Using Cloud Services to send Notifications with Windows Phone

July 28th, 2012
I am pretty excited because this week one of my other personal side projects called the “Windows Phone Baby Monitor” just won that “2012 Appies People’s Choice Award”, an internal contest for Microsoft colleagues.  What I would like to do in this post is give you some background on how I managed to implement SMS, Phone and Email notifications from Windows Phone for this app.
Baby Monitor for Windows Phone

Background

This application basically turns your Windows Phone into a baby monitor.  You leave the phone near your baby while it is sleeping and then when it detects crying it will send a notification by phone, email or SMS.  There are a number of things that I do within the application to set the decibel level and length of time the crying lasts to avoid false notifications like doors slamming.

Sending Notifications with Windows Phone API’s

When I first started building the application, I figured this would be very simple to implement because I could just write to some sort of Windows Phone API that would allow me to send the SMS, email or phone notifications.  Although there is an API for doing this, the main issue I had was the fact that the user needed to physically click an approve button for the notification to complete.  Since I figured it was somewhat unrealistic to expect a baby to sit up, move to the phone and click a button when it was done sleeping, I needed to come up with another solution.

Using Services to Send Notifications

From my work with Cotega (which is a monitoring service for SQL Azure databases), I had a little background experience on how to send notification.  For that service, I used Amazon’s SES  to send email notifications.  For this Baby Monitor, I chose to use a different service called SendGrid to send email notifications.  I used this service over Amazon SES because I wanted to compare the two and also because there was a great offer of 25,000 free emails / month for Azure services.  Since SendGrid does not support sending SMS or making phone calls, for this part I chose to use Twilio.

SendGrid

SendGrid was incredibly easy to implement within my MVC service.  The way it works with the Baby Monitor is that when the phone detects crying, it makes a WebClient request to my MVC service, passing some details like the Windows Phone device id, decibel level and the email address that needs to be contacted.  From that point the service makes a SendGrid request to send the email.  As you can see, the controller code is pretty simple and looks like this.

using SendGridMail;
using SendGridMail.Transport;
// Create the email object first, then add the properties.
SendGrid myMessage = SendGrid.GenerateInstance();
myMessage.AddTo(emailAddress);
myMessage.From = new MailAddress("\"Cotega Baby Monitor\" ", "Cotega Baby Monitor");
myMessage.Subject = "Baby Monitor Alert!";
myMessage.Text = "Crying was detected by the Baby Monitor.  Decibel Level: " + maxDecibels + ".  ";

// Create credentials, specifying your user name and password.
var credentials = new NetworkCredential("[myusername]", "[MyPassword]");

// Create an REST transport for sending email.
var transportREST = REST.GetInstance(credentials);

// Send the email.
transportREST.Deliver(myMessage);

Twilio for Sending SMS and Phone Notifications

This part was a little more complex because although sending notifications through Twilio is pretty cheap within North America, I still needed a mechanism to limit the ability for people to send unlimited notifications.  For this, I chose to implement a token based system that was linked to the device id of the phone.  When they download the app, I give them a certain number of tokens to send SMS and make phone calls (emails are free), and if they wish to purchase more they can do so and tokens are applied to their account.  There are some really cool things about Twilio such as:

  • Text to Voice for phone calls:  This allows me to send some text to the Twilio service such as “Your baby is crying” and when Twilio makes a call to the the person’s phone, the person hear’s a computer like voice stating “Your baby is crying”.
  • Attaching audio files to phone calls:  When I call the Twilio service, I can pass it a link to a URL that contains an audio file.  When Twilio makes the call to the person, the audio file can be played over the phone.  This is really useful because I can attach a snippet of audio of their baby crying to allow them to ensure that it is really their baby crying and not a jack hammer in the background or something else.

Just like SendGrid, the code used in the MVC controller is really very simple using the TwitML api.  Here is what it looks like for sending SMS messages.

using Twilio;
using Twilio.TwiML;
//twilioAccountSID and twilioAuthToken values are store in the web.config (hopefully encrypted)
public string twilioAccountSID = ConfigurationManager.AppSettings["twilioAccountSID"];
public string twilioAuthToken = ConfigurationManager.AppSettings["twilioAuthToken"];
//This it the controller code that sends the SMS message
var twilio = new TwilioRestClient(twilioAccountSID, twilioAuthToken);
string smsMessageBody = "Baby Monitor Alert! Crying detected at decibel Level: " + maxDecibels + ". ";
if (fileName != null)
    smsMessageBody += "http://cotega.com/audio/" + fileName + ".wav";
// if phone number is 10 digits I need to add the +1
if (phoneNumber.Length == 10)
    phoneNumber = "+1" + phoneNumber;
var msg = twilio.SendSmsMessage("+1[mytwilionumber]", phoneNumber, smsMessageBody);

There is a little bit of code that I have not show before and after that first checks a SQL Azure database to see if they have enough tokens to send a notification, and then updates their token count after the message is sent.

The code for making the phone call is very similar.

// Create an instance of the Twilio client.
TwilioRestClient client;
client = new TwilioRestClient(twilioAccountSID, twilioAuthToken);

// Use the Twilio-provided site for the TwiML response.
String Url = "http://twimlets.com/message";
Url = Url + "?Message%5B0%5D=" + "Hello.%20Crying%20was%20detected%20by%20the%20baby%20monitor.";
if (fileName != null)
    Url += "&Message%5B1%5D=" + "http://www.cotega.com/audio/"+fileName+".wav";

// Instantiate the call options that are passed to the outbound call
CallOptions options = new CallOptions();

// Set the call From, To, and URL values to use for the call.
// This sample uses the sandbox number provided by
// Twilio to make the call.
options.From = "+1[my twilio number]";
options.To = "+1" + phoneNumber;
options.Url = Url;

// Make the call.
Call call = client.InitiateOutboundCall(options);

Notice how I can attach a string of text along with a url to http://twimlets.com/message. For example, try clicking this link and see the XML that is created.  If you passed this to Twilio it would make a phone call and say “Hello from Liam”.  Notice also, how I attached a link to a WAV file.  Twilio will take that audio and play it when the person answers the phone.  Very cool right?

As I mentioned, I did not go into many details of how I linked the Windows Phone device ID to the service to allow me to verify they have enough tokens before making the call, but if you are interested in this, let me know and I can help you get going.

Liam

One Response to “Using Cloud Services to send Notifications with Windows Phone”

  1. […] Cavanagh (@liamca) described Using Cloud Services to send Notifications with Windows Phone in a 7/28/2012 […]

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