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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The War Of Mobile Platforms: Building Bridges

7:26 PM Posted by Deepak Nayal , No comments
I closed my last blog (War Of Mobile Platforms) by briefly mentioning cross-platform mobile frameworks. I found that topic interesting and worthy of further investigation, hence this blog. Before we move forward, a disclaimer. I am not a programmer and all my research is based on the websites and articles available on the internet. You can find various good sources of information evaluating cross-platform mobile frameworks that are much technical and detailed in analysis (e.g. here and here). 

The cross-platform frameworks and tools can be divided into two main camps, developer frameworks (for developers) and do-it-yourself services (for users). Needless to say, developer frameworks are very technical in nature and require good knowledge of programming and languages, and hence give you better control over your apps; while DIY services are like simplified step-by-step guides to help non-technical users develop their own apps, trading control for ease of use. 

Developer Frameworks 
There are many mobile development players and frameworks available in the market. I explored a few and found the following three to be the most impressive among them. 

RHOMOBILE 
  • RhoMobile, recently acquired by Motorola Solutions, provides [following] tools and services to develop mobile apps. 
  • Rhodes Platform - A free and open source software (FOSS) platform for developing mobile apps for different smart phones (iPhone, Android, RIM, Windows Mobile and Windows Phone 7). It is Ruby-based and is open sourced under the MIT license
  • RhoConnect - An application integration software that connects mobile apps with backend systems. 
  • RhoStudio - An Eclipse-based plugin to facilitate development of mobile apps. 
  • RhoHub - Cloud-based service for developing mobile applications online using RhoMobile's tools and frameworks. 
  • RhoGallery - A mobile app management solution that comes along with RhoHub and allows enterprises to administer app distribution and management. 

APPCELERATOR 
  • Appcelerator allows web developers to develop applications for multiple platforms (smartphones, tablets and desktops). It provides following tools and services to develop cross-platform applications. 
  • Titanium Platform - Allows developers to develop native (mobile and desktop) apps using web technologies. It is free only for personal and non-commercial use
  • Titanium Studio - An Eclipse-based IDE to build, test and deploy apps. 
  • Open Mobile marketplace - A marketplace for buying and selling Titanium mobile app components. 
  • Titanium+Plus - A set of value-added modules (for commerce, analytics, communication, etc.) to extend the existing functionality provided by Titanium SDK. 
  • Titanium+Commerce - A library that allows developers to add commerce functionality to their mobile apps so that they can support features such as accepting mobile payments or implementing loyalty programs. 
  • Titanium+Geo - Allows users to visualize real-time, geo-tagged data from mobile devices. 
  • Titanium Analytics - An application analytics solution to provide insights into app usage and performance. 

PHONEGAP 
  • PhoneGap provides platform and tools to web developers for developing mobile applications. Its parent entity, Nitobi, has been recently acquired by Adobe. It provides the following platform and tools for developing cross-platform apps. 
  • PhoneGap - A FOSS platform for developing mobile applications using web technologies. The platform supports a wide range of mobile platforms. It is open sourced under MIT license. The PhoneGap platform has been submitted to Apache Software Foundation for running it as an Apache project
  • PhoneGap Build - A cloud based service to build mobile applications online, which is free for individual developers, but requires fees for team use

My personal favorite amongst these frameworks is PhoneGap, because of the industry support and thriving developer community around it. Though, Appcelerator Titanium probably is a more powerful and easier to work with framework, the fact that it is not open brings it down a bit. In addition to that, if and when the PhoneGap is accepted by the Apache Foundation it will be a huge win for the framework. 

Do-It-Yourself Tools 
While the frameworks listed above are targeted towards developers, these cannot be used by regular users. These regular users/organizations mostly hire programmers or outsource app development to a specialist company. Even developing a simple app can cost organizations tens of thousands of dollars. There are several Do-It-Yourself services available on the net that can help non-technical users build their own mobiles apps without writing any code, while paying out relatively little money. 

The best DIY services I found were freemium and did not cost anything till you used their basic functionality. The best ones I found were Red Foundry, AppMakr, MobileRoadie (paid) and Appscend. These services allow app creators to create apps, manage them, analyze app usage and even monetize them. Amongst these, Red Foundry provides a very clean interface and gives more control to its users by providing its Red Foundry Markup Language (RFML). However, AppMakr is considered to be the leader of this segment, as it has been used a lot by large organizations as well. I believe the key reason for AppMakr's popularity is the fact that it allows users to create mobile apps for free and allows them to do more in that basic package. 

Overall, the mobile platform wars have allowed this cross-platform mobile app segment to grow and thrive. Though the mobile industry has transformed radically in the last few years, it is still early to declare the winner of this war. No matter how this battle turns out to be, as long as there are multiple players in the mobile devices market, the need for such cross-platform application development platforms will always be there.

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