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Build specifics: New connectivity APIs for Windows 8 Apps

(For cat-free kitchen benches)

It was recently my privilege to go to Microsoft’s Build conference, held in San Francisco. This event serves as Microsoft’s platform for announcing upcoming releases and updates of Microsoft’s Windows, Phone and Xbox ecosystems. The headline act was the upcoming Windows 8.1 update. One of the most exciting announcements regarding this, for me, is the new connectivity APIs

These APIs have been introduced to allow apps greater ability to interact with peripherals, and with apps running on other devices. It allows us to enrich our apps with support for things like barcode scanners, magnetic stripe card readers, and Bluetooth devices like a Fitbit.

There were a number of sessions focused on different connectivity aspects of these APIs. Some of the devices they showed included barcode scanners, and magnetic stripe card readers. They showed both USB and Bluetooth connected versions. Devices like these might allow developers to create an app with which you can do a mobile point-of-sale app, to run on a Surface RT tablet, and distribute it through Microsoft’s App Store. This allows developers to easily monetise these kind of apps for commonly used backend systems, like Dynamics NAV or AX. With Windows Embedded supporting WinRT apps in locked-down operating modes, and Windows 8.1 providing lock-down through Assigned Access, we can now also further enrich devices like kiosks with these peripherals. For instance, we can create a kiosk with an attached barcode scanner to look up prices in a store, using the same codebase as an offline-enabled shopping app which we may distribute to customers.

Wi-Fi Direct can allow us to communicate between devices without relying on an internet connection or an established Wi-Fi network. This is useful for apps like Spotify which can sync your music collection between devices, without eating into your broadband cap. Or what about devices used in mines, building sites, ships or farmlands, where internet access and a managed Wi-Fi network relying on an available and reliable power source can be sporadic.

Of course it’s not all work and no play. We also got to see a USB Missile Launcher, controlled using a Windows 8 app. With a bit more work put in, we can easily create an app that might take advantage of the webcam in your all-in-one on your kitchen bench, to keep the bench cat-free, by launching soft foam-tipped missiles at it!


USB Missile Launcher


The coolest thing, by far, was the Sphero Bluetooth Robotic Ball. This ball contains a host of sensors and motors, and can be controlled using an app on your phone or tablet, using a Bluetooth connection. The app lets you steer the ball around at up to one metre per second, and change the colour of built-in LEDs. Because the communication protocol is open and documented, developers can write their own apps to control these balls. That means we can now exploit them in all kinds of new ways, like creating new games to play with each other. We can even create an app for a business, which might let you guide a visitor through your office building, using a ball running on a rail, or track them using the built-in compass and gyroscopes. 

 Sphero Bluetooth Robotic Ball

Providing these new APIs enables a whole new breed of apps to be written for Windows 8. We can now leverage Microsoft’s trusted marketplace to further monetise hardware developed either by ourselves, or third parties. We can also enrich the capabilities of our own existing apps with this hardware.


Posted by: Hannes Nel, Developer, Enterprise Applications | 01 August 2013

Tags: Windows, Windows 8, Windows 8.1

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