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Developers Urged to Follow Best Practices with Windows 8 Live Tiles

There are a number of techniques and challenges developers face when building Windows 8 live tiles. Ben Dewey, senior software consultant at Tallan, Inc. explored how to effectively build live tiles during a presentation Tuesday at the Visual Studio Live! conference in Chicago. Titled "Make Your App Alive with Tiles and Notifications."

In the session, Dewey showed how developers can communicate with users via Windows 8 tiles and notifications and covered the implementation of live tiles, secondary tiles, toasts, badges and notifications.

Dewey praised both the design and philosophy driving the new tile architecture, describing Windows 8 tiles and notifications as "distinctive."

"The ability to engage the user outside of your running application is a feature that no other platform offers in the same way," Dewey said.

The new functionality provides opportunities to enhance interaction and make apps and data accessible to users. But Dewey urged developers to be careful how they use the capability and to hew to best practices defined by Microsoft.

At one point during his presentation, Dewey warned attendees to avoid behaviors -- like constantly updating tiles -- that can annoy or drive away users. In fact, Microsoft's documentation addresses this concern explicitly, stating: "If users don't like your tile, they might place it at the end of Start or unpin it altogether, turn off updates, or even uninstall your app."

Dewey said developers he talks to often complain about not having better control over when and how the tile gets updated. "Remember that periodic updates only update at a minimum of 30 minutes," Dewey said. "I tend to side with Microsoft on this point because I value my battery life and system resources above tile updates. Additionally, I haven't heard any challenges from the field that represent a valid case to increase this frequency."

Dewey also noted that debugging live tiles is a source of frequent complaint from developers. For instance, if a Web site providing live tile XML data goes down, there is no way to have the tile fall back to a default state or failover to another XML source.

"There are a number of reasons for a tile to fail to update. The common issues include malformed XML, incorrect encoding and image sizes above 150KB," Dewey said, adding. "When a tile fails to update, an error will be added to the EventLog, but few details are provided to resolve the issue."

Dewey pointed developers to a helpful blog post that describes tips and tricks for debugging tile updates.

Asked if there were any common mistakes that developers tend to make when getting familiar with Windows 8 UI elements like tiles, badges and toasts, Dewey named several.

"There are a few common mistakes when working with tiles. The first one is with regard to philosophy and guidance. Teams often question when it is appropriate to use toast rather than tiles," he said, referring developers to Microsoft's Guidelines and Checklist documents regarding tiles and toast.

"The other mistake that I see people make is regarding their eagerness to jump into push notifications or background tasks when periodic updates would be sufficient," Dewey said, noting that Windows devices can only have seven apps running background tasks. "In many scenarios, periodic or local updates can serve the needs for most applications without introducing the complexities of background tasks or push notifications."

Dewey urged developers to review the Microsoft documentation, which he called "very comprehensive."

Posted by Michael Desmond on 05/16/2013

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