Chatty Apps plus SOA: reaching the holy grail of business applications

All enterprise and business applications face the challenge of “last mile personalization”.  These applications are designed on the “80% Rule” which means that they do 80% of what the typical customer wants and leave the remaining 20% to customization, or have the customer do without it.  Trying to deliver software that does 100% of what every customer wants is impractical, not only from a software development and maintenance cost perspective but also because customer requirements constantly change. Achieving 100% of a moving target is impractical. It is the pot of gold at the end the rainbow which no one has been able to reach. Read more

Web Apps are Becoming the New Legacy Apps

A decade ago at the turn of the century the dotcom bubble was at its peak. Web applications of the day provided by “application service providers” were in vogue, and relegating well-established client/server applications to the category of legacy applications. These hosted Web applications became the modern applications and architecture, and billions of dollars were invested creating the bubble in which counting eyeballs became far more important than counting revenue. The dotcom crash of 2001 brought much-needed sanity to the industry. The name gradually changed from ASP or dotcom to the much more prosaic software-as-a-service, and business models that valued revenue and paying customers rather than fleeting eyeballs became the vogue again. Web applications matured and SaaS became the fastest growing business model starting sometimes in the middle of the current decade. With this maturity, the Web application architecture became the leading architecture even though the client/server model continued to play an important role. Read more

2dWhy Smartphone Apps need HTML5

In my previous post “The Rise of App Stores: Software Industry in Regression?” I discussed the reasons why the very successful app stores of major smartphone vendors are taking the software industry back to a model which does not bode well for innovation in the industry or for the consumer. There are three problems with the app store model. First, app stores sell proprietary software that only works on the app store owner’s platform. Proprietary applications are more expensive for the developer as well as the consumer. Second, app stores give a lot of control to the app store owner to decide which apps will be offered and which will not. This control is likely to be abused and some, like Adobe, claim that it is already being abused. Lastly, proprietary applications create a major support and maintenance problem for companies who wish to deploy their solutions across platforms. Not only does the app have to be developed for each platform, but it also has to be registered on each. Indeed, whenever there is a simple bug fix or a complex upgrade the app has to be modified for all the platforms, re-registered with the app stores of each platform, and downloaded by the smartphone user. All this adds to increased cost and delays Read more

Chunking Increases the Responsiveness of Smartphone Web Apps

More than other software applications, speed is the key to great user experience of mobile apps. Faster and more responsive applications result in better user experience as compared to those with a sluggish response. In the age of the Internet, speed and responsiveness have become even more important because of the short attention span and the need for instant gratification of the millions of users. If a Web site or application does not respond quickly the typical user is likely to go to the next choice unless there is a compelling reason for the user to stay on the site. Read more

Mobile Web and SaaS App Users Need Device Switching Flexibility

As I noted in a previous blog “Smartphones in the IT Ecosystem”, smartphones are a part of the IT ecosystem and have to co-exist with other important players in the ecosystem such as laptops, desktops and mainframes. By working together and in harmony with these other devices and systems, smartphones can become far more powerful and valuable than what they are in isolation on their own.  In this blog I discuss the need for smartphones to seamlessly work together with laptops and desktops. Read more

Making Mobile Web Apps Suitable for Discontinuous Working Patterns

Mobile users, by definition, are on the move. That is why they need a mobile device instead of being content with their desktops and telephones which can do far more than a smartphone. Mobile users are often interrupted. They can lose connections, get a phone call, or need to focus on some other pressing issue. Unlike users at home and or in the office, mobile users generally do not have a lot of time to focus on completing a task. Even the time that they have for any given task is unpredictable because they often cannot foresee when they will be interrupted. To cope with this, mobile users must be able to work in small, discontinuous chunks of time. The typical work pattern is that they start a task, change focus to something else when interrupted, and then come back to the task at some later time. So the task gets done in small chunks spread over of time. This is one reason why Chat/Instant Messaging, which is ideally suited for working in small, discontinuous chunks of time, is by far the most popular smartphone application. Read more

Cross-platform Mobile Web Apps with Native User Interface

The rapid introduction of a new smartphones from leading vendors with different screen sizes and operating systems has created a dilemma for Web and SaaS application vendors. These application vendors already have existing or new customers who are buying smartphones in increasingly large numbers. Application vendors thinking about developing native apps have two choices. They can either support all popular smartphones, which is very expensive, or they can support only one or two smartphones which means that many of their customers will be unable to access their app from unsupported smartphones. Neither choice is appealing. Read more

Why Web Apps are the Future of Smartphones

Native apps are the rage for smartphone users today. Every smartphone user wants native apps to download, and almost every software and services vendor is craving to have a native app for their product or service. Already the market for smartphone apps is in the billions of dollars and is forecasted to be  hit fifteen billions of dollars in 2013.  The rage for native apps is fueled by the phenomenal, ongoing success of the Apple iPhone and the Apple AppStore, and to some extent by the success of Google Android. Thousand of application developers, ranging from small, one-man companies to large corporations, have latched on to the desire to develop the next killer app or, in the case of corporations,  to make sure that their product or service do not lag behind their competitors who have jumped on to the native app bandwagon. Read more

“Chunking” Enables Better User Interfaces for Mobile Apps

Desktops applications designed for Personal Computers in a Microsoft-dominated era have become bloated in terms of their sheer size as well as their user interface. The availability of huge amounts of cheap memory, increasing CPU speed and large screen sizes encouraged application developers to create huge applications that aimed to provide a lot of information and functionality on one screen. The most successful example of applications in this model is Microsoft Office. This is large and powerful application. One can even argue that it is an industry on to itself. The design objective of Office is to enable everyone to do everything. Successive version of Office provided increasing functionality and the application and its user interface became more and more complex. The vast majority of Microsoft Office users only used a small fraction of its capability. That became the Microsoft model and many other vendors clamored to adopt the same model. It is not surprising that Microsoft Windows Mobile and its predecessor Microsoft Windows CE were based on a similar model to address the needs of the growing number of mobile smartphone users. Read more

SOA an ideal enabler for Mobile Web Applications

Services Oriented Architecture (SOA) has become one of the most popular, if not the most popular, way for application integration. Indeed many enterprise applications use SOA as their core underpinning by exposing the services provided by their applications and then consuming, or enabling third-party applications to consume these services in a secure and meaningful way. The key to SOA is that the services can be granular, and can be consumed by other applications using Internet standards such as SOAP and XML. SOA enables companies to build compound applications that can invoke specialized services from multiple providers, instead of having to create everything from scratch.
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Web Applications need a new smartphone-friendly User Interface

To understand why Web and SaaS applications need a new smartphone-friendly user interface one has to only look at the remarkable success of the Apple iPhone as compared to the Microsoft’s  Windows Mobile OS in its various reincarnations. Microsoft has been in the mobile OS business for over a decade and has invested heavily in the technology. Over this period it has released successive venison of Windows CE and Windows Mobile OS. It has also partnered with numerous third-party vendors and presumably garnered much insight about the consumer and their needs. Indeed for many years the Microsoft OS platform was one of the leading contenders in the space for high-end smartphones along with RIM BlackBerry and Palm, as the Symbian OS took over the low-end mobile devices. With so much resources, history and partner ecosystem, one would expect that Microsoft would become the dominant OS platform for smartphones, especially the high-end devices that approach the functionality of Personal Computers. Read more

Developing Web Apps that enable Device Change

Smartphone users do not use smartphones only. They use other computing devices such as full-screen laptops/desktops, or half-screen devices such as the Apple iPad and other tablets. Consequently, when working with SaaS or Web applications, smartphone users need a choice of the type of devices they can use. When they are out and about, they prefer to use their smartphones for the convenience of their portability and other advantages. When at home or in their offices, smartphone users do not want to be restricted to the small screen size and keyboard of smartphones. Instead they prefer to use their laptops for its full screen, keyboard and other conveniences. Also as, we noted in a previous blog Dealing with the Discontinuous Work Patterns of Mobile Users, smartphone users work in smaller, discontinuous chunks of time. They might start to do something when out of their office, get interrupted by a phone call or some other event, and get back to the unfinished task later in the day when they would prefer to use their laptop to complete what they started. The bottom line is that for an ideal experience, users need not only the ability to work in discontinuously but also the ability to choose the device that is most suitable for the moment. Read more

Coping with Small Display Size of Smartphones

As I discussed in my previous post Challenges facing Smartphone as a SaaS Client , the small display size of smartphones is the second obstacle that has to be addressed before smartphones can become viable SaaS clients.. There is a vast amount of information out there that is generated by applications and web sites of all types. Presenting this information on a small screen is challenging to say the least, especially when users are becoming accustomed to increasingly large displays and having a lot of information at their fingertips. It is ironic that the very mobility of smartphones which has made them ubiquitous and desirable is what prevents their display size to be increased. Read more

Handling the Diversity of Smartphones

In my last post Challenges facing Smartphones as SaaS Clients I listed five issues that smartphone applications must address before smartphones can become powerful SaaS clients. In this post I dig deeper in to the first of these issues, which is the sheer diversity of smartphones, and discuss the scope of this problem and how software applications might go about addressing it. Read more

Challenges facing Smartphones as SaaS Clients

In a previous post SmartPhones: The Ultimate SaaS Clients I discussed why I am convinced that smartphones will be the ultimate SaaS clients. However, before they can assume the mantle of the ultimate SaaS clients, smartphone technology must overcome some serious hurdles. The PC platform is very rich in terms of user interface and has matured over many years to provide a robust set of capabilities for displaying and collecting information. The maturity of the user interface, which is optimized for how people work with desktops and laptops, is what has made the PC the dominant IT platform today. To displace the PC from this position smartphones will have to provide an equally robust user interface which is optimized for the ways people work with mobile devices. Read more

Why the Web is the Ultimate Platform for Smartphone Applications

As the smartphone application market explodes with tens of thousands of new applications coming online in the application stores of the major platforms (Apple, Google, Microsoft, BlackBerry, etc.), there is a silent but crucial debate going on in the market. The debate centers around the whether smartphone applications should be Web-based or native. And the stakes are high as the outcome will determine the shape of the ultimate IT platform that smartphones are destined to become. Read more