Mobile DevCon 2004 San Francisco

By Peter Foot on Tuesday, April 6, 2004

This year's Mobility Developer Conference (MDC) was a really exciting event with information on the latest Windows Mobile platform release, new developer tools and technologies coming further down the track and plenty of useful breakout sessions on all aspects of mobility development covering the present as well as the future.

Read on to find out more about the announcements and topics covered.
This year, MDC was co-located with the VSLive and SpeechTek conferences at the relatively new Moscone West centre in San Francisco. As each year passes, the bags given out at these conferences get continually more complex. This year the conference bag was a convertible rucksack/shoulder bag with integrated water bottle and more zippers than you can shake a stick at. I was impressed with the four-way pen that was given out - it had three coloured ballpoint pens and a stylus – nice touch. Also, all attendees received the new version of Pocket Streets for both Pocket PC and Smartphone devices. I’ve installed this on my SPV E200 and found it useful, although I had to turn off most of the points of interest to be able to read the map.

Figure 1: Pocket Streets for Smartphone.

Day One - Bill Gates Keynote
The first day began with the main keynote given by Bill Gates. The full transcript is available online. The focus was on integration and we were shown a wonderful spoof advert illustrating the connected home - everything was wired up together, including a toaster!

Figure 2: Bill Gates keynote (Taken with SPV hence low quality).

Microsoft is acutely aware of the diversity of platforms available and the current complexity of developing for them – Visual Studio has become the single focal point for developers, whether they're writing for mobile devices, desktops, Web applications or toasters (Okay maybe not toasters). There are a number of initiatives to make it easier to target these different platforms with common frameworks/ Obviously .NET is a good example of this. Microsoft’s XNA is another example. It's a games framework covering Xbox, Windows and Windows Mobile. Ori Amiga demonstrated using the Location and Camera features coming in the next Windows Mobile platform, to quickly build a Mobile Blogging application for the Smartphone. This was pretty impressive. Ori then went on to demonstrate how application packaging and distribution will be handled through improved installation and integration into the Mobile2Market catalogue. The Blog client was submitted to a catalogue with a selling price and then from the phone, the operator-branded catalogue could be browsed directly on the device. The application was then downloaded and installed directly and payments were processed through the mobile operator. This was a really compelling demonstration as writing code is only half the battle - in the current tools building an installer (especially for .NET Compact Framework applications) is tricky at best.

Microsoft Speech Server was demonstrated by taking an existing ASP.NET application and speech-enabling it. This simulated an insurance agent's system for dealing with claims and the user's “conversation” with the system was planned out in flowchart form using Visual Studio, of course! A pre-recorded human voice was added for the prompts. It was a good illustration of how a single application's code could be accessed from multiple front-ends.

Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition
Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition was formally announced at the conference. It enhances the current 2003 version by adding support for additional screen orientations and resolutions. These include high-dpi screens with VGA resolution and support for Square and Landscape screen orientations. Microsoft is also relaxing the specification on LCD sizes, so you will see devices with 1.8” to 2.9” for Smartphones and 2.7” to 4.1” on Pocket PCs. These changes will make a whole range of more unusual form factors possible, which may have built-in keyboards or keypads.

Figure 3: Range of possible device formats (these are all Microsoft mock-ups, not real devices).

One of the first devices to make use of these new options was demonstrated by Motorola – the MPx - a Pocket PC Phone edition device running the Second Edition OS. This can be used like a traditional flip phone with a standard Pocket PC portrait screen orientation. But by closing the device and switching a latch, it opens in landscape orientation and can be operated with the full qwerty keyboard. Unfortunately Motorola have yet to announce the availability of this device, although judging by the promotional material handed out, this device release is pretty close.

Motorola gave a breakout talk on their MotoPro initiative. They will be producing a number of devices based on the Windows Mobile platform. Those currently announced were the MPx 100 candy-bar format phone and the MPx flagship Pocket PC device. The presenter clearly hinted that we would be hearing about further devices in due course and gave strong indications of devices running on CDMA networks along with the existing GSM products.

All of the MotoPro devices will be running Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition OS and carry the MPx prefix. MotoPro is essentially Motorola’s superset of Windows Mobile. Motorola will be releasing SDKs for additional functionality, and where possible, they are sticking with existing standard Windows Mobile APIs. For example, rather than build their own Bluetooth stack or go to a third-party, Motorola have chosen to use the standard Microsoft stack and add in additional profiles to extend the functionality.
The MotoPro devices will all feature a 1.3 Megapixel camera with a flash, the same camera is used on both the MPx 100 and MPx devices.

Figure 4: Motorola MPx.

Personal Area Networking
Bluetooth is included in most devices shipped today allowing users to share information in an ad-hoc manner with nearby recipients. One of the issues with Bluetooth development at the moment is that there are a number of different stacks available. Microsoft’s own stack is supported within the SDKs for Pocket PC and Smartphone, however the plug-in nature of the stack means that a number of useful profiles are not included by default – many vendors ship a third-party Bluetooth stack, such as that available from WidComm, which requires a separate SDK investment.

Microsoft’s Bluetooth stack includes Object Exchange (Obex) or Object Push Profile support as standard and this is a way of sending any type of file to another device. Handlers can be plugged in for specific file types. As an example, Pocket Outlook has special handlers for vCard and vCal items.

Although Infrared ports are currently mandatory for device manufacturers, a Microsoft representative indicated this might not be the case going forward as technologies such as Bluetooth supersede IR technology for Personal Area Networking.

Evening at SBC Park
On the Wednesday evening, attendees of VSLive and MDC took over SBC Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. As a Brit, I’m not exactly wild about baseball, and the event seemed rather random with lots of different things going on in various places - strange the baseball field itself played no real part. Activities included having a go in the batting tunnels, an Unreal Tournament deathmatch, live music, a team quiz, access to the team locker rooms. Food was provided in the form of burgers and hotdogs.

Day Two - Mobile Keynote
Thursday’s keynote was Mobile specific. Chris Anderson did an excellent job of stepping in to give the keynote at short notice. All attendees were given a .NET Compact Framework poster illustrating the classes included in v1.0 of the Compact Framework. We were given demonstrations of the development experience today using the .NET Compact Framework and the Mappoint Web service, followed by a look at development “tomorrow” with Visual Studio 2005 preview.

Visual Studio 2005
Although yet to reach Beta, an early preview version of Visual Studio 2005 was made available to all attendees on DVD. This is also available for all MSDN subscribers to download. There are numerous exciting improvements for the mobile developer.

For .NET Compact Framework developers version 2.0 of the framework is available. It introduces a number of controls and classes missing from the initial release. Also, interoperability with native code is greatly improved with COM interop support, improvement marshalling and the ability to host the Compact Framework runtime within another process. There will also be built-in support for Cryptography and Messaging (MSMQ) namespaces.

The Forms designer is improved to offer a true WYSIWYG experience with a device skin applied that can be rotated in the case of Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition devices. Also, the form designer supports docking your controls so that you can more easily support form designs which gracefully layout on multiple screen orientations.

Figure 5: Visual Studio 2005 preview.

A new emulator technology which emulates the ARM instruction set (as used on the actual devices themselves) will be included. This includes the ability to save snapshots of the emulator memory to disk, hopefully making it easier for us developers to produce demonstrations for application in development.

Visual Studio 2005 will allow native code development for devices – currently you have to use the separate eVC++ product to do this and now Visual Studio will become the de-facto IDE for all types of development projects.

Microsoft MapPoint Location Server
For enterprises, Microsoft has recently released its Location Server product. This works in conjunction with the existing Mappoint mapping Web services and allows enterprises to support and keep track of users and provide the capability to find nearby users, produce routes add pushpins to locations and send notifications. The system is fully programmable through an SDK and uses standard components such as SQL Server to store the data.

Hands on Labs
There were three hands-on labs set up with development tools and devices where attendees could drop in and try out a number of development tasks. These included modifying applications to gracefully support orientation changes between Portrait and Landscape, and develop location aware applications. These were a mixture of .NET Compact Framework (Visual Studio 2003) and native code (eVC++) tasks.

The exhibition included exhibitors for MDC and VSLive and SpeechTek conferences. A few device manufacturers were offering device flashing on-site. Motorola was offering a Windows Mobile 2003 update for MPx 200 phone users, HP and Dell were upgrading selected models to a Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition Beta release. I decided against this with my iPaq 2210 as the beta ROM does not support Bluetooth at all, which would pretty much cripple the device which I use daily.

Ask the MVPs
During the conference, a number of Windows Embedded and Mobile Device MVPs were on hand to answer questions. There was also time set aside for this in the dining area on Thursday.

Midnight Madness
A large raffle of Motorola MPx 200 phones and other items provided by conference sponsors also took place that day. Also a number of “victims” from the audience were given makeovers to turn them from geek to chic. Even Kevin Lisota got the makeover treatment, though for someone who has been known to dress as Batman in public he was given a fairly mainstream smart-casual look. It didn’t really live up to the name as there was little madness and it didn’t go on until midnight.

Day Three - SQL Keynote
The final keynote session concentrated on SQL Server and business intelligence. We were given a demonstration of SQL Reporting Services (available now for SQL 2000) and more detail of SQL 2005 (formerly known by its codename Yukon). Many enterprise mobile applications will talk to a backend server and these reporting services are tightly integrated directly with the database and the designer uses Visual Studio. Hopefully you can see the pattern emerging through the whole of this conference, Visual Studio is where it all happens!

SQL Server Mobile
The next generation of SQL Server CE will be known as SQL Server Mobile. This will run on a greater range of devices including Smartphone and Tablet PC. This version (effectively version 3.0 of the SQL Server CE product) supports multiple user access, stored proceedures and tight integration with Visual Studio so that you can connect to a SQL Mobile server remotely and populate it using desktop tools.
As a quick disclaimer, I am a member of the board and have written a number of the code libraries so I’m somewhat biased, but I felt this was a really beneficial session for all developers who already use or are intending to use the .NET Compact Framework. have created a framework on top of the firm foundation of .NET Compact Framework v1.0 – this makes a large portion of the v2.0 Compact Framework functionality available to use today. The great thing is, all the libraries are free and the source code is provided. Maarten Struys and Alex Feinman gave a detailed presentation culminating in a real life lending-library application using a whole range of features from barcode scanning, Web services and forms controls.

Power Management
This is a topic which is critical to successful mobile device development. Although device specifications improve at an incredible rate, the evolution of battery technology is much slower, meaning we have to be ever more conscious of power conservation when designing applications. The platform has been designed to have a very low power consumption when idle and this was demonstrated with a sample application on an MPx 200 device wired up to a meter (don’t try this at home as this may invalidate your warranty Wink ). We were shown how a badly behaving application failed to stop when the device was idle and continued to utilise the processor, hence drawing more power. Whenever your application is inactive you need to ensure that it stops processing animations and other processor-intensive tasks. We were also given some details on how future devices will be designed to improve power consumption – both Smartphone and Pocket PC devices will, in the future, use mainly flash storage and have only modest RAM on the device. When not being read or written to, flash storage requires no power to hold its data, however RAM requires a constant power source, even when idle, to maintain data. Microsoft is therefore suggesting that devices should avoid having more than 32Mb of RAM, instead opting for much larger areas of Flash memory. A side effect of this is that data won't be lost if the battery dies as all your vital data will be held in Flash. This is how existing Smartphones work, but the same will be true of future Pocket PCs.

An interesting question which came up during this session was support for alternative power and charging methods – Microsoft has no particular restrictions on device manufacturers so they could implement any type of power source as long as it can provide a minimum duration of usage. This means manufacturers could conceivably integrate solar recharging or even fuel cell technology as long as it was able to provide a specific standby time.

Windows Mobile's Future
Many of the sessions covered the newly released Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition, however, we were also told a number of details about the next major release, further into the future. A key direction is tighter convergence between the Smartphone and Pocket PC form factors. There are quite a number of differences between these two platforms, although they are both based on the same operating system and share a large number of APIs.

Microsoft supports OEMs adding their own secondary displays to units - for example those placed on the outside of clamshell device. There are no specific APIs for using such a screen and it will be up to the manufacturer to provide an API which software developers can hook into. However, Microsoft will provide guidelines on issues such as the icons used. Microsoft is also supportive of separate pendant devices which provide remote control functionality and external screens for devices. We were shown some very simple mock-ups of a keychain or pendant in line with a headset, such as you might find on high level personal stereos.
One of these convergence features will be a unified today/home-screen architecture for all Windows Mobile devices. Secondly, there will be a single installer architecture combining the best aspects of the existing Pocket PC and Smartphone approaches.

The platform will have a single point of catching events on the device called the Notifications Broker. This will be a single point of interaction for power, messaging, connectivity and other system events which will have a managed API for .NET Compact Framework developers. The need for applications to poll the device for changes periodically, something that eats into the battery life of the unit, is thus avoided. There will also be new APIs for Location, Cameras, and the entire Pocket Outlook and Messaging systems will have a unified managed API.

MDC was an inspiring event both for learning about the current mobility landscape and also getting a glimpse into future generations of Windows Mobile. I thought I ought to end with a “Call to Action” like most of the conference sessions. Developers should definitely get the developer tools for Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition and ensure their applications work well on the new version. Be sure to make use of the new screen sizes and orientations. As an application developer, consider submitting your application to the Mobile2Market contest where you can receive free logo certification testing and the chance to win $25,000. If you are an MSDN subscriber you should definitely consider downloading the Visual Studio 2005 preview – there are some great new features coming for device developers, although as this is a pre-Beta release you shouldn’t run this on a machine you use for everyday development.

Useful Links
  • Bill Gates Keynote Transcript
  • Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition Developer Resources
  • Mobile2Market Application Contest

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