BCD Tackles Mobile App Development with WebSmart Mobile
April 9, 2013 Alex Woodie
Business Computer Design Int’l. yesterday unveiled a beta version of WebSmart Mobile, a new component of its WebSmart development environment. The new software, which was announced at the COMMON conference in Austin, Texas, uses jQuery Mobile to enable IBM i developers to create Web-based mobile apps that deploy to smartphones and tablets running iOS, Android, Windows 8, and Blackberry platforms.
So, you ask, what’s so special about WebSmart Mobile? There are several noteworthy differences that will boost mobile app development, according to BCD product manager Marcel Sarrasin. For starters, built into WebSmart Mobile is jQuery Mobile, a version of the standard jQuery library that is specifically tailored to smartphones and tablets. Also, BCD includes several templates with WebSmart Mobile that will give customers a head start in their mobile development efforts.
The use of the jQuery Mobile framework ensures that WebSmart Mobile apps run equally well on the various Web browsers running on all popular mobile devices. It also provides easy access to user interface elements, or “screen widgets,” such as buttons and sliders, that are optimized for touch-screen devices such as iPads and smartphones.
“When you add a button using jQuery Mobile to your screen, it’s a big chunky button that’s touch friendly,” Sarrasin says. “When you add radio buttons, they’re not little dots, they’re big, almost like blocks. You can also have things like sliders, which allow you to change a quantity by just sliding your finger on a button.”
Anybody who’s used one of the latest mobile apps–say, the Facebook app, with its slide-out menus–will find these user interface elements familiar. The use of jQuery Mobile gives IBM i developers access to these mobile capabilities in the same development environment they use to write the back-end RPG or PHP logic.
Also boosting programmer productivity are the three templates that BCD includes in WebSmart Mobile. The first template is used to generate a log-in screen. BCD allows developers to authenticate a user against IBM i user profiles or a database file. It includes a “keep me logged in” checkbox for the user. Developers also have power over any screen redirection that occurs after a successful log-in.
The second WebSmart Mobile template, called List, allows the developer to present a view of data residing in one or more DB2 for i tables. This template is where the bulk of mobile application development work will occur in the product, Sarrasin says, and allows users to add, delete, and edit records from mobile devices.
What’s nice about the List template is it uses a finger scroll and is touch-friendly, Sarrasin says. “When you hit the bottom of the list, there’s a little button that says ‘more.’ When you click that, it will load the next 20 records,” he says. The feature utilizes AJAX to eliminate the need to refresh the entire page, which boosts performance.
BCD plans to add more templates in the future.
The RPG Advantage
JQuery Mobile also provides what Sarrasin calls “responsive design.” That is, the interface has to be responsive not to different screen sizes–from 4-inch iPhone displays to 10-inch Android tablets–but also changes in aspect ratio, such as when a user rotates the device 90-degrees, and shifts between landscape and portrait modes.
“Our templates have responsiveness built in,” Sarrasin says. “People want to have a real mobile experience, so when you rotate your device, it’s going to adjust the size of everything to fit in the screen. Let’s say you’re editing a record and you have field labels to the left and input to right. On a tablet, they fit nicely side by side. On a phone, usually it doesn’t fit, so the program put them below instead of to the right of it.”
“The templates are not only generating the UI, but also server-side code,” he says. “The reality is the template stage is just a three-minute process. Once you’ve done that, it’s just about how many customizations you want to make. This is all built on the WebSmart IDE, so all the functionality we have in ILE or PHP editions, such as calling backend RPG programs or using the debugger–that’s all accessible to your mobile applications as well.”
WebSmart Mobile is expected to become generally available later this month. The software will be offered to customers of WebSmart ILE and WebSmart PHP who are current on maintenance. There are no plans to make it a standalone product at this time. For more information, see www.bcdsoftware.com.