Going Off the Grid with IBM i Mobile Apps
April 15, 2015 Alex Woodie
If you’re going mobile with your IBM i apps, you’re not alone. Every day, IBM i shops are giving their users the ability to access core applications from Android phones, iPads, and even the occasional Windows Mobile device. This can give your company a big productivity boost, especially considering that wireless Internet signals can be found everywhere–well, almost everywhere, anyway.
Despite the claims made by AT&T and Verizon, there are still regions in this big country of ours that aren’t yet bathed in cellular and Wi-Fi signals. Not only will your mobile Facebook and Twitter apps cease loading critical updates when you wander into one of these godforsaken black pits of doom, but going off the grid will cause your business applications to go on the fritz as well.
There are various ways to keep business apps working without an Internet connection, including building native apps that run on Android and iOS devices, as opposed to a Web-based approach that requires a constant network connection. CM First decided to take a different approach to the offline problem with WebClient, its Sencha-based, Phonegap-using development tool for building Web and mobile interfaces to IBM i, 2E, and Plex applications.
“Even though cell signals and Wi-Fi have gotten very ubiquitous,” says CM First CTO John Rhodes, “the problem is that last five to 10 percent, when you’re just out of range or you can’t get a strong enough signal and you just can’t work with your data because you don’t have a connection to the backend IBM i.”
“It’s caused a number of problems for people because they couldn’t run their business that well,” Rhodes says. “They need a way to go on construction sites or into remote areas and warehouses, where they just can’t get an Internet connection.”
Those customers are good candidates for a product that CM First unveiled last week called WebClient Hsync. The software is an add-on to WebClient that allows mobile apps to work in offline mode when there is no Internet connection. CM First built the open source SQLite database directly into the client application, and added the necessary data synchronization processes to allow the apps to automatically update with the IBM i server and its DB2 database when the customer comes out of the jungle and rejoins civilization.
Customers could try to hack together their own offline capability, but it’s not necessarily an easy thing to do, especially getting the baby SQLite database to synch up with the big daddy database running on DB2 for i.
“Customers don’t need deep skills in those areas because we’ve done the heavy lifting for you,” Rhodes says. “We tried to isolate the main things that people need to do, like basic form entry validation, and storage and data synchronization processes. We’d tried to make that as foolproof as possible.”
The Hsync capability has been well-received so far, Rhodes says. “One of our beta customers is in the agricultural delivery business and they need to make deliveries and take customer signatures when a product is delivered. Sometimes they’re in remote locations, out in the farmland, if you will,” he says.
Another customer has developed a mobile order-entry app with WebClient. Most of its customers’ locations have Wi-Fi or cell signals available, but alas, five to 10 percent of the clients are stuck in the digital Stone Age, with nary a 4G or LTE signal to be found.
The third major use case is around construction. “Construction sites, by definition, can be in the middle of nowhere, with no cell signal or Wi-Fi within miles, yet they need the ability to inventory the equipment that’s on the jobsite and give the information,” Rhodes says.
Now they can with WebClient Hsync. IBM i shops can get started with WebClient for about $5,000 per developer license; the Hsync add-on will cost extra. For more detailed product and pricing info, contact the vendor at www.cmfirstgroup.com.