Friday, 6 July 2012

Which are the best cross-platform tools for developing line of business enterprise mobility apps?

A report about cross platform developer tools makes a number of strong points and raises key questions to consider when choosing cross platform development tools.


Back in February Vision Mobile published a report, Cross Platform Developer Tools 2012 – a self-proclaimed seminal report covering over one hundred cross-platform developer tools, the metrics of developer experience and the future of native and web applications.

Having finally gathered the time to look at it in close detail, in highlighting the tools and players in the application development space, it reveals a number of interesting insights.

Cross-platform tools (CPTs) let developers create apps on multiple mobile platforms from almost the same codebase, ensuring only a small incremental cost compared to writing native apps for each target platform.

For those seeking to develop multi-platform mobile applications in the enterprise space, many CPTs are available to help speed up the development  process.  Visiongain’s report covers over one hundred available tools, but it can be difficult to know which are worth looking at.

There are three main questions to consider in picking a CPT.  Straightforward they may seem, but they are:

- will the tool do what you want it to do?
- will the tool be commercially sustainable?
- will the tool be developer-centric – is support in place?


Target mobile platforms

Line of business enterprise solutions are deployed on iOS, Android, Windows Phone 7 (8), and Windows Mobile 6.5, which is still strong in the line of business space and usually deployed on rugged devices provided by suppliers including Motorola, Intermec and Honeywell. Selecting a tool which covers all these platforms is essential.


Commercial sustainability

With over 100 CPTs available today, there will be large number of casualties either through business failure or acquisition.  Only the fittest will survive, meaning you need to back the right tool.

The majority of CPT providers are struggling with monetisation strategies and OpenPlug has already fallen victim of the failure to develop a robust plan.   


Developer centricity

CPTs need to ensure they provide a developer programme with good levels of developer support. This should include timely releases of products to coincide with new mobile operating systems, upgrades and updates, guaranteeing that your apps continue to work.

Performance is vital to the quick running of apps across all target platforms.



Many CPT providers are focused on the consumer application and games market: a volatile and high-risk space.  Removing these from the equation to concentrate on CPTs offering line of business apps leaves WorkLight, RhoMobile and Monotouch/Droid.


Comparison Table



Worklight
RhoMobile
Xamarin
Owner
IBM
Motorola Solutions
Self
Output
Native, Hybrid, Web
Native
Native
Language
HTML, CSS, Javascript
HTML, Ruby, API's
C#, .NET
Monetisation Plan
End user licence model : High cost
End user licence model : Low cost
Developer Licence model : Low cost
Developer Support
Training courses, product docs, training materials
Local personal contact, online docs, tutorials, developer forum, developer events
Online docs, Tutorials, developer form
Supported Platforms
Android, IOS, Blackberry
Android, IOS, Blackberry, Symbian, WM6, WP7, WinCE
Android, IOS, WP7
Market Focus
B2B
B2B
B2B, B2C
Data Synch/Middleware
Middleware, Mobile Management
Middleware, Mobile Management
None




Conclusion

Any ISV seeking to maximise their investment in developing line of business, cross platform mobile applications, need to concentrate on selecting an appropriate CPT.  The three cited above should only be used as a starting point in a thorough due diligence process.


But considering that selected three, there is one overall winner that delivers on my three key criteria: target platforms, commercial sustainability and developer centricity. 

That winner is RhoMobile.  It supports more platforms, has a clearly defined monetisation plan for the B2B market which is acceptable to developers, and a mature developer support programme.