Volume 23, Number 18 -- May 13, 2013

The Sweet 16 Of Mobile App Dev Tools for IBM i

Updated: May 14, 2013

by Alex Woodie

Over the last 12 months, there has been unprecedented progress in third-party mobile development tools. Whether your shop wants to take a native or a hybrid approach, or whether it wants to use pre-built templates or to build from scratch, this is a great time to bring IBM i content to the latest iOS, Android, Blackberry, and Windows mobile devices. Here is a handy dandy roundup of 16 of the most well-known mobile development tools for the IBM i platform.

A quick scan of the 12-year Four Hundred Stuff story archive shows a flurry of mobile activity in the last year, with new products being launched from the likes of ASNA, BCD, LANSA, Zend Technologies, and others. That list doesn't even include some of the early movers who already had mobile tools in the market, including looksoftware, mrc, and Profound Logic.

Here's an overview of the mobile-enablement tools from third-party IBM i software vendors, listed alphabetically:

Amalgamated Software of North America (ASNA) has an offering called Mobile RPG, and it is designed to let developers write new hybrid mobile apps in RPG using their favorite editor (SEU, RDP, etc.). The traditional DDS output is then automatically converted into an HTML5 page (via the RPG Open Access handler) that is hosted on an ASP.NET website served from the Microsoft ISS web server. ASNA is developing its own JavaScript library with Mobile RPG, which was announced in November and shipped early this year. "Our audience for this is very clearly a traditional green screen coder, and our controls are going to be smart enough to abstract away that HTML-JavaScript gobbledygook so that none of that has to be written," says ASNA evangelist Roger Pence. Price: not disclosed.

Attachmate got into the mobile game earlier this year with the launch of Verastream Host Integrator version 7.5, which also kicked off the software giant's MobileNow initiative. VHI gives users several mobile options, including the capability to display 5250 and 3270 sessions via HTML5; converting the green screens into GUI Web forms; or modifying the screens and the workflow to provide a customized experience, thereby delivering a hybrid mobile experience. Tablets are the main focus with VHI 7.5, since emulators don't play well with smartphones. To that end, Attachmate has done some nifty work incorporating a pop-up keyboard that includes function keys, creating custom swipe functions, and converting host screen elements into hot-spots. The company is also working on a native iPad app that is due to be introduced later this year. Starting price: about $50,000.

Artech unveiled native mobile application support with the April 2012 updateto GeneXus, a 4GL rapid-development tool that has been used by IBM i shops for decades. The new native generators for Android, Blackberry, and iOS that were included with GeneXus X Evolution 2 enable applications to use all of the features supported by mobile operating systems, which hybrid apps sometimes can't use. Mobile apps generated with can be deployed from any supported server, including IBM i, or even hosted on the cloud, which was another new feature with this release.

Business Computer Design Int'l. has the newest offering, WebSmart Mobile, which it unveiled last month at the COMMON show in Austin, Texas. WebSmart Mobile, which BCD sells as part of its WebSmart ILE and WebSmart PHP development environments, includes JQuery Mobile, which brings a collection of widgets for building touch-driven HTML5 mobile apps that run in the Web browser of iOS, Android, and other devices. It also includes a collection of pre-built templates (including IBM i authentication, DB2 for i displays, and a generic template) to help novice mobile developers get started. BCD plans to add more templates in the future, as well as new features to make integration with PhoneGap easier.

CM First broke into the mobile sphere last October, when it debuted a new version of its CM WebClient offering that supported PhoneGap and Sencha Touch technologies. The Swiss company, which acquired the assets of ADC Austin, creates products that are dependent on CA Technologies 4GL development tools for the IBM i server, including 2E and Plex. Customers are actually acquiring Plex to gain the mobile and Web capabilities of WebClient, the company told IT Jungle last month.

CNX delivered mobile tooling, including the Sencha Touch JavaScript library (formerly EXT JS), to its flagship Valence Web app dev tool way back in 2011. Valence brings an RPG-centric development methodology, and is designed for building new IBM i-based applications that feature Web and mobile interfaces, as opposed to retrofitting old apps with new faces.

LANSA wasn't one of the first IBM i vendors to the mobile party, but it has come on very strong with LongRange, an RPG-centric mobile app dev tool that it launched exactly a year ago. LongRange enables developers to use RPG to code the business logic of their mobile applications, which deploy as a native Objective-C app that runs on iOS and a native Java app for Android. At this year's COMMON show, LANSA unveiled LongRange Commerce Edition, which adds a full collection of e-commerce capabilities to the core LongRange product. Pricing for the basic LongRange product starts at under $10,000, while LongRange Commerce Edition is closer to $50,000.

looksoftware is another IBM i modernization tool vendor that has been riding the mobile wave for some time. The company has been using HTML5, JavaScript, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS3) in its newlook offering for years, giving it the capability to not only generate interfaces that run across browsers, but also to run as Web apps on mobile devices. The company doesn't sell a separate product for mobile, but includes mobile capability as part of newlook.

Magic Software is another 4GL-era tool vendor that is generating mobile interfaces. Magic kicked off its mobile push two years ago, and today is generating iOS, Android, Blackberry, and Windows mobile interfaces with xpa, its application development and deployment platform that was formerly called uniPaaS. The company also has a partnership with Samsung to develop interfaces for its Android-powered Galaxy phones and tablets.

Michaels, Ross, and Cole (mrc) was another early prognosticator of the value of mobile computing, and has been touting the hybrid mobile app capabilities of its flagship mPower dev tool for years. The product utilizes the latest HTML5, CSS3, and JQuery technologies to provide a standard mobile experience across Android, iOS, and other devices. One of its early mobile customers was Emhart Glass, which we profiled back in 2010. A one-year subscription to mPower, a template-based development tool that generates Java Web apps that run on all platforms, starts at $18,000.

Micro Focus jumped on the mobile bandwagon earlier this year with the introduction of a native iPad app in RUMBA 9.0. RUMBA + Mobile is a native Object C app that allows users to access modernized versions of 5250 and 3270 screens (modified via the Rumba Screen Designer) from the comfort of an iPad. Micro Focus claims to have overcome hurdles in the tablet computing experience (such as lack of function keys) by adopting alternatives methods, such as execute function keys and application with the use of icons and hyperlinks. Android and Microsoft Surface versions are expected soon.

Profound Logic was one of the first modernization tool vendors to adopt modern Web technologies like HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript, which paved the way for customers to use its tools to generate mobile interfaces. Though it doesn't sell a mobile-specific tool, it does support mobile technologies, such as PhoneGap, within its Visual Designer, and supports the deployment of both hybrid and native iOS and Android apps through ProfoundUI, its flagship Web application development tool for IBM i, and Genie, its refacing tool.

Rocket Software unveiled its mobile strategy earlier this year with the launch of LegaSuite version 7.1. This product, which is made by Rocket's Seagull division, lets users create hybrid mobile applications from 5250 screens in the same manner that LegaSuite has been creating Web interfaces for years. LegaSuite uses PhoneGap to provide native-like access to services in iOS, Android, and Windows mobile devices, such as the camera and the gyroscope, that otherwise are off-limits to traditional Web apps.

Surround Technologies supports the creation of Web and mobile interfaces for new and existing IBM i applications with its flagship Accelerator for .NET product. The plug-in to Microsoft Visual Studio gives developers a collection of pre-assembled components and wizard-driven code generators based on the latest user interface technologies, including Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), Silverlight, HTML5, JavaScript, and REST-based Web services. The company recently unveiled a major new version of Accelerator for .NET that allows many of the WPF capabilities to be extended to mobile devices. Look for a write-up of the new release in a future issue of Four Hundred Stuff.

SystemObjects launched a product called SmartPad4i last year that allows users to create new IBM i applications (with full read-write DB2 for i access) and an iPad interface. The tool generates all the necessary RPG or COBOL logic on the IBM i server, as well as the HTML for the Web client. The product also includes a user interface designer that allows users to import existing Web interfaces for use as a template for the new app at runtime and display them with the Apache Web server on the IBM i server. About 80 percent of the resulting mobile app is automatically generated, while the remaining 20 percent can be fine-tuned using traditional IBM i skills, the company says. Pricing was expected to be under $6,000.

Zend Technologies has latched on to the "mobile first" idea with its suite of PHP tools. Notable enhancements include the addition of PhoneGap to Zend Studio version 10, which shipped in February. The new version of Zend Server 6 for IBM i, which became generally available last month, also includes a new approach for exposing Web service APIs, something that Zend encourages developers to use for their mobile interfaces. "The mobile space is evolving faster than any other thing out there," Zend IBM i expert Mike Pavlak says. "What this mobile first initiative is doing [is telling developers] 'don't worry about the end user device. Don't worry about all those details. Let Phonegap worry about that. You worry about the business analyst side of life, and how to wire up the Web services. Let the technology worry about the rest." Zend Studio licenses cost about $150, while the runtime, Zend Server 6 for IBM i, is already included with IBM i.

Undoubtedly, we missed a mobile app dev tool for IBM i shops. If so, please let us know by contacting us.


Zend Server 6 for IBM i Goes GA

BCD Tackles Mobile App Development with WebSmart Mobile

CM First Uses Hometown COMMON as Launch Pad for IBM i Tools

Zend Adds Mobile, Problem-Resolution Features to PHP Stack

Attachmate Delivers Mobile Access to IBM Servers

Rocket Lifts Off with New Mobile Focus

Micro Focus Refreshes RUMBA Emulator, Delivers iPad Client

SystemObjects Lets You Generate iPad Apps from IBM i

ASNA Unveils Mobile RPG Dev Tool

LANSA Moves into Native Mobile App Development

GeneXus Refresh Targets Mobile Apps, Cloud Deployments

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Editor: Timothy Prickett Morgan
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