As the power of mobile devices continues to increase, so, too, does companies' desire to increase the number of applications running on them. Developers, in turn, are looking for the best platforms on which to build these applications in a market that's rapidly changing.And companies are not just looking to create more applications for mobile devices; they're looking to create more mission-critical applications for the mobile platforms.
The World Wildlife Fund, for one, is a heavy user of Research In Motion's BlackBerry devices, which are "fully integrated via wireless and encryption to our corporate e-mail system," said Greg Smith, CIO of the WWF, in Washington.
"We're piloting some new software development applications to leverage the investment," Smith said. "We've built an application that would allow some of our fund-raising staff to directly enter comments and interactions with key donors after in-person meetings via the BlackBerry. Those comments would be sent wirelessly and automatically updated in our donor management/CRM [customer relationship management] system, greatly improving the operating efficiency for getting key information back into our systems. We've yet to deploy this application to date, but it highlights some of the possibilities for us to build custom applications or interfaces to existing ones and leverage a stable and secure messaging platform."
Among the many vendors vying to provide this kind of development functionality are Symbian, Nokia, Microsoft, RIM, Sun Microsystems and Palm.
"It's a more complex world than the world of developing for the PC," said Nick Jones, an analyst with Gartner. "The different platforms and vendors do vary a lot in terms of the quality of support they provide developers."
There are three things developers should look at when considering a platform upon which to build, Jones said.
First, how supportive is the platform of developers? Microsoft and Symbian rank high in this area, according to Jones.
Second, developers should consider the number and quality of tools available for a given platform. "For Windows Mobile, there is Visual Studio, which is a good tool set for client-side development but not so good for server-side development," Jones said. Jones also said that Nokia has a good tools story with its integration of the Eclipse platform.
Click here to read more about Microsoft's plans to build a universal mobile platform.
Finally, developers should consider the community around the platform. Microsoft and Nokia come out on top in this area, according to Jones. "Forum Nokia is a rich developer community, and Microsoft always has been good with developers," he said.
Matti Vanska, vice president of mobile software sales and marketing for Nokia, based in Espoo, Finland, said the company has 2.5 million registered developers, "but increasingly we are getting developers from the Internet world with the Web Runtime."
Craig Cumberland, Nokia director of technology and applications marketing and software platforms, said the company offers solutions for traditional C++ developers, Java developers, dynamic language developers, an emerging market of open-source developers and the burgeoning superclass of Web developers.
The Web Runtime enables developers to rapidly create services and content, lowers the barrier to entry into the mobile space and welcomes "long-tail" developers to the S60, Cumberland said. It also enables advertisers and media groups to extend the experience of their brands, he said.
A key feature of the Nokia Web Runtime experience is the Nokia widget, a piece of software or mini-application for mobile devices that personalizes the user experience.
But what is different about developing for the mobile environment compared with traditional enterprise applications?
"Well, screen size is one thing," said David Wood, executive vice president of research at Symbian, in London. "What we're trying to do is to minimize the differences because we want to take the pain out of development."
Yet, "in reality you can't hide all the differences for applications that want to do really tough things," Wood added. "For an application that is not doing anything so tough, you could get by on more standard interfaces."
Battery power is another consideration. "If there's computational intensity, people will have to think hard because you don't want to drain the battery," Wood said. "So that's where we will give plenty of advice. And there are tools to alert people to the fact that they are running in very tight loops, or things you get away with on the desktop but don't get away with on mobile."
Microsoft's Mobile Momentum
Microsoft claims to have broken down barriers for Windows Mobile developers in a number of ways.
For example, with Windows Mobile 5.0, Microsoft has unified the set of APIs between touch- and nontouch-screen devices.
In addition, developers interested in creating applications for Windows Mobile 6 can use existing Windows Mobile 5.0 code. And in-ROM versions of SQL Server 2005 Compact Edition and the .Net Compact Framework 2.0 will simplify deployment of applications, as well as provide a development environment with the languages and tools developers are already accustomed to using.
In addition, the Windows Mobile 6 Software Development Kit includes links to line-of-business development frameworks from the Microsoft Patterns and Practices team.
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On the embedded systems front, the developer community remains a high priority for Windows Embedded and is key in driving the business, said Kevin Dallas, general manager of Microsoft's Windows Embedded business unit. "The Microsoft Windows Embedded platform helps developers bring solutions to market faster, and also demonstrates that the most valued benefits for embedded developers exist beyond the kernel," he said."We're committed to bringing new and proven technologies—like cellcore, VOIP [voice over IP] and multimedia capabilities—to help OEMs and developers innovate to create smarter, more connected devices for everyday experiences in the home, on the road and at work," Dallas said.
Of All Things, Java
Laurie tolson, vice president of the client software group at Sun, in Santa Clara, Calif., said the technology enables rich, user-interactive, graphical applications, including Yahoo Go, Google Maps and thousands of games.
"Free and open Java runs on billions of devices—on PCs, mobile phones and game consoles around the world," said Jonathan Schwartz, CEO and president of Sun. "You name it, wherever the network travels, the odds are good Java's powering a portion of the experience. And with 12 million new users joining the network each week—most of whom will first experience the Internet through a mobile device—the opportunity for free and open Java continues for as far as we can see."
The mobile-focused Java ME (Java Platform, Micro Edition) allows applications to leverage handset capabilities and wireless network services in a portable manner. Java ME is the only application platform that enables an end-to-end application with a rich user experience and access to phone hardware capabilities, while still being portable to tens of millions of handsets, Tolson said.
Sun is working with the wireless community to continue to improve the development and deployment of these applications with tools and programs, company officials said. And Sun is working closely with handset manufacturers and wireless service providers to offer solutions to ensure deployment of the Java ME environment.
Moreover, with JavaFX Script, Sun is reaching out to graphical design content creators. JavaFX Mobile is Sun's full mobile phone software stack that will run all Java ME applications, Tolson said. This solution is an alternative to other proprietary solutions in market today, she added.
In the Palm of Your Hand
Meanwhile, for more than 10 years, Palm has run the Palm Developer Network, one of the mobile industry's most extensive developer networks. "PDN offers a broad set of technical, marketing and sales services to support the ecosystem that has grown around Palm's system software platform," said Mike Rank, director of developer relations at Palm, based in Sunnyvale, Calif.
Rank said the Palm developer community has approximately 25,000 members, delivering a broad range of solutions for consumers, small businesses and large enterprises in a wide variety of application areas and uses.
PDN was designed by developers for developers, Rank said. The program provides developers with a set of technical, marketing and sales services designed to help mobile-solution builders move rapidly from concept to market with reduced cost and complexity, he added. The shift toward the "mobile Web" goes on, and both the World Wide Web Consortium and the Open AJAX Alliance are working on setting standards for it.
"The Mobile Web Initiative's goal is to make browsing the Web from mobile devices a reality," said Tim Berners-Lee, W3C director and inventor of the Web. "W3C and mobile industry leaders are working together to improve Web content production and access for mobile users and the greater Web."
One of the findings from a recent meeting between the two groups was that the so-called mobile Web "will be the Web on mobile, not a separate mobile Web," according to a summary of the event.
John Ferraiolo, a Web architect in the Emerging Technologies division of IBM's Software Group and director of the OpenAJAX Alliance, said the whole question of the Web on mobile devices is quite complex.
"What I am hoping is that this workshop will provide a broad industry perspective on things having to do with the term 'Mobile Ajax' and help inform two industry groups [W3C and OpenAjax Alliance] so that we can start new initiatives or modify existing initiatives to help the industry be successful with HTML and AJAX technologies on mobile devices," said Ferraiolo, in Menlo Park, Calif.
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