Volume 13, Issue 4 - May 2012

Guest Column

Who Said That?
Going Mobile!
by Nick Carter

Pete Townshend of The Who, had no idea that the group’s 1971 hit, “Going Mobile,” would come into fruition many years later. A few weeks ago, my alma mater was scheduled for its first game in the Big Dance. Unfortunately for me, the tip-off was at the same time as my take-off for a business trip. Not too long ago, this would have been a very depressing situation. Today, it is a different story.
whipped out my handy iPad, downloaded the “NCAA March Madness” app for $4.99, signed up for the in-flight WIFI and bingo! I was able to watch the majority of the game during the first leg of my trip. The quality of the video was jerky, but I easily followed the flow and score of the game in real time.

It is truly astonishing how this new mobility seems to now touch everything we do. Compared with having to sit at a stationary computer, this new untethered freedom is addicting.

The business world is no exception. Everywhere you look, from your banker to your baker, everyone has an app for that.

Going Native
There are two primary methods that software providers can use to accomplish this: native apps and web apps.

For certain uses it makes sense to develop a “native application” for the particular device(s), using their guidelines (Apple for iOS, Google for Android, etc.). This makes it much easier to use features such as the built-in camera. The application is then submitted to the provider for approval. Once accepted, the provider will push it out to the application marketplace and make it available for download to the proper devices.

Many of the specialty apps (such as the NCAA March Madness mentioned above) carry a nominal fee while many of the others (iHeartRadio, Pandora, WeatherBug, etc.) are free. Business-specific apps on the other hand rarely carry a fee since the application provider (i.e. your bank) is more interested in making it as easy as possible for the end users to do business with them.

There are different levels of native. Some apps are built entirely in each vendor’s toolkit while others can utilize a shared core with a device-specific interface. Depending on how native the developers want the application to appear, they may have to stay on top of several programming languages and delivery systems (Apple, Android, Windows Phone Market, etc.) and push bug fixes, enhancements and new functions to all of the platforms they are delivering their apps on. Although there are tools available which can make this much less of a chore than in the early days, it still adds work and, depending on the application, may not add business value.

Taking it to the Web
The other main deployment method is to deliver the application to the user as a web app. This takes advantage of the mobile device’s built-in web browser. The app’s flow can be tailored to the device’s screen format. The tablet format makes this very attractive, especially when compared with a Smartphone, since the screens are large enough to deliver an experience that is similar to the user’s interaction with the primary website via a normal PC.

The beauty of this approach is that once the nuances of the various browsers (Safari, Chrome, etc.) have been compensated for, the application becomes somewhat independent from the device. This helps from a development standpoint, since the programmer worries more about the application and making it fit the end user business needs rather than fretting over the intricacies of each vendor’s specifications.

Some bandwidth hungry apps, such as streaming video, can be stretched beyond its means when connecting on 3G and really need a WIFI connection for optimal performance. Our experience with business applications is that while WIFI is preferred, 3G access has proven more than adequate.

The mobile application market continues to expand, with the tools and technologies changing at a breakneck pace. What remains constant, however, is the need to connect with customers, partners, and vendors while combining increased efficiency and improved service. Mobile devices can leverage your existing systems to deliver more business value—all at the end user’s convenience and with increased personalization, a mass personalization if you will.

Pete may have been “Going Mobile” with a home in the 1970s, but I think he’d change some of the lyrics if he were writing it today!

Nick Carter is president of WoodWare Systems in Memphis, Tenn.


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