Windows Phone 7: how to reset the idle detection countdown

Windows Phone 7 like every other phone OS turns off the screen after a period of inactivity. This is not a problem most of the time because any user activity (namely finger interactions on the screen) resets the countdown, so if you are using an application the screen saver will not get in the way. However there are some particular cases where it is useful to disable the idle detection, for example in games or apps that require long reading (or watching). In that case you can completely disable idle detection:

PhoneApplicationService.Current.UserIdleDetectionMode =

Keep in mind that this disables the “screen saver” at all, so be careful because you could drain the poor user’s battery if you do it without valid reason.

There is another more interesting case, though: suppose your app uses the accelerometer as its main user input. In this case there won’t be any user activity to trigger a countdown reset, but disabling it at all also doesn’t look like the best idea (what if the user puts the phone on the table to go grab a beer?).

The best in this case would be to reset the count-down when a movement is detected, i.e. treating accelerometer events like screen user input. How to do this?

The answer is extremely simple: you can just disable the IdleDetection and re-enable it again. This will reset the count-down. One little caveat: you cannot re-enable it immediately after having disabled it, the OS is smart enough not to be fooled and will ignore your two commands. You’ll have to wait a short while before re-enabling idle detection.

Here is an example: when I get a new reading from the accelerometer (I’m using the AccelerometerHelper) I check if there has been a large enough movement and in that case I disable the idle detection. Otherwise I enable it –this effectively resets the countdown every time the movement goes above a given threshold. Keep in mind that the accelerometer fires 50 times per second, that’s why I used a bool field to avoid unnecessary calls to the system setting. I’m not sure this prevents an actual performance loss, but it would be worth it to experiment and measure a little if you are using this technique in your apps.

double _currentValue;
bool _screenSaverEnabled = true;

private void OnAccelerometerHelperReadingChanged(object sender, AccelerometerHelperReadingEventArgs e)
    Dispatcher.BeginInvoke(() =>
            // you'll have something more useful in your app
            computedValue = e.OptimallyFilteredAcceleration.X;

            var delta = Math.Abs(computedValue - _currentValue);
            if (_screenSaverEnabled)
                if (delta > SOME_ARBITRARY_THRESOLD)
                    _screenSaverEnabled = false;
                    PhoneApplicationService.Current.UserIdleDetectionMode = IdleDetectionMode.Disabled;
                    Debug.WriteLine("Screen saver disabled");
                _screenSaverEnabled = true;
                PhoneApplicationService.Current.UserIdleDetectionMode = IdleDetectionMode.Enabled;
                Debug.WriteLine("Screen saver enabled");
            _currentValue = computedValue;

Happy coding!

Windows Phone 7: correct pinch zoom in Silverlight

Pinch zooming is one of those things that look incredibly simple until you actually try to implement them. At that point you realize it hides quite a number of intricacies that make it hard to get it right. If you tried to implement pinch zooming in Silverlight for Windows Phone 7 you probably know what I’m talking about.

What does it means getting it right?

Adrian Tsai already gave an excellent explanation, so I won’t repeat his words. The test is extremely simple: pick two points in the image (for example two eyes) and zoom with your fingers on them. If at the end of the zoom the two points are still under your fingers you got it right –otherwise you got it wrong.

Multitouch Behavior

Laurent Bugnion, Davide Zordan and David Kelly are the men behind  Multitouch Behavior for SL and WPF. It’s an impressive open source project and you should check it out. In addition to pinch-zooming it gives you rotation, inertia, debug mode and much more. It’s extremely easy to work with as you just need a couple of lines of XAML. The only shortcoming is that at the time of writing it seems that there is no way to read the current zoom state, making it difficult to fully support tombstoning. If you don’t need this, go grab Multitouch Behavior and stop reading: it will probably work better and you’ll save some time.


This is the XAML we are starting with. Notice that our DIY implementation relies on the Silverlight Toolkit’s InputGesture. If you are not yet using it, please install the toolkit and add a reference to Microsoft.Phone.Controls.Toolkit in your project.

<Image x:Name="ImgZoom"
                ScaleX="1" ScaleY="1"
                TranslateX="0" TranslateY="0"/>

The wrong way

I’ve seen this example several times around, I suppose you’ve seen it too somewhere on The Interwebs™:

double initialScale = 1d;

private void OnPinchStarted(object s, PinchStartedGestureEventArgs e)
    initialScale = ((CompositeTransform)ImgZoom.RenderTransform).ScaleX;

private void OnPinchDelta(object s, PinchGestureEventArgs e)
    var transform = (CompositeTransform)ImgZoom.RenderTransform;
    transform.ScaleX = initialScale * e.DistanceRatio;
    transform.ScaleY = transform.ScaleX;

Very simple and good looking. I love simple solutions and I bet you do too, but as someone once said “Things should be as simple as possible, but not simpler.” And unfortunately this is simpler than possible (is this even a sentence?). The problem is that the scaling is always centered in the middle of the image, so this solution won’t pass the poke-two-fingers-in-the-eyes test.

The better but still wrong way

The knee-jerk reaction is to move the scaling center between our fingers as we perform the scaling:

double initialScale = 1d;

private void OnPinchStarted(object s, PinchStartedGestureEventArgs e)
    initialScale = ((CompositeTransform)ImgZoom.RenderTransform).ScaleX;

private void OnPinchDelta(object s, PinchGestureEventArgs e)
    var finger1 = e.GetPosition(ImgZoom, 0);
    var finger2 = e.GetPosition(ImgZoom, 1);

    var center = new Point(
        (finger2.X + finger1.X) / 2 / ImgZoom.ActualWidth,
        (finger2.Y + finger1.Y) / 2 / ImgZoom.ActualHeight);

    ImgZoom.RenderTransformOrigin = center;

    var transform = (CompositeTransform)ImgZoom.RenderTransform;
    transform.ScaleX = initialScale * e.DistanceRatio;
    transform.ScaleY = transform.ScaleX;

This is better. The first time it actually works well too, but as soon as you pinch the image a second time you realize the image moves around. The reason: the zoom state is the sum of all the zoom operations (each one having its center) and by moving the center every time you are effectively removing information from the previous steps. To solve this problem we could replace the CompositeTransform with a TransformGroup and then add a new ScaleTransform (with a new center) at every PinchStart+PinchDelta event group. This will probably work: every scaling will keep its center and all is well. Except your phone will probably catch fire and explode because of the number of transforms you are stacking up. My team has a name for this kind of solutions, and it isn’t a nice one (fortunately there is no English translation for that).

The right way

It is clear by now that simply setting a scale factor and moving the center won’t take us far. As we are real DIYourselfers we will do it with a combination of scaling and translation. In the already mentioned article, Adrian Tsai uses this technique in XNA and we will apply the same concept in Silverlight. If an image is worth a million worth, a line of code is probably worth even more, so I’ll let the c# do the talking.

// these two fully define the zoom state:
private double TotalImageScale = 1d;
private Point ImagePosition = new Point(0, 0);

private Point _oldFinger1;
private Point _oldFinger2;
private double _oldScaleFactor;

private void OnPinchStarted(object s, PinchStartedGestureEventArgs e)
    _oldFinger1 = e.GetPosition(ImgZoom, 0);
    _oldFinger2 = e.GetPosition(ImgZoom, 1);
    _oldScaleFactor = 1;

private void OnPinchDelta(object s, PinchGestureEventArgs e)
    var scaleFactor = e.DistanceRatio / _oldScaleFactor;

    var currentFinger1 = e.GetPosition(ImgZoom, 0);
    var currentFinger2 = e.GetPosition(ImgZoom, 1);

    var translationDelta = GetTranslationDelta(

    _oldFinger1 = currentFinger1;
    _oldFinger2 = currentFinger2;
    _oldScaleFactor = e.DistanceRatio;

    UpdateImage(scaleFactor, translationDelta);

private void UpdateImage(double scaleFactor, Point delta)
    TotalImageScale *= scaleFactor;
    ImagePosition = new Point(ImagePosition.X + delta.X, ImagePosition.Y + delta.Y);

    var transform = (CompositeTransform)ImgZoom.RenderTransform;
    transform.ScaleX = TotalImageScale;
    transform.ScaleY = TotalImageScale;
    transform.TranslateX = ImagePosition.X;
    transform.TranslateY = ImagePosition.Y;

private Point GetTranslationDelta(
    Point currentFinger1, Point currentFinger2,
    Point oldFinger1, Point oldFinger2,
    Point currentPosition, double scaleFactor)
    var newPos1 = new Point(
        currentFinger1.X + (currentPosition.X - oldFinger1.X) * scaleFactor,
        currentFinger1.Y + (currentPosition.Y - oldFinger1.Y) * scaleFactor);

    var newPos2 = new Point(
        currentFinger2.X + (currentPosition.X - oldFinger2.X) * scaleFactor,
        currentFinger2.Y + (currentPosition.Y - oldFinger2.Y) * scaleFactor);

    var newPos = new Point(
        (newPos1.X + newPos2.X) / 2,
        (newPos1.Y + newPos2.Y) / 2);

    return new Point(
        newPos.X - currentPosition.X,
        newPos.Y - currentPosition.Y);

Also note that in the XAML we must set the RenderTransformOrigin to 0,0.
This finally passes the fingers-in-the-eyes test! Now we can add some bells and whistles like handling dragging, blocking the zoom-out when the image is at full screen, and avoiding that the image is dragged outside the visible area. For those extra details please see the sample solution at the end of the article.

What about MVVM?

You are using MVVM-light for your WP7 app, aren’t you? We all agree my code is ugly and not very MVVM friendly, I’ll make no excuses. However it’s all strictly UI code, so it doesn’t feel so bad to have it in the code behind. What you will probably do is wire TotalImageScale and ImagePosition to your ViewModel. Those two values fully define the state of the zoom, so if you save and reload them in your ViewModel you will be good to go.


Here is the full sample project so that you can play with the code within the comfort of your Visual Studio (my daughter is in the picture, please treat her with respect :-) ).
Feel free to use the code in your project. As always, any kind of feedback is deeply appreciated!

WP7 icons quick and undirty

An unexpectedly time consuming part of Windows Phone 7 development are icons. Developers often don’t put much care into icons, and they are wrong. Your app is listed in the marketplace with an icon and most users just skip the crappy ones. If you make a bad icon most users won’t even read what the application is about, let alone download and install it.

That said, as a developer with some occasional design inspirations I found Expression Blend to be the perfect tool to generate WP7 graphics. The simple, minimalist style of WP7 icons just fits well with Blend and XAML in general.  Pro designers will probably be better off with specific graphic tools, but to me it’s just easier and faster to “program” my icons in Blend. I’ve had some decent results to support this approach but of course YMMV (the smile below is a placeholder and should be judged as such :-) ).


The main issue in creating the graphics with Blend is that you spend a lot of time cropping pictures to the correct size. That’s why I built myself a raw tool that is now decent enough to share with the world. It’s really raw, but it does the job. In fact it’s nothing more than a Blend/VS solution with correctly sized canvas and the ability to export all the images in one shot. The code is horrible and all, but it saved me a lot of time.



The Windows Phone 7 marketplace requires you to create several icons in different sizes. Don’t take this as an unnecessary hassle, it is in fact an opportunity: it means you can create a pixel-perfect image for every size. Do not create an image and just resize it to each size. There are good reasons against this:

1. The tile image is not a simple icon. It will be shown on the main phone page and includes at least the application name. That’s why your image must have an offset to take this into account. My solution overlays the system settings icon, so that you can check if your logo is correctly centered. If your icons are full-width you can ignore this.


2. You can (and should) use a different detail level for every size. A good looking 173×173 icon may look like an undefined mass of blurry pixels when resized to 62×62. Just keep the general theme and image consistent.

3. Straight lines will become anti-aliased and look blurry when you resize them (in XAML when you use a viewbox). It’s simple: the width of a line when stretched could become a non-integer value (for ex. 3.5 pixels) and will look blurry. If you have a different image for every size you have full control and can make one-pixel changes to avoid this effect. Look at this example: it may not look obvious but on a close look you’ll see that the left picture is not as well defined as the right one. On the phone, the difference is even more obvious.



Usage is simple: open the solution in Blend 4 or Visual Studio 2010 (it’s a WPF application), delete the placeholder smile and put your graphics in its place. Run the application and hit the export button to save the images. Tip: use resources for colors, shapes, etc. so that you can change them in one shot.
Enough said: download WP7IconBuddy and use it at your own risk. I’d love to hear some feedback.

Simple Error Reporting on WP7 RE-REDUX

If you haven’t read Rudi Grobler’s Simple Error Reporting on WP7 and Simple Error Reporting on WP7 Redux, please go read them now. Basically it’s about reporting errors at runtime from a Windows Phone 7 application. I always incorporate this kind of functionality in my applications (not only on Windows Phone) and it has proven to be very useful in these years.

While Rudi’s implementation uses the EmailComposeTask to send an error report, I do it in a slightly different and by submitting the report as http POST to a web page that then sends the email. This way the process is entirely silent and nothing is shown to the user (except the prompt). My reasoning is that the less steps she has to perform, the more likely she is to send the report.

In order to use this method you’ll need some server, but nothing fancy is required. I suspect you already have something adequate in place (for example the one hosting your blog).

Client Side

This is the code I put on the phone:

public void Application_UnhandledException(object sender, ApplicationUnhandledExceptionEventArgs e)
    if (MessageBoxResult.OK != MessageBox.Show("We encountered a problem and need to close. Would you like to tell us?",
                                "Oh no!",

        var subj = e.ExceptionObject.Message;
        var body = new StringBuilder("Stacktrace:");

        var wc = new WebClient();
        wc.Headers[HttpRequestHeader.UserAgent] = "Mozilla/5.0";
        wc.Headers[HttpRequestHeader.ContentType] = "application/x-www-form-urlencoded";
        wc.UploadStringCompleted += (s, er) => MessageBox.Show("Thanks for your report!");
            new Uri("http://your-host.com/bug-report.php"),
    catch (WebException)
        MessageBox.Show("The report could not be sent (no network available?).");

Don’t forget to replace the messages with something better. You can add whatever you like to the report, just keep in mind that if you query DeviceExtendedProperties to get the peak memory usage, your app will need the Identity Capability (which looks a bit scary in the marketplace in my opinion).

Server Side

On the server side you can do pretty much anything: you could insert the report in a database or fill in a ticket in your bug tracker. I keep it simple and send an email (please set up a dedicated address if you do this). My server is rather fast but only supports PHP, so that’s what I use:

	if (isset($_POST["subject"]) &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp; isset($_POST["body"]))
		mail("youremail@your-host.com", "wp7 app bug report: ".$_POST["subject"], $_POST["body"]);
		echo "ok.";
		echo "missing parameters.";

Please notice that this is not the most secure practice in the world as someone could sniff the traffic generated by your app and exploit this page to flood your mailbox. A simple solution is to limit this page to send a maximum of say 10 emails/hour. Anyways if you are getting a much larger number of legit hits, chances are that the exception is always the same one (or your app is really buggy and you deserve to be flooded :-P).

Is this method better than using the EmailComposeTask? I don’t know, but it’s just another option at your disposal.