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Write Once, Run Anywhere: the Future of Mobile Development

Write Once, Run Anywhere: the Future of Mobile Development

December 19, 2012 0 Comments

It’s hard to get your head around a zeitgeist when your in the middle of it, but that’s exactly what developers need to do as mobile devices continue to dominate our working lives.

There's no denying that smartphones and tablets have changed the way we find and install the applications we use, and any business that can tell which way the wind blows is adopting a ‘mobile first’ approach.

According to a recent study by InformationWeek only a quarter (26 per cent) of business technology decision makers don't have custom applications or have plans on developing them, and the vast majority are evaluating at least one mobile operating system for use within the business and/or for developing custom mobile applications.

The ubiquitous connectivity of mobile devices has brought a whole new level of remote working for employees and a range of 'self-service' opportunities for customers and users.

Compared to their predecessors desktops and laptops, smartphones are limited in terms of processing power and screen size, but are also packed with a lot more sensors such as touchscreens, GPS, accelerometers, cameras, Bluetooth and NFC – all of which can be leveraged by smart applications.

This offsets some of the limitations of mobile by offering a range of smart interface possibilities as well as adding levels of context and capability that desktop applications can't match.

The explosion of smart devices has created some incredibly complex challenges for developers. This is mainly due to the number of different platforms and devices around. Not only do developers considering native mobile applications have to consider developing for iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone, they also have to consider the variety of different smartphones and tablets.

As a result, some developers have turned to developing web-based apps in HTML5. Because these usually run in the device's browser, they do not have the same complexity challenges that native app development brings. But these apps also don't offer the same local 'app experience' and the features that come with. There are also still concerns around security and performance for web-based applications.

According to Information Week's research, the native versus browser debate is still raging, with each strategy garnering 74 per cent of respondents who plan to deploy custom applications in one form or the other.

While some apps are best suited as specifically native or browser based, in many cases, the answer lies in the hybrid app. A hybrid app is one that is developed on HTML5 and Java script libraries, such as JQuery, but delivered in a 'wrapper' that makes it look and feel like a native app. This gives developers the advantage of the browser-based 'write once, and run anywhere' while allowing them to tap into the functionality, security and performance of a native app, as well as the delivery model, such as being downloaded from the app store. In this scenario Q&A and testing is simplified down to a single version, or certainly much closer to this goal than what is possible with pure native apps. This approach not only simplifies development and maintenance, but also delivers consistency for users regardless of their platform of choice.

Whether it's developing a native app, a browser based one, or taking a hybrid approach, mobile apps are a unique species and it's a mistake to attempt to transfer techniques that worked well for desktop application development. The key is embracing new methodologies and seek out best practice from partners and providers to find the right applications to empower users, both within and outside the business.

Dion Picco

View all posts from Dion Picco on the Progress blog. Connect with us about all things application development and deployment, data integration and digital business.

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