Unifying Mobile and Web Development on IBM i
September 23, 2015 Alex Woodie
It’s hard for businesses to justify the expense of supporting multiple development teams, each with a set of specialized skills. IBM i shops know this better than most, since RPG isn’t used on other platforms. But when it comes to developing Web and mobile apps, the technology and the frameworks are in place to consolidate these previously disparate functions–in IBM i shops and everywhere else.
The rapid maturation of smartphones and tablets has captivated the attention of enterprise software developers, who are finding ever more creative ways to benefit from putting corporate data and core business processes into the hands of employees on the go. Just as the devices improve every month, so are the programming tools used to build compelling mobile experiences.
When the first iOS and Android devices hit the market several years ago, it was common for companies to invest in native development methods using Objective C and Java. While there are still some benefits to native development of mobile and tablet apps, those advantages are not nearly as great as they used to be.
For IBM i shops eyeing mobile development, the tools are in place to consolidate nearly all client development–including mobile apps for all smartphone and tablet platforms, as well as Web applications.
Earlier this summer, Sencha released a unified app development framework that’s gaining the attention of enterprises. With Sencha Ext JS 6, enterprises can develop applications that render perfectly in PC-based Web browsers, and touch-enabled smartphones and tablets.
“The big reason is a reduction in cost,” says John Rhodes, the CTO at Sencha business partner CM First. “Having three separate teams and three separate tools makes it three times the effort,” he says. “You do it one time in a tool like Sencha. People are starting to make that transition.”
Austin, Texas-based CM First develops software that links the front-end client interfaces that developers create in Ext JS with the backend business logic running on IBM i. That piece of software, called CM WebClient, works in conjunction with the CA Plex development tool from CA, which generates Java and RPG code that runs on IBM i and other platforms (well, the Java runs elsewhere, anyway).
“We’ve seen that IBM i shops are looking at how they can create universal apps that not only work on a browser, but also is optimized for a touch tablet or potentially a phone as well,” Rhodes tells IT Jungle. “We’re seeing a lot of interest in that kind of capability . . . You’d like to have one technology and one codebase to support all three footprints and platforms.”
On July 1, Sencha launched Sencha Ext JS 6 and the Sencha Web Application Manager. The development environment offers a collection of customizable UI widgets, including HTML5 grids, trees, lists, forms, menus, toolbars, panels, and windows.
CM First has also launched a new tool called H Sync that enables IBM i shops to create mobile apps that run offline. The tool uses the on-device storage capabilities of HTML5 to allow a mobile app to work without a network connection to the IBM i server, and then handles the synchronization of data with DB2 for i once the mobile device is back within range of a solid WiFi connection.
The initial H Sync customers are using it to develop mobile apps for areas such as food delivery and for workers to use while on construction sites, Rhodes says. The H Sync software accelerates development for these types of applications by automatically handling problems that crop up, such as data conflicts, validation errors, and communication errors.