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So maybe you have a new fabulous idea for a Location Based Services (LBS) mobile application. Or, you are looking to migrate or extend your non-mobile Web presence to mobile. Where do you begin and what questions should you ask? Let’s demystify the landscape a little and maybe help frame some of the questions you should ask, before you embark:

How Does the Mobile Market Look in April 2011

Confusing in a word. Lets break it down:

  1. Hardware – we have had now two years of multiple smart phone releases and recently the launch of tablets; dominated at present by Apples IPad.
  2. Software – Smart phones and tablets both incorporate Web browsers and allow the download of native apps, from Apples app store for example
  3. Platforms – Android has just become the most popular platform, followed by Symbian (Nokia), Apples IOS, Research In Motion’s (RIM) BlackBerry OS, and Microsoft Windows Mobile.
  4. Mobile Development Tools – Many tools are available, but the platform is a key dependency

When evolving a mobile development strategy; hardware, platform, software and appropriate tools all need to be considered. Breaking this down:

Mobile Hardware

Smart phones and tablets are quite different. Maybe most significantly, from an application perspective, they have very different screen sizes. At present any and all applications are being written to fit on the small smart phone screens. In many case this makes no sense. This will change with the increasing popularity of tablets. The market will segment. Applications based around routing, check ins, social networking for example will have a place on the smart phone. But much will move to the tablets, as we transition from laptops and desktop computers to this new portable device.

Think about this in relation to your application, is it communication or search based, with limited UI requirements? For example, a courier/messenger service where drivers are required to check in would work well on a smart phone. A complex mapping application with the ability to measure building footprints and run complex spatial analyses, might be a perfect tablet application. Particularly if geolocation, or current location, is a key component.

Mobile Platform

The mobile platforms are quite different. Some are more prohibitive than others. Apples IOS has received much publicity since it prohibits the installation of Adobe’s Flash Player and the Microsoft Silverlight runtimes. This is a major limitation when building applications for this platform.

Mobile Software

Do you plan to build mobile Web based applications or native apps? Web based applications are modified versions of existing Web pages. They are optimised for mobile; with a simpler format, larger assets to allow for finger swipe (as against mouse click), and the potential addition of geolocation. The latter would allow us to relate Web page to current location. So, for example, if you need road side assistance while in San Diego your BlackBerry PlayBook automatically opens the California AAA Web site, or a Google search limited by current location etc. Apples IOS prevents any Flex, Flash or Silverlight applications running on its browsers.

Web applications will allow one version to run on most tablet devices, or smart phones respectively. Native applications are those we download and run on the device itself. Not all platforms support all native apps. Apple IOS supports applications written in Objective C. It is now possible to build Flex/AIR applications and run them natively on IOS, by cross compiling. But this remains challenging. Android and the Blackberry OS have wider support for different technologies.

So do you want to build a Web or native mobile application? If native will it run on one or multiple different platforms? If multiple you may well need to build multiple versions, is that additional cost in your budget? If Web only, will the inability to run Flash or Silverlight applications on the IPad and IPhone be a problem?

Mobile Development Tools

For Apple development; Objective C for native apps and Javascript for Web based applications are your best choices. Windows mobile is well suited, though not limited to, .NET development this includes Silverlight. Flex and Flash are options here also. Android and RIM allow for a wide base of development tools for both Web and native apps. RIM also allow native apps written for Android to run on their platform

So there it is. Much to think about.

We actively consult with companies trying to wrestle with these questions and develop their mobile strategy. Contact us with questions or for a free consultation.

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