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Why we need native mobile solutions (like the ones from Sybase)

Most companies, that offer mobile solutions for SAP, are following the same concept: Write the application ones and run it on all mobile platforms out of the box. This is of course great! You save a lot of time and money. Some people like Kevin Benedict call this a “user friendly, graphically rich, template based rapid application development environment for enterprises”.
This type of development is most of the time done in a proprietary tool by either drag ‘n’ drop or by writing in a proprietary scripting language/XML format. Which leads us to the first drawback of this approach: You need special skills to do this. Skills that you cannot find on the market. And if you can, these experts are rare and therefore expensive. If you train your in-house stuff, they can use their new skills only for this one platform – they can’t be re-used for anything else. If you decide to use a different technology in the future, you flushed your money down the toilet.
There is even one company that is praising itself because to develop on their platform, you only need SAP skills – sure, because SAP experts are sooo cheap. For me, this is not a selling point, but it is a huge drawback of this platform!
Then there is a second group of mobile enterprise frameworks: The ones like Sybase Unwired Platform (SUP) from Sybase, which allow you to work with the native development tools and languages of the target platform. C#/.Net for Windows Mobile, Java for Blackberry/Android and Objective-C for iPhone/iPad – just to name a few.
The first benefit of this approach is clear: There are many skilled Java, .Net and Objective-C developers out there. You can find them on every street corner and they have years of experience. And they are also cheaper!
Still – if you have to develop an application only once and you are able to run it on iPhone, Android and Blackberry, you save money, even if the developer is more expensive. True – but do you always need to deploy on multiple platforms?
But all this is not the most important reason why you should go with native solutions. The main reason is usability! Only native applications can use all features of the underlying platform. Only native applications look, feel and behave like the device, on which they are running. If you have a proprietary language or a drag and drop tool, you are not able to use all those great native libraries that are available for Java and C#. You are very limited! I worked with tools like this; I know what I talk about! On the Blackberry, the apps did not look like Blackberry apps, on Android they did not look like Android apps and on the iPhone … on the iPhone they looked just horrible (no scrolling, no date picker, …). It was a pain to have great ideas, but a platform that is too limited to implement them. The platform was not able to satisfy the customer (a big international telco), so he switched to a different solution.
With a native platform however … Here you can use everything and you have no limits! On Windows Mobile for example you have many ISV’s who offer .Net controls. These controls can be included in your application without problems. If you would need to write these UI elements yourself, you would need to invest hundreds of person days. On Blackberry and Android you can benefit from the full power of Java and the countless open source libs that are available. With native clients, only the sky is the limit!
Just compare what there is available in the SAP area for the iPhone. Look at the native CRM Mobile Sales solution from Sybase and compare it with the recently announced application from their competition. While the Sybase app looks great and works like an iPhone app should work, the other solution just does not look right. I bet with you that their “user friendly, graphically rich, template based rapid application development environment” will never be able to create applications like the one from Sybase!
I really like this quote from Steve Jobs about iPhone applications because it summarizes everything I believe in:
“We know from painful experience that letting a third party layer of software come between the platform and the developer ultimately results in sub-standard apps and hinders the enhancement and progress of the platform. If developers grow dependent on third party development libraries and tools, they can only take advantage of platform enhancements if and when the third party chooses to adopt the new features.”
For myself, usability is the top priority of mobile solutions and it is clear for me that you can only reach truly perfect applications if you develop them with the tools for the target device.
“Write once, run everywhere” is a cute idea, but it is simple not working and I do not see that change in the future. Because of this I am glad that SAP acquired Sybase, a company that allows their customers and partners to write native applications!

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      Author's profile photo Pierre Dominique
      Pierre Dominique
      Hi Alexander,

      You're right. And the true power of SUP is the ability to choose. You can either use the provided tools to build the entire application or use the client APIs and build the UI in Java/Objective C...



      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      I read your article with interest and can state that I have had very different experiences in developing mobile applications. 

      I also think that your view is a long way from the industry analysts.  Have you read any (of the many) Gartner reports that talk about MEAP and the need to build once and deploy to many mobile devices????  If not I suggest you expand your reading beyond the Sybase developer manual and see what true enterprise mobility is about.  Taking this "point solution" approach is at least 5 (if not more) years old.

      Surely you're not serious with your comments.  Sounds like a great excuse to wheel in the bus full of developers (and support consultants) to build and support a mobile many developers to change a light globe??  Clients must be truely frightened by your suggestions.

      Build once and deploy to multiple devices is exactly where the industry is going and it is what SAP has just spend days talking about at doubt the Sybase products will get there eventually and perhaps you will change your views...until then...load up the bus and bring in the army of programmers...sounds like you'll need them.  

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Blog Post Author
      Hello Earl Byrne,

      yes, you are right with your analysis. The more different platforms you need to support, the more difficult my suggestion will get. And more expensive too. You are 100% right. BUT - I do not want to make any compromise when it comes to usability! Users deserve perfect solutions and the only way to deliver them is to go native. I worked with Sky Mobile and other platforms like that in the past and I am not willing to do this anymore.

      Sybase already has tools, that allow to write apps for multiple platforms, but IMO they suck as much as the ones from other companies!

      At the end the customer will make the decision in which way to go - not you and me. And if they see a native app and compare it to what you suggest, it will be an easy decision!

      Best regards, alex   

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Dont you know Steve Jobs just wants to sell more macs as the prime development platform!!!! Rich native API's my @%$&* ... also if you guys think that bepoke native development is going to be preferred over dynamic meta-data engines and/or html 5 applets, then you are going to have a short day in the sun my friends. If any of you were at the recent show, you would have realised this. I have worked extensivly with sybase and can tell you that its ok for targeted 'fixed' apps ... but it won't cut it as a dynamic mobility platform as required by BI, micro-apps etc. Good luck competing with SAP and the rest of the big 5 on this one!  
      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Blog Post Author
      Hello Koos Basson,

      looks like you joined SDN today just to write this comment on my block. Would be interesting to know what your real name and company is - very trustworthy ...

      I am happy that we have this discussion. I agree with you that html5 will be the future (read more here At least for small micro-applications like workflows. But I do not see this happen for the real deal: large applications like field service, full featured CRM apps, direct store delivery or anything that requires deep integration with peripherals.

      Best regards, alex

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Appologies, it must appear un-trustworthy, sort of like a competitive shoot down. But I was forwarded your blog link by a collegue and just had to join and reply. Its a issue close to my heart! Apart from html 5, I believe "super client" console engines that facilitate dynamic "code free" applications are the future for customers. I never thought that I would see the day, but saw a recent demonstration of a complex asset management/field service application that ran across ALL major mobile platforms. It dynamically adapted to the device capability and facilitated a personal user interface experience, including GIS, without one line of code i.e. pure customisable definition. I was told this technology will be generally available at the end of the year. After seeing this and other emerging platforms like it, compiled/fixed OS specific applications seem a bit old-school. I am a experienced programmer myself with over 20 years device integration and mobile experience ... I see the writing on the wall for pre-compiled mobility applications in the same way that custom business applications were ditched for more sophisicated customisable integrated ERP systems like SAP. You just have to look at what gamers are doing with meta-data driven engines to realise this! So while SUP may be ok for 'fixed' mobile offerings (and there will be a lot of these!), they will become quickly obsolete as customers and next-gen mobile platforms demand more flexibility and personal "wow factor" experience. If this is not the case, please call me a liar and I'll buy you dinner this time next year. 
      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Hello Alex,

      I don´t have so much experience in ou field, but I´m currently finishing a master degree related to digital design, and the the term usability in this blog, was very interesting for me. I think usability is a important concern that had some evolution become more user centered, in a new focus called semiotic perspetcive-view. Is a suplementar definition for usability, in my opinion. I also apologize for my 10,000 feet overview.
      Usability in large terms, are not related exclusively in what we use to use in our day by day, in terms of hardware and software. There´s a perspective for example voicelets (speech recog apps) is going to be one of the preferred input devices to be used in some sort of mobile devices. Google are doing great development in this way.
      So, I was figuring out a sort of scenario... imagine a blind person doing a sale with his mobile device with an android(moblin), connecting to a sap crm. Does it sounds crazy?
      Few years ago, IBM made a release of the last version of websphere voice server. Now it´s open source, and Google took that to make a next generation portal, and probably voice recog, and will be embed it in mobile devices. Mad, but possible.
      And about write once, run anywhere, well, this is great when you a have heteregeneous mobile devices, in big quantity. That's outstanding for a retail B2C for example.
      This is not true when we´re talking about B2B, where you can stantardize the mobile devices.

      I´d like to exchange emails with you if you don´t mind.

      David Szilagyi