Taking a fresh approach to mobile application development, iConverse Inc.s iConverse Mobile Studio lets users visually design these applications without having to worry about the rats nest of devices and markup languages that currently plague mobile developers.
eWeek Labs tested a late beta release of iConverse Mobile Studio 2.0, which should ship at the end of this month.
The first release of iConverse shipped only five months ago and had a number of important flaws, including a very slow compilation process and a dearth of deployment tools that the 2.0 release fixes.
iConverses major difference is obvious with just a glance at its interface.
Instead of having to write code to generate content formatted in the several markup languages currently used by cellular phones and PDAs (personal digital assistants), we could drag and drop program elements onto iConverse Mobile Studios picture of these devices and let the software worry about generating the right code and reformatting the application for each device.
Customizing program elements for a particular device was a simple matter of checking just that device in iConverses device tree and making our changes. iConverse then automatically generated a device-specific version of the edited page, which its server components automatically used when that device was detected as a client.
This is a blast of fresh air compared with the code-centric approach used by application servers and mobile development packages such as Thin- AirApps Inc.s ThinAir Server.
The downside is that those who have already developed mobile applications wont be able to move their work to iConverses approach, making it only suitable for new projects.
In addition, the iConverse server can only access data formatted as XML (Extensible Markup Language)to query a database, we wrote a JavaServer Page Web page that queried the database and then formatted data as XML. Support for SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), new in this release, enabled us to query a SOAP server object we created using Microsoft Corp.s just-released SOAP Toolkit 2.0.
This tool is not designed to republish existing Web content for mobile devices (2Roam Inc.s Catalyst Wireless Server is a good choice for this purpose). iConverse is for applications built from Day 1 for mobile devices.
Everything about iConverse 2.0 is cutting edge, so the package will be too forward-looking for some companies. Not only is it completely built around XML, but it also uses Extensible Style Language Transformation, known as XSLT, to automatically reformat content for different mobile devices and requires a Java application server on which to run.
Starting from scratch is a luxury few companies can afford, but the whole mobile development space is still in diapers, and iConverses ability to protect customers against the constant changes in devices and low-level coding specifications is very attractive, as is its ability to run with the application servers many eWeek readers already have. For organizations moving seriously into wireless applications, the price will be worth it.
iConverse 2.0 starts at $100,000 for a two-CPU server and a development license. The server requires a Java application server from Allaire Corp. (now part of Macromedia Inc.), IBM, iPlanet E-Commerce Solutions or BEA Systems Inc. and runs on Windows NT, Windows 2000 and Solaris. The development tools run on Windows 2000.
The software generates applications in four markup languages: Wireless Markup Language, Handheld Devices Markup Language (used by many older phones), Compact HTML (used by i-Mode phones) and HTML.
iConverse has the specifications for and can automatically identify about 150 mobile devices, including telephones, PDAs and Research In Motion Ltd.s wireless handhelds.
Timothy Dyck is a Senior Analyst with eWEEK Labs. He has been testing and reviewing application server, database and middleware products and technologies for eWEEK since 1996. Prior to joining eWEEK, he worked at the LAN and WAN network operations center for a large telecommunications firm, in operating systems and development tools technical marketing for a large software company and in the IT department at a government agency. He has an honors bachelors degree of mathematics in computer science from the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, and a masters of arts degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, Canada.