Working with a delightfully simple XAML AppBarHint

On the left, an App Bar Hint in the Mail app. On the right, our App Bar hint using the AppBarHint control

App bars are a fundamental element of Windows 8 application architecture, asking app designers to place controls important to their program hidden away off screen. Unfortunately, the user experience for discovering these commands was for some unknown reason completely overlooked my Microsoft. I’m sure we’ve all at some point come across a user disappointed that their favourite app is missing some function, only to show them it’s sitting their hidden away on an app bar that they had no idea existed. And even though I am myself aware of app bars, I still end up surprising myself sometimes – did you know that the built in Bing image search in Windows 8.1 has support for filtering in the bottom app bar? Nope, neither did I, until I stumbled upon it by complete accident a fortnight ago.


Discoverability always been an issue in Windows Immersive applications, and thankfully now Microsoft have officially changed their guidance on App Bars to do the sane thing: recommending you place some sort of hint to the user to tell them about the existence of these commands. Microsoft themselves do this with a little collapsed application bar that you can see in a couple of their application, like Mail & Internet Explorer. They don’t however, ship a control that let’s you easily do this, and nor do they replicate this helpful UI hint across all of their applications.



Step in, me. In the interests of making this control ridiculously easy for everyone to use, here is what the XAML looks like to create this control, fully hooked up to your applications app bars:


<Controls:AppBarHint />


Yep. That’s it.  It lays out using the standard XAML behaviour, so put it in a place where it’s able to dock itself to the bottom of the screen and you’re off.


The control is smart enough to bind itself to your bottom application bar, and optionally your top application bar. It even takes in too account the fact that your application bars may not be directly on the page the control lives in, but in some parent frame page. No problem! How does it do this? With a little help from the VisualTreeHelperExtensions class, the AppBarHint with automatically look along the VisualTree for you to find the appropriate app bar to bind too. Helpful little fellow isn’t he?

void BindToTopAppBar()
                var page = this.GetAncestorsOfType<Page>().FirstOrDefault(p => p.TopAppBar != null);

                if (page != null)
                    Binding binding = new Binding
                        Mode = BindingMode.TwoWay,
                        Path = new PropertyPath("IsOpen"),
                        Source = this

                    page.TopAppBar.SetBinding(AppBar.IsOpenProperty, binding);
            catch {  }


I find this control so useful in fact, that I drop it in every project I have that has a bottom application bar. It just doesn’t make sense to hide these commands from the user.



Screenshot (9)

The app bar hint is pretty closely modelled on the one included in Microsoft’s Mail application, which itself is actually mildly different from the one in Internet Explorer (with differently sized ellipses and opacity changes). This includes having the same helpful tooltip text, and the same PointerOver animation. Thankfully the XAML is pretty simple, so you can change the default theme for it pretty simply, or set it’s properties like a normal element. The two properties you should usually ever need to change are the Background / Foreground brushes, and they support being changed like every other XAML element.


For reference, here’s what the default XAML looks like. The template itself isn’t much more than a TextBlock in a Grid.

<Style TargetType="controls:AppBarHint">
        <Setter Property="Background" Value="{ThemeResource AppBarBackgroundThemeBrush}"/>
        <Setter Property="Foreground" Value="{ThemeResource AppBarItemForegroundThemeBrush}" />
        <Setter Property="Height" Value="15" />
        <Setter Property="Padding" Value="0,-7,56,0" />
        <Setter Property="UseLayoutRounding" Value="False" />
        <Setter Property="FontSize" Value="31.333" />
        <Setter Property="FontWeight" Value="Bold" />
        <Setter Property="VerticalAlignment" Value="Bottom" />
        <Setter Property="HorizontalAlignment" Value="Stretch" />
        <Setter Property="ToolTipService.ToolTip" Value="Show more commands (Windows logo key+Z, or right-click)" />
        <Setter Property="Template">
                <ControlTemplate TargetType="controls:AppBarHint">
                    <Grid x:Name="ContentRoot"  Background="{TemplateBinding Background}" HorizontalAlignment="{TemplateBinding HorizontalAlignment}">
                            <VisualStateGroup x:Name="PointerStates">
                                <VisualState x:Name="DefaultState" />
                                <VisualState x:Name="PointerOverState">
                                        <DoubleAnimation Duration="0"  Storyboard.TargetName="PointerOverHighlight" To="0.15" Storyboard.TargetProperty="Opacity" />
                        <Grid x:Name="PointerOverHighlight" Opacity="0" Background="White" />
                        <TextBlock Foreground="{TemplateBinding Foreground}"  HorizontalAlignment="Right" TextWrapping="Wrap" VerticalAlignment="Center" Margin="{TemplateBinding Padding}"  FontFamily="Segoe UI Symbol" Text="⋯"/>


Having a hint helps the user experience a lot – as does having a tooltip to help inform mouse and keyboard users of even easier ways to get the app bars open. One thing to consider however is whether to open both app bars or just one when using the hint. All of the other standard ways of opening apps bar (right clicking, swiping down, etc) open both app bars together.


By default this control opens just the bottom app bar, but by setting the OpensTopAppBar property to true, it will automatically open the top application bar too. I may decide to make this the default behaviour at some point – as this is just one more step to help you make improving the user experience for your users easier on your part.


You can grab a copy of the complete AppBarHint control here, distributed under the Ms-PL.