The push is on to extend applications to the mobile perimeter. The typical approaches to doing so vary widely. Each has its merits and drawbacks, depending upon a company’s business requirements and the user experiences they want to provide.
This model mobilizes one application to one type of device or platform. It works for companies that want to mobilize a specific application for a current need and that are less concerned about extending the application to additional devices or platforms.
The Point solutions approach typically gives mobile users access to only one or two back-end applications. The user experience this approach provides is also rather ‘flat,’ since interactions with the applications mainly consist of filling in pre-defined fields.
This approach mobilizes applications using a web browser and can be an easy way to extend existing applications. To access the application, users launch the browser on their mobile device the same way they do on their desktop, without the need to learn a new application.
With no need to develop, install and manage applications for each specific device and platform, this model can deliver substantial time and cost savings. There’s also no need to push updates out to devices, just update the website.
There are some downsides to browser-based solutions. Although they successfully decouple an application from specific devices and platforms, the applications are still tightly coupled with specific browsers and browser versions. Developers must make sure the user interface works with multiple browsers and updated versions of those browsers. If not, some features of the application may not work and the content could be displayed differently, depending on the browser used.
Smart Client Solutions
In this model, developers use downloadable development kits provided by device manufacturers to write mobile applications using the device’s native language. This enables the application to be tightly integrated with that device’s APIs and unique features, such as a barcode scanner, GPS or camera, and other device-resident applications, such as email, address books or calendars. Smart client solutions also allow developers to create more robust, highly interactive enterprise and B2C applications to improve the employee and customer experience.
Instead of being accessed over the Internet, mobile applications reside locally on smart client devices. Since smart clients store data locally, only periodic network connections are needed. Users can continue to work offline and receive automatic updates when reconnected to a network. Smart clients also run applications that would be too bandwidth-intensive if delivered via a browser. Limiting transmissions between devices and servers increases battery life, while decreases bandwidth and server requirements freeing these expensive resources for other applications.
There are disadvantages. With very little portability across mobile devices and platforms, native client applications require developers to build and update multiple versions of the same application. Different skill sets are needed for the different native languages of each device. These languages evolve quickly, putting developers in a constant state of re-learning and repetitive development cycles.
Further, while native client applications provide a richer user experience, that experience is still too disruptive to the workflow, as users still need to access each back-end system separately. With no consistent way to control and protect data, management and security also remain critical issues.
Mobile Enterprise Application Platforms (MEAPs)
Mobile Enterprise Application Platforms (MEAPs) accelerate and simplify the development, deployment and management of smart-client-based mobile applications. They provide a set of tools and an associated runtime infrastructure to connect mobile workers to a variety of back-end data sources in a device- and network-agnostic way.
Mobile Enterprise Application Platforms (MEAPs) foster an ‘any application to any device’ strategy that bring together five key elements – devices, mobile middleware, management tools, a development environment and an integration framework. Together, they interoperate with each other and the existing infrastructure for seamless mobile connections and communication. By bringing these benefits to mobile application development and deployment, MEAPs allow companies to successfully address many of the challenges they face today.
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