This overview of Visual Studio App Center comes to us from Premier Developer consultant Sana Noorani.
One of Microsoft’s newest offerings, the Visual Studio App Center, is a tool for streamlining the DevOps pipeline for mobile development. The product is an updated version of its previous product, Mobile Center, and has many more features than its predecessor that allows developers go to this singular platform to take care of all their mobile application needs. App Center allows for continuous everything – continuous build, test, deploy, monitor, and repeat.
The platforms that are offered currently include Android, iOS, UWP, and macOS. The frameworks included are Java, Objective-C/Swift, Xamarin, and React Native.
The purpose of this blog post is to go through the main features of the tool and discuss what each of these features can be used for in your mobile application process.
The following features will be discussed:
- Push Notification
The build step allows you to iterate faster with continuous integration and continuous delivery. CI allows for you to constantly build apps and catch bugs before it is pushed into production. CD lets you bring app changes safely to your user, allowing them to always have the most recent version.
In build, you connect to existing code repos such as VSTS, GitHub, and BitBucket.
You can then configure them to run automatically on every code submission or on a time schedule as you build your app. This allows you to stay up-to-date on the health of your application, and you don’t have to configure any servers locally for the build functionality since it can all be done on the cloud.
For testing, app center has a device lab with over 3000 devices available for testing and this includes iOS and Android devices of all shapes and sizes. The lab runs 24 hours a day, which allows for team flexibility in terms of test times. On these devices, you can run your UI automation scripts. These UI automation scripts will execute against build applications. App Center supports scripts written in a variety of test frameworks such as Appium, Calabash, XCUITest, Espresso, and Xamarin.UITest.
Overall, the test feature allows for a faster release and the ability to ship higher quality apps.
At some point you will want to distribute your application to users. The distribute feature is meant to be the next generation of HockeyApp.
With the distribute feature in App Center, you can instantly distribute apps by targeted distribution groups both for internal test groups in your company or for external beta testers. You can send the app to them and give live updates. The tool allows developers to get their app binaries into the hands and devices of their users.
You can also access the application store through the Distribute feature. You can use this tool to publish the application to stores such as Google Play or iTunes Connect directly through App Center, so that you can stay within the single tool in source.
Think of Visual Studio App Center Distribution as: (1) a solution for beta application distribution, and (2) your own internal app store for you and your organization.
To be most effective, you will want to understand your customers. Many developers want to know how their apps are doing, and they want to know how they can better engage with their users.
In the analytics interface, you get out-of-the-box insights about your users by integrating with the VS App Center Analytics SDK. You can continuously export your raw data for further drill down and custom visualization of the data. For example, you can get information about things like session frequency, adoption rate, and even geographic location of users.
You can also log custom events and see how the users are using the app. Also, you can continuously export to Azure Services through Application Insights and Blob Storage. Application Insights gives you query capabilities where you can filter based on multiple dimensions. You can view features like funnels and retention in advanced analytics. This allows for you to do your own custom analysis and queries on your data. With Blob Storage, you can programmatically access your raw data and you can build your favorite warehouse solution on top of it.
Once the app is live, developers will want to know how the app is doing. With crashes, you can monitor crash reporting and bug tracking. You can get real-time insights and get live stack traces in crash reports from the field directly in your live app. This is all centralized in the app center portal.
You will know the details of the operating system that had the crash, as well as the device type in the crash frequency. You can integrate these reports into your own bug trackers so you can prioritize and know what to do with these issues as they arise.
The push hub on App Center allows you to log into a single source instead of using multiple portals for each platform. You can create targeted audience and marketing campaigns so that you can more directly connect with your users. With this feature, you can segment your audience and choose who you want to send a notification to.
The notification comes up as a small banner message on the user’s device. Users do not need to be on the app itself to open the notification. The developer can also send the notification whenever they want.
As you can see, the Visual Studio App Center has a lot of functionality that can make the full cycle of mobile application development much easier. It can be used to reach all customers because code can be built, tested, and deployed to its customers all in one platform. You can also constantly monitor customer activity with usage metrics to ensure that customers are having a positive user experience. There is a lot of free preview functionality available in App Center. It doesn’t hurt to try it out.