News Stay informed about the latest enterprise technology news and product updates.

Behind the scenes of app refactoring

IT pros have wanted and needed a way to make Windows applications look more like mobile apps for a while. When we launched the new Modern Mobility e-zine this month, it seemed like the perfect time to take a look at this challenge and its potential solutions.

As I started researching the technical details of application transformation and talking to vendors, it turned out there was a lot more than meets the eye. App refactoring is the process of taking a traditional Windows application and rejiggering its user interface to give it all the bells and whistles of a mobile app.

(That’s obviously in layman’s terms. What actually happens behind the scenes is a bit more complicated, and that’s what I set out to decipher.)

There are a lot of ways to skin the refactoring cat. Some vendors manipulate the application image through the remote display protocol, and others break down the components of the app then reconstruct it on the client end using a visual designer. Most render the final app using HTML 5.

The key is that most refactoring technology doesn’t require any manual coding by a developer — an approach that’s also catching on with native app developers. This came up in a conversation I had with app refactoring vendor Reddo Mobility. The Cambridge, Mass.-based startup provides a designer console on the client device, from which the user can select buttons, menu styles and other layout features to make a more suitable mobile interface.

“It’s very point and click,” CTO Itzik Spitzen (right) said.

Although end users could actually refactor apps themselves, it’s more likely that Reddo’s capabilities mean any IT worker — even one without mobile experience — might use the tool to transform and deliver corporate desktop applications to mobile devices.

As I learned more about app refactoring, one thing that concerned me was how network latency might affect the rendering of the final product. As it turns out, refactoring tools that rely on a display protocol to stream an app will indeed experience some slowing, while network bandwidth won’t much affect those that render the app directly on the client device.

Ialso wondered what kinds of businesses are interested in this technology right now. Who’s so fed up with traditional desktop virtualization that they’re looking at these (mostly startup) app refactoring services? Reddo sees the greatest interest from the healthcare, finance and state and local government verticals, as well as customers with remote or field-focused workforces, CEO John Vigeant (left) said. The use cases match up with what I’d also expect from more traditional desktop virtualization users: doctors moving through hosptials with their tablets, insurance agents in the field, etc.

Still, enterprises have to decide for themselves what the best path is.

“There’s always going to be this tradeoff with the customer,” Vigeant said. “Do they build the app [themselves] or do they use some sort of app refactoring solution? It’s not just about bridging older apps to mobile, but it’s really about business decisions around how to optimize mobile for the customer depending on the application use case, whether it’s Windows, Web or something else.”

Developing a mobile app is a daunting undertaking for many companies, so app transformation might be just the ticket for some. Would you use app refactoring to retool a Windows app on a mobile device? Let us know in the comments.