LANSA Moves into Native Mobile App Development
May 15, 2012 Dan Burger
LANSA calls this new product LongRange, which is not to be confused with LongReach, the free iOS file-sharing client that LANSA launched late last year. The more heavily featured LongRange product can be downloaded from the Apple App Store with pre-programmed application examples, pages of sample code, online tutorials and a community forum that will handle questions and answers and post tips and techniques.
Perhaps the key distinction is that this is not a Web application that runs on the server while relying on a Web browser to deliver information to the mobile client. LongRange is a native Objective-C app that runs on iOS devices now, and will support Android devices (written in Java) in a future release. The same RPG program will work identically on both Apple and Android to deliver information from the IBM i to the mobile devices.
“LongRange is really quite unique, and it’s a little bit different for LANSA because we designed this product so an RPG developer will be able to write native applications for the iPad and iPhone with purely RPG/DDS as the language behind it,” Steve Gapp, CEO at LANSA, told me last week at COMMON. “Normally in the world of Apple a developer has to work in Objective C, and for Android a developer needs to know Java. In either case, it would be a very expensive development project for an individual company to under take. Our product, which was designed in-house at LANSA, is designed so users can load and go.”
The design of LongRange is a three-part story. There’s a LongRange server, a LongRange mobile application, and a mobile device. The app, which provides the infrastructure for building the business programs in RPG and DDS, is downloaded to the mobile device, which is connected to the IBM i server.
Because most RPG/CL programmers are far better at handling business logic and gaining access to the database than they are at developing mobile applications, LANSA designed LongRange to automate the programming for the mobile device.
Therefore, the programmers have no worries about developing for a specific device. And LANSA says programs designed for iOS devices will perform as well on Android devices or vice versa because the same source code is used in each instance. The LongRange user interface is also capable of reshaping and resizing apps to different screen sizes regardless of whether the device is a smartphone or a tablet. So an application can be written once, and deployed to multiple devices.
The LongRange screen layout includes menus for navigation, tabs that provide concurrent views from multiple programs, user commands, and a content area where developers can create views based on screens generated by RPG or CL and DDS programs, Web views from HTML applications (pages and sites), and document views such as files and folders that are on either the mobile device or a remote server. Developers can build business applications using only an IBM i program in a form view, or composite business applications using combinations of form views, Web views and document views.
There are several important distinctions when comparing apps that run natively on the mobile devices with Web applications designed to run in a variety of browsers. For one thing, the user interface has touch-sensitive capabilities. There is also two-way communication, which means applications can send and receive files between the mobile device and a server. Native applications also can make use of cameras and geo-location services that are built into the mobile devices.
Existing RPG developer tools can be used to build applications in conjunction with the PC-based LongRange Studio. PDM, SEU, and Rational Developer for Power Systems are all supported. There is no need to know RDML, LANSA’s proprietary fourth generation language (4GL), which has formed the basis of so many shrink-wrapped LANSA products over the years.
LongRange programs written in RPG ILE can call the IBM i server, use data queues, and interact with the database. LongRange Studio is used to construct a framework and define features such as menus, icons, and form captions with no coding involved. Screen layout and data content on the mobile device automatically adjust from vertical to horizontal according the device orientation and also relative to whether the device is a smartphone or a tablet.
“We announced this at our LANSA user conference two weeks ago,” Gapp says, “and the list of LANSA users that signed up to get their hands on this has been phenomenal. We have a couple of manufacturers that are going straight to their shop floors with this. Most people might associate this [mobile use] with sales efforts. But there are a multitude of applications for its use.
“One of our ISV customers, with no prior training, wrote a customer service application in five days,” Gapp continued. “If they had attempted to write the program in Objective C, it would have taken them months to complete this. We are bringing down the cost and the time of creating native applications for mobile devices.”
The ISV Gapp referred to is Mincron Software Systems, a provider of software and business service solutions for wholesale distributors, logistics companies, and other businesses requiring integrated enterprise software solutions. Mincron used LongRange and RPG code to build a native mobile app that integrates with its IBM i-based ERP system. The app allowed sales staff from companies using Mincron’s ERP system to make customer and product inquiries, use GPS to map customer routes, scan barcodes using the device camera/scanner, enter and process sales orders, and view sales history in Google charts.
“We are seeing huge changes in the IT space,” Gapp says about the IT business in general. “This is the consumerization of IT and BYOD–bring your own device. People expect to have access to their corporate functions on their devices just as they have apps for their personal devices. In some ways this is the next Web. These types of devices are game changers. Not just for remote sales, but for uses across the board. It’s about putting real time data in the hands of the person who needs it and can do something with it.”
LongRange is priced under $10,000, which includes licenses for both LongRange server and LongRange Studio, plus one year of support and maintenance. It also includes unlimited developers. There is no licensing requirement for the LongRange app. A 30-day product trial is also available. For more information and trial downloads, see www.longrangemobile.com.
Editor’s Note: Paragraph three in this story has been modified from the original version with a more accurate description of how LongRange differs from a Web application running on a mobile device.