Build Web Apps, Not Smartphone Apps

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2010-07-07 Print this article Print

If you built an application for the iPhone 4, for example, and you needed constant access to a data source, how would you handle the iPhone's reception problems? Or how would you handle the demise of the many Android platforms that will take place in the next few months as new versions are launched? 

In reality, there are two approaches you can take to stay out of trouble. The first is to support more than one smartphone environment. Sure, it's kind of a pain to develop for both the iPhone and for Android devices, and it's more of a pain if you also have to develop for WebOS and for BlackBerry devices. But the goal is to make sure that you can use your smartphone for the benefit of your enterprise. That means making sure that your important mobile business applications will always run, even if it requires supporting multiple models.

Perhaps a better approach, however, is to support your enterprise's needs with Web-based applications. You'll still have to deal with issues such as reliable reception, but at least you won't have to write a new application every time a hardware platform gets upgraded.

Most smartphones support fairly decent Web browsers these days, and as long as you can detect what browser you're serving, you can make a point of avoiding things that don't work, such as Flash for users with iPhones. The only real limitations then are the small screen size of some devices and delays in delivering multimedia information in areas with poor reception, and those issues can be handled with proper design. 

But it's important to note that the best plan is not to decide that you're going to support a single platform, and work from there. Single platforms have a way of going away with little warning. While some smartphone companies are better than others when it comes to helping you with a transition, your real goal is to make application transitions on your own schedule, not on Apple's, Motorola's or Palm's.

To ensure application stability and continuity, you have to start with the assumption that the smartphone you're currently designing your applications for will probably not exist by the time you've finished. So instead of locking yourself into a single set of features, plan for a steady and rapid pace of change so you can be ready when it happens.

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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