While planning for the development of mobile applications, enterprises are increasingly challenged with deciding what approach to take: build native applications, create HTML5 mobile websites, or take the hybrid (cross-platform) approach? With multiple native platforms available (iOS, Blackberry, Android, Symbian, Windows Mobile, and Windows Phone 7 to name a few), it is becoming increasingly difficult to find the diverse skillset (and the budget) required for native app development and to support each of these platforms. HTML5 presents a nice alternative, but mobile websites lose the advantages that you gain with an app store based deployment strategy. That’s where hybrid (cross-platform) mobile frameworks come in – providing, in principle, the best of both worlds. However, the choices get complicated when you throw in other factors such as usability, performance, vendor lock-in, and ease of development to the mix. As a strategic partner to organizations ranging from venture backed startups to Fortune 500 global leaders, we have been increasingly asked this question: what should my mobile strategy be? And while the final decision is not simple – it depends on many factors beyond technology, we have developed a Mobile Technology Decision Engine that can, through the use of scorecarding, help you make that decision. The tool is now available as a Facebook app, and is actually pretty easy to use: just answer a few simple questions related to the platforms you need to support, deployment strategy, and feature set required. The tool will provide an overall and platform specific score based on these inputs. Check it out here. How to use the app The Facebook apprequests users for three primary inputs:
- Supported Platforms: Simply select the platform that you plan to support right now (as well as in the future). Currently the engine supports scoring for iOS, Android, Blackberry (both touch and non-touch) and Symbian platforms. We plan to add support for Windows Phone in the near future.
- Deployment Strategy: The deployment strategy can play an important role while picking the right mobile solution. If distribution via the app store is important for you, select the “Public/Private App Store” option. If you would rather deploy the solution as a web app accessible via any mobile browser (even if behind the firewall), choose “Web Application”.As a future enhancement, we plan to split the App store option into separate “Public App Store” and “Private App Store” choices, with separate scoring for each. This is important because – increasingly, enterprise users are using mobile platforms as windows into their line-of-business applications, and for obvious reasons, are not comfortable distributing such apps via public app stores. More importantly, MDM (Mobile Device Management) solutions that provide private app store capabilities are now common across the enterprise. In fact, we see this fragmentation within the platform marketplace as well. For e.g., a few mobile middleware platforms such as Sybase SUP are positioned towards the enterprise market, whereas PhoneGap is more consumer app oriented.While the current scoring algorithm clubs all of these together as hybrid (cross-platform) solutions, we feel it would be important going forward to (a) make the differentiation between private and public app stores explicit, and (b) score the actual platform (for e.g. SUP or PhoneGap) rather than the simplistic approach currently taken.
- Supported Feature Set: Choose from 8 different features that your application needs to support – from accelerometer and geo-location services to camera and offline support. For each feature selected, you would need to indicate whether the feature is nice to have, required, or a key feature. This helps us determine the weightage for each feature while scoring the platforms.
Interpreting the results It is important to remember that the scores presented should be used more as a guideline for platform selection rather than a definitive result that drives the eventual choice. Internally, we use the tool results as input for a brainstorming session that typically happens between the client, the team responsible for delivering the mobile application, and architects from our Mobility Solutions Architecture Group (MSAG). Coming back to the results, it is important to point out that we present an overall (consolidated) score as well as a score by each platform. This is important, since, in some cases, the overall score for a technology might be driven down by a single platform that is very weak in a particular feature set. In such situations, it would be helpful to make an informed decision on dropping support for such a platform (if that decision leads to significant cost savings and doesn’t have any major impact on addressable user base) or perhaps having a “feature limited” version of the app supported on such a platform. Also note that you can access an offline copy of the report to share with your team, by clicking the “Download Offline Copy” button at the top right corner of the app. And finally, do remember to click the “Like” button if you enjoy using the app! Final Thoughts As with most platform selections, the choice is not easy. The decision has an impact not only on the current application but the organizational mobile strategy as whole. Moreover, the mobile space is evolving so rapidly that cutting edge today can be obsolete in 6 months. So, we encourage you to reach out to us with any questions you may have, or to schedule a brainstorming session to discuss different options based on the unique needs of your organization. We are very passionate about mobile and would love to share our experiences with you! You can reach us at email@example.com.
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