App Development

Evolve 2016: Xamarin Emerging as Clear Winner among Cross-Platform Mobile Development Platforms

Some of the WillowTree team just returned from the Xamarin Evolve conference in Orlando. We had a great time, and while some of the conference hit on themes we’ve already seen in the mobile industry this year, there were a number of trends very specific to Xamarin and cross-platform mobile development.

1. Xamarin and Microsoft Together

Earlier this year, Microsoft acquired Xamarin. There are still some questions and unknowns about what form that merger will take once complete. The most common answer to questions like “What does this mean for [fill in the blank]” was, “We don’t know." But what is obvious is that the Microsoft acquisition (and Microsoft making .NET open source) is already allowing Xamarin to move more quickly on new technologies. Xamarin gives Microsoft a focused mobile and cross-platform development story which fits in well with their push towards cloud-based services. While Microsoft is focused on the evolution of their core technologies (including C#, Roslyn, Visual Studio, and XAML), the Xamarin team can focus on utilizing those technologies to improve tools in the whole mobile development stack - from Xamarin Forms and Test Cloud to HockeyApp. This was most obvious with the very impressive demo of Xamarin Workbooks , which gives developers an interactive editing console for C# that’s similar to Apple’s Swift Playgrounds. The added benefit of Workbooks is the ability to format documentation connected to that code, and then distribute those to users or peers. It’s a much better format for distributing code snippets to developers and going forward Xamarin will be moving its example documentation to the Workbook format. This shows a great Microsoft technology (Roslyn) being utilized by Xamarin to create exceptional tools for mobile developers.

2. Growth: Enterprise Mobile Apps and Xamarin’s Popularity

It became very obvious through conversation with various Xamarin Evolve attendees that a lot of people are developing internal enterprise applications. While there are still a many consumer-facing applications built with Xamarin, there are many, many more built for internal use. This is mostly because Microsoft is already a trusted provider in the enterprise world. Windows, C#, ASP.NET, and Visual Studio are already depended on, so when a company is looking to build a mobile app (or apps), Xamarin is their obvious first choice. This bodes well for Xamarin and Microsoft going forward. Every day, more companies are looking to augment or replace their aging internal application infrastructure with more user friendly and accessible mobile apps. With the Xamarin/Microsoft partnership now offering a full, and rapidly-expanding, technology stack for mobile development, it will become an even easier sell for developers already familiar with the Microsoft ecosystem.

3. Azure, Machine Learning and Cognitive Services

We’ve talked about it before , and Xamarin Evolve was another place where context, machine learning, cognitive services, and bots were prevalent once again. Microsoft has done a great job of making all of these technologies available to all platforms, and the Xamarin / Visual Studio integration is no exception. It was on full display at the conference and looked fantastic. More important than the integrations, Evolve continued to demonstrate that Microsoft is at the forefront of Machine Learning, offering AI APIs to its developers, and making sure these technologies are easy to understand. In addition to the Cognitive Services API and the LUIS bot API , Microsoft showed their Machine Learning tools for creating and verifying machine learning problems, as well as SandDance for visualizing complex data in a myriad of ways. All of these will be important tools for the developers looking to augment their apps with AI in the coming years.

4. Mobile Security is Important (and Hard)

Xamarin put Mobile Security right at the forefront of the conference this year, and for good reason. It’s becoming even more important as more people depend on their mobile phones to hold confidential or sensitive information, especially in the enterprise world. And the talks only reiterated that not only is security important, it’s really hard to get right. It’s not enough to just depend on the phone manufacturers or platform vendors to sign or secure your app. Those protections are easy to circumvent (yes, even on iOS). Your app needs to take active steps to prevent modification and snooping. But even then, it’s best to follow the old adage from any web service: never, ever trust a client’s machine.

5. Lots of Interest in Xamarin Forms

Xamarin Forms is evolving at a rapid pace, and most Xamarin developers are becoming very interested in the technology as a way to take advantage of native interfaces without having to deal with view implementations per-platform. Almost everyone we talked to wanted to talk about our experience with Xamarin Forms, where we’re using it and what issues we’ve found. While we’ve been hesitant to use Forms in the past (especially in its early releases), development of the technology and shared components isn’t slowing down. In the past, certain patterns common to native apps were so difficult to implement in Forms, using a pure native implementation just made more sense. But with recent improvements in the technology, we’re already taking another look to see where it fits in with our more heavily designed apps. Let us know if you were at the conference this year too and what trends you noticed in the comments section below.

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