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TVNZ and other videos

Developers: POCKETVouchers on Azure

[box type=”info”]This is one of a series of sponsored blog posts highlighting New Zealand companies working with cutting-edge Microsoft technology. If you’re interested in Windows Phone 7 development, you should download the free Windows Phone Developer Tools and start building your own Windows Phone application.[/box]

POCKETVouchers is a local mobile marketing company who specialise in traceable mobile vouchers. Their unique approach means that customers can track exactly how many vouchers have gone out, how many have been redeemed, and ensures that vouchers cannot be redeemed multiple times.

“I would recommend start-ups have a good look at Azure.”

When POCKETVouchers decided to rebuild their platform to support future growth, they chose to go with Azure as their cloud provider. Todd mentions that they did look at alternatives such as Rackspace and Amazon, but chose Azure for a number of reasons: cost competitiveness, performance, and familiarity. For developers already familiar with the Microsoft server platform, shifting to Azure is a low-impact choice. Todd did mention some minor hurdles with getting existing code migrated to SQL Azure, but once those are understood, it was smooth sailing.

POCKETVouchers are using the beta version of the Azure Extra Small VMs, which allows them to move their low-load administration UI, or test services on these cheaper, smaller VMs. This frees up cost and capacity so that they can use large VMs for high-load periods, or even dedicate virtual machines to customers expecting a spike in load, perhaps around a concert or event.

In the future, Todd and the team are planning to automate scaling: bringing up VMs when the system is under heavy load, then shutting them down again when the load subsides. This approach, coupled with the pay-per-hour Azure billing, means that POCKETVouchers can get the best of both worlds: near-infinite scalability without the high ongoing cost of running hundreds of machines.

Developers: Provoke discusses Windows Phone 7 and Azure

[box type=”info”]This is one of a series of sponsored blog posts highlighting New Zealand companies working with cutting-edge Microsoft technology. If you’re interested in Windows Phone 7 development, you should download the free Windows Phone Developer Tools and start building your own Windows Phone application.[/box]

Provoke are an online experience consultancy based out of Wellington in New Zealand. They build solutions using the full spectrum of Microsoft technologies: ASP.NET, Silverlight, SharePoint, and more. Coupled with their top-end user experience and design skills, it was a natural progression for Provoke to move into Windows Phone 7 development.

I had a chat with Provoke CTO Brendon Ford, and he took me through the Windows Phone 7 apps they have built. They’ve put together a couple of commercial apps: one for New Zealand Rugby that lets users track games and scores; and another for Fly Buys, allowing users to check their points balance and find deals.

“One of the great things about Windows Phone 7 development is that the developers are excited and engaged.”

Brendon made some interesting points about Windows Phone 7 development from the view of a development manager. Developers who already have experience with .NET and Silverlight can move to Windows Phone 7 very quickly, and he points out that developers are “excited and engaged” with mobile development work and will put the extra yards in without being asked. I’ve noticed this myself in our development shop too! The cost of entry is extremely low, so it’s a bit of a no-brainer to at least take the plunge. Brendon took it a step further by creating a development competition where Provoke developers who created an application for launch went in the draw to win a phone.

I also spoke to Michael McKenna, who developed one of those launch apps (“Want”, a location based, photographic wish-list). Michael said that the development story is “really familiar for a .NET developer”, and the transition was really easy. I asked him what his most difficult problem was, and he pointed out that XAML was a bit of a learning curve, and the device limitations in comparison to the emulator can be a trap.

Microsoft Azure

Brendon and I also chatted about Provoke’s use of Microsoft Azure. They’ve done things as simple as using a basic Azure instance for a short-term electronic Christmas card, and are looking at opportunities for Azure as a solution for peak loads. Brendon used the example of an All Blacks test, which would result in a very short, very heavy load. It would be crazy to have servers always running to handle that peak load, when they could run up additional Azure instances to cover the short demand period.

Developers: Datacom Devs talk Windows Phone 7

[box type=”info”]This is one of a series of sponsored blog posts highlighting New Zealand companies working with cutting-edge Microsoft technology. If you’re interested in Windows Phone 7 development, you should download the free Windows Phone Developer Tools and start building your own Windows Phone application.[/box]

Thivy Ruthramoorthy and Sashank Ramkumar are two recent university graduates working at Datacom‘s Auckland offices. Inspired by Microsoft New Zealand’s Windows Phone 7 app development challenge, they both downloaded the development tools and created applications for the competition within a month.

Sashank’s application took joint honours in the overall award, earning him a brand new HTC Trophy phone. The app is based on the public APIs from Eventfinder, a popular site for New Zealand gigs, events, and attractions. The social and location aspects of Eventfinder work well on the phone. Users can find events nearby, or search for events by name, category, and other details. The app has been well received, and Sashank is working with Eventfinder to flesh the app out and make it “official”.

Thivy’s app uses TVNZ’s semi-public programme listing feeds to display the current day’s TV listings. It’s a great looking application, and despite not winning the competition, Thivy has submitted the app to the Windows Phone Marketplace. The TVNZ Today app is consistently listed as one of the top entertainment apps in the New Zealand Marketplace.

I took some time to talk to Sashank and Tivy about their applications and the development process. They have some interesting thoughts and tips about Windows Phone 7 app development. Check it out above.

Developers: NV Interactive talks Windows Phone 7

[box type=”info”]NB: This is the first in a series of sponsored blog posts highlighting New Zealand companies working with cutting-edge Microsoft technology. If you’re interested in Windows Phone 7 development, you should download the free Windows Phone Developer Tools and start building your own Windows Phone application.[/box]

NV Interactive is a design and development company based out of Christchurch and Wellington in New Zealand. NV have a long-standing relationship with New Zealand Cricket, going back to some early work on big-screen scoreboard solutions for live matches.

More recently, NV Interactive put together the BLACKCAPS Video Vault, a searchable compilation of every highlight from international limited-over matches played in New Zealand. Built on Silverlight, the Vault is well worth checking out, with all highlights categorised by date, team, player, event, and more. But don’t let me be the judge: The BLACKCAPS Video Vault has netted NV Interactive two of their four finalists spots in the 2011 Onyas, New Zealand’s premier web awards.

So it was a natural choice for the team at NV Interactive to bring the New Zealand Cricket content to Windows Phone 7. They’ve combined scoring information (live and in real time when available) with the huge video archive, and added news feeds, game schedules, and tournament scoring tables. Similar to the Video Vault, you can search for videos by year (right back to 2005), match, and type of action (four, six, wicket). When you find what you want – probably a video of Ricky Ponting getting out – you can view the video right there in the application.

The app is a natural fit with the Windows Phone 7 UI, and makes fantastic use of the Silverlight development platform and media integration. I took some time on  a recent trip to Christchurch to talk to Zack from NV Interactive about the development process for the application. Take a look at the video below to see the app in action, and hear how NV found the development process.

Video: Toys for Bored Kids

School holidays start next week, so I’m taking a look at a bunch of different toys and gadgets that should keep bored kids happy for a few days.

Click below for video:

Item: LEGO Games (available at all good toy stores)
Price: From $25
Rating: 5 / 5
Info: Two toys in one! First you get to build the game board, then you get to play the game. The new LEGO games are original and fun. Each game has simple rules to follow, and provides hours of fun for 2-8 players (depending in the game). My favourite for a quick fun game is Minotaurus, but if you’re a great LEGO designer you’ll love Creationary: like Pictionary, but you have to build the “clue” with LEGO.
Item: Sea Monkeys
Price: $29.99 for the basic pack
Rating: 3 / 5
Info: An absolute classic. I remember reading about Sea Monkeys on the back of Commando comics when I was a small boy. I’m sure the reality is less exciting than the idea, but these things actually do grow up to be little brine shrimp. An easy first pet for any child. For a wee bit more ($34.99) you can get the Grow and Show kit, which includes a watch or locket to carry your Sea Monkeys in.
Item: Glow Crazy (available soon from Whitcoulls, Toyworld, and other toy stores)
Price: $64.99
Rating: 5 / 5
Info: Write on the walls without worrying tonight. Glow Crazy uses an invisible laser to write on glowing cling-film, or any other glow-in-the-dark object. It works incredibly well in a dim room, and comes with stencils so you can easily draw shapes and pictures.

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