WinRT 8.1, Ready for Line-of-Business
Windows 8.1 brings with it a lot of much needed functionality to WinRT (i.e. Windows Store) apps that make is a viable platform for line of business and point of sale applications.
A new Hub control is being offered for heterogeneous data. This presents data in sections much like the Weather and Bing applications. It is composed of a series of HubSection controls. Each HubSection is lazy-loaded when it becomes visible on the screen. Developers are expected to wait until the loaded event to initialize the data source of the HubSection so that users don’t pay for data that they never look at.
Secondary windows are supported by WinRT apps. This will be really important for more complex applications such as line of business apps. Secondary windows are managed via a class known as the ViewLifetimeControl.
In Windows 8 the web view control had airspace issues. By that we mean that you can’t overlay XAML controls over web view controls. Even the settings menu would be hidden. This has been fixed with WinRT 8.1’s new web view control, which is fully integrated into the XAML view stack.
Applications can now claim devices such as credit card and barcode readers. When a device is claimed, the application will be altered if another application tries to claim the device. It can then override the request, maintaining control of the device. The goal is to allow “point of sale” applications to be offered via the Windows Store. (Side note: iOS-based tablets are becoming really popular for these sort of point of sale applications.)
WinRT apps that use the new HttpClient (based on the .NET version) will have access to the same shared cache that Internet Explorer uses. This is expected to significantly improve application startup times. No details on the security ramifications of these were offered.
Bluetooth, HID, and USB devices are now supported in WinRT apps. The communication API uses a combination of events and the standard stream classes. Device specific drivers are not needed.
Also mentioned in this demo was the ability for WinRT apps also have access to a text to speech APIs in 8 languages.
WinRT applications can create virtual Contact records on the fly. These contacts can then be displayed and acted upon by the user just as if they were real contract records stored on the machine.
As expected, Microsoft is heavily pushing developers to use their Azure-based push notification services. Visual Studio 2013 will include wizards to quickly create and register applications for push notifications, including linking in the developer’s Windows Store account.
Microsoft is also promoting its Xbox integration with support for WinRT applications using PlayTo APIs to control gaming consoles. A possible business use of this is installing an Xbox to drive a large format display instead of a dedicated computer.