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Can You Build Mobile Apps Faster, Cheaper AND Better?

Can You Build Mobile Apps Faster, Cheaper AND Better?

Summary: When it comes to building mobile apps, is it possible for your company to enjoy it all? Yes, though, it turns out it may be less about deploying the latest gee-whiz development platform, and more about a platform that frees you up to think and strategize.

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During a webinar earlier this month with Gartner analyst Ian Finley and SAP Solutions President Sanjay Poonen, someone asked the question: "Is it ever possible to build apps that combine speed of delivery, robustness AND great user experience?"

This question is simply a variation on the perenniel riddle: Can I get something faster, cheaper and better? Or expressed in culinary terms: Can I have my cake AND eat it, too?

Normally, the answer would be: no effin' way. Need an app fast? Then expect to pay top dollar for top gun programmers. Want it cheap instead? Then outsource it to some low-bidding offshore firm. Just don't be surprised if communication problems and inexperience cause things to go awry. Want the best, richest app possible? Then plan upfront to spend lots of money and time.

In light of that, Finley's answer is surprising: "it is possible" for companies building mobile apps to have it all.

"Building better apps that folks find engaging and compelling has a lot more to do with how you design the app, than about the technology you use," he said. "My favorite consumer app in the world is the ATM machine. The ATM I use looks like it has a 3270 green screen with one 'Submit' button. But the reason I love it is because it gets me cash and it's not difficult to use. And that has a lot of value to me."

 

atm

While I'm the last person to advocate for the return to ugly, limited WAP apps, Finley's ATM example makes a good point: the best apps don't have to use bleeding-edge technology and flashy features to make them great. They just work - well.

Apps only need to be rich enough to get the job done. Features and data shouldn't be gaudily displayed for display's sake. Rather, hide them in the background until the user calls upon them. Think of it like a BMW sedan that can hum along at 55 mph until you depress the gas and then it zooms up to 120.

But in the rush to gamify enterprise apps and fill tablet dashboards full of twiddly knobs and colorful icons, some developers are ignoring what Apple taught all of us: less is more (ironically, post-Jobs Apple seems to be forgetting this lesson, too).

Time To Think Clearly Lets You Solve Business Problems Faster

I think that's driven by the arms race in mobile development platforms, each trying to best the other with the latest feature.

That isn't conducive to letting you build fast, inexpensively and better - at least not all at once. Rather, instead of something that lets your devs deploy the latest trendy UI, what about something that makes connecting to deep back-end data sources easy? Or something that integrates the twin tasks of managing and deploying apps AND devices? Something that, as SAP's Poonen put it, "can insulate you from back-end complexity" as well as the confusing, fragmented mobile device landscape.

In other words, something that lets you focus strategically on the business problem, rather than the tactical, technical minutiae? 

shutterstock_83814262

 

 Because that gives you time for clear thinking and planning, which always beats flashy-but-non-integrated technology.

This is the philosophy espoused by SAP and those behind its SAP Mobile platform. I can't tell you exactly what our latest announcement, scheduled for July 30th, is about, except to say it is another step forward towards a unified platform that enables holistic enterprise mobility management while also offering you a menu of cutting-edge features (just not the bleeding-edge ones).

Check out this preview video, which namechecks four SAP partners involved in the coming news: Above Border, Adobe Systems (PhoneGap), Sencha Mobile and Appcelerator.

If you're a mobile developer, architect or CTO, you can sign up for the July 30th webinar with all of details.

Topics: ÜberTech, iPad, Mobility, SAP, Software Development, Tablets, Enterprise 2.0

Eric Lai

About Eric Lai

I have tracked technology for more than 15 years, as an award-winning journalist and now as in-house thought leader on the mobile enterprise for SAP. Follow me here at ÜberMobile as well as my even less-filtered musings on Twitter @ericylai

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10 comments
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  • Yet-Another Cross-Platform Platform

    PhoneGap, Adobe AIR, ... we're losing count of them. And please try not to bring up Web apps. When users are asked, they prefer native apps to Web-based ones. And don't try to fob them off with ports from other platforms, or apps with some kind of "platform-neutral" UI that offends against the UI conventions of every platform. Users can spot that kind of mediocrity a mile off.

    Yes, it costs more to build a quality app for each platform. But if you can't afford to offer your users quality, why should they be interested?
    ldo17
    • UI is only one tiny part of it

      The UI is not the ultimate way we judge an app's utility, just like we don't judge things or people just by their surface beauty. Ok, I've already exhausted the ATM example above. Can a restaurant have lousy decor but have great food? Can a professor be a great teacher without being male-model handsome? Of course.

      I'm repeating myself, but less - less UI flourishes, less 'look-at-me' features - is often more. Mobile itself teaches us this. Tablets and smartphones aren't great for writing or other forms of content creation. Nor do they even have a great UI for consuming media. Wouldn't you much rather be watching HBO in front of your 52-inch LED TV? But they are more than capable enough for what and when we use them.
      ericylai@...
      • You Got To Be Kidding...

        ... UI is an ABSOLUTELY CRUCIAL part of it.

        >The UI is not the ultimate way we judge an app's utility, just like
        > we don't judge things or people just by their surface beauty.

        Yes we do, and yes we do. Just look at app ratings on the Google Play Store, or whatever other app store you like, and see how heavily influenced they are by how the UI looks, and just as importantly, how it works.
        ldo17
        • Further...

          If you want to see some robust discussion on all sides of this topic, start with Juhani Lehtimaki's blog post "Multi-platform Frameworks Destroy Android UX " on his "Android UI Patterns" blog (I won't bother posting a URL that ZDNet's comment system will simply chew up anyway). There you will find links to further responses from developers of apps as well as these cross-platform frameworks.
          ldo17
          • Let's not conflate UX (User eXperience) with UI (User Interface)

            The ATM is a great user experience without a great UI. Similarly, a hybrid or cross-platform app can be useful without having the greatest UI. And for small business tasks - think of an expense approval, or a signing a contract - is a pretty UI so necessary? Wouldn't you rather have it delivered faster, across more platforms, at less cost? I think you would, if you were the CTO or developer.

            I'll try to link to Juhani's blog mentioned above but having skimmed it, I think his attitude is a fundamentalist and too black/white.
            http://www.androiduipatterns.com/2012/03/multi-platform-frameworks-destroy.html

            I'd love to hear from other readers who've read this and Juhani's blog, too, what they think.
            ericylai@...
          • What's The Difference?

            I don't understand why you would differentiate between "UX" and "UI": the eXperience is the Interface, and the Interface is the eXperience. End of story.

            Sure, companies--and their developers--would "rather have it delivered faster, across more platforms, at less cost", but they cannot sell what customers don't want to buy. Using these cross-platform toolkits saves you cost and time, but it also sacrifices quality. And users will notice that drop in quality, and the message it sends: if you can't be bothered offering them a quality experience, why should they buy your product?
            ldo17
          • We're coming at it from two different perspectives

            I'm assuming that many developers aimed at the enterprise are either in-house or ISVs that are building things on a custom/one-off basis for lines of business or the IT department. Sure, the head of the sales department or the CIO wants a good UI/UX for his team/users. But if it's going to cost him 50% more money and take three extra quarters to build best-of-breed native apps rather than hybrid ones, I think those are huge discouragements to going native.

            Again, you use the right tool for the job...
            ericylai@...
          • OK, You Are Agreeing With Mark Murphy's Take

            Your example is the same one he makes--an in-house app which staff are going to have to use, so there is no question of choice of competing alternatives. In this situation the UI only has to be good enough to get by, no more.

            On the other hand, this is also setting yourself up for the situation where, 5 or 10 years down the track, you have this "legacy" in-house app that is critical to the business, will not run on modern platforms, and nobody dares to patch for fear of breaking something.

            Quality pays off in the long run, but businesses are not accustomed to think of the long run.
            ldo17
          • Fundamentalist?

            The way you can tell he's not being "fundamentalist" is to look at the responses: for example, Mark "Commonsguy" Murphy starts out by immediately conceding Juhani's main point, which is that these cross-platform toolkits produce lower-quality results. He then goes on to offer reasons why that might be acceptable for certain development scenarios, simply because you cannot afford to do better.
            ldo17
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    Paula Lee