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Eight factors when choosing mobile application development tools

When it comes to picking out a mobile app development tool it is important to keep lifecycle management, integration, internal expertise and more in mind.

The mobile application development market is flooded with tools, so picking the right one is daunting.

From plug-ins for integrated development environments to cloud-based platforms that handle every phase of the application lifecycle there are a number of considerations to take into account before companies make a decision.

Explore eight such considerations to keep in mind when evaluating mobile application development tools. The importance of each consideration varies based on company size, existing tool set, budget, in-house talent and more.

Usability

The mobile app development tool's interface should be intuitive, easy-to-use and work the way developers expect it to. If collaboration is a factor, for example, the tool should enhance it or, at the very least, not encumber it.

How the tool actually functions should be at the forefront of developer's minds when they evaluate a product. Developers should thoroughly test potential products before committing to them.

Costs

Licensing development tools, building the necessary infrastructures, and developing and deploying applications can be expensive. By comparison, the low startup fees offered by cloud-based services, such as codeless mobile application development platforms can seem enticing, especially when the services promise to do most of the work.

When evaluating any mobile app development tools, make sure to consider total cost of ownership, not just immediate up-front expenses. Remember the long-term costs when evaluating mobile application development tools to understand their full effect. Services that cost less in the short term might actually cost more in the end, especially if the services don't integrate well with other systems or cannot handle all the functionality a company needs.

The short-term gains might make open source tools attractive too, but if developers and administrators spend hours supporting and integrating them, the advantages quickly disappear.

Lifecycle management

Remember the long-term costs when evaluating development tools to understand their full effect.

Once developers build an app their job is not done. They must test, host, deploy, maintain and analyze its usage throughout its lifecycle. They must also figure out how to handle and store data, secure the data and integrate it with other systems. In addition, they must consider all the device types they have to deploy the app on and the different delivery mechanisms and upgrade strategies on each device type.

If developers plan to do the work in house, they must be sure their mobile app development tools work together to support the app's lifecycle. The same is true if companies rely on external services in conjunction with internal tools.

If a company picks a full-platform service, it must be just as diligent. These platforms, usually cloud-based services, often promise a comprehensive suite of tools to take care of all the pain points. Not all services are created equal, so developers must determine exactly what they need and whether the service can deliver it, taking into account extensibility and integration with other systems.

Security

Mobile application development tools should allow admins to use a device's built-in security controls.

Governance and audibility are also important, regardless of what tools developers use. For example, if developers choose a cloud service, they must be certain it complies with any government restrictions or regulations that apply to their data. A service might make development easier, particularly across multiple platforms, but that doesn't necessarily ensure the highest level of security.

Integration

Developers should look at how well the mobile app development tool integrates with the systems and services that touch the application throughout its lifecycle. Not only should the tool itself provide seamless integration with other systems, but it should also let them build an application with the necessary integration.

For example, developers might need to build apps that support mobile application management (MAM). If they're considering a MADP, they should ensure it is possible to build MAM into their apps.

The concept of integration also extends to such issues as whether the tools let admins build apps that integrate with existing back-end systems or whether the tools themselves can integrate with their continuous-delivery infrastructure and other key systems.

Expertise

Some services promise a codeless experience, while others drill in the "write once, run anywhere" mantra, which might simplify the overall process, but still requires developers. On the other hand, a cross-platform service might rely heavily on JavaScript and HTML, as opposed to languages such as Java or C#, making it easier to use in-house development resources.

Developers must look at what skills they'll need as well as what expertise the product or service offers as part of the package.

They also want to consider how quickly they need to get their apps out the door. Some services provide templates or code samples, and make reusing code possible. Other services offer the ability to customize specific components, if they have the expertise.

Applications

Each type of app has advantages and disadvantages. Native apps generally offer the best performance and user experience, but they usually cost the most and take the longest to build, especially across multiple platforms. Web apps are quick and easy to deploy, but usually are not as robust as native apps. Hybrid apps fall somewhere in between.

Some organizations must implement different types of apps. For example, a simple HTML5 app might suit internal users, but customers need native apps.

Developers must know what they're going to build before they choose the tools to build it. For instance, if they decide to go with a MADP service and build hybrid or HTML5 apps, then they'll want to ensure they can deliver an interface their users like.

Delivery

Developers should account for availability, scalability and performance. They also must know how to perform maintenance and implement upgrades, which require resources and affect availability.

When developers build apps in-house, they control everything. With third-party services, particularly complete platforms, companies often purchase the entire package. The service might build in mechanisms for adjusting scalability and performance, but overall developers have little control beyond the basic adjustments.

Before committing to any service, developers should fully understand the service-level agreement and what the vendor can actually deliver.

Next Steps

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This was last published in May 2016

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What do you look for in a mobile app development tool?
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One of the biggest things we look for is how the tools compliments the existing skills sets of our developers. This extends beyond languages, which is the typical consideration, but also includes how the tool integrates with the existing technology stack, etc.
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I've been doing some research on App builders as I am trying to build my startup's first App. I looked through AppInstitute to find out whether is it possible to allow Android users to download our App without having to login into the Google Play Store? Reason why, is we are targeting most of our users are in Mainland China.
Also, which of these services would allow us to create complete HTML5 content (CSS, JS, images) so it can be browsed offline? I’m still thinking, but considering working with Magora system.
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I’m glad to see that you’ve addressed developer’s skills, and how the tools compliment those skills, in this article. All too often, we focus only on the tools as if they will solve all the problems we have with mobile app development.
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