Technology moves fast. Understanding how the mobile space has developed can help us understand where we are today, and why we need the tools and capabilities a modern development framework can provide. Here is an outline of how the mobile ecosystem evolved to the present day.
BlackBerry or bust. It wasn’t that long ago that when an enterprise needed mobile devices for some of its employees, it would buy BlackBerrys, set them up, and issue and maintain the devices and apps. Employees had no say in the matter, and the devices and apps were for official use only. The user experience was tightly controlled. Those were simpler times. Centralization made things easy for corporate IT, and it worked. Never mind that the user experience was typically not very good; there was no alternative. Employees lived with whatever capabilities and limitations were built into the enterprise’s choices.
The mobile minority. In addition, since employers bore the entire expense for the devices, applications, provisioning, and IT support, they typically would make mobile devices and applications available only to those employees with traditionally “mobile” jobs, such as sales or on-site service personnel. Other employees remained tied to their desktop computers or dependent on bulky laptops for travel.
Enter the iPhone. Apple changed everything with the iPhone. For the first time, people were willing to pay $199 (with a contract) for their very own device, because for the first time there was a device that offered a compelling and satisfying user experience. The number of mobile apps for productivity, communication, and entertainment mushroomed, and before long the iPhone and iOS themselves had competitors. And all of these devices and applications provided better experience than corporate mobile phones.
You can’t get toothpaste back in the tube. It quickly became apparent that it was not practical for employees to carry two phones, one for personal use and one for official use. As soon as it was possible to do so, employees started to use their personal phones to access corporate networks and applications. Enterprises tried to stem this use of personal phones but found it impossible or impractical to do so.
Bring your own. At the same time, IT learned that employees’ use of personal phones came with a significant benefit: It allowed the enterprise to reduce the costs associated with procuring, provisioning and maintaining devices for their staff. So BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) became an accepted practice, even if sometimes unofficially.
Security. To address the security issues that arose with BYOD, Mobile Device Management (MDM) and Mobile Application Management (MAM) companies stepped in. These firms supported BYOD initiatives and helped enterprises keep corporate information as secure as it could be in a mobile environment.
Multiplicity. BYOD had a profound impact on how enterprises designed and developed mobile applications. They could no longer build an application for a particular mobile operating system. Instead, they had to support the most popular operating systems and devices used by employees. Finding it cost-prohibitive to build, test, and maintain applications for multiple platforms, they began a frantic search for a cross-platform solution.
Web apps to the rescue? HTML5 emerged as the apparent savior, but enthusiasm was short-lived because of performance issues and browser fragmentation. In addition, employees were not pleased with the user experience in web applications. In the end, even companies like Facebook and LinkedIn abandoned their HTML5 efforts. It was now clear that enterprises needed to build native mobile applications.
Overwhelmed. The problem with building native applications is that it involves dealing with multiple operating systems, multiple development languages, multiple form factors, and multiple user experiences. To compound the problem, enterprises typically do not have the skills in-house to build mobile applications using these new development environments.
Today’s cross-platform world. That’s why cross-platform development frameworks like Appcelerator have gained popularity. They make it much easier for companies to use existing web resources to build native applications that target multiple platforms (iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Tizen, Mobile Web, etc). Appcelerator allows enterprises to build connected secure native mobile applications and satisfy their desire for rich native UI.
My next post will show you how the Appcelerator platform solves a variety of problems enterprises face in the mobile space.
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