DevExpress Newsletter 36: Message from the CTO

21 October 2010

This time around, because of the difficulties we had in creating a good video for the last newsletter, I’m publishing a text-only message. We’re hoping to improve the recording process for the next one but we still have to experiment some more to fine-tune it.

Writing apps for mobile devices

All of a sudden it seems the smartphone has grown up. It now has some great benefits, compared to that old Nokia I used to have. Data always on, check. Internet access, check. Fast CPU, check. Touch screen, check. And big too, check. A myriad of different OSes, check.

Er, what? How's that a benefit again?

At first glance, it seems that it isn't. There's iOS4, Android, Blackberry OS6, WP7, WebOS, not to mention Symbian^3, all completely different from one another. Writing a business app to target smartphones would seem to indicate that you've got a big hill to climb: write for one, then the next, then the next, and so on. Not something I'd look forward to.

However, they all have something in common: the use of web technologies. They all have a fairly robust speedy browser (most of them in fact based on the open source WebKit engine) with an efficient JavaScript interpreter. In writing an application that targets mobile devices, we should take advantage of this similarity between them so that our work can apply to the many instead of just the one by one.

The kinds of web technologies I'm talking about are the standard ones of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Using some very simple techniques we can discover what device our application is running on (or even if it's on a boring old PC) and use JavaScript with some well-supported open source libraries to optimize the application or website for that particular device. You only have to look at applications like GMail for the mobile device to see what's possible.

It doesn't stop there, of course. There are libraries such as Appcelerator's Titanium that will compile your web application into native code for certain devices. Suddenly you are using technologies you already understand and are familiar with to create native apps.

So, yes, embrace the myriad OSes and devices and just write web apps for their browsers.

Yes, I reckon knowing how to write web apps is the way to go, especially as sales of mobile devices are really starting to threaten the PC stronghold. Gaming aside (for now), the platform/device the apps run on is becoming less and less important. I’m going to continue learning about HTML5, CSS3, and more and more JavaScript.

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