Monday, March 25, 2013

Enterprise Mobile App Development - Native vs. HTML5 - Part 1

It’s hard to imagine the first communication between a Web browser and a server via the internet occurred almost 23 year ago. For many businesses, adoption of the web was slow and sometimes painful, but consumers were patient, awaiting opportunities that provided access to endless information, shopping and social networking would afford. However, with the advent and almost stratospheric rise of smart mobile devices, consumers and employees alike are no longer patiently waiting. They want access and they want it now. The demand for mobile apps is staggering and for businesses, embracing mobile app development is no longer an option, it’s a necessity. As organizations work through creating and executing an enterprise mobile app strategy, a key decision to be made is whether to build Native or HTML5 (web apps). There is even talk about Hybrid apps being an option. Each certainly has benefits and drawbacks, but ultimately, native apps simply offer the best overall user experience. In part 1 of this blog – we’ll take a closer look at the challenges of HTML5 (and Hybrid) mobile app development.

HTML5 has provided an opportunity for rapid development of web-based mobile apps even by developers just getting started. Following a write-once-deploy-everywhere strategy, web apps deploy easily and are easy to manage and distribute changes and updates. Being web based, they can also run across multiple mobile devices. This has allowed for a myriad of apps to be created relatively inexpensively and in short time. That said HTML5 has some significant drawbacks especially for consideration in the enterprise mobile app space.

Poor security and lack of offline storage are presently two major roadblocks to an enterprise HTML5 based mobile app strategy. Security issues such as form manipulation, data transfer and injection attacks pose potentially high security risks. While there are some JavaScript coding practices that can help with these issues, HTML5 local storage saves data in unencrypted string form and should not be used for sensitive data. As such, the level of security threat remains concerning, especially when corporate data is involved. As well, though web apps offer some level of local storage it is limited. Online web apps can cache information for use when offline, however, if a screen has not previously been cached, for example, it will not work when offline.

Another key issue with HTML5 is the lack of the “native” user experience. There are several native device features that cannot be taken advantage of with web apps, such as the camera, calendar, GPS and multi touch features. With web apps users won’t have the look and feel of their native device functionality. Additionally, performance can be an issue as web apps can be slow or unstable when an internet connection is unreliable. There are also issues with platform and browser compatibility, especially on Android devices, which will be a key issue now that Samsung devices, the market share leader in 2012, are slated to more than double its percentage point lead over their rivals in 2013.

In the face of web apps drawbacks, a nod must be given to Hybrid apps which are generating a lot of the buzz. These Hybrids basically take the HTML5 technology, and wraps it in native code. These do provide faster performance than web apps with a more native look and feel. They also enable the use of device features like camera and GPS through an abstraction layer. However, since Hybrid apps are doing their best to emulate native apps, the work required to create the “virtually native” look and feel, often takes even more time and coding knowledge than simply building a native app. Additionally, while often faster than a web app, there are still performance issues and lag times especially where graphics performance is concerned. There may also be some compatibility issues when a new device version is released.

HTML5 and Hybrid apps offer some solutions for potentially getting apps out to market fast, and potentially more cost effectively. However, to put all the eggs in one basket of either solution is a risky investment for all the reasons mentioned above. What neither can offer is the ultimate end user experience that can only be gained by providing data rich, cross platform native apps which are more enterprise-viable than ever before. More on that in tomorrow’s blog…


Friday, March 15, 2013

New Gartner Report Says Mobility is Now Fundamentally Reshaping Mainstream Consumer Behavior

A recent Gartner report, from a survey of more than 8,000 global consumers, indicated that:

"Household adoption and spending on consumer technology products is shifting faster than expected in favor of gadgets and services that are portable or mobile and those that deliver networking capabilities and entertainment...The major change is that mobility is now reshaping mainstream consumer behavior in fundamental ways..."

Given the continued adoption of smartphones, the almost stratospheric rise of the tablet for web viewing, and new innovations in the works, mobile is the wave of the future and the future is now.

According to Nick Ingelbrecht, research director at Gartner, "Early adopters tend to leave the home laptop in the bag and are abandoning the home office in favor of the lounge room couch or bedroom to do online activities in a more comfortable environment using a tablet or smartphone. This early adopter trend is becoming mainstream consumer behavior."

Though the report was focused towards technology vendors who provide digital products and services (PCs, cameras, video gaming systems, etc...) the fundamental consumer behavior change speaks volumes to the absolute need for mobile strategy adoption across the business sector. Regardless of business size, target market or industry vertical, consumers and employees will be looking more fervently for businesses that cater to their on-the-go shopping, lifestyle, education, entertainment and work task needs. Organizations need to effectively deliver mobile websites and apps that cater to these needs sooner rather than later.

As the Garter report says, "technology and service providers are being faced with no alternative but to innovate for mobility." If they do nothing, they face a potential train wreck as consumers abandon gadgets, services and applications that do not fully support changing mobile lifestyles." This same premise applies to businesses at any level, but especially for enterprise organizations facing a broad BYOD mantra. Adopting a mobile strategy will be a key success factor for businesses across the board, as will employing the right tools and processes to execute valuable and well-utilized deliverables.

The adage, "if you build it, they will come" simply does not work in the mobile space. You need to build it well and in a manner that is timely and cost effective to support your business needs. When it comes to gadgets, consumers may jump on board and buy them, then ultimately drop them if they don't work. In the mobile space however, when consumers and employees are on their devices for work or play, if the content and functionality isn't there, they will immediately move on. This means decreased consumer revenue and worker productivity. I know I find myself working even more often, beyond the standard office schedule, if access to corporate systems and work tasks is more readily available.

"The shift to wireless access and portable devices represents both a threat and an opportunity to technology vendors." the Gartner report points out. The same holds true for businesses needing to deliver data-rich mobile solutions to their end users. In the wake of the rapid adoption of newer, more robust, consumer-friendly and cutting edge devices (think Google Glasses) businesses late to the mobile party just won't get a second invitation.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Tablets Beat Out Smartphones for Web Pages Views - Where is Your Business?

After looking at 100 billion visits to 1,000+ websites worldwide, the Adobe Digital Index is reporting that tablets have taken over smartphones for the first time in global web traffic generation. While PC's are still the predominant medium for web surfers, with tablet sales beating out PC sales by more than half at the end of 2012, it is evident that mobile devices will very soon be THE place to go for web browsing. That said, it's virtually impossible for companies not to jump on the mobile bandwagon, no matter the company size or industry, and be visible anywhere.

It goes without saying that if you don't have a website, you aren't being found, but so many companies feel that just having a website is enough. With an anticipated 1.9 billion smartphones slated to be sold this year alone, your company not only needs to be found, it needs to be optimzied for mobile use. Users need to have mobile websites and apps in the palm of their hands that provide a robust and personal experience. Even casual browsing at the beach with a margarita on the weekend, CEO's and consumers alike are looking for easily accessible, engaging content that makes them want to know more. Additionally, employees are looking for ways to easily access corporate systems for off-hour follow up on any number of work-related tasks. If a company isn't providing that enticement, they are potentially getting less than their employees are willing to give and handing their consumer business to their competition!

Providing mobile websites and/or mobile apps that educate, inform, entertain, or otherwise captivate, leads your potential customers and employees to engage more often and for longer periods of time. More time, more work completed, more sales made. If organizations the likes of Google, even as they are streamlining their company, have adopted a "mobile first" strategy, the statement for "going mobile" is clear. Every company is not Google, but that doesn't mean we can't all aspire to be. A mobile site combined with data rich mobile apps is not only realistic for SMB's and the enterprise alike but a necessity. Taking up the mobile charge will do a tremendous amount towards getting any company their fair share, or more, of the mobile browsing market. The companies who do not embrace a mobile strategy, out of fear, misunderstanding, or lack of acceptance of the role mobile will very quickly play in their success, will ultimately disappear.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Creating an Enterprise Mobile App Strategy Step 1 - Understanding Your Business Needs

With almost 2 billion smart phones expected to be sold this year and tablets outselling PC’s by more than half, enterprise companies across the board will need to embrace a mobile app strategy to remain competitive. But there is a constant flow of conflicting information surrounding mobile app development and BYOD strategies and determining what’s needed to be successful can be a daunting task. In addition, rushing to jump on the mobile app bandwagon, some companies try to tackle every want and need at one time and within one app. This leads to an end product that is less than desired and in the wake of failed implementation, mobile app strategies can be abandoned altogether. Beyond obtaining the tools and resources needed to implement a mobile app strategy are the building blocks required to create a solid foundation for success. Reaching the goal of a clean, effective and successful enterprise mobile app strategy requires taking one well calculated step at a time and it starts from step one – understanding your business needs.

Taking on a mobile app strategy is about much more than the tools you will use or even the end product itself. An effective mobile app strategy involves knowing the reasons behind the mobile app drive. You need to take a deep dive into the goal of your enterprise mobile app strategy and determine exactly what it is that mobile apps will do for your business. Are you looking to serve your customers, employees, vendors, channels, or all of the above? Will mobile apps enhance or replace current technologies? Think of the business processes you want to enable with mobile apps first, determine the priorities for delivery (chances are multiple apps will be needed and desired for maximum productivity and ROI) then build your strategy around these processes.

Once a list of potential mobile apps and the business processes they map to is determined, it’s time to bring the end users into the fold. Too often companies engage in enormous technology projects, investing huge amounts of time and money to create what they believe their customers (internal or external) want and need without actually asking them. Development of any kind in a vacuum is never successful and in many cases can lead to a project being scrapped shortly after implementation or even before the project is completed, but not before time, money and resources have been consumed.

It is almost assured that multiple mobile apps will be necessary to successfully meet all the business needs of your end users. Trying to build a single app to meet the breadth and scope of everyone’s requirements will prove far more frustrating than beneficial. For any customer-facing mobile apps, create focus groups of current and prospective customers. Find out what products or services they want to be able to access through your mobile apps and the functionality within the app that would be most useful to them. For employees, channels and business partners survey each group and determine what business issues they are facing and how mobile app(s) can solve these issues.

Understanding why your enterprise organization needs mobile apps, and what business processes they will support, is key to a successful mobile app strategy. A big piece of that puzzle is mapping those processes to the needs of the end users early in the planning stages. This approach will help create the solid enterprise mobile app foundation upon which to build the robust, data rich apps your end users want and your business needs. Next is determining the best tools and resources to execute your strategy – that’s step 2.


Friday, March 1, 2013

Yes, Companies Really Do Need "An App for That" and Getting There is Easier Than Ever

After reading a recent editorial on whether or not businesses need mobile apps, I realized there is still confusion and lack of understanding about what is available and possible in today’s mobile app development world. There are some 1.9 billion mobile phones expected to be sold worldwide this year combined with continued growth in tablet sales which reached an estimated 52.5 million sales in the last quarter of 2012. While it may be true in the small business arena that perhaps not every company needs a mobile app, with staggering end-user numbers and easy, affordable app building options now available, the question really becomes why wouldn’t you want one? Certainly in the mid-to-Enterprise space, mobile app development is a wave that companies will need to ride for a host of reasons, especially with the increasing flood of BYOD demands. So for them, it isn’t even a want, it’s a need.

 “To app or not to app” really isn’t the question.  Instead it’s a question of how to approach mobile app strategies with easy to use tools that open up a wide range of development opportunities.  It was true at one time that: "Apps are great, but here’s the thing: they take a lot of time and money to build and after all that your app will only work on one type of phone". That is no longer the case. Cross-platform mobile development has taken on a new face, one that’s high quality, data rich, timely and affordable, allowing build-once-and-deploy-everywhere (native and HTML5) abilities. Fast prototyping, immediate testing, and ongoing real time management and distribution mean quicker turnaround of quality apps to streamline operations and enhance the productivity.

Even more exciting is the prospect that mobile app development can be done without requiring any mobile programming skills. This means being able to take advantage of existing development resources for app building. For already skilled mobile programmers it means greatly lightening the development load, only augmenting an already robust platform for specific enterprise needs. For systems integrators, it dramatically reduces the burden of determining how, and with what resources, to architect customer solutions. It also decreases their development investment while increasing the ease, scalability and time to market of the end product.

At every level of every business, a cross-platform mobile development solution removes the question "do you really need an app for that?" and replaces it with "what is your strategy for building the apps that are best for your business and you customers?”  More on that in my next blog…