.FlushAsync();

                //save the image
                StorageFolder folder = KnownFolders.SavedPictures;
                StorageFile capturefile = await folder.CreateFileAsync("photo_" + DateTime.Now.Ticks.ToString() + ".jpg", CreationCollisionOption.ReplaceExisting);
                captureFileName = capturefile.Name;

                //store stream in file
                using (var fileStream = await capturefile.OpenStreamForWriteAsync())
                {
                    try
                    {
                        //because of using statement stream will be closed automatically after copying finished
                        await RandomAccessStream.CopyAsync(imageStream, fileStream.AsOutputStream());
                    }
                    catch 
                    {

                    }
                }
            }

Of course, we need to stop the preview after we captured the photo. It also makes all sense to load the saved image and display it to the user. This is the code to stop the preview:

        private async void CleanCapture()
        {

            if (captureManager != null)
            {
                if (isPreviewing == true)
                {
                    await captureManager.StopPreviewAsync();
                    isPreviewing = false;
                }
                captureManager.Dispose();

                previewElement.Source = null;
                previewElement.Visibility = Visibility.Collapsed;
                takenImage.Source = null;
                takenImage.Visibility = Visibility.Collapsed;
                captureButton.Content = "capture";
            }

        }

The result of above mentioned code (screenshot of preview left, captured photo right):

16by9Photo

Cropping the captured photo

Not all Windows Phone devices have an aspect ratio of 16:9. In fact, most devices in the market have an aspect ratio of 15:9, due to the fact that they are WVGA or WXGA devices (I talked a bit about this already in my second post). If we are just capturing the photo with the method above, we will have the same black bands in our image as we have in our preview. To get around this and capture a photo that has a true 15:9 resolution (makes sense for photos that get reused in apps, but less for real life photos), additional code is needed.

As with getting the right camera solution, I generated an Enumeration that holds all possible values as well as a helper method to detect which aspect ratio the currently used device has:

        public enum DisplayAspectRatio
        {
            Unknown = -1,

            FifteenByNine = 0,

            SixteenByNine = 1
        }

        private DisplayAspectRatio GetDisplayAspectRatio()
        {
            DisplayAspectRatio result = DisplayAspectRatio.Unknown;

            //WP8.1 uses logical pixel dimensions, we need to convert this to raw pixel dimensions
            double logicalPixelWidth = Windows.UI.Xaml.Window.Current.Bounds.Width;
            double logicalPixelHeight = Windows.UI.Xaml.Window.Current.Bounds.Height;

            double rawPerViewPixels = DisplayInformation.GetForCurrentView().RawPixelsPerViewPixel;
            double rawPixelHeight = logicalPixelHeight * rawPerViewPixels;
            double rawPixelWidth = logicalPixelWidth * rawPerViewPixels;

            //calculate and return screen format
            double relation = Math.Max(rawPixelWidth, rawPixelHeight) / Math.Min(rawPixelWidth, rawPixelHeight);
            if (Math.Abs(relation - (15.0 / 9.0)) < 0.01)
            {
                result = DisplayAspectRatio.FifteenByNine;
            }
            else if (Math.Abs(relation - (16.0 / 9.0)) < 0.01)
            {
                result = DisplayAspectRatio.SixteenByNine;
            }

            return result;
        }

In Windows Phone 8.1, all Elements use logical pixel size. To get the values that most of us are used to, we need to calculate the raw pixels from the logical pixels. After that, we use the same math operations I used already for detecting the ratio of the camera resolution (see post 2). I tried to calculate the values with the logical pixels as well, but this ended up in some strange rounding behavior and not the results I wanted. That’s why I use the raw pixel sizes.

Before we continue with capturing the photo, we are going to add a border that is displayed and shows the area which is captured to the user in XAML:

            

When we are cropping our photo, we need to treaten the BitmapEncoder and the BitmapDecoder separately. To crop an image, we  need to set the Bounds and the new Width and Height of the photo via the BitmapTransform.Bounds property. We also need to read the PixelData via the GetPixelDataAsync() method, apply the changed Bounds to it and pass them to BitmapEncoder via the SetPixelData() method.

At the end, we are flushing the changed stream data directly into the file stream of our StorageFile. Here is how:

            //declare string for filename
            string captureFileName = string.Empty;
            //declare image format
            ImageEncodingProperties format = ImageEncodingProperties.CreateJpeg();

            using (var imageStream = new InMemoryRandomAccessStream())
            {
                //generate stream from MediaCapture
                await captureManager.CapturePhotoToStreamAsync(format, imageStream);

                //create decoder and transform
                BitmapDecoder dec = await BitmapDecoder.CreateAsync(imageStream);
                BitmapTransform transform = new BitmapTransform();

                //roate the image
                transform.Rotation = BitmapRotation.Clockwise90Degrees;
                transform.Bounds = GetFifteenByNineBounds();

                //get the conversion data that we need to save the cropped and rotated image
                BitmapPixelFormat pixelFormat = dec.BitmapPixelFormat;
                BitmapAlphaMode alpha = dec.BitmapAlphaMode;

                //read the PixelData
                PixelDataProvider pixelProvider = await dec.GetPixelDataAsync(
                    pixelFormat,
                    alpha,
                    transform,
                    ExifOrientationMode.RespectExifOrientation,
                    ColorManagementMode.ColorManageToSRgb
                    );
                byte[] pixels = pixelProvider.DetachPixelData();

                //generate the file
                StorageFolder folder = KnownFolders.SavedPictures;
                StorageFile capturefile = await folder.CreateFileAsync("photo_" + DateTime.Now.Ticks.ToString() + ".jpg", CreationCollisionOption.ReplaceExisting);
                captureFileName = capturefile.Name;

                //writing directly into the file stream
                using (IRandomAccessStream convertedImageStream = await capturefile.OpenAsync(FileAccessMode.ReadWrite))
                {
                    //write changes to the BitmapEncoder
                    BitmapEncoder enc = await BitmapEncoder.CreateAsync(BitmapEncoder.JpegEncoderId, convertedImageStream);
                    enc.SetPixelData(
                        pixelFormat,
                        alpha,
                        transform.Bounds.Width,
                        transform.Bounds.Height,
                        dec.DpiX,
                        dec.DpiY,
                        pixels
                        );

                    await enc.FlushAsync();
                }
            }

You may have notice the GetFifteenByNineBounds() method in the above code. As we need to calculate some values for cropping the image, I decided to separate them. They are not only providing values for the image to be cropped, but also size values for our earlier added Border that is used in my sample (download link at the end of the project) to show the size that the photo will have after our cropping (which is an automatic process in our case,). Here is the code:

        private BitmapBounds GetFifteenByNineBounds()
        {
            BitmapBounds bounds = new BitmapBounds();

            //image size is raw pixels, so we need also here raw pixels
            double logicalPixelWidth = Windows.UI.Xaml.Window.Current.Bounds.Width;
            double logicalPixelHeight = Windows.UI.Xaml.Window.Current.Bounds.Height;

            double rawPerViewPixels = DisplayInformation.GetForCurrentView().RawPixelsPerViewPixel;
            double rawPixelHeight = logicalPixelHeight * rawPerViewPixels;
            double rawPixelWidth = logicalPixelWidth * rawPerViewPixels;

            //calculate scale factor of UniformToFill Height (remember, we rotated the preview)
            double scaleFactorVisualHeight = maxResolution().Width / rawPixelHeight;

            //calculate the visual Width
            //(because UniFormToFill scaled the previewElement Width down to match the previewElement Height)
            double visualWidth = maxResolution().Height / scaleFactorVisualHeight;
            
            //calculate cropping area for 15:9
            uint scaledBoundsWidth = maxResolution().Height;
            uint scaledBoundsHeight = (scaledBoundsWidth / 9) * 15;

            //we are starting at the top of the image
            bounds.Y = 0;
            //cropping the image width
            bounds.X = 0;
            bounds.Height = scaledBoundsHeight;
            bounds.Width = scaledBoundsWidth;

            //set finalPhotoAreaBorder values that shows the user the area that is captured
            finalPhotoAreaBorder.Width = (scaledBoundsWidth / scaleFactorVisualHeight) / rawPerViewPixels;
            finalPhotoAreaBorder.Height = (scaledBoundsHeight / scaleFactorVisualHeight) / rawPerViewPixels;
            finalPhotoAreaBorder.Margin = new Thickness(
                                            Math.Floor(((rawPixelWidth - visualWidth) / 2) / rawPerViewPixels), 
                                            0,
                                            Math.Floor(((rawPixelWidth - visualWidth) / 2) / rawPerViewPixels), 
                                            0);
            finalPhotoAreaBorder.Visibility = Visibility.Visible;

            return bounds;
        }

Again, we need to apply raw pixels to achieve the best results here (I just pasted those lines in for this sample). To calculate the correct values for our Border, we need the scale factor between the screen and the preview resolution we used (which is the scaleFactorVisualHeight double).  Before we’re calculating the border values, we are setting the Width to resolution’s Height (we rotated, remember?) and calculate the matching 15:9 Height.

The Border values are based on the Width and Height of the cropped image, but scaled down by scaleFactorVisualHeight’s value and converted in raw pixel. The Margin positions the border accordingly on top of the preview element.

This is the result of above mentioned code (screenshot of preview left, captured photo right):

15by9Photo

That’s all you need to know to get started with basic photo capturing from within your Windows Phone 8.1 Runtime app. Of course, there are also other modifications that you can apply, and I mentioned already most of the classes that lead you to the matching methods and properties (click on the links to get to the documentation)

By the way, most of the code can be adapted in a Windows 8.1 app as well (with some differences, of course).

Sample project

As promised, you can download the sample here. It contains all code snippets I showed you and is able to run as you build and deploy it.

As always, feedback is welcome and I hope this post is helpful for some of  you.

Until the next time, happy coding!

How to capture a photo in your Windows Phone 8.1 Runtime app-Part II: some common modifications

Like promised in my first post about photo capturing, I will provide some common modification scenarios when using the MediaCapture API. This is what this post is about.

Choosing a camera

If you read my first post, you probably remember that the MediaCapture API automatically selected the front camera of my Lumia 1020. Like often, we have to write some additional code to switch between the cameras.

The cameras are listed in the Panels in the Windows.Devices.Enumeration Namespace. This namespace contains all “devices” that are connected to the phone and has different properties to detect the correct panel. We are going to use the DeviceClass to detect all video capture devices (which are normally also the photo capture devices on Windows Phone, but can be different on a PC/Tablet). As we want to switch between Front and Back, we are also detecting the EnclosureLocation. Here is how I implemented it:

        private static async Task<DeviceInformation> GetCameraID(Windows.Devices.Enumeration.Panel camera)
        {
            DeviceInformation deviceID = (await DeviceInformation.FindAllAsync(DeviceClass.VideoCapture))
                .FirstOrDefault(x => x.EnclosureLocation != null && x.EnclosureLocation.Panel == camera);

            return deviceID;
        }

To make this Task actually useful, we are also updating the InitializePreview() method from the first part:

        private async void InitializePreview()
        {
            captureManager = new MediaCapture();

            var cameraID = await GetCameraID(Windows.Devices.Enumeration.Panel.Back);

            await captureManager.InitializeAsync(new MediaCaptureInitializationSettings
            {
                StreamingCaptureMode = StreamingCaptureMode.Video,
                PhotoCaptureSource = PhotoCaptureSource.Photo,
                AudioDeviceId = string.Empty,
                VideoDeviceId = cameraID.Id,
            });

            StartPreview();
        }

In this case, we  selected the back camera. To make the MediaCapture API actually use this device, we need to generate a new instance of MediaCaptureInitializationSettings, where we select the cameras Id as VideDeviceId. If you now start capturing, this is an exemplary result:

wp_ss_20141115_0001

Rotating the preview

However, this not quite satisfying, because the preview automatically uses the landscape orientation. Luckily, this can be changed with just one single line of code (that needs to be added before actually starting the preview):

captureManager.SetPreviewRotation(VideoRotation.Clockwise90Degrees);

Now the result looks like this:

wp_ss_20141115_0002

Note: the black bands on both sides may happen due to the fact that most devices have a 15:9 ratio (WXGA, WVGA). On Devices like the Lumia 830 or 930, which have a 16:9 ratio, the preview will use the full screen in portrait mode. I tried a lot of things to get rid of those bands already, sadly without success. Once I found a proper solution, I will write another blog post and link it here on how to do it (any tips are welcome).

Limiting resolution

Sometimes, we need to limit resolutions (for example resolution limits on other parts in our app). This is possible by detecting the supported solutions and matching them to the screen ratio. As we are using the whole screen for previewing, of course we want to get our captured photo to use the same space, too.

My way to do this is to calculate the screen ratio, and return an enumeration value. This is the easiest way, and can be easily used in the further code to limit the resolution. The enumeration looks like this:

public enum CameraResolutionFormat
{
    Unknown = -1,

    FourByThree = 0,

    SixteenByNine = 1
}

And this is my helper to match the screen format (which is always wide screen on Windows Phone):

        private CameraResolutionFormat MatchScreenFormat(Size resolution)
        {
            CameraResolutionFormat result = CameraResolutionFormat.Unknown;

            double relation = Math.Max(resolution.Width, resolution.Height) / Math.Min(resolution.Width, resolution.Height);
            if (Math.Abs(relation - (4.0 / 3.0)) < 0.01)
            {
                result = CameraResolutionFormat.FourByThree;
            }
            else if (Math.Abs(relation - (16.0 / 9.0)) < 0.01)
            {
                result = CameraResolutionFormat.SixteenByNine;
            }

            return result;
        }

We could easily extend the calculation to 15:9, too. However, as the most camera resolutions are 4:3 or 16:9, this makes no sense in our use case (as 15:9 is still a widescreen format). The next thing we need to add is another helper to get the highest possible resolution for our photo and the preview. We are achieving this by generating a new object of type VideoEncodingProperties:

        private VideoEncodingProperties maxResolution()
        {
            VideoEncodingProperties resolutionMax = null;

            //get all photo properties
            var resolutions = captureManager.VideoDeviceController.GetAvailableMediaStreamProperties(MediaStreamType.Photo);

            //generate new list to work with
            List<VideoEncodingProperties> vidProps = new List<VideoEncodingProperties>();

            //add only those properties that are 16:9 to our own list
            for (var i = 0; i < resolutions.Count; i++)
            {
                VideoEncodingProperties res = (VideoEncodingProperties)resolutions[i];

                if (MatchScreenFormat(new Size(res.Width, res.Height)) != CameraResolutionFormat.FourByThree)
                {
                    vidProps.Add(res);
                }
            }

            //order the list, and select the highest resolution that fits our limit
            if (vidProps.Count != 0)
            {
                vidProps = vidProps.OrderByDescending(r => r.Width).ToList();

                resolutionMax = vidProps.Where(r => r.Width < 2600).First();                
            }

            return resolutionMax;
        }

What I am doing here: I read all available VideoEncodingProperties for the MediaStreamType Photo. As I mentioned before, we need only wide screen resolution for Windows Phone, that’s why I add only those that have not a 4:3 ratio to my list. Then I am using LINQ to order the list and select the highest resolution from that list.

Using this helper is also very easy, done with one line of code before starting the preview and best also before rotating the preview:

await captureManager.VideoDeviceController.SetMediaStreamPropertiesAsync(MediaStreamType.Photo, maxResolution());

This way, we are able to respect any resolution limits that we might face while developing our app, while keeping the photo quality as high as possible.

        private CameraResolutionFormat MatchScreenFormat(Size resolution)
        {
            CameraResolutionFormat result = CameraResolutionFormat.Unknown;

            double relation = Math.Max(resolution.Width, resolution.Height) / Math.Min(resolution.Width, resolution.Height);
            if (Math.Abs(relation - (4.0 / 3.0)) < 0.01)
            {
                result = CameraResolutionFormat.FourByThree;
            }
            else if (Math.Abs(relation - (16.0 / 9.0)) < 0.01)
            {
                result = CameraResolutionFormat.SixteenByNine;
            }

            return result;
        }

Focus

Focusing on objects in your photo is quite important. Sadly, it seems that currently we are not able to have a one solution fits all devices solution for using AutoFocus. I experimented a lot with it, and finally I got aware of known issues with Nokia drivers and the new MediaCapture API’s, as described here. Microsoft is working with Nokia (or their devices department) to fix this problem.

The only solution I got working for an Runtime app is to use manual focus. All other attempts gave me one Exception after the other, be it on cancelling the preview or be it on while previewing itself.  I’ll write another post on how to use the AutoFocus as soon as it is working like it should. In the meantime, here is my solution for manual focusing.

First, add a Slider control in your XAML page:

<Slider x:Name="FocusValueSlider" Maximum="1000" Minimum="0" Grid.Row="0" Margin="12,0,15,0" Header="adjust focus:" ValueChanged="FocusValueSlider_ValueChanged" Value="500" SmallChange="25" LargeChange="100" ></Slider>

Notice that as with any slider, you need to follow the order: Set Maximum first, then Minimum. If you do not, you will likely get an unusable Slider in return. If the VideoDeviceController.Focus property would work (seems like it is also affected by the above mentioned driver problems), we could read and set the Slider values from its MediaDeviceControl.Capabilities property. I tried to read them at any stage of previewing, but their values are always 0.0, null and false. The range up to 1000 fits in very well on all devices I tested (Lumia 920, 930 and 1020).

Ok, enough of whining. Let’s have a look at my solution. First, we need to generate a small helper that allows us to adjust the focus based on the slider values:

        private async void SetFocus(uint? focusValue = null)
        {
            //try catch used to avoid app crash at startup when no CaptureElement is active
            try
            {
                //setting default value
                if (!focusValue.HasValue)
                {
                    focusValue = 500;
                }

                //check if the devices camera supports focus control
                if (captureManager.VideoDeviceController.FocusControl.Supported)
                {
                    //disable flash assist for focus control
                    captureManager.VideoDeviceController.FlashControl.AssistantLightEnabled = false;

                    //configure the FocusControl to manual mode
                    captureManager.VideoDeviceController.FocusControl.Configure(new FocusSettings() { Mode = FocusMode.Manual, Value = focusValue, DisableDriverFallback = true });
                    //update the focus on our MediaCapture
                    await captureManager.VideoDeviceController.FocusControl.FocusAsync();
                }
            }
            catch { }
        }

This methods checks if the current camera supports Focus, and sets its value according to the slider. The AssistantLight is disabled in this case. Its default is enabled (true).

To add the possibility to adjust the focus, we need to configure our own FocusSettings that tell the camera that we are focusing manually based on the slider’s value. Finally, we need to perform the focusing action by calling the FocusControl’s FocusAsync method.

The next step is to hook up to changes in the slider values within the FocusValueSlider_ValueChanged event:

        private void FocusValueSlider_ValueChanged(object sender, RangeBaseValueChangedEventArgs e)
        {
            try
            {
                //convert double e.NewValue to uint and call SetFocus()
                uint focus = Convert.ToUInt32(e.NewValue);
                SetFocus(focus);
            }
            catch 
            {
                
            }
        }

Now every move of the slider will change the focus of the preview and of course also of the captured photo (which we will learn more about in the third post of this series).  To initialize our Focus correctly with the value of 500 we set in XAML, just call SetFocus(); before you start the preview. Here is the result:

focus screenshot

 

Disclaimer: I do not know if this follows best practices, but it works. If you have feedback for the above mentioned code snippets, feel free to leave a comment below.

In the third and last post I’ll show you how to save the images (also in different folders or only within the app).

Until then, happy coding!