ASNA Unveils Mobile RPG Dev Tool
November 13, 2012 Alex Woodie
ASNA last week announced Mobile RPG, a new tool that will enable RPG programmers to develop new mobile applications in the language they know best: RPG. By combining traditional DDS display file technology with an Open Access handler, Mobile RPG lets programmers use traditional green screen development techniques to create new HTML mobile apps that run in the Web browsers of iOS, Android, and Windows Phone devices. It’s slated to ship early next year.
Mobile RPG is designed to create small apps with basic user interfaces that are targeted at simple tasks, such as an employee clocking out or changing the status of an item. Your typical RPG coder could easily whip out a 5250 screen to accomplish such a task. By using a little bit of technological smoke and mirrors (and what appears to be an effective application of IBM‘s RPG Open Access), ASNA has come up with a clever way that translates RPG skills into mobile skills, and allows programmers to use those same green screen skills to create quick little mobile apps powered by RPG on the IBM i server.
The neat thing about Mobile RPG is how it accomplishes this, according to ASNA product evangelist Roger Pence. To create mobile apps with Mobile RPG, developers will split their time between their favorite RPG editing program (RDP, SEU, etc), where they write, test, and debug the RPG that will power the new app, and a Windows-based user interface (UI) design tool, where they drag and drop a collection of about two dozen widgets, such as text boxes, graphs, maps, buttons, data tables, pop-up calendars, and other UI elements that are common in mobile apps.
Each screen element defined in the UI design tool (which lives in Microsoft Visual Studio or the free Video Studio Integrated Shell) is mapped back to a field in the RPG program running on the IBM i server. That means that data elements in the mobile app–such as data boxes or graphs–directly correspond to subfiles in the RPG program. There’s also one line of code–the Open Access handler–that gets inserted into the RPG program.
When the developer is done designing a mobile app screen and done with the RPG, the Mobile RPG display file is compiled on the IBM i server, and a display file object (DDS) is generated that corresponds to the mobile UI he just created.
“The resulting app is an HTML presentation layer that is hosted as an ASP.NET website on a Microsoft IIS Web server,” Pence says. “So at runtime, the RPG program, through Open Access, is going to have the Mobile RPG handler redirect that display file, not to what it thinks is a green screen display file, but to the Mobile RPG display file living on the ASP.NET website.”
Blue-Collar Green Screen Roots
Anything that can be done with a traditional RPG application–such as enforcing data entry rules before an update is posted to the database–can be done with a Mobile RPG app. “It all happens in the RPG program, with the skills they know today,” Pence says. “So if they’re using triggers and referential integrity all that stuff, they keep right on writing their green screen code just like they always have.”
Real World Mobile Apps
The first release of Mobile RPG will ship with about 25 widgets, and ASNA will add more over time. The first release won’t support “click to call” functionality or utilize other hardware elements of smartphones, such as the GPS, the gyro meter, or the camera. Those features are available to Mobile RPG through the power of HTML5.
Mobile RPG won’t ship until the first quarter of 2013. In fact, it won’t even get into the hands of beta testers until next month. But that isn’t preventing ASNA from expressing high hopes for the new product, which they expect to become a new breadwinner in the ASNA product lineup. “As long as our controls look and feel like they should and do the things they’re supposed to do, this is a slam dunk for the RPG coder,” Pence says.
Pence says Mobile RPG will ideally be used to generate small apps that are highly targeted in what they do, have a clean look and feel, and don’t overload the user with tons of data.
“They want these smartphone displays to look like rational, effective smartphone applications,” he says. “They know that we’re not talking about rewriting 6 million lines of business logic. These are generally pretty humble, straightforward applications. You drill in three layers deep and let a truck driver punch in and out, or you let a realtor go in and change the status of a home. Things like this are very focused but they bring an immediate ROI to the business.”
The last year has brought a sharpening of focus and clarity for what organizations need in regards to mobile apps, he says. “A year ago, people were telling us they needed mobile, but they didn’t know what for,” he says. “Now we’re seeing real clarity in it. They can rattle of what they need, what they need, why they need it.”
When it ships, Mobile RPG will include a new touch-aware 5250 emulator. Mobile RPG will be sold on a standalone basis, and be included as part of Wings, its IBM i application modernization tool. For more information, see www.asna.com.