Book review: Learning MonoTouch – A Hands-On Guide to Building iOS Application with C# and .NET

Having worked with MonoTouch since the first private beta and now actively working as a part of the Xamarin documentation team, Michael Bluestein (blog, twitter, github) is in a great position of authoring this book. Michael was working on the iPhone platform before MonoTouch came around, a fact that shines-through a bit throughout the book, where he can offer us more insights into the underlying platform than previous literature I’ve read.

Starting out with a walk-through of how to get your development environment set up, Mike guides us through creating a basic MonoTouch app. He is good about pointing out what happens beneath the scenes too, giving us insight into what a .XIB file really is, how MonoTouch binds to the controls you lay out in Interface Builder (Xcode) and how to access the underlying fields, if needed be – all in the first chapter of the book!

In chapter 2 - iOS SDK via MonoTouch – Mike gives us the big picture of the iOS SDK, outlining its various components. Beyond that, he also compares the Objective-C and MonoTouch APIs, throwing the reader head-first into the deep-end, something that was left for the last chapter in the previous book I read. Now, this isn’t necessarilly a bad thing – you get hints of how to interoperate with the underlying API – but it would probably make more sense if you had an iOS background. What Mike succeeds in doing, however, is giving you a sense that Objective-C and C# isn’t that different – there are quirks, but there is still a common inheritance.

Chapter 3 walks us through the Model-View-Controller design pattern, which has heavily influenced the iOS (and OSX) SDK API design. Containing a lot of useful information, the chapter is very focused on the available tools – namely Interface Builder (Xcode) – which, unfortunately, has changed substantially since the book was released. Again, though, Mike is good about showing us what happens beneath the veneer, giving us a deeper understanding of how things really work. This chapter contains a fun code example that uses the onboard sensors – making our studies more attached to the real world – and finishes up with explaining how to create your own UIView (like a User-Drawn Control in Windows Forms) and interacting with touch events.

I really liked the book’s fourth chapter - Common iOS Classes – as Mike not only went through a bulk of the available controls (ViewControllers), but also showed how to customise a lot of them to your liking!

Following a chapter with a bulk of the available controls, chapter 5 focuses on tables and navigation – essential bits in any iOS application.

In chapter 6 - Graphics and Animation – we get introduced to Quartz2D and the fundamentals of drawing lines, figures, images and PDF files. As an added bonus, we get a gem in how to attaching a dynamically created PDF document to an outgoing e-mail. The chapter finishes up by introducing Core Animation, which you can get a glimpse of in this video:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JePwHjVj6U&feature=plcp]

 

Chapter 7 introduces us to Core Location, but also gives us valuable insight into the Significant Location Changes API and the Region Monitoring API, making it highly valuable chapter, even if you’ve read about Core Location before.

After we have learned all about location monitoring, chapter 8 tells us about MapKit, including how to draw annotations (like drop pins) and custom overlays.

Connecting to Web Services is what chapter 9 is all about, doing a good job highlighting the different options available and also containing a nice discussion of when to use the .NET networking APIs contra the CocoaTouch HTTP classes. In the examples, the REST-based API calls are executed against Bing’s search API, making it feel like we are building something real. There are examples of having Bing return both XML (which is parsed with XmlDocument and LINQ-to-XML) and JSON (using System.Json). After walking through REST (being the preferred method whenever possible), we learn about Consuming SOAP-based Web Services using .NET 2.0 client proxies, followed by a section on WCF.

Chapter 10 was another great chapter, offering insights into the Bonjour networking services available on the iOS devices, including GameKit.

In chapter 11, we learn about the various storage APIs we have to our disposal, including SQLite, .NET serialisation against the file system and the application settings APIs.

As the final chapter, iPad Development tells us how to port our iPhone application to the iPad and which extra controls we have available on the bigger screen.

Summary

In summary, I found this book to be slightly harder to penetrate than the previous one I read, but on the flip side, I felt that this book contained more information. The book contains some highly valuable gems (ch 4, 7, 9, 10), which alone makes it worthwhile. As such, I can highly recommend it!

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