Cross-OS Mobile Application Development

HTML 5, Smart way to build Cross-OS Mobile Applications

The ever increasing popularity and usage of smartphones and tablet computers has led to the explosion of apps. The variety of apps on the mobile and tablet markets range from entertainment, utility, productivity tools etc.

Many businesses have started looking at smartphones and tablets to improve the productivity of their work force. Each industry is finding their own spin on mobile and how to leverage it to enhance or reinvent their business.

As mobile OS-especially iPhone and Android-wax and wane, the pressing question remains: How do you choose which mobile devices to develop for and which devices to omit from your road map? Most cases, it is difficult to remain on only one platform as you will risk losing users, internal or external, belonging to other platforms. You can’t force your customers, or even your employers to stick to only one platform.

Native apps usually work on one platform. This makes it expensive for companies, as they must develop separate apps for iOS, Android and any other platform their target market may use. Developing the same application in multiple platforms often ends up in escalated cost of development, maintenance and support.

HTML5 could be the holy grail of mobile application development, since it is platform independent due to its reliance on web browsers. So, any device with a web browser can essentially support an HTML5 app.

Neil Mawston, Executive Director at Strategy Analytics, said in a December statement that HTML5 is a critical factor for promoting the convergence of content on smartphones, tablets and desktop PCs.

“With its potential to transcend some of the barriers faced by native apps, such as cross-platform usability, HTML5 is a market that no mobile stakeholder can afford to ignore,” Mawston said.

The pervasive usage of HTML5 has led to the development of Cross-OS platforms for mobile development. The platforms are evolving into robust solution frameworks to offer an excellent alternative to ignoring one mobile OS in favor of another or, perhaps worse, burning serious resources to develop for two or three platforms at once.

Here are a few cross-platform development tools that offer in-depth functionality to develop mobile applications ranging from Games, Utilities and even enterprise level applications integrating with traditional systems like ERP, CRM, BI and other applications in the Enterprise IT landscape.

Rhomobile

The tagline “one codebases every smartphone” pretty much says it all. RhoMobile offers Rhodes, an open source, Ruby-based framework that allows for development of native apps for a wide range of smartphone devices and operating systems. OS covered include iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile, RIM and Symbian.

The framework lets you write your code once and use it to quickly build apps for every major smartphone. Native apps are said to take full advantage of available hardware, including GPS and camera, as well as location data.

In addition to Rhodes, currently in its 2.0 iteration, RhoMobile offers RhoHub, a hosted development environment, and RhoSync, a standalone server that keeps app data current on users’ mobile devices.

Appcelerator

Another FOSS offering, Appcelerator’s Titanium Development Platform allows for the development of native mobile, tablet and desktop applications through typical web dev languages such as JavaScript, PHP, Python, Ruby and HTML. Titanium also gives its users access to more than 300 social and other APIs and location information.

Appcelerator’s offerings also include customizable metrics for actions and events. App data can be stored in the cloud or on the device, and apps can take full advantage of hardware, particularly camera and video camera capability.

PhoneGap

The recipient of the winning pitch at Web 2.0 Expo San Francisco’s 2009 Launch Pad event, is a FOSS framework that helps you develop apps for iPhone, iTouch, iPad, Android, Palm, Symbian and BlackBerry devices using web development languages such as JavaScript and HTML. It also allows for access to hardware features including GPS/location data, accelerometer, camera, sound and more.

The company offers a cross-platform simulator (an Adobe AIR app), as well as online training sessions to help you access native APIs and build functioning mobile apps on the PhoneGap platform.

MoSync

Another FOSS cross-platform mobile application development SDK based on common programming standards. The SDK includes tightly integrated compilers, run times, libraries, device profiles, tools and utilities. MoSync features an Eclipse-based IDE for C/C++ programming. Support for JavaScript, Ruby, PHP, Python and other languages is planned.

The framework supports a large number of OSes, including Android, Symbian, Windows Mobile and even Moblin, a mobile Linux distro. Currently, support for iPhone is present in the nightly builds and will be integrated in early Q3 with the release of MoSync 2.4. BlackBerry support is coming later this year, as well.

Corona SDK

It is a software development kit created by Walter Luh, co-founder of Ansca Mobile. It allows software programmers to build mobile applications for the iPhone, iPad, and Android devices.

Corona lets developers use integrated Lua, layered on top of C++/Open GL, to build graphically rich applications that are also lightweight in size and quick in development time. The SDK does not charge per-app royalty or impose any branding requirement, and has a subscription-based purchase model that allows new features to be rolled out immediately to users.

As companies look for new ways to create apps in order to stay in touch with existing and potential customers, HTML5 will gain popularity for a variety of reasons. HTML5 simplifies the process for integrating video, audio and data into an app. It also makes it easier for developers to create one app that works across a variety of platforms, which saves time and money.

In addition, the evolution of SDKs makes it possible for companies such as start-ups that would traditionally not create apps because of the expense, to create apps more cost-effectively. This new reality has important implications for small firms trying to compete with much larger counterparts.

Finally, HTML provides companies with a way to have client-side databases. These databases make it easier for firms to access data if they are temporarily disconnected from the Internet. Taken together, there are many advantages for companies who embrace the use of HTML5 to develop robust, user-friendly content.

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