Volume 11, Number 17 -- May 10, 2011

mrc Claims Breakthrough in Mobile Interface Generation

Published: May 10, 2011

by Alex Woodie

There was a time when developers had to embark upon separate efforts to create interfaces for separate mobile devices. Anything running on the Apple i/OS had its own set of languages, environments, and processes, while those running on the Google Android OS had others. That complexity and expense is all a thing of the past, claims development tool maker mrc, which says IBM i customers can now support all mobile devices--including PC-based Web browsers--with a single development effort.

The speed at which smart mobile devices have permeated our world is really quite astonishing. Perhaps what's even more surprising is the ease with which developers can create cutting edge mobile interfaces for their IBM i applications. The 5250 green screen may be the platform's legacy and heritage, but it's by no means its future.

One of the vendors pushing the envelope in IBM i application and user interface design is michaels, ross & cole. The Chicago, Illinois, company has supported the creation of mobile interfaces for some time with its flagship J2EE generation tool, called m-Power, which is often deployed on the IBM i platform but works on all other Java-supported platforms, too. But with last week's announcement, made at the COMMON show in Minneapolis, the vendor claims to have solved one of the big dilemmas facing the mobile application developer.

"Up until now, businesses needing mobile applications were forced to spend lots of time and money developing multiple apps for multiple platforms," says Brian Crowley, mrc's director of development. With six major smartphone platforms (i/OS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, Palm, and Nokia) and four major tablet platforms, businesses spent lots of money supporting multiple platforms.

With the enhancement unveiled last week, m-Power now automatically generates user interface layers that work across all major smartphone and tablet platforms. They just work--without extra muss and fuss, the vendor says--thus eliminating the need for developers to target specific mobile platforms, and freeing them to spend more time building killer apps.

The enhancement (which doesn't have a name) is based on new functionality in m-Power. An m-Power application, which runs on Tomcat or any other Java Web application server, will now automatically check which device the user is using, and display the appropriate presentation layer for that device. In this manner, all interfaces look and feel like a native application, even if they're just running in a Web browser.

There are some caveats, and they have to do with the phrase "looks like a native application." An m-Power application running on the i/OS-based iPhone, for example, will not be able to utilize some resources that are left only to truly native applications, including the iPhone's built-in GPS, microphone, camera, and accelerometer. There is just no way to access these via HTML5 at the moment, mrc officials say. Also, you won't be finding m-Power-developed applications for sale on the iTunes store. Using Apple's C-based SDK is probably a better route for commercial development of i/OS apps.

While some creative developer could undoubtedly find a use for the iPhone's accelerator with an IBM i application, the new functionality from mrc should bring plenty of benefits to existing m-Power customers. Companies can now target and support the major PC-based Web browsers, like IE, Firefox, and Chrome--as well as the browsers running on smartphone and tablet devices--with a single development effort.

That's a pretty big deal for an IT shop struggling to let management access IBM i data and applications using the device they want to, as they will invariably do. Saying "yes, we support that" will engender much more appreciation from the top than "no, we can't do that."

For more information on mrc's mobile device support, see the vendor's website at www.mrc-productivity.com.


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mrc Unveils Software Exchange for m-Power Users

m-Power Gets Pivot Tables

m-Power Gets Better Record Filtering, Other Goodies

Technology Mashup Yields an iPhone App for BPCS Data

m-Power Gets New Interactive Reporting Templates

mrc Goes Fully Graphical with Development Tool Interface

FMS Solutions Finds mrc's m-Power a Good Fit

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