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So many devices, so little time

The mobile device market is continually changing, and this makes the technology choices for any company quite challenging. In the last six months, for example, Apple’s iPhone has remained a powerful but minority choice, Android handsets have gained nearly half of the UK smart phone market, Blackberry has seen a decline in use, and Windows mobile devices (notably Nokia’s) have had a slow, steady growth. (iPhones, however, represent most of the data traffic, meaning that iPhone owners really use their smart phones.)

The problem lies in the fact that these four platforms use different programming languages, APIs, and environments: Apple iOS uses mainly Objective C, Android uses Java for its Android SDK, Blackberry uses ActionScript and its Java RIM API, and Windows Mobile uses C# in the .NET compact framework. So to write a mobile app that is able to reach a wide audience, it may be necessary to develop, and more critically, maintain, four separate code bases. And I haven’t even mentioned the other options which met their death in the last year: Symbian and WebOS.

So in such a dynamic, ever-changing environment, how can banks (or any other corporation) make the right choice? For enterprise applications, distributed internally only to own employees, the problem is not as severe since both the hardware and software can be well controlled. But for public apps, it can be a real nightmare. This been a real impediment for many of our clients to move forward with their mobile ambitions.

One solution, which has been widely adopted, is to program to the common denominator: the web. A web-based solution gets around the problem because all these devices include web browsers with very similar capability. This is acceptable, but it has the drawback that web applications are unable to take advantage of smart phone functionalities such as GPS, camera, compass, accelerometer, calendar and contact access, etc. It is often these functions that give richness to the mobile experience.

There are frameworks on the market which try to overcome the problem by providing a common programming environment for all devices. PhoneGap, probably the most popular of these, allows for development in HTML and provides varying degrees of support for iOS, Android, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, Symbian, and Palm. However, PhoneGap was purchased by Adobe in October 2011 and was quickly donated to the Apache Software Foundation. (The rumor mill says that Adobe was interested in the team which built PhoneGap, but not the product itself.) Now PhoneGap, renamed Apache Callback, is in the Apache incubator where its (uncertain) future will be voted on.

It will be interesting how this develops further. Watch this space!

Karl Rieder, Delivery Manager, GFT

Comments: (1)

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 15 February, 2012, 18:14Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

My company has had good experience with RhoMobile, another cross-platform mobile apps development environment. We developed a location based task reminder which makes heavy use of smartphone features like GPS, phonebook and mapping. We could generate Android and iPhone native apps from a single code base developed over RhoMobile without changing even a single line of code. RhoMobile also claims support for WP7 although we didn't get a chance to try it out. The future of RhoMobile is somewhat unclear though - it got acquired by Motorola Mobility, which itself got acquired by Google later. 

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