Now that we had some time to get rid of the six hour jet lag, we can finally report back on the outcome of Xamarin Evolve 2016.
What is Xamarin?
Xamarin is a company that evolved from the Mono project that enabled developers to run C# code on platforms, that were not considered for this purpose initially like Linux or Mac OS. With Xamarin SDK, developers are able to have a high amount of shared C# code that can now also be executed on the major mobile platforms like Android, iOS, and of course Windows. This is accomplished through either a cross compiler, which compiles the cross-platform C# code into the respective native code or by executing the Mono runtime on the devices. One of the biggest benefits of this technology is the ability to build mobile apps in a very time- and cost-efficient way.
The Xamarin Evolve 2016
Evolve 2016 was the third Evolve ever, but with more than 1600+ attendees already one of the biggest mobile app conferences in the world. In sunny Orlando, Xamarin spared no effort to host an exciting conference, an interesting training track, and some great networking events.
We traveled with a small team to the US to get first-hand knowledge of the introduced news and to get in contact with the Xamarin staff as well as developers from all over the world. On board were Microsoft MVP (and in the meantime Xamarin MVP) Kerry Lothrop (host of the Frankfurt Xamarin meetup), who had a talk about mobile app security at the conference himself, as well as our Xamarin expert Sven-Michael Stübe (host of the Munich Xamarin meetup). The team was completed by us, Henning Gross and Robin Wiegand, who had the pleasure to attend the conference just four months after joining Zühlke.
Evolve 2016 was divided into a two day Xamarin University training, different themed conference tracks and networking events. During the training tracks, we learned some interesting views on how to implement advanced features into modern apps. The separation into two different skill levels was good, nevertheless improvable in the future. We are hoping for some kind of “more advanced” track in upcoming conferences.
The event was opened with an impressive keynote held by Xamarin CEO Nat Friedman and CTO Miguel de Icaza who embraced their partnership with Microsoft, who had recently acquired the company. That part wasn’t really news, since they already had announced the acquisition back in February.
They presented their recently added features like the Xamarin.Forms Previewer, improved tooling in Xamarin Studio, and a newly added iOS Simulator for Windows.
With the also newly introduced Xamarin Workbooks developers are able to play around with C# and the Xamarin SDK just like they are used to with Apple’s Interactive Playgrounds for Swift. The Workbooks are written in Markdown so they can easily be shared, versioned or even used as an interactive documentation. The SDK now suppports AppLinks to navigate Xamarin apps through URI-schemes by itself so you don’t have to manually build your wrapper-services around Rivets anymore.
Apart from that, they also introduced new UI components that are tightly coupled with Microsoft Azure backends called DataPages. It provides a fast way to build typical CRUD applications. Additionally they unveiled the new Xamarin Test Recorder that allows generating test code by “recording” user interface interactions in the simulator and mapping them to test code, that can be deployed to Xamarin’s TestCloud service.
All in all the keynote and new features were more about tooling and a more complete app life-cycle management ranging from design over development through building and testing until it finally reaches the user by some sort of distribution. Once your apps are tested with TestCloud you can hand them over to HockeyApp for easy distribution, monitoring, and performance measurement. So now you have all the tools you need to continuously deliver your applications from one single vendor.
Especially TestCloud seems like a great tool to automate testing and validation of mobile applications against all sorts of (real!) devices which differ in so many dimensions like screen sizes, performance or platform capabilities in general.
Apart from these new and upgraded features, Xamarin also discontinued the support for Xamarin Studio on Windows. Xamarin Studio will now be optimized and distributed for Mac OS X only while Visual Studio will remain the IDE of choice for Windows users.
The conference was packed with high quality sessions held by speakers from Xamarin itself as well as commonly known names from the Xamarin community like Charles Petzold, Brian Lagunas, and of course Kerry Lothrop who gave an outstanding talk about mobile app security with great live demos and a comprehensive overview on the current state of SSL communication with Xamarin.
You can watch all sessions online. We compiled a list of sessions that you shouldn’t miss:
- Enhancing Your Mobile Application with Machine Learning
- Why Akavache is Fast: How Not to Use SQLite
- Addressing the OWASP Mobile Security Threats Using Xamarin
- Is Your App Secure?
Various exhibitors and the so called “Darwin Lounge” by Xamarin shortened the time between sessions by letting you play around with hardware like the Hue lighting system by Philips, wearables from Intel, and assorted IoT setups. They even rewarded some people with gadgets for completing their mini hacks.
In the evening Xamarin hosted exciting networking events providing the great opportunity to meet so many skilled and passionate developers from all over the world (more than 50 nationalities) at one place.
This led, e.g., to a meet-up of the MvvmCross team. MvvmCross is a lightweight MVVM framework built for Xamarin that is used frequently in Zühlke projects and regularly receives contributions from our Xamarin experts Kerry Lothrop and Sven-Michael Stübe.
The conference was a worthwhile event in many ways. Besides interesting know-how transfer and networking Sven-Michael Stübe‘s community contribution in the form of answers to complex Xamarin related questions on Stack Overflow was credited lately. He won the first prize in Xamarin’s contest “Get Answering on Stack Overflow” and received a DJI Phantom 4 drone from Xamarin for his efforts. Henning Gross had no reason to complain either. He won a brand new Apple Watch at an exhibition booth during the conference. However, it was deserved in every respect, because he helped the exhibitor to debug his software during a live-demo just a few minutes before the tombola.
One of the afterwork highlights was a party at Universal’s Islands of Adventure® theme park. Xamarin exclusively rented parts of the park just for the conference attendees as a very cool after party location amidst the famous Hogsmeade, known from the Harry Potter universe and many roller coaster rides without waiting in line.
The closing session was again held by Miguel and Nat accompanied by entertaining talks from Grant Imahara who showed off his ice-cannon and Steve Wozniak who told the audience anecdotes about his path to engineering and the foundation of Apple as well as how much of a geek he still is today. Of course we all took our chances to shake his hand and got away with selfies and autographed Macs
The event was great from the beginning to the end. As a Xamarin Premier Consulting Partner from the beginning of Xamarin’s partner program, Zühlke has regularly created complex and exciting projects in the past and we would have appreciated a more advanced training track.
But in the end, it was all about meeting these great people and the geeky environment Xamarin successfully created for us – so cheers Xamarin, we had a very nice time. And also many thanks to Xamarin Technical Evangelist Mike James, who visited us here in Frankfurt to talk some more Xamarin and have a great time with the local Xamarin geeks.