How to Build an App for the Microsoft Surface Hub

By Features PCmag

If you think your application would be perfectly suited for the Microsoft Surface Hub or if you'd like to build an app specifically for the Surface Hub, Microsoft has made it easy for you to take advantage of the Surface Hub's custom Microsoft Windows 10 developer environment.

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At its core, the Surface Hub is a unique device that serves several specific roles. The Surface Hub is primarily designed for business collaboration, productivity, and videoconferencing via Microsoft Skype for Business. It comes in two models: the $8,999, 55-inch, full HD model and the $21,999, 84-inch, 4K model. If you've never heard of the Surface Hub, check out this primer.

Because the Surface Hub only runs Windows 10 Universal apps and can't run apps specific to desktops and tablets, the list of software available on the Surface Hub is relatively small. However, Microsoft has encouraged app developers and businesses to create and redesign apps specifically built to perform on the Surface Hub's large-format, multipoint touch screen. Because the apps must be universal, the apps will also scale nicely when run on Windows laptops, phones, and tablets.

How to Get Started
Make sure you're running on a Windows 10 device. Once you're running the latest version of the operating system (OS), download the Microsoft Visual Studio Software Developers Kit (SDK). You'll be prompted to enable your Windows PC or phone for development; accept the prompt. You'll then be asked to register as an app developer; this lets you develop content for (and post it to) the Windows Store.

To build and test directly on the Surface Hub, head to the Settings tab and click "Update and Security." Then click "Develop" and enable "Developer Mode." You'll see a watermark on the upper right-hand corner of the screen, which lets you know you're developing content for the device. You'll then be prompted to connect your PC to the Surface Hub via an IP address.

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In Microsoft Visual Studio, you'll be able to build and test your app to make sure it looks and performs the way it's been designed to. You can view app analytics, manage in-app products, and enable services for app users. If you've never built a Universal app, follow this tutorial on how to build Windows 10 Universal apps. Keep in mind: You can't run Win32 apps or Windows 8-era apps. You must target "Windows.Universal" devices in your app manifest.

Considerations When Building a Surface Hub-Specific App
In addition to the multitude of things you'll need to know about building a Windows 10 Universal app, there are several things you should think about that are specific to the Surface Hub. For example: Microsoft Skype for Business is integrated within the Surface Hub; it's always there and it's always available so why not take advantage of it? Skype on the Surface Hub can run alongside any two apps simultaneously. Can you make Skype interact with your app? Will Skype add any value to the software you're building?

Additionally, the Surface Hub features 100-point finger touch and 3-point pen inputs. So more than one person will be able to interact with the app and inputs won't follow the standard single finger or single mouse-click protocol. Make sure to enable inking and touch controls within your app in order to take advantage of a Surface Hub-specific feature. But more importantly, don't restrict the number of inputs to just one or two fingers or pens. You'll want to expand the ways in which users perceive and manipulate content on the Surface Hub. For example: There are custom-made apps—like the one designed by Siemens—that deliver 360-degree moveable images that you can manipulate. Users can push, pull, enlarge, shrink, rotate, flatten, or "step inside" images via the Surface Hub's screen by using multiple fingers as guides.

Another crucial Surface Hub characteristic that you need to be wary of is, the Surface Hub auto-wipes after each session. So don't build your app with the intention of storing data and building off of previous sessions. The Surface Hub is primarily designed for one-off meetings and interactions, and most of its apps are built with that in mind. If you need users to be able to save data from the app running on the Surface Hub, prompt them to save to the cloud before shutting the app. Additionally, you'll want to remove all first-run experiences because, in theory, every run on the Surface Hub will be a "first run."

Test Your App
Once you've built your app, you'll need to test it to see if it works well on the Surface Hub. Unfortunately, the simulator doesn't use the same interface as the Surface Hub so you'll have to make a few tweaks to make sure the app acts on the Surface Hub in the way you intended.

For example: You'll need to add the 55- and 84-inch Surface Hub resolutions to the Microsoft Visual Studio Simulator before you run your app through it. For precise details on how to apply the resolutions to the Studio and deploy the app to your Surface Hub, check out this Microsoft tutorial.

Wide App Deployment

If you're able to deploy the app to the Surface Hub, and if the app performs the way you envisioned it would, you'll now need to set up your app for additional deployments. If you'd like to make your app available to the general public, then you'll simply need to keep your app defined as "Retail Distribution," which is the default setting. However, if you'd like to make the app private and available only to your business and partners, you'll need to run through the following steps:

Select the enterprises that can have access to your app. Leave the box for "Store Managed Volume Licensing" checked so that the enterprises with which you're working can upload the app more than once.

You'll then need to submit the app to the Windows Store where Microsoft will certify it. Once it's ready, enterprise administrators will have to add it to their private store in Windows Store for Business. Voila, you're done!

This article originally appeared on PCMag.com.