Microsoft’s Newly Acquired Xamarin Expands Developer Tools With New Features

Posted on April 27, 2016 by Brad Sams in Visual Studio with 0 Comments

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Earlier this year, Microsoft announced that they had acquired Xamarin, a tool that makes cross-platform development easier and today, the company is hosting Xamarin Evolve 2016 in Orlando, Florida. In addition to announcing that they have open sourced and contributed to the .NET Foundation the Xamarin SDK for Android, iOS and Mac under the same MIT license used for the Mono project, they are shining a light on several new features too.

The updates announced today cover everything from Visual Studio, new updates for Xamarin Studio, to DevOps enhancements as well. All of the announcements are listed below, separated by category.

Visual Studio Productivity Enhancements:

  • Xamarin announced new ways to connect Visual Studio to a developer’s Mac to make it even easier for C# developers to create native iOS apps, and new ways to auto-generate mobile app test scripts in Visual Studio
  • iOS Simulator Remoting: Simulate and interact with your iOS apps without leaving Visual Studio – even supporting multi-touch interactions on Windows machines with capable touchscreens.
  • iOS USB Remoting: Deploy and debug apps from Visual Studio to an iPad or iPhone plugged into your Windows PC, eliminating the need to switch machines to test.
  • Test Recorder Visual Studio Plugin: Auto-generate mobile app test scripts within Visual Studio. Simply interact with your app on device or in the simulator and Test Recorder automatically generates scripts that can be run on thousands of devices with  Xamarin Test Clouds automated app testing.

Xamarin Studio 6 IDE (for Mac OS X):

  • Updated look and feel: Xamarin Studio now offers a completely updated look and feel, and now offers a dark theme thousands of developers have been asking for (screenshot here), as well as a refined Light theme, several thousand new icons, and other visual enhancements.
  • Roslyn compiler integration: Xamarin Studio has now switched to Roslyn, Microsoft’s open source .NET compiler platform. This brings full C# 6.0 compatibility for code completion and creates a much more consistent developer experience between Xamarin Studio and Visual Studio. This will be a big help for developers who switch between Mac and Windows workstations. More information available here.
  • Enhanced F# support: Now supports F# Portable Class Libraries and shared projects so developers can write shared logic in F# and consume it from either F# or C# applications across multiple platforms. This allows greater flexibility for developers in general, and a huge productivity boost for those who are more comfortable in F#.
  • Project build enhancements: Xamarin has completely revamped the service in charge of loading and building projects and created much deeper integration with MSBuild. That means much greater compatibility with projects written in Visual Studio, and developers can save a lot of time by compiling for multiple target platforms in parallel.

New Xamarin.Forms Features:

  • Forms Previewer: Real-time previewing of Xamarin.Forms XAML source from directly within the IDE eliminates the need to run your app in order to see the layout, saving time.
  • Data Pages: Connect a data source to a data template, automatically generating app screens. This dramatically speeds time development time for Forms-based apps, allowing developers to create screens with just a few lines of XAML.
  • Themes: Abstracts UI from Xamarin.Forms-based pages, allowing enterprises to apply styles across multiple applications, saving their internal developers time as well as assuring their organization will have a consistent look and feel across their apps. Businesses can create their own Themes or use Themes from third parties.
  • URL Navigation: Developers can now link directly to a Forms page deep within a mobile app and pull up specific data from that page with a URL, creating a more fluid interface between mobile search, Web, email, and other app-external sources and deep functionality within an app.
  • Forms in Xamarin.iOS and .Android: Developers can include Xamarin.Android and Xamarin.iOS controls in Xamarin.Forms apps, providing greater flexibility to developers regarding design choices. Developers can focus on specialized UI functionality where it really matters and provide typical native experiences where it doesn’t.

DevOps Enhancements

  • Xamarin Test Recorder in Visual Studio: Test Recorder is now available in Windows. Connect a device or emulator to your app and record new tests right from your IDE. Interacting with your app will add test script code directly to your editor.
  • Xamarin Test Cloud Live: Remotely access real devices for exploratory testing and real-time debugging without having to acquire or maintain them.
  • HockeyApp support for Xamarin Insights crash reporting: As announced at //Build, Xamarin Insights and Hockey App are merging under the Hockey App brand.  All Xamarin Insights crash reporting capabilities for Xamarin apps are now available in Hockey App.

This is the third year that Xamarin has held its Evolve conference and now that they have been absorbed into Microsoft, it will be interesting to see if this conference continues. Considering that it is only a few weeks after Build, Microsoft could fold this event into its larger developer conference next year.

To learn more about the announcements today, make sure to check out Xamarin’s blog for additional details.

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