Big Blue's purchase of a company that delivers the entire lifecycle of mobile application development could be the answer for those starting down the road with mobile apps.
Mobile applications are no longer some interesting distant phenomenon residing only on the Apple App Store and appealing exclusively to the younger generation of consumers glued to their iPhones. They are at the doorstep of every IT shop in the country, and IT managers, system integrators, and independent software vendors are faced with a serious challenge that will require significant investment.
When it comes to mobile application development, the more you know, the less you want to know. The issues involved reach out like underground burdock roots, touching everything from ways to leverage disparate device features, to connections with multiple systems, to ensuring security, to deploying applications to thousands of endpoints—then somehow keeping them updated.
Fortunately, someone at IBM thought of these challenges a couple years ago and was wise enough to recognize a tool vendor, which already had a platform that addressed the complexities of developing—and managing—mobile applications. IBM recently bought the company; it's called Worklight.
When we think of mobile application development, we think of an SDK that we can download for free from one of the mobile OS vendors' Web sites. The conversation then begins like this: "Which OS should we start with? Apple's iOS? Well, Android is coming on strong—maybe Android. Well, most of our executives have BlackBerries. Yeah, but everything today is going to the browser, so let's think about HTML5!"
The aimless discussion goes on interminably. Developers offer their thoughts, and the IT manager is supposed to render an all-knowing decision based on available resources and user expectations. Here's where you need to stop; take a look at IBM's Worklight and you soon will realize you're headed into a labyrinth.
The challenges that leading companies now embracing mobile need to overcome are significant. The Worklight platform tries to address them all. The company offers a 30-day free trial so you can see for yourself, but here are the main features of the Worklight IDE.
Worklight consists of the following components, each of which can be used as a standalone product:
- Worklight Studio is an IDE based on Eclipse and allows all the coding and integration required to develop a working application. The developer has access to Eclipse's basic tools plus an enhanced feature set offered by the Worklight plug-in to help ease application development and connections to the enterprise.
- Worklight Server is built using Java and provides a scalable gateway between the mobile applications, the external services, and the enterprise infrastructure. The server offers security features to enable connectivity, data-handling from multiple sources, authentication of users, direct updates (versus going back through an app store type of download) of both Web and hybrid applications, as well as analytics and application management. The server connects to back-end systems using configurable XML files called "adapters" via common integration protocols. It also automatically converts data retrieved from back-end systems from hierarchical to JSON format. Complex data mashups from multiple back-end resources are also handled by the server.
- Worklight Device Runtime includes a cross-platform compatibility layer, a server integration framework, provisions for encrypted storage, and reporting features for statistics and diagnostics. The runtime uses client APIs that complement the Worklight Server by exposing a predefined interface for accessing native device functions. It uses the PhoneGap framework to create a bridge between standard Web technologies and the various mobile OS native functions.
- Worklight Console is a Web-based user interface the administrator uses to monitor and manage the Worklight Server and the already-deployed mobile applications, adapters, and push notifications. The console allows the administrator to control access to the enterprise network by the mobile applications based on rules. It also allows for customizing any accompanying messages that the user receives.
When using Worklight Studio, the developer can choose between building a Web application, one that is native to any of the four major device operating systems—Apple iOS, Google Android, Windows Phone 7, or BlackBerry OS 5 and later—or a hybrid application that combines elements of both Web and native applications. The developer can leverage all the functionality of modern devices from telephony to geo-location services while seamlessly integrating third-party frameworks and libraries such as Sencha Touch and JQuery.
As the world becomes increasingly focused on mobile applications, developers and IT managers will need more than an SDK provided by Google to build these mobile applications. They will need a means of managing the entire lifecycle of many applications running on a variety of mobile platforms. There are numerous ways in which to do this, but Worklight is positioning itself as a one-stop IDE to cover every facet of mobile application development and control. To download a free trial of Worklight, click here. An easily obtained ID from IBM and password are required.