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Mobile application development made easy … eventually

A while back, I checked in with a few IT managers about their mobile application development plans. I was wondering if business intelligence applications were making their way on to their users’ iPhones.

The answer was, sort of. Basic reports were available, but it was proving too hard to make the information their users really wanted from their business intelligence systems work on mobile devices.

What they wanted was the ability to develop custom reports for users, but the design of iPhones doesn’t allow for local agents — it’s totally proprietary. Still, one IT shop is making a go of it anyway, with plans to take data from its SQL Servers, proprietary applications and a variety of other sources across the organization, and deliver the information on the iPhone.

This project was considered a “major” undertaking, but mobile application development for the iPhone and other smartphones could get a lot easier … in about five years.

That’s when Gartner analyst David Mitchell Smith believes the “mobile Web” will take off. HTML5 already makes it possible to bring desktop application capabilities to the browser. (Most popular mobile browsers have already adopted parts of the HTML5 specification). And, he said, you can’t discount other developments like:

  • An emergence of stable Web app stores (this is further out).
  • The rollout of 4G connectivity.

HTML5, the next-generation HTML standard, will allow for offline capabilities and video, and offer drag-and-drop options. Here’s a tutorial on how to make an HTML5 IPhone app by blogger and Yahoo front-end engineer Alex Kessinger.

“[These advances] will start to bring more and more of the richness of native environments to the browser environment, similar to what Ajax did on the desktop,” Mitchell Smith said during a webinar this week on how the Web and cloud computing will drive IT strategies.
With smartphones becoming the primary communication and computing device for many, it is safe to say that mobile application development will become a priority for IT. At Ridley Inc., a holding company for animal feed and nutrition companies, salespeople are getting mobile access to the company’s ERP system. Access is gained over a virtual private network to a Citrix server farm, which in turn connects to an ERP application that’s viewed on a Web portal that the company’s development team built. It’s not a rich client experience, but it gets the job done.
The mobile workforce has become accustomed to the limitations of the mobile app experience, but that acceptance may not remain, and businesses may not be able to just get by, as more business apps must make their way into the mobile world.

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