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Microsoft releases Windows Azure Toolkit for iOS

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Following on from the recent release of the Windows Azure Toolkit for Windows Phone 7, Microsoft announced on May 9, 2011 that they were making available a version for Apple’s iOS, and are planning to release an Android version within the next month.

Jamin Spitzer, Senior Director of Platform Strategy at Microsoft, emphasized that the primary aim of the toolkits is to increase developer productivity when creating mobile applications that interact with the cloud.

Using the toolkits, developers can use the cloud to accelerate the creation of applications on the major mobile platforms. Companies, including Groupon, are taking advantage to create a unified approach to cloud-to-mobile user experience.

Microsoft is making the library, sample code, and documentation for the iOS version of the toolkit available on GitHub under the Apache License. With XCode’s native support for GitHub repositories, this means that developers can more easily access the toolkit in their native environment.

What can developers expect from the v1.0 release of the iOS toolkit?

This first release of the toolkit focuses on providing developers easy access to Windows Azure storage from native mobile applications. Windows Azure has three different storage mechanisms:

  • Blob storage - used for storing binary objects, such as pictures taken on the phone.
  • Table storage – used for storing structured data in a scalable way, such as user profiles or multiple high score tables for a game.
  • Queues – a durable first-in, first-out queuing system for messages. For example, this could be used to pass messages between devices.

All of the above services are exposed via a REST API, however accessing these natively from the phone can be challenging, especially for developers who are new to iPhone development. The toolkit wraps the necessary REST calls into a native library that not only abstracts the underlying networking elements, but also reduces many operations (such as uploading a photo to Azure blob storage) to just a few lines of code.

Wade Wegner, Windows Azure Technical Evangelist, has put together a walkthrough for the toolkit, showing how the Windows Azure storage services can be accessed in two ways:

  • Directly from the client, using an account name and access key obtained from the Windows Azure portal.
  • Via a proxy service, for those not wanting to store their account name and access key on the device. The proxy service works by using ASP.NET authentication provider to validate a set of credentials, and then creating a shared key that can be used to access the storage for the duration of the session.

In his tutorial, Wegner shows how to create an XCode 4 project from scratch, import the library, and create code samples to index blob and table storage.

Future additions to the toolkit

As well as an Android version of the toolkit slated for June, Wegner also expands on additional features in other versions of the device toolkits, including:

  • Support for Windows Azure ACS (Access Control Service) - providing an identity mechanism for developers looking to add authentication to their mobile apps, including federation with Facebook connect and other providers.
  • Push notifications – the ability to construct and send Push notifications from an Azure role to a registered device.

Although the device toolkits are in their early stages, developers creating mobile applications with a need to interact with Windows Azure storage and other services will likely find the toolkits a useful addition.

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