Thursday, 2 February 2012

Bridging the gap between web designer and mobile app developer

I've managed to squeeze in some time in the last few days to experiment with some of the
improving technologies for mobile app development. Namely: PhoneGap, granted it's nothing new as it has been around for a fair while. Where I think it's really making a difference is being included in Abobe Dreamweaver CS5.5, fantastic, thank you Adobe! This version allows regular web designers/coders to utilise their skills to produce mobile applications. It includes a starter template that has been coded using the popular jQuery Mobile (a javascript library framework for mobile devices). Of course this also offers developers a route to accessing certain hardware functionality for devices. Essentially the web designer builds a website suitable for a specific screen resolution (mobile device) and then converts it to app.

For me, using any browser based technologies are a fantastic way to go, as there is good standardisation across devices to helps develop in HTML(5), CSS and Javascript. It's not all handed on a plate, as I'm finding it necessary to learn a new skill set for mobile interface design/development. Apps are certainly the buzz word these days but there is predominately a huge amount of effort involved in creating them. This coupled with different rules for distribution across platforms, makes life difficult for the educational developer, or any developer for that matter.

For example, at the time of writing, it is not possible to distribute iPhone of iPad apps via email or file-sharing systems, as Apple has chosen to do everything through iTunes. Granted there is a good emulator that allows you to see this working, but nothing beats testing it on the device first hand. Where as, Android allows users have the ability to install 3rd party applications (Android users, look for the options in settings > applications, see Andorid 3.2 screenshot).

I find that throwing the installer APK files for Android into Dropbox a very convenient way of testing or sharing your work with others. Equally APK files are recognised in email attachments, another way to distribute (small) applications. It's a free and easy way for academia to test and use apps, without getting into developer licencing and some of the headaches associated with that...

I think for the moment the important thing to remember is that desktop and mobile development are different, the key to effective app creation is understanding what constitutes a good app. Throwing an 'app in progress' onto the markets can lead to very harsh and unforgiving feedback, there is a lot of work to be done before it's good enough.

I think apps have their place, but one thing that concerns me is creating Apps for the sake of creating them. Usually most things can go into a trusty web browser. This can easily be made offline and probably do just as much as an app (if you know how to tap into the hardware) it just takes a little careful programming. A fusion of the two is probably the best way to do these things, although, with application space being a precious as gold on some devices, can we justify it? I think this will be an interesting exercise in trial and error...with some honest user feedback thrown in...

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