I'd like my work environment to go, please. Stick a thermometer into tech development clusters in 2012 and you'll quickly find that nothing's hotter than mobile.
There's good reason for that -- people love the portability and simplicity of the smart-device platform, be it tablets or phones, and they want to leverage that portability and simplicity for business purposes.
Thing is, organizations that are on-board with that plan are still caught in a bit of a bind. They have to find a way to roll out mobile apps not just quickly, but also effectively -- a way that will take best advantage of the strengths of mobile, yet minimize or eliminate the weaknesses.
So, among other issues, that means thinking about:
- Device-specific implementation. The rapid proliferation of smart devices means that there are, today, a variety of platforms, each with its own look and feel and range of special features. If developers trot out new apps that don't take advantage of all that (aka "lowest-common-denominator" apps), they're failing to tap the device's full business potential. But if on the other hand, they painstakingly develop apps independently, for each particular platform, they multiply the total amount of work required, and delay rollout.
- Server-side connectivity. It's not enough just to deliver mobile apps; those apps will have to link to the back end in a really seamless, smooth way if users are going to perform real work. So it's crucial to take into account the server-side architecture, not just the user's front-end experience.
- Security. Smart devices aren't, as a general rule, particularly smart in this area. But for business purposes, it's obviously essential that core resources like e-mail, databases and line-of-business services are only accessed in the right way, by the right people. The same argument applies in the context of regulation compliance. If the government says only certain guys should be able to access sensitive customer data, you'd better make sure that's the case -- whether those guys are using mobile apps or not.
This, I'm thinking, was the logic behind IBM's January acquisition of mobile application IDE provider Worklight . IBM doesn't ask my opinion on such topics, but if it had, I would have said Worklight was the goods.
Why? Go through the bullet list above and you'll see why.
IBM Worklight Studio makes hybrid development a piece of cake
Jim Zhang, Architect of Web Development Tools for IBM Rational, saw things the same way when I talked to him last week.
That reference to hybrid is probably worth singling out for special attention. If you think about the way mobile apps can be created, the options are, roughly speaking, these:
- Native apps. These are totally platform-specific and as such, they take outstanding advantage of device-specific strengths. But, of course, they also require platform-specific expertise to develop for; development takes longer and is more expensive; and in a world with half a dozen major mobile platforms, that's a real problem.
- Hybrid apps. Here we get a kind of Goldilocks-approved middle ground -- app development that isn't too hard, or too soft, but is just right. The idea here is to develop in the Web-standard languages listed above (under Basic Web apps), but augment those languages with special libraries included in the integrated development environment (IDE); then execute those apps in a native shell to preserve each device's look-and-feel as much as possible.
As you might have guessed, the Worklight IDE -- aka Worklight Studio -- capitalizes on that third option. Which means that developers can write code once and run it anywhere (rather similar to the Java pitch circa 1995), and yet that code will run in a way that takes advantage of unique device strengths.
As Zhang pointed out, this alone must have made Worklight attractive as an acquisition candidate.
�The original Worklight Studio has features that almost perfectly complement the strategy IBM had set for mobile development,� he said. �Worklight Studio provided layered code structure for cross-platform re-use, the ability to generate native artifacts used by the platform's own IDEs (Android Development Tools or X Code, for instance) in order to bridge the hybrid development with the native development, and a build process that produces platform-specific application code out of the layers. Match that against what IBM Rational had been working on: mobile specific editing (source code development or WYSIWYG UI construction) and testing capabilities. Perfect fit.�
And beyond simplified, optimized cross-platform development, Worklight also helps ensure those apps will work as intended. How? Turns out that developers can also test new app builds inside any standard Web browser -- a lot more convenient than, say, a phone, or four different phones running four different operating systems.
Zhang was quick to point out the additional business advantages of that approach.
�Developers are going to love the way we've simplified and accelerated app debugging,� he said. �Case in point is the browser-based device simulator. This test environment allows mobile hybrid or web applications to be tested and debugged in a desktop browser, making it much faster to test features or weed out bugs than using the native software development kit's simulators.�
Worklight helps you optimize not just development, but the complete lifecycle of mobile apps
Another neat thing about Worklight is the fact that it's already integrated with other, related IBM offerings both inside and outside IT development per se. This way, IBM can ensure that Worklight creates as much value as possible, for as many people across the organization as possible -- pulling information from other environments, adding information to them or interacting with them in other ways that make good business sense.
For example, Worklight integrates with IBM's application lifecycle solution Rational Team Concert (RTC). This flexible offering leverages Agile development concepts to help organizations create software that's as feature-complete and bug-free as possible, yet get it all done faster, more easily, and at lower costs than via traditional development methodologies.
RTC's integration with Worklight means that those Agile strengths can be applied to Worklight-based mobile development, too. �The RTC client can be installed together with Worklight Studio, so that the mobile application development can be managed using RTC,� said Zhang. �It's also pretty cool that the various types of builds needed to produce Worklight applications are supported by RTC build systems, too. So RTC capabilities are really being applied in multiple ways for greater value.�
And Worklight is also integrated with IBM Endpoint Manager for Mobile Devices, a solution that is just about as flexible, and cross-device capable, as Worklight Studio.
What's the relationship between these two tools? You can think of Worklight Studio as the forge in which apps are created, and Endpoint Manager for Mobile as the method by which those apps are delivered to employee devices, secured, managed and updated thereafter.
Endpoint Manager for Mobile even supports creating an in-house enterprise app store -- a centralized repository for new apps and app updates that can be used by all employees throughout the organization.
The Worklight Studio/Endpoint Manager combination thus strikes me as a really end-to-end mobile app solution. Not only does it address every element of the IT infrastructure that involves mobile apps, but it also is end-to-end in another sense -- chronological. Using these solutions jointly, you can build, deploy, manage and ultimately retire apps. That's cradle-to-grave support for their complete lifecycle.
Find out more about Mobile Development and Connectivity
Native, web or hybrid mobile app development � which approach is best for you?
Watch this webinar on Harnessing the Power of Mobile in the Enterprise
Learn more about IBM Mobile Foundation
Try out the Worklight Mobile Platform
About the author
Guest blogger Wes Simonds worked in IT for seven years before becoming a technology writer on topics including virtualization, cloud computing and service management. He lives in sunny Austin, Texas and believes Mexican food should always be served with queso.
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