The boom in demand for mobile applications, coupled with the immaturity of its development tools, has translated into an ongoing learning experience for developers.
"We're finding clients who were dazzled by the promise of mobile applications and then found that the execution is not so straightforward," says Aidan Quilligan, executive director for Accenture Mobility.
Add in IT's associated concerns over user experience, performance and the need to accommodate multiple versions of the Android OS, and it should be no surprise that most shops see mobile app development as a major challenge. "The problems aren't insurmountable, but they involve hard work," says Quilligan. "Most enterprises have some distance to go to make all this work at the strategic level."In what may be good news for stymied developers, the tool landscape for mobile app development has changed significantly in the last six to nine months.
Middleware options fall into two categories: Mobile middleware application development tools such as those from Kony and Verivo, and mobile Web application development tools such as PhoneGap, SenchaTouch, jQueryMobile and Appcelerator to create HTML5 code and access native code.
What's the difference? Generally, it depends on how much code runs on the client and how much runs on the server. Mobile Enterprise Application Platform (MEAP) tools tend to have more code running on the server. But even that definition is subject to fuzziness. "Mobile middleware tools have [specific] server components that the mobile clients connect to," says Forrester Research's Jeffrey Hammond.
On the other hand, "tools like PhoneGap and Appcelerator are capable of working with any dedicated server infrastructure. They can just connect up to RESTful API."
But it's not that cut-and-dried. "Some middleware tools incorporate client side mobile development frameworks as part of a larger package," Hammond continues. "[A MEAP such as] IBM Worklight uses PhoneGap for its client side UI, but then adds a bunch of connectivity features and security on the infrastructure, or server side."
Even more confusing, the market continues to be in flux. HTML5 is not the only way to develop "write once, deploy many" mobile apps. Among these are new cloud-based development platforms that purport to take the stress out of cross-platform headaches, including Tiggzi and July Systems.
There are also a growing number of MEAPs emerging, including Sybase Unwired Platform, WebMobi, AMPchroma from Antenna Software, Agentry Mobile Platform from Syclo LLC and Appcelerator Titanium, many of which incorporate HTML5.
Finally, there's another option on the horizon: Powering your mobile apps with a cloud, which allows enterprises to handle security and systems access behind the scenes, centrally, instead of on a per-app basis.