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Developing mobile apps today

Today's mobile application development landscape is marked by explosive growth in the variety of devices available to end users and in those users' expectations.

Rapid expansion of the mobile space has catapulted mobile application development into an advanced new stage of capabilities and challenges. Development leaders are increasingly faced with having to make decisions in largely uncharted territory, from choosing an effective mobile application development strategy, to deciding how SOA services can best be resized to fit the confines of small devices. In all cases, the various constraints of mobile devices have to be met with an eye kept closely on speed, reliability and user expectations.

Form a mobile application services strategy

As newer, more intelligent mobile devices burst onto the scene, enterprise development teams will need to prepare their applications to run on a slew of advanced devices that operate differently than the typical desktop or laptop PC.

When looking to implement a successful mobile application development strategy, development leaders contend with the lightning-fast speed of change and innovation in mobile tools and platforms, as well as a host of other issues.

Forrester Research Analyst Jeffrey Hammond describes mobile application development as “a balancing act” among the issues of cost, agility, performance, and user experience. Understanding today’s major categories of mobile application delivery is the IT decision maker’s first step to successfully juggling all the choices available and landing on an effective strategy. According to Hammond, the basic categories of mobile application delivery are native types, Web-based types, hybrid types, and third-party mobile middleware services—and recognizing the differences among them is key to crafting a development strategy that is both pragmatic and flexible.

What is mobile application development?

Mobile application development is the set of processes and procedures involved in writing software for small, wireless computing devices. With roots in traditional software development, mobile application development is similar to Web application development. Mobile applications (apps), however, are frequently written specifically to work with the unique features of a particular mobile device. The nature of mobile application development continues to adapt as more smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices arrive on the scene and mobile apps must work across an array of platforms.

Connect mobile devices to the back end with middleware services

As mobile platforms and devices multiply and change at record pace, mobile middleware is reprising enterprise middleware’s role as mediator. Mobile middleware development services eliminate the need for organizations to re-write back ends to talk to each different mobile device. Successful mobile middleware services provide a flexible layer to manage differences between devices and also allow organizations the freedom to easily develop mobile applications across platforms.

Integrate mobile applications into enterprise portfolios with ‘service chunks’

In the switch from desktops and laptops to mobile devices, SOA services must be resized to fit the confines of the mobile domain. The key to a smooth transition of SOA services to small devices is breaking up the user interface into small ''chunks'' of relevant data that are presented to the user in a logical sequence— a method called “service chunking,” according to Rashid Kahn, head of Chatty Solutions, a maker of cross-platform mobile development tools and middleware for SaaS and Web application.

When enterprise services architects and mobile application developers set out to correctly resize their SOA services, they must first study the fundamentals of mobile devices. From small screen size to limited mobile bandwidth, mobile devices present challenges to running existing applications originally designed for full screen devices. Fortunately, Kahn explains, “chunking” deals head-on with small devices’ constraints. And, just as important, the SOA practitioner is already familiar with the simple underpinning of a successful shift of SOA services from enterprise applications to mobile applications: sound services architecture.

Meet user demands for rich mobile application interfaces

Mobile application users expect more than ever from their apps, counting on fast page load, reliability and ease of use. Amir Rosenberg, Mobile Project Manager for Compuware’s Gomez APM mobile project strategy, says it’s critical to do three things when working with mobile apps and interfaces for enterprise applications in order to meet user demands: ensure the application works quickly, reliably and thoroughly to execute its major task; find out what hardware, training and internet access is available to users to determine which UI will best meet their needs; and continuously improve performance by proactively monitoring both the reactions of users and the app itself.

Find more mobile development resources

Mobile device development is limited by the various system and hardware constraints of the device that the application will run on, and the constraints themselves vary by platform. To avoid the pitfalls associated with certain platforms—and to make the best choices when it comes to mobile device development—it’s important for application designers and developers to know what’s out there. Today’s most promising platforms include Apple iOS, Android Operating System, Windows Phone, and Blackberry.

Fat Fractal enters the BaaS fray

The idea of Backend as a Service (BaaS) has begun to take off in the mobile application development space. Some say it suggests a wholly new computer architecture is in the works. By way of example is FatFractal, a San Francisco-based BaaS provider.

Backend as a Service points to mobile development futures

As a new alternative to mobile middleware, BaaS is gaining traction among both enterprise and non-enterprise developers. The BaaS approach is helping developers build mobile apps at a faster pace without sacrificing back-end features. In addition, proponents say it curtails the high costs that often accompany mobile app development.

Backend as a Service takes on scalability, lock-in issues

BaaS may give developers more time to invest in the front end, but it is also said to enable better scalability, flexibility and security. These are three major areas of demand in the mobile development space. Cloud architectures that help automate scalability could betoken a change in enterprise middleware that would see more activity moving to public clouds.

Backend as a Service players, users and trends

Although BaaS is relatively new, there are already plenty of players in the field. Michael Facemire, senior analyst at Forrester Research, estimates there are at least forty BaaS vendors out there today. Their customers run the gamut.

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