Xamarin launches major update to its cross-platform development tools

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Xamarin, the cross-platform development platform Microsoft recently acquired, is holding its annual developer conference today. No developer conference would be complete without a large number of announcements and Xamarin — almost as if to show that the Microsoft acquisition hasn’t stalled its momentum — is launching updates to almost all of the core features of its platform today.

Indeed, as Xamarin’s former CEO and co-founder (and now Microsoft employee) Nat Friedman told me, the service has seen its downloads increase massively since the acquisition — and it surely doesn’t hurt that Xamarin is now available for free in a Community edition. Friedman says downloads were up three and a half times in the last two weeks since the company announced its new pricing plan compared to the full month before the announcement.

Some of Xamarin’s launches today were previously announced at Microsoft’s Build conference. Xamarin is open-sourcing its SDKs for Android, iOS and Mac under the MIT license, for example. These SDKs include the command-line tools for building applications, as well as Xamarin’s cross-platform Xamarin.Forms UI framework.

The Xamarin IDE (for Mac), though, will remain closed-source for now. Friedman argues that the company wants to focus its open-source efforts on the “runtime side of things” and he doesn’t expect that an open-source IDE would get all that many contributions.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of the new functionality the company announced today is coupled to Microsoft’s tools, especially Visual Studio. iOS developers who want to code in C#, for example, can now use Xamarin’s iOS Simulator right from Visual Studio on Windows (though the simulator itself still has to run on a networked Mac and Visual Studio essentially creates a remote connection to it). In addition, Visual Studio/Xamarin users can now deploy apps to iOS devices that are plugged into the Windows machine’s USB port right from Visual Studio, too.

Other new Visual Studio-centric features include the ability to write scripts for running tests on the Xamarin Test Cloud.

Xamarin Evolve 2016

On the Mac, Xamarin offers its own Xamarin Studio IDE (there’s no Visual Studio for OS X, after all). Here, Xamarin is updating the overall look and feel of the application and adding a dark theme (which is great when you code late a night, after all). Xamarin Studio now also uses the open-source Roslyn compiler, which essentially gives Studio the same code-completion capabilities that are currently available in Visual Studio with Intellisense. Also new in Xamarin Studio is enhanced F# support and a deeper integration with MSBuild (the toolset for building applications — not the conference).

While Xamarin is mostly a tool for building the application logic for multi-platform apps, the service also offers support for cross-platform user interfaces through the Xamarin.Forms project. That area is getting an update today, too. Developers can now more easily preview what their UIs will look like for example, thanks to a real-time previewer that looks at the code the developer is writing and instantaneously updates the interface accordingly. Xamarin is also adding themes and making it easier for developers to connect data sources to app screens (Friedman tells me developer should be able to connect their applications to any service that outputs JSON).

test-cloud-screenshot@2xXamarin’s other major service, the Xamarin Test Cloud, is also getting a few new features. Maybe the most interesting of these is the ability to remotely access a specific device to test and debug an application in real-time. Friedman tells me the company already has thousands of phones connected to this service (the service runs your code on an actual phone in a data center, after all, not on an emulator) and plans to open a West Coast data center to add capacity and bring down latency for its West Coast users.

Overall, it’s clear that Xamarin is still going strong and Friedman tells me that he still feels very good about the acquisition. In his view, the acquisition hasn’t slowed the team down. “We have sustained our momentum — and maybe even increased [it],” he told me.