LANSA Bets On Windows Mobile Acceptability
May 11, 2015 Dan Burger
On a scale of one to 10, the expectations for business-focused mobile applications are somewhere in the teens. Business apps, mobile devices, and remote workers are on a steady climb. Although Appleand Android devices dominate the mobile landscape, LANSA just announced it has added Microsoft Windows to its write-once-deploy-many strategy for native application development. The long-time IBM i software vendor believes Windows will soon be an important mobile choice.
Windows mobile? Are you kidding me? That’s pretty much what I asked Steve Gapp, president and CEO of LANSA, when we got together at the COMMON Annual Meeting and Exposition in late April. “Who uses Windows mobile?” I asked Gapp.
“Fred does,” was his joking reply, meaning there may be only one guy using Windows mobile today, but that LANSA sees change on the horizon and is investing in what’s sure to be coming.
“We have had a few customers asking for Windows mobile, but clearly it will be in the minority of requests for now,” Gapp said with the confidence of a guy who just picked the horse with the longest odds to win.
That’s an interesting wager and here’s why LANSA made that bet.
First of all, Microsoft has designed its Windows 8.1 platform so that phones, tablets, laptops, and desktop computers all run on the same operating system. With a single coding effort, applications can operate across all mobile and workstation devices–write once, deploy anywhere. When Windows users, and there are quite a lot of them, upgrade to 8.1 or to Windows 10 when it becomes available this summer, a single programming environment for multiple devices becomes the norm.
“I’m not counting Microsoft out,” says David Brault, LANSA’s product manager, who also is a frequent speaker on topics related to mobile and application modernization at IBM i tech conferences. “Windows 10 will take off and eventually everybody’s laptop and desktop will get upgraded to that. People will get familiar with the interface. If Microsoft nails the ‘one application for multi-platform deployment’ idea, they have a chance to get back in the game.”
The mobile application development game is a work in progress. But one of the lessons learned from creating mobile business apps is that business users expect apps that perform like consumer apps. Those that haven’t learned that lesson already will learn it soon. The user experience is directly related to the success of the app and shortcuts sometimes take you the long way home.
Because they are faster and cheaper to create, Web-based app development is often chosen over native app development. Web apps are a write-once-deploy-to-all option. They look identical on all devices and all OSes. Some people are OK with a single presentation regardless of the size of the device, but a page that renders well on a desktop monitor is probably not going to render well on a smartphone or tablet. They can’t beat a native app when it comes to custom fit for the specific device. Without the custom fit, the app loses a great deal of its convenience and effectiveness. Users prefer their business apps to rival the professionalism they find when using consumer apps, often referred to as “the native experience.” The key is getting that accomplished across multiple platforms and devices.
There are trade-offs in the amount of effort and resources, Brault says. The native app requires more of both.
“The easy way out is to build a Web app and let it run on any device with a browser. Apple in particular frowns on this for security reasons, because the bad guys are building websites with the capability to do malicious things to mobile devices–gaining access to a contacts list is one example.
Another mobile app lesson learned is that if you want native apps, you have to code–and maintain code–for each development environment.
LongRange’s write-once and get an app for Apple, Android, and (later this summer) Windows is a convenient capability.
LongRange was introduced in 2012 as a way to develop Apple iOS mobile apps without knowing Apple’s Objective-C programming language. A year later, LongRange was enhanced so that Java-based mobile apps for Android could also be generated with a single programming effort. It makes sense that LongRange would incorporate .NET capabilities into the tool. LANSA says that capability should be available in July.
LongRange includes an IBM i server-side management service that processes input and output from existing IBM i applications, including CL programs, Web services, and message queues. Its native iOS and Android clients present menu-driven, tabbed, and touch-sensitive interfaces to the user. And, it also includes a mobile app builder for configuring the mobile clients and connecting them to IBM i resources. In addition, it is architected with variables that determine what operating system, device–phone or tablet–and whether it is positioned for either landscape or portrait mode.
With Windows 8.1 capability, LongRange will run on devices like the Microsoft Surface and Surface Pro.
LongRange consists of server software, LongRange Studio, and the LongRange app, downloadable free-of-charge from the appropriate app store.
LongRange applications can call programs on IBM i servers, interact with data queues, and access DB2 data. They have the capability to operate without a server connection; use a SQL database on the device to store data for online and/or offline use; and read and write data to the device’s local file system.
With regard to security, LongRange supports reverse proxy, SSL, and Transport Layer Security protocols. It also integrates with IBM i security and authentication mechanisms (up to security level 50), encrypted user credentials, and log-in from specific IP addresses. RPG, COBOL and CL-based LongRange applications can be deployed to IBM i servers. LANSA-based LongRange applications can be deployed to IBM i or Windows servers.