For some time now I have wanted to get started building mobile apps but I just haven’t been able to find the time. This week I decided to explore the Mobile Services in Windows Azure to see if that might offer a path of low resistance. I was pretty happy with what I found there.
Azure Mobile Services, which is currently in preview, is a collection of backend cloud services that support applications written for mobile devices. Included are services for storage/database, server side scripting, scheduled jobs, authentication, push notifications and others. Supported mobile platforms are Windows Phone/Windows Store, Android, iOS and HTML5.
Getting started with Mobile Services is very easy. From the Azure portal all you do is provision a new mobile service. You pick a name for the url endpoint, a geographic region to deploy into and specify to use an existing or a new SQL database for storage. Then, from the dashboard, you can either create a new mobile app or connect the service to an existing mobile app.
Figure 1. Creating a new Mobile App
Since I am creating a Windows Phone 8 app I needed to install the SDK. I did this right from within Visual Studio since I already had it installed. It was fairly painless with only a couple of warnings where I had to grant permissions, enable the Windows Hyper-V feature so I could run the emulator and turn on the Package Manager option in Visual Studio that allows NuGet to download missing packages during the build.
Create a Table provisions a SQL database that your mobile app can use for storage. Then, all you need to do is download and unzip a file which contains a Windows Phone 8 project which comes pre-configured to connect to the specific service you just created. Just open it in Visual Studio and it will run in the emulator.
Figure 2. Personalized Phone 8 project running in Emulator
This project is the starting point for the custom app you are creating. Back on the portal you will see that a database table has been automatically created dynamically from the code. Pretty cool.
Obviously there is still quite a bit of work ahead as you now build out your custom app. There are also other features and capabilities of the service and the API that need to be explored. Still, it is pretty easy to get started and get a working mobile app that uses the Azure Mobile Services as a back end put together with just a few mouse clicks.