RoamBi Enables Effective Display of Table-Based Data on iPhone

REVIEW: No-cost RoamBi transfers data imported into a hosted service to the iPhone, displayed in concise, easy-to-navigate charts.

RoamBi makes hard-to-display table-based data much easier to use on the Apple iPhone.

The no-cost version of RoamBi (rohm-BEE) is an iPhone application that transfers data imported into a hosted service to the iPhone, displayed in concise, easy-to-navigate charts.

The premise-based RoamBi Server, which does not limit data set size, costs $10,000 per physical CPU and requires a $100-per-named-user perpetual license.

RoamBI uses the iPhone to turn dull data into eye candy. Check out these images.

RoamBi maker Mellmo needs to get the BlackBerry client-in the works but with no release date-into production to sweeten the RoamBi eye-candy enough to tempt enterprise IT managers. IT managers should also be aware that RoamBi gets a performance boost by downloading raw data to the iPhone, which will require careful compliance planning to keep audit costs down. That said, the remote wipe feature in iPhone software Version 3 might alleviate some concerns about raw data on phones.

Implementing the no-cost hosted version of RoamBi was a simple task. I imported Website performance statistics from a test system at eWEEK Labs and was able to view data after just 30 minutes of using the product.

I imported Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and comma-delimited files into the hosted RoamBi server, walked through a series of tasks that identified report elements-including titles, data and summary information. The data was imported into the RoamBi server and then made available to me via the RoamBi iPhone app, a free download from the App Store.

RoamBi uses charts and visual metaphors such as a card index to present data that is normally seen as numbers in rows and columns. The RoamBi designers nailed the iPhone look and feel. The pie charts spin, the card index flips over as it thumbs through data, and the line charts have clever view frames that let me drag an index line along the y axis to see the precise value on the x axis.

With minor quibbles on my part (such as, to get from the index card "Garcia, Andrew" to "Sturdevant, Cameron" the application "flips" through every intervening card), the visual design and automated formatting that gets the information on the iPhone screen is well-executed. In the sample reports, I was able to see prospect reports, bring up the contact information for the prospects and place a call from my iPhone to get the business process under way.

While I appreciated the interaction between reported data and the application, there are shortcomings that should concern IT managers enough to hesitate before implementing RoamBi. For example, while I could place a call from data displayed through RoamBi, the phone call can't yet be directly logged in the contact manager.

There's no new coding needed to take output from data sources and convert it to data displayed by RoamBi. Further, RoamBi Publisher does a good job of analyzing report data to understand relevant elements such as data tables and column titles, as well as summary information.

Because the RoamBi app is displaying on a small screen size, IT managers will be forced to make decisions about what data is most important for a mobile worker. This is a good practice in general and in no way a limitation of RoamBi.

In my tests, I also used RoamBi "tricks" to get the most out of the app. These included using the frame viewer (puts additional navigation tools on the screen by temporarily obstructing other data), slide-out reports (click on a piece of pie chart and more detail about that wedge takes over the screen) and the card index pull-out (tapping on a card pulls it out of the deck to provide more details, again by temporarily taking over the iPhone display).

Getting important information on the first two or three screens was easy for me after just a few days of practice.

Technical Director Cameron Sturdevant can be reached at [email protected].