IBM’s Multi-Faceted Mobile Strategy
August 9, 2011 Alex Woodie
IBM rarely offers single, simple answers to questions. After all, if Thomas Watson and his successors didn’t foster a culture of interdepartmental competition, we might never have had this thing called the AS/400. And so when posed a 21st century question, such as “What tool does IBM offer for mobile application development?” the answer is, as expected, complex and nuanced.
IBM offers an array of tools for mobile application development. On one side of the house is IBM Collaboration Solutions (ICS), the new name for the Lotus Notes/Domino group of products, which encompasses Lotus tools like Sametime and Quickr, as well as some of the WebSphere offerings like the old Portlet Factory (since renamed) and the Mobile Portal Accelerator. Remember, a few years back IBM decided to merge the Lotus Domino and WebSphere Portal product lines, a case of consolidation that is not unheard of in the modern IBM company.
On the other side of IBM is another group of mobile app development tools created by the Rational division. Developers interested in writing mobile apps can get that functionality through the Rational Application Developer (RAD) and Rational Business Developer (RBD) IDEs, as well as through Rhapsody, a suite of tools that has traditionally been used for writing programs for embedded systems.
Leigh Williamson, an IBM distinguished engineer and software architect for IBM Rational, recently gave IT Jungle a rundown on the mobile app dev strategy for the Rational brand. And while Williamson doesn’t work in the ICS (that’s Lotus Notes/Domino for all of you still stuck in 2010) division, he has some good info on what’s going on in that side of the house, too.
Williamson breaks down the IBM mobile development tools by the choice platform. That is, the mobile app dev tools a customer chooses will depend on whether the customer wants an app that runs natively on one of the mobile platforms–Google‘s Android, Apple‘s iOS, RIM‘s Blackberry, or Microsoft ‘s Windows Phone OS–whether they want an app that runs in a Web browser, or whether they want an app that runs in a “hybrid” mode that has a little of both.
“Sometimes a pure native deployment is exactly the right thing to do, and sometimes pure Web is all you need,” Williamson says. “Frequently something in between is something people desire to have for various reasons. But we have the tools, regardless of implementation, to support that choice.”
Customers choosing a pure Web approach may best be served with the ICS framework-based products, including the IBM Web Experience Factory (recently renamed from WebSphere Portlet Factory) or the IBM Mobile Portal Accelerator.
The RBD and RAD offerings are able to support a “hybrid” model. This approach starts with a Web-based app that gets expanded with native hooks into the specific device’s APIs, which enables it to access functionality (such as the device’s GPS, camera, or accelerometer) that are not generally available to apps running in a mobile device’s browser.
Customers seeking a native approach can utilize Rhapsody. The latest release of Rhapsody supports the generation of native Dalvic Java for the Android platform. The company is working on supporting the iOS development kit with Rhapsody, but currently doesn’t support any other mobile app platforms except for Android.
Williamson says the shorter code path of a native app will generally give it superior performance to the Web-based method. The hybrid method invoked through the RDB and RAD tools also gives developers greater flexibility, at the expense of speed, he says.
“The Rational app dev tools is lower level, in a way–you’re getting right down to the low-level source code, while the Portlet Factory or Portal Accelerator is designed to produce the application very quickly within a set of constraints that you’re assumed to accept when you use that tool to produce your apps. But you can produce them much, much faster if you’re happy to adhere to those constraints.”
IBM bolstered the RAD and RBD tools with new mobile capabilities with the updates released during the June Innovate 2011 conference in Orlando. RAD gained support for Dojo X Mobile, which provides the capability to create a mobile user interface that has the look and feel of the native OS widgets, Williamson says.
IBM i shops may be more interested in the newfound mobile stylings of RBD, the high-level language development tool that generates Java and COBOL apps for IBM i and z/OS servers. RBD gives IBM i shops the advantage of generating the back-end business logic in Java (since COBOL doesn’t get IBM i shops anywhere), as well as the front-end user interface.
Writing the mobile app code is just a small part of a mobile app project, however, and Williamson would be remiss if he didn’t mention all of the other software that Rational offers that can tie the entire lifecycle together and help eliminate the chance that something will fall through the cracks and get lost.
“Rational is a technology foundation for software development tools across the whole lifecycle of the software development process,” he says. “Not just code creation, which is what people tend to focus on primarily, but everything from the requirements and program management at the beginning of project, to testing and build and delivery at the end of the project.”
The Rational folk call this the Jazz platform. (We covered the latest iteration in June.) And as luck would have it, Jazz also works with the IBM Web Experience Factory and IBM Mobile Portal Accelerator products being developed at the ICS end of the building.