Xamarin Debuts Snazzy User Interface Tools For iOS, Acquires Visual Studio Rock Stars

Xamarin, the mobile application development startup Microsoft was eyeing as an acquisition target a few months ago, is continuing to become more strategically important to Microsoft developers by adding new tools and expertise.

Wednesday, the San Francisco-based startup launched Xamarin 3, a set of tools it says will make it easier for its 625,000-plus developers to build native apps for iOS, Android and Windows.

In doing so, Xamarin is showing it's in lockstep with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's goal of letting developers use one batch of code to build apps for multiple platforms.

[Related: Sources: Microsoft In Talks To Acquire Mobile App Development Startup Xamarin ]

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The big new addition is Designer For iOS, which lets developers "quickly lay out sophisticated UIs, intuitively add event handlers, take advantage of auto-layout, and see live previews of custom controls," Nat Friedman, Xamarin co-founder and CEO, said in a blog post.

Xamarin already has a similar tool for Android, and it's pitching Designer For iOS as a better alternative to Apple's Xcode Interface Builder because it's seamlessly integrated with its Xamarin Studio developer environment as well as Microsoft Visual Studio.

Also new is Xamarin.Forms, a library that lets developers build native user interfaces for iOS, Android and Windows Phone using a single, shared code base written in Microsoft's C# programming language.

"Delivered as a portable class library, Xamarin.Forms makes it easy to mix and match your shared UI code with the platform-specific user interface APIs Xamarin has always given you," Friedman said in the blog post.

With iOS Designer being integrated into Visual Studio, developers can now develop and design every layer of a mobile app in C# and XAML without leaving Windows, Mike Beverly, a software engineer at Interknowlogy, a Carlsbad, Calif.-based Microsoft partner, told CRN.

But Beverly thinks Xamarin.Forms could end up being an even bigger opportunity for developers.

"The ability to lay out a single UI -- in xaml or programmatically in C# -- using common controls that automatically render into native iOS, Android and Windows user interfaces is a game-changer," Beverly said.

Al Hilwa, program director for IDC's Application Development Software research, said handling forms across iOS, Android and Windows Phone is a big step forward for Xamarin that will appeal to Microsoft ecosystem developers.

"We are seeing more and more enterprises adopting a mobile-first orientation for their app dev investment, and so these tools are coming at just the right time as enterprises negotiate these challenges," Hilwa said in an email.

Xamarin 3 has a number of cross-platform code sharing features, including Shared Projects, which lets developers use code across iOS, Android and Windows while using Xamarin Studio or Visual Studio. The new release also produces and consumes Portable Class Libraries in both development environments.

Meanwhile, Xamarin also has acquired the Visual Studio division of Clarius Consulting, a Buenos Aires, Argentina-based .Net development firm. Founded in 2004, Clarius has built Visual Studio extensions for a number of high-profile clients, and Microsoft is also a customer.

Terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but in a separate blog post, Friedman described Clarius co-founders Daniel Cazzulino and Victor Garcia Aprea and their team as "the world’s foremost experts on extending Visual Studio."