Essential guide to mobile application platforms
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With consumers bringing different mobile platforms into the enterprise, IT needs a way to create mobile apps that work across as many operating systems as possible -- without wasting money or time learning new codes and app-building techniques.
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Mobile application development platforms (MADPs) can unlock a world of mobile apps for business use. MADPs make the application development process easier by letting developers use reusable code and templates, but they also come with customizability limitations and concerns about vendor lock-in.
What are MADPs and what can they do?
IT can develop a MADP in house or choose a third-party MADP offering. MADPs can be cloud-hosted, located on premises or in a single virtual appliance. They can be siloed, focusing on a single use case, or modular, allowing developers to create multiple apps to meet any business need. MADPs also come with connectors, a crucial mobile backend as a service (MBaaS) component, which gives apps access to the corporate data they need to function.
Despite variations, most MADP offerings share some common features. Client code, for example, lets developers use a code base such as HTML5 to build a single app that can provide a native platform experience across a variety of OSes. Developers can also deliver OS-versatile apps by wrapping a Web app in the OS's code.
Many MADPs also include an integrated development environment (IDE). The IDE boasts templates, prebuilt apps and even drag-and-drop user interfaces that make editing source code and testing and previewing apps simple.
Tools such as application programing interface management, emulators, analytics, app stores and lifecycle management round out the MADP arsenal. These tools let developers manage user identities, application access and network connectivity.
Why you should consider MADPs
In the past, if an organization wanted to mobilize enterprise apps but couldn't afford to build them itself, IT had to deploy Web apps or deliver apps through virtual desktop infrastructure.
MADPs provide an alternative to these methods and can save IT even more on costs. Since MADPs are so easy to use, IT doesn't have to spend money up front on mobile app development infrastructure. Everything developers need to build and distribute native, Web or hybrid apps on more than one platform comes in the MADP package.
To simplify matters even more, MADPs feature reusable code that serves as a baseline for the app. This allows developers to build on an existing foundation and add whatever bells and whistles they need to answer to users' business needs. Reusable code also allows each app to work across multiple platforms. Instead of having to learn two languages to code the same app for iOS and Android, for example, developers can use one code to deploy the app on both OSes. That allows IT to deliver those core enterprise apps to any user no matter what device they choose.
Going a step further, many MADPs feature codeless app development, which gives even non-coders the power to simply drag and drop features into the app in a user-friendly interface. The simplistic nature of building codeless apps means an organization does not need to employee outside app developers; it can turn to in-house teams to create its apps.
When it comes to the back end, MADPs help reduce infrastructure requirements by connecting apps through MBaaS. With MBaaS connectors in MADP offerings, organizations don't have to buy additional back-end infrastructure components to sync data, ensure network connectivity, provide user authentication and more when building apps.
Why you should be cautious about MADPs
The simplicity MADPs provide may sound great to IT, but there are some trade-offs.
First, when developers build an app from scratch, they can build it any way they want to meet user, security and management requirements. No matter how much flexibility a MADP offers, it will never permit the same levels of customization.
Developers are also limited by the multi-platform nature of MADPs. Every app has to meet the common standards of each OS to provide the native experience users expect on each device.
Vendor lock-in can make matters worse. Once an organization picks its MADP provider, it's dependent on the provider for application performance and support. If the vendor is not up to par, the organization's hands are tied because the vendor owns all the company's application source codes.
Relying on a MADP vendor can affect other parts of the company's IT infrastructure, too. The provider's reliability and support when it comes to apps can restrict lifecycle management and even prevent cloud or mobile device management integration if the apps can't properly hook into those services.
Although MADPs can help organizations save big time on up-front costs, no MADP vendor can deliver everything an organization needs, and subscription fees quickly add up. For that reason, long-term ROI might fall short of expectations.
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