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Mobile app development tools improving to meet IT demands

To meet IT demands, mobile application development tools have evolved to include testing, monitoring, deploying, debugging and other features.

While many organizations outsource mobile application development, some IT departments have begun to staff up on mobile developers and evaluate the necessary tools to accelerate mobile initiatives.

To meet the growing demand, mobile app development tool vendors are partnering with one another to offer IT teams an experience similar to what they would get from traditional app dev tools.

"Mobile software development, at the basic level, isn't any different than traditional enterprise software," said Michael Facemire, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., a research and advisory firm based in Cambridge, Mass. "IT needs QA [quality assurance], performance monitoring, a mechanism to update and maintain that software, access to back-end data. It's all very similar."

However, mobile app development tools are still maturing and there are aspects to the process that could be better, including: debugging, accessing the file system [and] sharing or using existing dynamic-link libraries (DLLs). There also needs to be a common application development environment for mobile, desktops and the Web, according to Rusty Bealer, executive director of product innovation at Bracket Global, a pharmaceutical services company based in Wayne, Penn.

Typically, Bracket Global relies on paper to record patient data, but mobile devices offer them new and better abilities to give patients a method of recording data every day.

Their clinical trial app needed to work offline through data cache and sync and be mobile operating system-agnostic. It was built using Appcelerator Inc.'s platform, which combines Titanium studio with new features, such as performance testing, analytics, a component market and debugging.

Debugging and testing are just as critical as the development and building process, said Ameet Shah, CEO of Conigent Inc., an IT solutions provider based in Haddonfield, N.J. One of the apps that Shah helped build is used by 50,000 global users every day, and there is a constant worry about the app's performance.

"That's everyone's worst nightmare; that you deploy something and you can't figure out what goes wrong," he said. Shah relies on OutSystems' Agile Platform development tool, which automatically handles much of the code debugging and performance analytics.

"We have to check for the business logic in our code," Shah said. "But we spend more time developing and improving our apps and less time worrying about other things because [OutSystems] handles those things for us."

The latest mobile app development tools

Several mobile application development tools have been released over the past couple of months: Verivo Software Inc.'s Akula open platform; Appcelerator's expansion of Titanium into a full mobile development platform; AnyPresence Inc., a traditional Mobile Backend as a Service provider, launched a cloud-based development service; mobile application vendor Apperian Inc. launched a partner program with half-a-dozen of these development platforms to streamline the deployment of enterprise applications; and Soasta Inc., a mobile and cloud testing service, also launched a partner program to bundle its capabilities into these products.

These mobile app development platforms offer the ability to develop applications, test them, run QA, access application program interfaces to connect to back-end databases, pick and choose common code from a library to drop into their apps, along with other features.

IT can either use a single stack from one vendor or -- through partner programs and integrations -- pick a combination of different tools to achieve the same result, Facemire said.

Microsoft has even made application development for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 the cornerstone of this year's Build Developer Conference.

Well-known enterprise vendors such as IBM could also release similar products that can stand on their own, Facemire said.

"For these newer companies to have an impact, they need a viable offering, integrate easily with existing corporate investments, and partner with each other to have that end-to-end play," he said.

And, like the mobile device market last year, the mobile application development market is beginning to go through the same consolidation with upstart companies being acquired by bigger enterprise companies, Facemire said, noting the recent acquisitions of Layer7 Technologies by CA Inc. and Mashery Inc. by Intel Corp.

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