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Tips For Writing Multiplatform Mobile Apps

Write once, run anywhere is the dream. Cross-platform tools can help, but problems remain.

InformationWeek Green - Jul. 11, 2011
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Download the entire July 2012 InformationWeek supplement on Mobile Appplication Development, distributed in an all-digital format as part of our Green Initiative
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Threats Vs. Readiness

As smartphone and tablet use skyrockets, companies are developing mobile applications for customers and end users. Sixty-four percent of respondents to InformationWeek's 2011 Mobile Device Management and Security Survey say they're developing or planning to develop business apps.

If your company is considering creating its own mobile apps, you must understand the development landscape. The platform you target, be it Android, BlackBerry, iOS, or Windows, has a preferred language. If you want to write an app that will run on multiple platforms, you can either write it in each platform's preferred language or use a third-party tool to generate code for different platforms. This second approach can save time and effort, though it may affect usability.

To help you determine your best approach, we'll examine development tools offered by Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Research In Motion, as well as at two popular cross-platform tools: Air and PhoneGap.

The Test Environment

I used four smartphones to test the development tools: Motorola Droid running Android 2.3.5, Apple's iPhone version 4.2.1, Windows Phone version 7.5, and BlackBerry Bold version 7. I also looked at the BlackBerry PlayBook version 1 tablet. In general, the devices offer a similar user experience. The real distinctions are on the developer side; when it comes to writing applications native to each platform, the differences are stark.

The four mobile platforms offer virtual devices that let developers write and debug programs without the actual mobile hardware. The virtual devices run on a developer's PC, emulate the mobile hardware, and execute the mobile environment. The developer interacts with the virtual device via the keyboard and mouse.

Because all four platforms contain a built-in browser, they support applications that use Web standards. Instead of accessing the app from a Web server, the Web files (HTML/JavaScript/CSS) are packaged for the device and executed in a browser container on the device. A number of third-party tools such as PhoneGap take advantage of this feature by creating a common JavaScript API with platform-specific code underneath, giving programmers access to multiple platforms with a single code base.

Android provides developers with the most freedom to choose an OS on which to develop applications. Developers can use Windows, Mac, or Linux. BlackBerry users can choose between Mac or Windows, and a Linux option is on the way. If you want to develop for iOS or Windows devices, your only option is Mac and Windows, respectively. Let's take a look at each platform's development tools.

To read the rest of the article,
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This report includes 16 pages of action-oriented analysis. What you'll find:
  • A breakdown of development environments for the major mobility platforms
  • Insight on cross-platform tools and secure coding
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PJS880
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PJS880,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/11/2012 | 12:40:47 PM
re: Tips For Writing Multiplatform Mobile Apps
Great article and excellent tips for writing cross platform mobile applications. I believe this to be a relevant topic, considering with the boom in the mobile industry and rapid growth with mobile applications. Very detailed for each environment covered along with the pros and cons for using certain developer tools, and platforms. Even covered the Cloud aspect with the inset letter written by Mike Riley, describing where developers will be writing code in the future.

Paul Sprague
InformationWeek Contributor
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