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Enterprise developers want strong platform support

Providing support through online communities and active helpdesks is vital to timely enterprise app delivery and management, say developers, who add an up-to-date software development kit is essential, too.

As more mobile platform operators are positioning their operating systems (OS) to support enterprise applications alongside consumer ones, they will have to focus on providing an up-to-date software development kit (SDK) as well as a strong, active support ecosystem, developers noted.

Tan Hua Koon, chief operating officer (COO) of Orange Gum, a Singapore-based short message service gateway provider that customizes app across various mobile platforms such as Research In Motion's (RIM) BlackBerry OS, Apple's iOS and Google's Android OS, pointed out that having an active developer community helps cut app development time significantly.

This is because fellow community members would, for instance, post up sample codes and explanations of why certain lines of codes work and others don't, which reduces one's time used for testing an app, he told ZDNet Asia during a phone interview.

He cited RIM's BlackBerry Developer Zone as an example of how an active developer community should be, pointing out that it is "easy to navigate, has complete code documentation and is always moderated". Additionally, Tan gave the thumbs-up to how the company extends a personal touch to its developers. The executive, who is a BlackBerry Alliance member, said a business development manager from RIM would contact him periodically for his feedback and to enquire whether he has encountered any problems working on the platform.

"The personal touch is one of the things I like about developing for the RIM platform, as support is just a phone call away and [the Blackberry maker] provides attentive service even though we're a [relatively] small company," he added.

Erik van Hoof, founder and business lead of CWR Mobility's Emea (Europe, Middle East and Africa) region, also emphasized the need for strong developer support. His company has been developing CRM (customer relationship management) apps for Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 and Windows Mobile platforms as well as for the iOS and BlackBerry platform.

Zooming in on the company's experience developing for Windows Phone 7, he added that while the SDK for the OS is new, the "underlying Silverlight and .Net frameworks are widely used and have a very big community support".

"We have not run into any issues that were not already discussed and solved within the developer community," van Hoof said.

van Hoof also noted that, in general, the tools for developing for Windows Phone 7, Microsoft's latest mobile OS, are "far superior" to any other platforms the company has worked with, adding that Visual Studio 2010 is the "most advanced development environment available today". Visual Studio is Redmond's integrated development environment (IDE) tool that allows developers to code for its mobile platforms, the Web, SharePoint and Windows OS.

As enterprise applications are more complex than smaller consumer apps, team collaboration, unit testing and debugging, among other processes, are much more important, and Visual Studio provides the necessary environment for the company to develop its apps on, elaborated van Hoof.

He added that with Linq and other .Net-based libraries, working with data coming from enterprise systems is "a breeze". "When developing for platforms like iOS or BlackBerry, a lot of the parsing needs to be done manually and that takes a lot of time to develop [an app]. Such parsing is [also] very sensitive to errors," he noted.

Mobile operators' enterprise focus
Asked if they had included any tools that are catered to developing for enterprise apps, platform operators told ZDNet Asia that while certain enhancements were made to existing SDKs for the enterprise environment, the tools provided are generally the same, whether the apps are for consumers or business users.

Microsoft, for one, has streamlined the process for existing Windows developers to build apps for its Windows Phone 7 platform.

According to Chris Chin, developer marketing director for Microsoft's mobile communication business in the Asia-Pacific region, developers can make use of its new Express SKU (stock-keeping unit) for Visual Studio 2010. He explained in an e-mail that for developers already using the latest version of the IDE tool, there is a file within the SKU that will install only the components required to build for Windows Phone 7. These components include the Windows Phone emulator, templates for coding Silverlight- and .XNA-based apps, among others, he pointed out.

Nokia, too, said that it is providing APIs (application programming interfaces) for developers to integrate security features into mobile devices that will allow administrators to have full control of the device in "sensitive environments".

Gary Chan, Nokia's head of developer relations for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said such APIs are based on its Qt development framework, which the Finnish phonemaker had recently made as the default coding tool for internal and third-party developers. Qt allows apps to run across its Symbian, Maemo and MeeGo devices.

"Qt represents a move toward a higher level of developer productivity and maximum code reuse, which translate into a code reduction of approximately 70 percent lines of code to create the same app compared with developing using the previous Symbian C++ framework," he noted.

RIM, on the other hand, said there are no specific developer tools that targets either consumer or business apps. Andrew Vardon, head of alliances at RIM Asia-Pacific, instead pointed out that the Canadian company has opened up APIs around "location, advertising, and its BlackBerry Messenger instant messaging service".

"This way, if a developer wishes to integrate these features into an enterprise app, he or she can do so," he added.

Vardon also said that the company's PlayBook tablet device, which is aimed for the enterprise space, is a "big opportunity" for enterprise developers. He noted that RIM has opened up APIs, such as the SDK to develop Adobe Air-based apps, for developers since the announcement of the device in September.

Rival mobile OS operator Apple declined comment but pointed ZDNet Asia to two enterprise developers who had built apps for its iOS platform, but they were not able to comment as well. Google, too, could not respond to the questions in time.