Enterprise software is now going mobile. More and more work, which needed your presence in office/home, can be done on-the-go. With introduction of addictive UIs on smart phones, the market for Mobile based Software has grown into a new niche.
Smart phone applications can be categorized in to Native Applications and Web Applications. Native apps are downloaded on the device may or may not require internet connectivity. Most of the games and utilities like calculator, unit-converter fall in this category. Web Apps are applications that run on the device’s inbuilt browser. It does not need downloading, but requires continuous internet connectivity in most cases.
Both types of applications on Mobile can be developed by following these interdependent life cycle stages:
1. Design: A typical smart phone dimensions of 320×480 gives a very limited real estate to stuff-in the amazing functionalities they can support. Designers really need to master the art of small.
The design needs to be in alignment with various UI standards and can closely follow Human Interface Guidelines(HIG) from Apple. Though they have defined it for iPhone, many of them in my opinion are pure common sense. Hence, HIG is applicable for all devices, specifically for the Native apps. The smart-phone vendors (RIM, Apple etc.) have gone a long way in providing standard and useful applications to their users via their own app-stores.
In web based application development, for multiple devices for e.g. for iPhone and Blackberry Bold, design issues need to be taken care at the CSS level. For lower versions of Blackberry though UI has to be generated by a different code set.
2. Server side: APIs not only cater to web based mobile applications, native applications too need to shift the data intensive computation to server side. So there is not much difference between the server side programming for Web and Native apps. Bringing website functionality to mobile is not mere reuse of APIs. It involves optimization of existing APIs for performance. It may also involve revisiting the code for adding device specific checks, abstraction and exception handling etc.
3. Client side: iPhone, Blackberry, Android, Windows Mobile, Symbian have their own SDKs for development of Native Apps. While iPhone requires experience on Objective C and Mac OS, Blackberry and Android can be handled by Java developers while Windows mobile application can be created using Visual Studio 2008.
Advanced hardware like inbuilt camera, accelerometers etc can also be harnessed for making the mobile application feature-rich – like Auto-orientation, motion based gaming etc. The inbuilt GPS and assisted GPS can be leveraged for creating location based services. Though a plethora of applications are already providing LBS, I find it to be a tip of the iceberg. Adding LBS can make a lot of applications information rich, for end users as well as for vendors, distributors and advertisers.
Web based applications on almost all devices, sparing iPhone in some cases; do not need specified SDKs for development. The major issue for web based apps is handling the large number of device-browser combinations that a user may use. What works for IE on BB may not work for FF on the same device. To resolve the issue of developing and maintaining code for different devices XHTML-MP is gaining wide popularity among developers.
4. Testing: Other than functionality and UI related testing, Mobile app QA requires testing for performance and connectivity related issues.
Mobile software requires to be tested in real (non-simulated) Wi-Fi, GPRS, 3G etc. with different service providers. Something that works on AT&T may be blocked by T-Mobile. Also, an internet savvy application may behave differently in different geographies. Based on expected usage, the application should be tested for all the geographies. One may take assistance from www.deviceanywhere.com.
Web apps always need to be tested on variety of browsers (Mobile browsers) for rendering issues. iPhone supports Safari, while BB supports IE and Firefox and also has it’s own browser. Rigorous manual testing can reveal functionality glitches and alignment issues. Generally for all types of browsers, testing and debugging using Firebug and HTTP watch can be quite helpful.
One should plan the development of mobile applications with these distinct yet interdependent processes in mind. It should really help in developing a standard application in minimum time.