This content is part of the Essential Guide: Enterprise architects' guide to success with mobile apps for business

Motorola moves to make mobile and embedded development easy

Much has been written to address the challenges of developing applications for common Android and iOS devices, but there is a world of embedded devices that run less popular operating systems like Windows CE. Who is serving this market? Would you be surprised to find out that the answer is Motorola?

If you've been keeping up with the evolution of mobile development, you know the competition among vendors selling solutions in the enterprise space is steep. Consumer devices continue to proliferate, and consumerization trends, like BYOD, has become the norm. This puts significant focus on cross-platform compatibility for Android and iOS. But the fact remains that enterprises are still purchasing and deploying company-owned mobile computing devices on a massive scale as well. The catch is that these devices look more like scanners than smartphones, and they often rely on the Windows 8 platform.

You can create a perfectly fine B2C application that's cross-platform from HTML or HTML5. But you won't be able to run it on Windows Mobile and you won't necessarily get sync capability.

Geoff Poremba, Motorola Solutions

Motorola is definitely a market leader in providing rugged hardware for activities like signature capture, sales and order tracking, inventory management, and payment processing. To ensure their position as a preferred provider, they recently decided to secure another link in the supply chain—an app development suite, taking the time honored approach of acquisition to achieve instant innovation. Instead of building a mobile application development solution from scratch, Motoroloa purchased RhoMobile in 2011 and spun off the Motorola Solutions division to serve enterprise customers.

How RhoMobile helps businesses go mobile

Like a few other competitors in this space, Motorola is taking the pain out of cross-platform interoperability by doing the heavy lifting for developers. We all know that Java didn't turn out to be write once, run everywhere. But HTML5 isn't either if you want to access native capabilities. For the foreseeable future, it's going to take a blend of languages to get things done in the mobile space across a diverse range of devices. That doesn't mean developers have to create a different version of each application for every platform. Instead, the RhoMobile suite offers a shortcut.  Once you have your HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript put together for your base application, Rho compiles your application to a native definition with the click of a button. It works for iOS, Android, Blackberry, and Windows. Write once, select your platform, run anywhere.

Of course, what Server Side readers really want to know is whether it's Java Friendly. Java developers will be glad to hear this solution is based on Eclipse and they can use their existing YUI libraries for CSS and JS. For those who don't have a preferred library or need to start from scratch, the solution defaults to jQuery Mobile. Geoff Poremba, a senior product manager at Motorola Solutions, says it was the obvious choice, "This gives you some styling that's attractive, functional, and works across platforms." There are a defined set of APIs exposed through JavaScript or through an optional Ruby MVC layer. Programmers can bring their existing web skills to the table and feel confident that they can create the apps their enterprise needs.

Yes, it works with Windows

According to Geoff, "You can create a perfectly fine B2C application that's cross-platform from HTML or HTML5. But you won't be able to run it on Windows Mobile and you won't necessarily get sync capability." This is big selling point for the Motorola Solution—particularly since so many of their devices are Windows based. The ability to compile to a native application on CE utilizing an HTML5 rendering engine (part of WebKit) bundled with the executable is a distinguishing factor. Offline access to data is another. It's especially important for workers out in the field. For example, someone doing inventory or other tasks inside a commercial freezer isn't going to have WIFI access. RhoMobile offers workarounds that other solutions haven't yet matched.

Will Web Apps Win Out Over Mobile?

The versatility of HTML5 provides additional choices for app delivery. In fact, Geoff confirmed that you could run your apps as hybrids, serving up the definition from a web server. However, it may be a while before this is the preferred method for mobile.

Desktop delivery of web apps is hugely popular, with even complex and sophisticated applications such as tax software now delivered entirely through a browser-based experience. A similar trend to consolidate mobile app management would enormously simplify the development process and curb the ongoing fragmentation. But for some reason, mobile users still want to download and install their own apps. Poremba admits he can't explain this behavior, even though he does exactly the same thing himself. "In mobility, users prefer to have individual apps and manage them through an app store. I don't see that changing any time soon." This means the fragmentation in platforms is likely to get worse.

However, Geoff does hold out more hope for pure HTML5 itself. Even after the slap in the FaceBook it got from Zuckerberg's failed app project, the day when HTML5 really can do it all is getting closer. "I would say that as HTML5 continues to evolve, it's going to give more and more access to the native APIs. We're starting to see definitions and access to cameras and things like that." In the meantime, the RhoMobile suite from Motorola and other HTML5-reliant solutions are already addressing some of the current shortcomings by offering access to native APIs through the compilation process. It's not a forever fix, but it keeps mobile moving for now. 


How are delivering mobile solutions to the smartphone and embedded device space? Let us know.

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