How to Develop Cloud Apps for Mobile Devices
By Mihir Panchal
Mobile devices are rapidly making their way into the enterprise as the lines between business and personal use increasingly blur. By 2013, Gartner analysts predict that mobile devices will overtake PCs as the most common Web access device worldwide. And that has to have an impact on all facets of the enterprise.
In parallel, as cloud technologies creep across the enterprise, there will be an associated push to mobilize cloud applications, to keep pace with the growing business appetite to consume everything mobile, and have ready access to important information. Forward-looking CEOs are already bringing iPads and other tablets into the office, and smartphones have a head start “hold” on the rest of the workforce.
But in reality, we’re still in the early days of using tablets to deliver actual business value. Most enterprises are still in the testing phase, but that’s going to change very soon. In a recent survey, only 22% of companies had officially deployed tablets for business use, but 78% confirmed plans to deploy them by the end of 2013. All we need to make this a reality? It’s the applications, of course.
There is an opportunity for enterprises to drive innovation with tablets and other new and emerging devices, and it starts with application development.
To truly work, look and feel right on a mobile device, an application must be constructed with purpose. It looks effortless when you’re viewing your application on a device, but truly it takes effort and foresight to take the cloud mobile. Below, this article lays out ten pitfalls common to developing mobile cloud apps. The good news? They can all be avoided with a little advance planning and strategy.
The Top Ten Pitfalls to Avoid
Pitfall 1. Developing your cloud app without the user in mind.
Applications are often developed based on what we think should work, but not how the end user will actually use it out in the real world every day. Design and develop the app with the actual user in mind—how do they work, what do they need, and so on.
Pitfall 2. Developing for one device, one form factor.
It certainly makes things simple to create one application that works well on an iPhone or an Android device, but to truly develop a good mobile app, the app must be designed for the form factor or in some cases restricted to certain form factors for usability.
Pitfall 3. Not considering device management and policies.
Consumerization of IT means that enterprises need to know exactly what devices are connected into their infrastructure as well as what types of apps are being used based on policies defined. It is crucial to understand which options are available across the different platforms for deploying apps (OTA, push notifications, etc.) as well as developing the app so that it could be easily deleted if an employee leaves the company.
Pitfall 4. Developing without security and data encryption in mind.
Even with mobile cloud apps, there is a need for some offline data for business continuity. As more sensitive data gets stored on the device, the need for encryption and ecurity becomes crucial. As part of the application design, it is important to think about encrypted local storage as well as forcing VPN connection before synchronizing data.
Pitfall 5. Trying to do too much.
A mobile cloud app shouldn’t do everything. It’s better to focus on a very specific use case and real-world scenarios, and then build an intuitive UI to match the use case. All too often, an app tries to do too much, when the user just wants it to do one thing (and one thing well).
Pitfall 6. Not investing in proper user interface and user experience design.
User interface and user experience need to be considered with every application developed for a mobile device. The look and feel of the application impacts how they will perceive and use enterprise applications. For example, something as simple as color can make an impact on an app. Design should include colors that work in different light environments and displays, for instance. People use their devices under a great range of conditions—on a train, at night, in the sun, in fluorescent office lights—so test appearance and color combinations. The user experience is also critical. For example, minimizing the number of clicks required to perform a certain task is critical in ensuring successful adoption of the solution.
Pitfall 7. Designing for short-term scalability.
Scalability remains a major issue with cloud applications that are not designed for long-term use and dynamic environments. Applications should be easily scalable and able to integrate with other systems as well as native APIs. Apps today are often created quickly to meet an immediate demand, but when new functionality is required, it can mean a lot of re-work if scalability was an afterthought.
Pitfall 8. Ignoring performance and memory in the design.
Development still happens largely on the PC where memory/RAM is cheap. But on the mobile device, memory is suddenly a precious commodity. Add to this that users expect performance to mirror that on the desktop or laptop and an app can be destined for abandonment/failure from the moment it’s called up on the device.
Pitfall 9. Poor architectural design.
Apps can appear differently across screens and even mobile platforms. But for universal enterprise use, there must be a consistent experience both in terms of look and feel as well as functionality to reduce frustrations of functionality that is less than as advertised. For example, if the app will be used for barcode scanning, it’s going to have to work on both small and large screens as well as across multiple platforms. Using native GUI elements in design helps with consistent performance, look and feel.
Pitfall 10. Ignoring available mobile functionality.
Sometimes cloud and other types of applications are built just for the sake of adding mobility, without taking real advantage of mobile capabilities like GPS for route planning, or calendar integration, critical features for the B2B space that are already included with many of today’s mobile devices out of the box. It’s a mistake to ignore this functionality when you could be taking advantage of it.
Developing for the Future Mobile Enterprise
Sit in many meetings today and watch as more professionals type away on a tablet nearly as regularly as a laptop. As individuals want their one device to do it all, the natural expectation will be having access to important business applications from any device, anywhere in the world, without disruption.
Business is no longer tethered to a computer, let alone four walls, and it’s time to get serious about developing cloud applications specifically for current and future mobile form factors—the tablet PC, the smartphone, and what’s yet to come. Watch out for the pitfalls laid out above, and you’ll be on the road to greater innovation in the mobile enterprise.
--Mihir Panchal is the Mobile Practice Lead for Model Metrics http://www.modelmetrics.com/