Alongside the expected hype about the subjective greatness of Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, Microsoft used this morning's keynote session at Build to announce the availability of the new Windows Phone SDK 8.0, which includes 90 percent of the features most requested by developers, according to Kevin Gallo, developer platform general manager at Microsoft. The SDK's laundry list of new features is indeed expansive, including new tools for testing and debugging; a Wallet API to help developers make money with their apps; and tools for building and adding such features as voice recognition, VoIP, and camera integration.
Microsoft is betting big on the success of Windows Phone 8, the company's great hope for making an overdue dent in a mobile market dominated by Apple and Google. In order for that bet to pay off, the company knows it needs to win over the developer community, so packing the new SDK with useful tools -- both for developing and monetizing apps -- is a must.
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Windows Phone SDK 8.0 provides a stand-alone IDE using the Visual Studio Express 2012 edition for developers to build Windows Phone 8 applications. It also provides an add-in to the Visual Studio 2012 Professional, Premium, or Ultimate editions.
Microsoft offers a comprehensive breakdown of the SDK's features on the MSDN site.
On the testing side, Microsoft has added app-monitoring capabilities to Windows Phone Application Analysis (formerly Windows Phone Performance Analysis). The feature enables developers to captures key app metrics relevant from a quality perspective, such as startup time, response time, battery drain, and network latency; it then rates the app based on the metrics. The idea here is to help developers ensure the quality and performance of their apps as during the building process, rather than waiting until after the fact.
The SDK's Simulation Dashboard is capable of determining how well an app will respond to real-life conditions, such as when a user has a low-bandwidth connection or if there's an interruption from a reminder or notification. Developers can use that information to adjust their apps as necessary, according to Microsoft.
Also new is the Windows Phone 8 Emulator, which offers support for all three of the resolutions supported by the mobile platforms. The emulator runs on Windows Hyper-V and has the same hardware, software, and configuration requirements.
On the Visual Studio side, Microsoft has injected new debugging capabilities. For example, project designers can choose whether to debug the managed code or native code portions of their apps. They can also now debug Windows 8 apps when launched from a Tile or a push notification in addition to when they are launched directly.
To help developers cash in on their apps, Windows Phone 8 has introduced Wallet, which is capable of collecting coupons, credit cards, and loyalty numbers from a single location; managing payment instruments in the app and music store; and making contactless transactions via NFC (near-field communication). According to Microsoft, the Wallet API offers full programmatic access to Wallet, allowing developers to create, read, update, and delete Wallet items.
The SDK also includes tools to help developers spruce up their apps. For example, developers can create camera apps, aka a lens in Microsoft vernacular. A lens opens from the platform's built-in camera app for users to shoot pictures on the spot. Rich-media lenses support the viewing and editing of digital photos; the lens feature also can be used for scanning bar codes and displaying related data from a local folder.
The SDK includes tools for adding three types of speech components to apps: voice commands, speech recognition, and text-to-speech. Using the voice command functionality, developers can set up their apps so that phrases link to specific app pages, perform specific tasks, or initiate actions. Speech recognition, though similar in concept, is developed in a different way with a different API, according to Microsoft. The key variation between the two: Speech recognition occurs inside an app, while voice commands occur outside.
The SDK also enables developers to build VoIP apps, enabling users to make audio and video calls over their data connections. The apps integrate with the Windows Phone 8 platform such that incoming calls can are displayed with the same phone UI as regular calls.
The Windows Phone SDK 8.0 is available at the Windows Phone website.
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