The Parse Function

The parse function allows you to do some pre-processing of the data sent from the server before the model is created. Parse should return an object containing the values that will make up this models attribues. This is called after the fetch command has recieved the data, but before the response is put into the model. The example below parses dates to local time before adding them to the model using moment.
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Well verdict is in boys, and girls. Personally, I thought the platform needs to mature more. For those people who can pay for the business edition ($1000 USD/developer), and really prefer c#; then go for it. For most of us that can either do c# or Java; you may want to stick with Java.

C# vs. Java for Android

Essentially Xamarin is a competing product with using Java. I felt that the hefty price tag, and the lack of free support means the ROI for Xamarin will be low.

If Xamarin provided more in the way of automation tools, and documentation; it would be the clear winner

The fact is going straight to Java for most people is probably a must. Even if you are more comfortable with c#, finding help on the internet is much easier. As the platform matures, and more features are added hopefully things will change.

License cost deterrent

One of my biggest gripes with Xamarin is the very inflexible license schemes. You can get by with the $300 indie edition, but it is pretty clear they want people to go the $1000 business edition route.

The biggest deterrent to the Xamarin platform is the high cost of licensing.

With no sliding scale prices based on organization size, or project scope Xamarin is a tough sell (especially for open source projects).

Student Discount

Xamarin, does provide a student discount. They give 90% off for enterprise edition, and for those of you whom go to school this is almost a must buy. You could probably make it back with this simple formula.

Flappy bird-like animal + Mario pipes + admob = $$$

Verdict

Personally I like Xamarin platform. The ability to re-use code for multiple mobile platforms can be helpful. For most of us tinkerers out there Android Studio is probably enough. For serious businesses, with a major focus on c#; Xamarin is probably the prefered method of development.

Room for improvement

Before I can fully back Xamarin I’d like to see better componants that provide more mobile platform abstraction, increased automation tools (visual studio macros could help here), and better documentation. From the activity of there web pages, I suspect all of these things are coming.

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I had some problems with Xamarin. Somethings are ugly, but with plastic surgery almost anything can become beautiful.

Components

Xamarin has its own software packages available for download. I tried a lot of them out, some were good others not so much. One of my biggest gripes was that Google Play Services currently has a bug that makes builds really slow. Other packages were either genius, or were simply unimpressive. The components have their own package manager, and it does do a decent job of keeping them in order. I have to admit though Xamarin has its own set of componants that do in-app billing, and access phone data without having to lift much of a finger.

Moving at the build speed of Play Services

Component Documentation

A real put down is that only some of the components have adequate documentation. For instance for me to get admob working with play services; I had to look at the Java documentation, and try to figure out how its supposed to be done on Xamarin. This wasn’t to difficult, but admob is well used. I would have assumed the documentation would have covered it, but couldn’t find anything.

Visual Studio Designer

The Visual studio designer for Android at first seemed like the best thing since sliced bread! I was able to get a UI up and running in no time. Making my app work for tablets, and mobile phones alike was simple. However, once in a while it would be stubborn, and stop working. I’m not sure if it was something I was doing, but I felt like it would bomb out and I would have to restore the XAML file to continue.

The editor really isn’t great for designing ListViews, working with fragments, or making something that will scale easily. Often it made things exact pixel widths instead of using dots per inch. To keep it short, I still had to do plenty of editing of the source manually (which was not too bad). Making the theme stick on the default view was a pain, until I realized that I could ignore the editor, and decorate my MainActivity with the theme I wanted to use.

[Activity(Label = "Label", MainLauncher = true, Icon = "@drawable/Icon", Theme = "@android:style/Theme.Holo.Light")]

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Xamarin is a very good platform, but like everything it has parts that are not so great.

Documentation

One thing that was really hard for me, was to find documentation that was newer than 2012. Android has made great strides with Ice Cream Sandwich, and Jelly Bean. New features such as fragments have breathed life into the platform.

The Xamarin documentation provides examples even with the newest features, but there is something about it that feels lacking. Almost like it was thrown together at the last minute. They have been doing webcasts to improve the knowledge out in the wild, but googling the answer to your problem just won’t do. Part of the problem is that most developers write in Java, and only bigger companies can afford the hefty license fees that come with full support.

The user community was helpful at times, but I often found myself wandering though GitHub hoping my answer could be found in some mystical repo; Eventually having to study the full implementation to find the answer I needed.

Finding help

Although Xamarin has a forum where helpful users help each other, there are not nearly as many people coding on Xamarin than regular Java. Figuring out how to get something complicated working, was a nightmare. I’d look at a Java implementation, and then try to translate it into its Xamarin counterpart, which sometimes was far removed than the Java code. There are some examples of Xamarin for android out there, but nothing that really delves deep into manipulating the inner workings of the phone. I saw this especially when trying to edit contacts programatically. Xamarin support seemed helpful, but far too expensive for most freelance developers. This was a pretty huge put-off. If I went the Java route my questions would be answered with a simple search of stack overflow.

Boilerplate

Like most things Java, Android requires a lot of boilerplate. For a developer like myself, whom avoids Java this was a problem. I would have thought that Xamarin would have abstracted out more of the boilerplate than they did. On the one had, having my code look somewhat familiar when I see Java examples was nice, but on the other hand because the API is still different often the Java versions would not be close enough to fully help. My main problem with this, is if I really wanted to write boilerplate I would have used the Java libraries myself. They did make a start for this by generating the manifest file automatically, but I feel it needs to go further to fully mature this platform as a viable alternative to Java.

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Introduction

This will be a series of blog entries where I discuss the Xamarin platform for Android.

I really enjoy C# programming language (JavaScript second)….Linq, Generics, anonymous methods, and Visual Studio are just some of the reasons I like it. Xamarin is a platform that gives you the ability you to write Android applications in c#.

When I heard about Xamarin I naturally, wanted to give it a shot. Having tried Eclipse, and Android Studio for android development I was no idiot when it came to the platform. So I got a license, and did nothing with it for six months, until a few weeks ago. After only 3 days I created Ultimate Gravatar Sync. An app that sync’s your contacts gravatar images to their picture in your phone.

C# with no compromise

The Xamarin platform uses mono, and some kind of voodoo bindings to the Java libraries to make it work. I wont go in depth, but the native features of the C# language are there to use. I never felt like my hands had been tied, that all of a sudden I couldn’t use a library that is normally part of the GAC.aspx) (Global Assembly Cache). When I needed multi-threading, System.Threading was there, and when I needed to use C# Generics I had no issues implementing them.

Xamarin execution

Manage Android Manifest files

One of the things that blew me away about the platform, was that I never had to add anything to my manifest file. For those of you whom don’t know, Android requires an XML config detailing the permissions you require, and the classes you have in your application.

Simple decoration such as:

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[Activity(Label = "Label", MainLauncher = true, Icon = "@drawable/Icon")]

Will Generate in your manifest file as:

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<pre>
<activity
android:label="Label"
android:name=".logoActivity" >
<intent-filter>
<action android:name="android.intent.action.MAIN" />
<category android:name="android.intent.category.LAUNCHER" />
</intent-filter>
</activity>
</pre>

Adding permissions is also easy:

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[assembly: UsesPermission(Android.Manifest.Permission.Internet)]

Using Java Libraries

Xamarin provides some kind of crazy visual studio project, that will essentially provide c# bindings to Java libraries you require. To bind Simply create a Java Binding project, adding the .Jar files, and then build. Watch the magic happen. They do note/) that you sometimes need to do some configuration for certain libraries, however I had no issues with the one I tried. On top of that if you really needed to, you could access the Java Native Interface for even more power.

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Tommy "TerribleDev" Parnell

Hi, my name is Tommy. I work very hard to deliver quality content, free. If I helped you please consider donating.


Software Engineer II


Boston Area