Smart Mobile is a huge success story of the past Fanz Live two decades – and the devices get more powerful each year with the development of the applications. Many businesses benefit significantly from mobile technology – including industrial and commercial markets. Deploying applications to mobile users involves a unique set of challenges and choices.
Types of Applications for Mobile
The fundamental consideration in delivering business applications over mobile phones is the huge number of devices and the wide variety of features. Successful mobile application development often involves a combination of technologies and techniques. This is where a diverse skill set, together with an understanding of the mobile landscape, is essential to provide businesses with development services and effective guidance in this time of accelerating change. The challenges at this stage in mobile technology are mirrored by an ever-increasing range of opportunities for businesses to implement new and improved processes.
In general, there are two main approaches to delivering business solutions over mobile
The mobile Web has undergone enormous advances over the past few years. According to recent research, around a third of adults in the UK are now using a smartphone – it seems fairly safe to assume that this will only continue to increase. Many more mobile users have internet access. Although the functionality of mobile Web browsers is now at a good level, there are still considerable restrictions in terms of network connectivity and speed – this is expected to improve over the next couple of years as 4G kicks in. Still, for the moment, it remains a serious constraint.
Many organizations create mobile versions of their sites and Web services, with minimized content designed to cope with mobile hardware and data connectivity limitations. One potentially valuable prospect in the mobile Web will be the advance of HTML5. This technology is still under development, but it looks very promising, with major sites such as the Financial Times opting to use it rather than targeting specific mobile platforms. HTML5 offers a range of benefits, including facilities for offline support, multi-media, interactivity, and location awareness.
(2) Mobile Apps
Native mobile applications are software solutions deployed directly onto devices such as phones. Many mobile applications link to internet services, with the application, or “app”, handling user interaction natively. Mobile apps have the advantage of providing a deep level of interactivity suited to device hardware – for example, using gestures or sensors like GPS. The difficulty with using mobile applications to deliver business services is the range of platforms in operation. As of early 2011, Google, Apple, and RIM occupy around 90% of the smartphone market. However, the mobile landscape is still changing, and there are other players, including Windows and Palm – it would be unwise to make any predictions about how market share will look even in a matter of months as things stand.
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Microsoft has replaced the Windows Mobile system with Windows Phone 7, with an increased focus on consumer use. Although Microsoft currently has a reduced position in terms of smartphone market share, the upcoming Mango release looks very promising and is being received quite well in early testing.
In terms of technologies for mobile apps, the list is long and depends on which platform (or platforms) you choose to target. Among the most commonly used programming languages for mobile applications are Java, Objective-C, and C++. Each major platform has a specific Software Development kit with its tools to help with the design, testing, debugging, and deployment.
The complexity of mobile application development is such that targeting even a single platform involves extensive testing. Some businesses maximize development resources by balancing native user interaction with cross-platform resources at the back end, in which case a mobile app can effectively function as an interface for a Web application.
Aside from targeting specific mobile platforms through software and Web development, there are additional ways to exploit mobile contexts for some business processes – SMS is one such case. In this model, services are delivered as SMS text messages. This has the benefit of generally working across all phones, and payment can be handled via users’ bills – but it’s a very limited form of interaction. SMS also has a problem in that message delivery is not guaranteed. Integrating SMS message handling into Web applications is quite simple – and support for processing SMS messages from users is widely available.
Google’s Android operating system is going from strength to strength. Having initially been seen as a platform of interest mainly to geeks, Android now occupies around a third of the smartphone market share. Android’s growth is partly down to the platform’s openness, which is available on phones across the market range and from various hardware manufacturers, making it accessible to a more diverse range of users than the iPhone. Apps available through the Android Market are also subject to very little control, which produces a great deal of variety and flexibility but naturally results in a higher proportion of poor-quality applications in circulation.
The iPhone was, of course, in a dominant position as the advance of the smartphone took shape, and the platform is still in a very powerful place. Although business users naturally tended toward Blackberry in the past, both iPhone and Android have made considerable headway for enterprise and consumer use. At the same time, Blackberry has also started catering more to the consumer user. The result is that all three major smartphone platforms occupy some of the same space.
The iPhone offers support for external business utilities such as Microsoft Exchange, and unlike Android, iPhone apps are subject to serious vetting before users can deploy them. The natural downside to this increased control over the platform is a lack of flexibility. Still, the plus side for business applications is a very high guarantee of quality and reliability for the end user – and ultimately for any business processes being implemented through the technology.
With the hugely popular visual designs and interaction models the brand is famous for, the iPhone is an attractive platform for commercial applications. Apple has been responsible for developing innovative features whose success has prompted other platforms to emulate them, such as multi-touch interaction.
There are some serious considerations with iPhone development:
Apple does not permit users to install applications onto the iPhone directly – all applications must be bought from the Apple Store, and Apple takes a 30% cut. There may be some way around this in the future, but at present, we are not aware of it. For certain applications, the iPhone’s fragility, financial value, and battery life may pose problems. Of course, these obstacles apply mostly to commercial/industrial applications. They are not particularly a problem in terms of creating end-user applications. Blueberry has the Objective-C skills necessary to develop iPhone programs, and we would be very interested in discussing this with customers. Although iPhone has lost considerable smartphone ground to both Blackberry and Android, it is generally still seen as the platform to beat. It continues to be a market leader in many ways.
About RIM Blackberry
RIM’s Blackberry platform was long regarded as the mobile system of choice for business and professional users, a perception that persists to a certain degree. Over the past few years, Blackberry has also made significant advances in the consumer market, introducing handsets that have proven especially popular among young smartphone users. Like Android, Blackberry hardware is very varied, so users can access mobile sites and applications via differing screen sizes and controls – increasing the complexity of any development project. The Blackberry platform delivers a wealth of enterprise services as standard, with Blackberry Enterprise Server as a major asset for corporate users. Email on Blackberry is particularly strong, so users dependent on a high level of security and reliability in messaging (and communications in general) naturally tend towards this platform.
While iPhones are focused on touchscreen interaction, as are Android devices to a slightly lesser degree, Blackberry handsets will most likely provide hardware keyboards for text input. This can be key to the platform’s potential for certain application categories. A possible issue for mobile Web applications targeted at Blackberry is that the Web browsers on the system have, in the past, been significantly less advanced than those on both iPhone and Android. However, recent models have addressed this issue using the latest WebKit browser. Native apps can be deployed through the Blackberry App World marketplace, which has, to date, not occupied as central a role for users as the app stores on iPhone and Android. However, the brand is focusing extensive efforts on developing this usage aspect.
About Windows Mobile
Windows Mobile and Windows Phone 7 represent Microsoft’s foray into the mobile world, which has enjoyed varying degrees of success in the consumer and industrial markets. From the consumer point of view, some of the high-end smartphone brands such as HTC and LG are currently producing handsets with the Windows Phone operating system deployed on them, with networks including O2 and Orange providing mobile services. Nokia and Windows have reached a major deal in which the manufacturer is dropping its Symbian platform entirely to focus on Windows as its operating system of choice. In 2011, Microsoft was due to release a major new version of the mobile Windows platform, Mango. This much-anticipated release could drastically alter the position of Microsoft within the mobile world, partly because of the Nokia partnership and partially since the system is set to include several new features, such as increased support for HTML5.
At the same time, Windows Mobile has also been adopted strongly by manufacturers of industrial PDAs and mobiles – portable computing device products designed for commercial rather than consumer use. This has seen Microsoft exploring various industrial contexts for mobile processing, with Windows Mobile 6.5 particularly successful in such environments and hardware produced by manufacturers, including Motorola. Windows Mobile is, therefore, a natural choice for many mobile workplace needs, including warehouse and delivery services.
From a development perspective, Windows Mobile has very strong advantages. Microsoft has provided a rich platform of development tools – including the C# language, which is much easier to use than C on other mobiles. Microsoft also includes means for communication between the software on the phone and central servers, including a small database engine. The strong development tools and wide availability of different devices make Windows Mobile a particularly valuable platform for delivering business applications. At Blueberry, we have a uniquely high level of expertise in Windows Mobile systems, so we are well-positioned to deliver solutions on this platform.