So the buzz continues over social media and check-ins. Foursquare have just added event check-ins, LocalResponse is expanding its service to include TV check-ins. But the check-in phenomena is spreading wider than the world of marketing. Companies looking to have workers check-in to remote work-sites, and input onsite data are becoming popular. But the mobile market remains confusing, leaving developing these types of applications challenging. But slowly things are beginning to change, the growth of HTML5 and release of Flash Builder 4.5.1 by Adobe are setting the stage for cheaper cross-platform mobile solutions.
Current State of the Mobile Market
Before discussing these new developments, its worth looking at the current state of the mobile market. In terms of hardware, the mobile market is made up of smartphones and tablets. Historically dominated by the IPhone and IPad2, new launches by other manufacturers have started to challenge Apples preeminence. The most popular platforms, or mobile operating systems, are Apples IOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows and Symbian. Mobile device screen size is a key application consideration. Screen sizes range from the 2.6″ HP Veer, through the 3.5″ IPhone, and 9.7″ IPad2 to the 10.1″ Samsung Galaxy Tab. Larger screen sizes lend themselves better to more complex applications, but makes the device less portable. Thus a simple check-in application, works well on a smartphone, but a mobile shopping app is better suited to tablets.
There are two ways to access applications on a mobile device. The first is to simply fire up the mobile Web browser and access an existing web application. From a user’s perspective, there are a number of disadvantages to this approach. Arguably the biggest is the inability to access applications built using Adobe Flash/Flex or Microsoft Silverlight from any Apple IOS device. This relates to Apples restrictions on installing plug-ins, such as the Flash player. Thus any Web site which uses technology requiring third party software extensions or plug-ins cannot be accessed from the IPhone or the IPad2. Apple are by no means alone in imposing these types of restrictions.
A second method of mobile application access is to install the app on the device. Apple, Blackberry, even Amazon offer both free and fee based applications targeted at different platforms. These are downloaded and installed on the device. They are optimized for both mobile use and the specific platform. They have advantages over Web based applications. Traditional Web pages are targeted at PC’s and mouse interaction. Finger interaction is quite different. Installed applications are built with this in mind. In addition, an installed application potentially allows data storage on the device, using lightweight transactional database engine such as SQLite. Just to confuse things there are two type of installed applications; native and hybrid. Native languages, are those which go hand in hand with the underlying operating system. In Apples case that is Objective-C. There are some advantages to native apps notably performance. The key disadvantage is that a native app only runs on that specific operating system. Meaning an Objective-C app written for the IPad, would need to be rewritten for an Android device, and again for the BlackBerry PlayBook. That is potentially an expensive undertaking. Hybrid apps, are the other option. These are installed apps, which are not written in a platform specific language. They are cross-compiled, meaning one application which runs across all devices.
New Solutions to Build Cross-Platform Mobile Apps
Clients looking to build cross-platform check-in apps can look to HTML5 on the Web and Mobile Adobe AIR for hybrid installed apps.
……….. to be continued