Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Lowering the Barriers to Entry in Mobile App Development

The creative firm I work with out in Utah, Purple Raincloud, is really stoked on the potential for  growth in the mobile application market.  Scratch that –reality of growth.  Clients want them, and we want to build our own.  We have good relationships with some talented local iPhone developers, but my own experience is with web app development.  For this reason, I was excited to hear about a new platform that makes it easier to get in the mobile app development game.

What’s this new technology? It’s called Appcelerator Titanium, and it aims to bring to mobile app developers the benefits of rapid prototyping that are enjoyed by web developers.

And boy, does it ever. How so? It abstracts the functionality of native iPhone and Android development through a Javascript API. So instead of using Objective-C or Java to create your app, you create the functionality with Javascript (including your favorite JS libraries like YUI or jQuery) and lay it out with CSS. In other words, if you’re comfortable developing a dynamic web page, you are 90% of the way there — you are about a day away from launching your first iPhone or Android app.

What’s the other 10%? That’s the Titanium API I mentioned, which gives you access (through simple Javascript) to the native functionality that makes mobile apps what they are, like GPS, the phone’s camera & accelerometer, etc. Not only does the API provide access to utilities like those, but it also gives you the ability to skin and theme your app just like a “regular” native app. Tabs, menus, gestures — it’s all there.  I was able to get a modified version of their sample TwitPic client up and running in under a day (mine used Posterous and took advantage of Titanium’s Geolocation API for accessing my phone’s GPS capabilities), and much of that was spent getting my Linux machine to recognize my phone as an Android device.

It’s unlikely that you will yet be able to match the speed and feature set of a native app, but for many apps, this could be a great tool for proof-of-concepts or even production deployment.  And I say “yet” because the Appcelerator team is talented, dedicated, and has shown their willingness to engage with the developer community to address issues and help out with problems.

Within 24-36 months, their will be more mobile devices accessing the internet than home broadband connections.  They’re not all smartphones, yet, but the potential for this market cannot be ignored either by traditional companies or the design and development firms that help them create their web presence.  Soon, not having a mobile-compatible site or dedicated mobile app will the equivalent of not having a website at all just a few years ago.  So take a look at Titanium, especially if you don’t have the time or personnel to delve into Objective-C or the Java-based Android SDK just yet.