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Mobile App Development Strategies

Rush to enable enterprise mobile development pits native against container approaches

Both enterprises and independent software vendors (ISVs) know the software-development game's changed. Not only do they need to rapidly develop and deploy more mobile apps across multiple interfaces and device platforms, but they need to really rethink all of their client development -- and even try and come up with a singular approach to most of them.

Fast to their rescue, the suppliers of development tools and testing systems are tripping over each other to appeal to them in this new game. And as in the past with other deployment advances, we're seeing a major philosophical split between the "nativists" (running directly on the device hardware) and the "virtualizers" (with their scripting and interpretive layers and containers).

First, the nativists. Embarcadero Technologies, with its RAD Studio and former Borland CodeGear assets, is not surprisingly catering to its skills base -- the hard core developers at home in Delphi and C++Builder, as well as C and Objective-C. Embarcadero therefore today delivered RAD Studio XE4, with an attractive offer to those seeking native -- what Embarcadero calls "multi-device, true native" -- apps development, but across most mobile devices from a singular code base and a single core skills set. RAD Studio XE4 has a single application framework for iOS, Windows, and Mac OSX, with support for Android coming soon.

But native development for mobile (nee PCs) isn't the only game in town, nor the only way to seek the "run anywhere" nirvana.

RAD Studio XE4 allows developers to gain more control over the development lifecycle and deliver apps with tighter security, a better user experience, lightning quick performance, and a small footprint. Those that want to target iOS devices, as well as OSX and Windows PCs, can write once and run anywhere, so to speak, says Embarcadero. The key is FireMonkey, a cross-platform GUI framework developed by Embarcadero to provide Delphi and C++Builders with a single framework. This is the same lineage of the graphical language tools that sprung from native (fat) PC development.

But native development for mobile (nee PCs) isn't the only game in town, nor the only way to seek the "run anywhere" nirvana. The other approaches to the mobile and cross-platform development complexity problem are more aligned with open source, HTML5, and scripting, all with roots in the web.

And so HP last month, threw it's weight from the IT management perspective behind "a hybrid approach" for mobile. HP Anywhere, as HP calls it, aids in the distributing and consuming of IT management information to mobile devices. But this may well be a model for far broader enterprise-to-mobile process alignment.

Especially where BYOD is the goal, the hybrid approach works best, says Genefa Murphy, Director of Mobile Product Management and User Experience at HP Software. [Disclosure: Both Embarcadero and HP are sponsors of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]

Under this "virtualizers" vision, the HP Anywhere server connects IT management systems to the HP Anywhere Client on Android or iOS devices, forming the basic client app or container on the end-point devices. Then so-called Mini-Apps are downloadable to that container to provide the access and interface to specific IT management tasks or modules.

Two best ends

These two examples of mobile enablement to me represent the two best ends of the enterprise mobile needs spectrum. And chances are, enterprises are going to need both, especially for existing applications and processes. For example, the Embarcadero approach can swiftly take existing full-client applications and deliver them to the needed mobile tier devices with strong performance and security, and no need to rewrite for each client and OS, said John Thomas (JT), Director of Product Management at Embarcadero.

For more on my views of how cloud, mobile and enterprise IT intersect, see my two-part interview on the Gathering Clouds blog.

The question yet to be answered is what combination of native, scripting, or hybrid container-type models will fit best for entirely new "mobile first" applications. This is a work in progress, and will also vary greatly from company to company, based on a maze of variables for each. Looks for a lot more blogs on that greenfield apps trend in the future.

For now, however, a lot of the pain for IT in going mobile is in getting existing PC applications via code reuse -- as well as business processes on back-end systems -- out to where they can be used . . . on the modern mobile landscape and in the hands of newly empowered mobile users. Incidentally, the new Embarcadero tools and framework allows .NET apps to be driven out to iOS devices in a pretty snappy fashion. That's assuming, of course, Windows CE won't be your preferred client environment after all. You know who you are.

Currently, RAD Studio XE4 delivers multi-device development for ARM and Intel devices, including Apple iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Mac OSX, Windows PCs, Slates, and Surface Pro tablets, said JT. And RAD Studio XE4 allows developers to take advantage of the full range of capabilities available on each of those devices to deliver the best user experience, he added. The full Android support should come mid-year.

The Embarcadero tools allow developers or designers to also quickly create no-code, visual mockups with live or simulated data and deploy to actual target devices.

The Embarcadero tools allow developers or designers to also quickly create no-code, visual mockups with live or simulated data and deploy to actual target devices (like PCs, phones, or tablets), or simulate on Windows or Mac, so that the requirements and app role can be best defined and tuned.

RAD Studio XE4 is available immediately. To download a free trial, visit http://www.embarcadero.com/products/rad-studio/downloads. Pricing starts at $1,799. Delphi and C++Builder pricing starts at $149 for Starter edition and $999 and up for full commercial development licenses. Upgrade discounts are available for users of recent earlier versions. An introductory 10 percent discount is available on most RAD Studio XE4 family products through May 22.

As for HP Anywhere, it manages the cross-platform device client issue using HMTL5 and JavaScript, and we'll be seeing a lot of that too from many "virtualizers." HP also boats RAD via an emulator that allows quick switching between device views. HP is taking its HP Anywhere story to both the test and QA people as well as developers as they seek ways to bring more business functions to the mobile enterprise worker corps.

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More Stories By Dana Gardner

At Interarbor Solutions, we create the analysis and in-depth podcasts on enterprise software and cloud trends that help fuel the social media revolution. As a veteran IT analyst, Dana Gardner moderates discussions and interviews get to the meat of the hottest technology topics. We define and forecast the business productivity effects of enterprise infrastructure, SOA and cloud advances. Our social media vehicles become conversational platforms, powerfully distributed via the BriefingsDirect Network of online media partners like ZDNet and IT-Director.com. As founder and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, Dana Gardner created BriefingsDirect to give online readers and listeners in-depth and direct access to the brightest thought leaders on IT. Our twice-monthly BriefingsDirect Analyst Insights Edition podcasts examine the latest IT news with a panel of analysts and guests. Our sponsored discussions provide a unique, deep-dive focus on specific industry problems and the latest solutions. This podcast equivalent of an analyst briefing session -- made available as a podcast/transcript/blog to any interested viewer and search engine seeker -- breaks the mold on closed knowledge. These informational podcasts jump-start conversational evangelism, drive traffic to lead generation campaigns, and produce strong SEO returns. Interarbor Solutions provides fresh and creative thinking on IT, SOA, cloud and social media strategies based on the power of thoughtful content, made freely and easily available to proactive seekers of insights and information. As a result, marketers and branding professionals can communicate inexpensively with self-qualifiying readers/listeners in discreet market segments. BriefingsDirect podcasts hosted by Dana Gardner: Full turnkey planning, moderatiing, producing, hosting, and distribution via blogs and IT media partners of essential IT knowledge and understanding.

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