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Book review: Professional iPhone Programming with MonoTouch and .NET/C#

The Professional iPhone Programming with MonoTouch and .NET/C# book, which was first released in 2010, is an excellent starting point for .NET developers wanting to wrap their head around the iOS-stack and really getting started with MonoTouch development.

To quote its introduction,

This book is for .NET developers that are interested in creating native iPhone applications written in .NET/C# … [and] is designed to help you get up to speed with the iPhone, not to really teach you about the .NET Framework or C# language, which we assume you already know.

Since the book presumes that you already know your .NET and C#, it quickly gets you where you want to be, starting you off with a brief product comparison (.NET Framework, Mono and MonoTouch), followed by a walk-through of MonoTouch’s major components and its top-level namespaces.

Chapter 2 introduces you to your prerequisites to start developing, i.e. which SDK:s you need to install in what order, an introduction to MonoDevelop and to Xcode. Now, seeing as the book is a couple of years old by now, you wouldn’t recognise yourself in Xcode (Interface Builder) after reading the introductory chapter. The concepts are the same, though, and the book does a very good job staying on such an altitude that I still feel that its a good read. After you’ve read the introductory chapter, you can supplement your newly acquired knowledge by reading my blog post on XCode and MonoDevelop from a Visual Studio developer’s point of view to get up to speed.

The succeeding two chapters deal with the iOS interfaces, patterns and controls in a digestible manner, showing a lot of code and its result. That goes to say for the entire book, really – it contains a near perfect mix of imagery and code, letting you enjoy the book even when you are far away from your computer. I read this book whilst away on vacation and felt that I learnt a lot without coding a single example during the length of the book.

Chapters 5 and 6 walks us through working with, and displaying, data, teaching us how to access the SQLite database system on the iPhone, connecting to various types of web services and then displaying this data in iPhone’s ubiquitous tables. Here, the author also brings up various strategies for upgrading your data storage during upgrades of your application.

After learning to work with data, chapter 7 introduces us to both iOS’ location and mapping libraries, followed by chapters on application settings, working with the device hardware and its multimedia capabilities.

Chapter 11 teaches us how to integrate with the existing software – such as initiating Skype calls – on the device and also how to integrate with third-party Objective-C libraries (yeah, MonoTouch allows you to do that too!).

Localizing for an International Audience (chapter 11), I found extra interesting as I had recently implemented localization into a Windows Phone 7 application framework and because localization is something often brought up in Sweden, where I live. Not only just showing off the available APIs, this chapter discusses the localization files’ format, various presentation concerns when internationalizing an application and how to utilize .NET’s excellent globalization features to format dates, times, numbers and currencies. After reading this chapter, I got inspired to create a translation community where developers everywhere to help each other localize their apps, simply by crowd-sourcing their localization files. The community is available at localizable.org.

In chapter 13, the book brings up device concerns and which extra controls are available when you are targeting the iPad. It also details how to interpret gestures and how to build an app that works on both the iPhone and the iPad (an universal app).

By this point, the authors hope that you are so comfortable with them, that you will not instantly push the book away on the thought of talking about Objective-C. Thus, chapter 14 attempts to give you just enough knowledge about the native programming APIs to be able to digest code examples found on the internet.

As you have fought your way through chapter 14, the final chapter of the book teaches you all about how the App Store works, and how you submit your apps to it. As a bonus feature, it also brings up how to promote your app, leaving your with a sense completeness.

Summary

I found the book very approachable and a good start for any .NET developer wanting to learn iOS development. It’s almost-perfect balance of descriptive text, code-examples and imagery explaining the concepts, makes it ideal to read away from your computer – for example when you commute, or on your vacation!

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