Microsoft has revealed a prototype app that turns simple sketches of an app interface into working code.
The Ink to Code app lets developers draw rough approximations of UI elements—such as buttons, text boxes and image placeholders—and then automatically generates the code needed. For example, drawing a rough freehand rectangle with 'username' scrawled inside would generate code to display a username input field, as you can see in the video below.
The app recognizes which sketches correspond to which UI elements using the Windows 10 Ink APIs.
Ink to Code can currently turn UI sketches into XML markup for Universal Windows Platform apps and Xamarin for Android apps.
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Alex Corrado, a senior software engineer on the Xamarin Designer team and one of the originators of the project, said Ink to Code was about streamlining the brainstorming and prototyping process for app developers.
"Getting your ideas for a new app or feature onto paper is one of the fastest, most natural parts of the brainstorming. But then, you ultimately need to turn that sketch into code and sooner than you know it, 10, 20, 30 iterations of a sketch really add up," he said.
Ink to Code was built by interns at Microsoft's New England Research and Development site in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The Ink to Code app is available via the Microsoft Store in the US and Canada. Due to being an early build, the app currently only recognizes a few UI elements and only generates relatively simple code, and Microsoft wants feedback from developers and designers on how the app should be improved.
The prototype app is being released as part of Microsoft's Garage project, an initiative to allow developers to test out new ideas with proof-of-concept software. An earlier project to come out of Microsoft Garage is Email Insights, which aimed to simplify the process of searching email across Outlook and Gmail.
The release of Ink to Code continues the tradition of Microsoft building tools to automate tedious and repetitive parts of coding, such as the recently released Visual Studio App Center, which is designed to make it easier to deploy, test, build and monitor applications, without having to stitch together multiple products.
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Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.