ZigBee, an Easy PDA App Builder and Retail Heaven

Opinion: In a wrap-up from Demo Mobile, Jim Louderback looks at three new technologies that make mobility easier.

La Jolla, Calif.—Building and deploying applications on PDAs has never been easy. Interface skills honed on large PC screens are often inappropriate for smaller platforms, and many applications suffer tremendously without the benefit of oodles of processing power, disk space and memory.

So, I was impressed with Adesso, a rapid application-development environment for PCs and PDAs. Built by former Lotus and Palm employees, it incorporates many of the key features of Notes, including easy-to-build tables, replication and synchronization—plus a simple interface. But by incorporating support for the Pocket PC platform, it moves beyond a PC and server application to allow businesses to run key apps in the field.

I found it simple to build an application on a PC and then quickly deploy it to a handheld. My program was simple—create a story-planning program that lets editors gather ideas in the field, and then consolidate them into a master database for a Web editor at the home office.

In about 10 minutes, Id cobbled together a simple two-table database, created a referential, integrity-enforced, one-to-many join between them, and then developed an input form.

I could have developed the application on a Pocket PC as well, but the lack of a keyboard makes this option less than ideal.

With just a touch of a button, I quickly deployed the application on a handheld—in this case, an iPaq. Adesso automatically optimized the application for that handhelds screen. Adesso supports and optimizes applications for Pocket PC-based handhelds, Windows Smart Phones and tablet PCs.

The app worked well on the handheld, and with another menu click, I easily synchronized data with the home computer. Adesso uses SQL Server, JET, SQL CE and SQL Mobile to store its data. An Oracle connector is on the way—but company officials were less optimistic about support for open-source SQL databases.

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Adesso applications also can sit on top of other enterprise software. One customer is using it to extend Seibel out to the edge of its organization, for example, and others are using it to build on top of homegrown systems.

The interface could use some work, though. Although you can view one-to-many relationships on screen, you cannot enter data into those forms. That can make data entry into a tedious series of clicks and taps—even more frustrating on a tiny computer without a keyboard.

Theres no interface painter, which means youre pretty much stuck with the default screen designs. In addition, applications work in a constantly disconnected mode—even locally connected Adesso systems cannot edit SQL data directly.

Pricing is subscriber-based at $25 to $100 per user per month. Thats problematic for ISVs that want to use Adesso to deploy applications to customers. But the company promises that version 3, due out in 2005, will rectify the problem—and also will incorporate a more Visual Studio-like screen painter and editable views.

Better encryption and security is on the way as well, although some protection is built in. However, despite the limitations, this is a drop-dead easy way to build and deploy applications to handhelds. Businesses developing far-flung applications should evaluate it carefully to see whether it meets their needs.

Next Page: MediaCast enables cheaper point-of-purchase displays.