The Best Tools for Enterprise Mobile Dev

It’s no secret that everyone is designing software with a “mobile first” philosophy, including corporate America. As a matter of fact, the corporate world is trying to use one code base to support all mobile platforms. The good news is that several products and tools are available that allow developers to do just that, or at least get sort of close.

DeveloperAs part of its risk-mitigation process, a large national bank recently asked me to evaluate vendors for its new mobile-banking solution. I found that every vendor used some sort of mobile hybrid solution where most of platforms were built with an HTML 5 hybrid tool. The tool that was used the most was PhoneGap.

PhoneGap is a free, open-source framework that uses standard Web APIs on a number of platforms, like the obvious iOS and Android, and also webOS and Symbian. It’s a distribution of Apache Cordova.

I have to confess that when I began the project I was a purist at heart, meaning I couldn’t understand why someone would want to dilute a mobile-platform feature set by injecting a lowest common denominator framework. What I came to realize was products like PhoneGap help companies “fill the gap” between HTML5 and Javascript developers and Objective-C and Java developers.

It’s much faster to produce a hybrid application using HTML5 and Javascript than working with straight native code such as Objective-C, and there are certainly more HTML5 and Javascript developers out there than Objective-C developers. Don’t misunderstand me: I realize that a senior level Objective-C or Java developer can most likely produce the same app in the same amount time. There are just fewer of them.

After looking at the banking app’s needs, I saw that PhoneGap served the bank well, except for the iPad version. In that case we chose to create a native Objective-C app so the bank would have more control over the user experience. The bank’s user demographics indicated that customers using iOS devices expected certain features that a cross-platform framework didn’t provide. Eventually, its Android tablet version will be revised as a native project, as well, but for now the PhoneGap solution works. As for BlackBerry and Windows Phone, they weren’t even considered for native development. Only Web apps for them.

When it comes to mobile development, corporations are no different from startups. Both are short on people with the knowledge to build feature-rich mobile applications. So, if you want to take advantage of that gap, dig into HTML5, Javascript, Objective-C, Java, Ruby and Python, or at least the first two. You’ll find a lot of opportunities that way.

8 Responses to “The Best Tools for Enterprise Mobile Dev”

  1. Michael Stelly

    I’d be interested what other platforms you “evaluated” before choosing PhoneGap. Did you inform your clients that PhoneGap is simply an html wrapper which creates a mobile web experience on the mobile device? Did you also inform the risk management team that mobile web is the least secure of the mobile platforms? Mobile Web mimics a mobile experience. But, in my opinion, does so poorly.

    I have to admit, though, I’m biased. I believe Titanium SDK is a superior hybrid platform to PhoneGap that provides a true native mobile experience — something that PhoneGap simply cannot provide.

    Just because PhoneGap is popular does not make it the right solution for a bank.

    • Chris Jones

      Hi Michael,

      Thanks for the comments. Normally, I usually recommend native solutions over hybrid solutions but in this case the field of hybrid contenders were dictated by the list of mobile banking vendors. There were many business related factors that drove the final decision for PhoneGap. I’m sure Titanium would have been a good alternative but it was not supported by any of the mobile banking vendors.

      Thanks again for the comments.

    • At my company we performed some intensive research between the two and came to the conclusion that Titanium is second to PoneGap. Titanium is a great platform, but calling it superior is a bit overrated.