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.
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.
Retail organizations such as Best Buy and Circuit City make as much as 25 percent of their revenue on merchandising. Those “shelf talkers”—kiosks, displays and ads—are big business.
But building and deploying a marketing campaign to thousands of retail outlets is slow and hard. It often can take 90 days from campaign inception to implementation—and these days, the world changes much more rapidly than that.
Thats why I was impressed with the MediaCast system from MediaTile. It uses cellular data connectivity to stream updated ads and kiosk information to smart screens nationwide. The simple and cheap infrastructure replaces expensive wired or wireless networks—which had to be deployed into every store to be effective.
The MediaCast system supports as much as 200MB of data in video, flash, PowerPoint or PDF formats. Screen sizes range from 2 inches all the way up to 60 inches. And it supports most flavors of Windows, including Pocket PC.
By reducing costs and increasing speed of delivery, the MediaCast system makes video-based point-of-purchase displays even more effective. Expect to see more smart signs in retail very soon.
And have you heard of ZigBee? Its the latest wireless scheme due to arrive, and instead of connecting up computers, its designed to build low-cost controller networks for lighting, HVAC and other sensor networks.
ZigBees premise is simple. As sensors spread throughout buildings, and as controlling computers become cheaper and cheaper, the industry needed an easy and cheap way to move information from device to device. The ZigBee wireless protocol provides a mesh-based network, with smarts enough to route signals from dumb device to dumb device, at between $1 to $5 per unit. Think of it as a mesh-based, two-way version of RFID.
Each ZigBee radio has a range of about 200 meters and contains the smarts to intelligently route signals to any other device it can see. More than 90 companies support the ZigBee protocol, including chip vendors Chipcom and Freescale; device makers Siemens, Philips and Samsung; and networking companies such as Cisco. The final release of the spec is due for a 1.0 release next month, once the lawyers finish vetting the IP.
Each ZigBee radio includes a key chip, with networking software that provides a common platform for applications. One of the companies building that software stack, which is burned into the wireless chips, was showing off the power of ZigBee at Demo. Figure 8 Wireless calls itself “the Microsoft of ZigBee,” claiming that every chip vendor includes its software inside. Figure 8 says its Z-Stack will become the default standard for ZigBee radios and applications.
I cant verify those claims, but I do know that we desperately need a network like ZigBee. Past schemes that let devices communicate, including the fundamentally flawed X10, are unable to handle the diversity and quantity of sensors that will populate our homes and offices over the next few years.
ZigBees ease of implementation and fault-tolerant mesh design make it the best choice possible, at least for the foreseeable future. It doesnt hurt that so many companies have signed up.
Most of the energy so far has gone into plugfests, ensuring that all ZigBee devices work together seamlessly. But with the imminent ratification of the spec, well be hearing a lot more about this technology as it rolls out later this year. Keep your eye on ZigBee—its going places.