Going mobile with the new Visual Studio Mobile Center

Mobile Xamarin

Going mobile with the new Visual Studio Mobile Center

A few months ago when the Visual Studio Mobile Center was released, I decided to configure it in parallel with the DevOps process I was already creating in Visual Studio Team Services. My goal was to try and evaluate this new platform. The minimalist design, simple configuration, and the fact that it has several tools in just one place made it seem like a terrific platform for our mobile projects at UruIT. In this post, I’ll share with you more information about Visual Studio Mobile Center and my take on its many advantages.

visual studio mobile center
Source: https://blogs.msdn.microsoft.com/visualstudio/

 

What is Visual Studio Mobile Center?

Visual Studio Mobile Center (MC) is the new Microsoft product that contains a set of cloud services for building and managing your application by combining everything in one place and adopting Mobile DevOps practices.

The Mobile Center is an end-to-end solution that provides the complete management of your app’s life cycle through continuous integration, testing, delivery and monitoring. The platform supports iOS and Android projects in languages such as: Swift, Objective-C, Java, React Native and Xamarin.

Visual Studio Mobile Center is the evolution of services such as HockeyApp, Xamarin Test Cloud and some VSTS. In fact, the platform brings all of those services together in one unified solution.

 

Combining all features into one platform

Visual Studio Mobile Center offers tools for all of the stages of Mobile DevOps. For each one there are very interesting advantages, which I’ll go into more detail below.

visual studio mobile center
Source: https://www.visualstudio.com/

 

Lifecycle services

BUILD

If we use the Visual Studio Team Services it is necessary to configure a Build definition for a specific branch. This is the only way we can compile the project in an automated manner in each push or according to the trigger we choose.

In the new platform, the Build is very easy to configure. You just need to go to the Build Section, connect to GitHub, and select the project and its branch. Soon enough the compilation will already be running inside the Mobile Center. Also, it’s possible to trigger manual Builds as well.

TEST

Since it’s not very practical to access another site to run an automated test, Microsoft integrated the Xamarin Test Cloud suite within the Mobile Center. Here we can create tests, get results and much more.

DISTRIBUTE

The new generation of HockeyApp is in this section, and it allows us to distribute the application in specific groups and users when all the tests are approved.

 

Mobile backend services

TABLES

In this section we can create boards for the data persistence, what allows us to query, insert or update information from our app through an end-point that the Mobile Center provides us for each application.

Other benefits are:

  • We can use offline synchronization from our app since it is supported by the platform.
  • We are not tied to use the database created by the platform’s boards, since we can access the Azure website, search our app (which was automatically created by the Mobile Center) and then connect to another database.

IDENTITY

The platform also offers the quickest way to authenticate users using Google, Facebook, Twitter or Microsoft accounts.

 

Monitoring services

CRASHES & ANALYTICS

Here we found two other fundamental parts of the evolution of HockeyApp for app monitoring, in which we can collect logs of errors and get data from the application that is running with different users and devices.

This ensures that we capture early errors, as well as find out user activities (how many users are using the app, where they are from, which language they use and more). The implementation is available for Xamarin as well as Xamarin Forms.

 


Would you like to know more tips about Mobile Development?

In this other Blog Post we share our experience with Xamarin, take a look!


 

Things to keep in mind

(-)

  1. Although all the services work very well, we must keep in mind that MC is in its preview version. So there may be changes and we can even expect to find some bugs.
  2. On the Tables section we are not able to insert, update or delete data using sql statements. So we can only check the registers, clean the tables or insert data uploading files (e.g .csv).
  3. The apps are distributed by user group or they can be downloaded by the portal, however on HockeyApp we can download them by a public url, reading a QR code or also by the HockeyApp application.

(+)

  1. If we have the Azure subscription, we can use the Mobile Center in its entirety.
  2. The site authentication can be done from a GitHub, HockeyApp or Microsoft account.
  3. To scale the data persistence we suggest linking to a new database within the Azure site. So that it will be connected with the MC. You can do the configuration from App Services where we find the app: mobile-[id given by azure] referring to the application created from the Mobile Center, and then we look for Data Connections in the Mobile section.
  4. To connect our end-point we simply refer to Microsoft.WindowsAzure.MobileServices and set a small implementation. We can use it to make a CRUD (Create, Read, Update, Delete) using a service or an offline sync, for when our application does not constantly access the internet.
  5. Push Notifications will be added shortly in order to send notifications to our apps in a very simple way.

 

Why MC?

Microsoft will continue adding features. Its purpose is to allow us to find everything we need in one place in order to manage our app’s life cycle in an automated way, monitoring and using backend services as well. That way, you can cover everything related to the new generation of Mobile DevOps.

This set of services is provided in a simple manner. We only need to invest a little time at the beginning to understand the platform. Once we do, we can fully devote ourselves to develop great apps that are covered throughout all stages by the Mobile Center.

There are many types of devices, operating systems and their different versions in the mobile environment. Everyday there is more competition. Therefore, at UruIT we feel it is necessary to renew our practices and focus on DevOps to create valuable apps that set our clients apart from the rest.

If you want to find out more, test the Mobile Center trial version with some of the supported projects. Then, tell us what you think! Also, this video can give you more idea of the new Visual Studio Mobile Center:

 

 

If you want to know more about our coding practices and experience, take a look at our GitHub page!

 

Reference links:

https://www.xamarin.com/mobile-devops

https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/magazine/mt790198.aspx

https://blogs.msdn.microsoft.com/visualstudio/2016/11/16/visual-studio-mobile-center/

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Sebastian Cabrera

Sebastian Cabrera

Sebastian has +7 years of experience in the IT field, working mostly in software development with Microsoft technologies and +3 years of experience applying agile methodologies. In the last two years, he has been focused on mobile development, using Sencha Touch, Xamarin Forms, Xamarin iOS and Xamarin Android. During his last projects he has been involved with Mobile DevOps in order to be able to cover all aspects of apps delivery life cycles.

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