With so many mobile devices proliferating in the enterprise, organizations that want to create applications to boost their workers’ productivity can find the task challenging. Curating cross-platform mobile development for any number of systems is no treat for a company’s cadre of developers.
That’s why the market is growing development tools that can create apps capable of running across mobile platforms. Demand for those tools is expected to jump in the coming years. Forrester estimates that more than 60 percent of enterprises are already engaged in cross-platform development, and IDC forecasts that the market for cross-platform development tools will increase at a compound annual growth rate of more than 38 percent, reaching $4.8 billion by 2017. Meanwhile, Gartner expects more than 20 million enterprise apps to be developed by 2018.
Companies getting into cross-platform mobile app development range from old hands to newcomers. Here are 10 standouts in the field, in no particular order.
Adobe’s cross-platform development offerings include PhoneGap Build, which is based in the cloud, and PhoneGap, an open source solution. PhoneGap is based on Apache Cordova.
Cordova is an open source set of device APIs that allow developed applications to access specific, native device functions across a variety of device platforms. Using Cordova’s APIs, as well as cross-platform plug-ins, developers can build and code applications using CSS3, HTML5, and Java Web languages. Those languages are hosted locally in the app and are presented in multiple device platforms. The end result is that instead of using multiple native software development kits (SDKs), such as Android SDK, Windows SDK, and Xcode for iOS, developers can use a single codebase to create an app that functions across various platforms.
“The idea behind Cordova is pretty simple,” Microsoft’s Narasimhan said. “You write an app once and you’ll be able to run it on all your devices, like Android, iOS, BlackBerry, and a whole suite of devices.”
Not only does that simplify the rollout of enterprise mobile apps, but it’s a great resource saver, too. “Enterprises have invested a lot of effort in development skills, and those skills can be quickly transferred to Cordova,” Narasimhan explained.
Xamarin is another cross-platform development tool that lets developers build native iOS, Android, and Windows apps, using a single shared C# codebase. Apps developed with the platform can be tested on hundreds of devices through the company’s cloud service. Xamarin offers its own interface development tool and online classes through its Xamarin University program. Some features of Xamarin’s offerings include native API access, forms interfaces for sharing code, ability to add components directly from an interface, and integration with backends, such as Microsoft Azure, Parse, and SAP.
iFactr is also designed for speedy delivery of apps. The solution can be learned with minimal spending of sweat equity. Developers can start hammering out apps after just two or three days of training, according to iFactr. Prototypes can also be rapidly created for quick feedback from employees. iFactr uses Xamarin to create iOS and Android apps, and the solution also supports Adobe PhoneGap.
Kony‘s products sprawl across the entire software development life cycle. The platform’s services can be delivered through an on-premise solution, in a hosted private cloud, or in the public cloud. Cloud services are scalable and can be adjusted on demand. Testing tools and analytics are embedded in the platform.
Kony can be a good fit for organizations dealing with large populations of diverse devices and needing apps that integrate with SAP and Oracle backends.
As one of the older players in the market, SAP‘s cross-platform development offerings have grown confusing over time. However, the company set out to rationalize things last year with version 3.0 of its SAP Mobile Platform, with which cross-platform enterprise apps can be built from a single HTML5 codebase.
The company has also allied itself with Cordova. “SAP made the strategic decision to heavily leverage Cordova,” said SAP Senior Vice President for Mobile Development Holger Fritzinger. “This gives our customers massive benefits. They can leverage the hundreds of SAP Fiori apps—not only on mobile devices but also on the desktop—and optimize them for mobile usage with Cordova.”
Recently purchased by Red Hat for about $82 million, FeedHenry offers a mobile-as-a-backend service as well as cross-platform app development. Apps created for Android and iOS with the platform can be offered either through the cloud or on-site. Scalable network apps can be created with the platform using Node.js and MongoDB.
Sencha‘s main product for enterprise users is Ext JS. Developers can use it to create apps in HTML5, then convert them into cross-platform apps with Adobe PhoneGap. The HTML5 approach has the added benefit of allowing apps created with the platform to run on browsers as well as mobile devices.
Although cross-platform mobile apps are largely filling an enterprise need now, can they usher in an age where native mobile operating systems become redundant? Probably not.
“I think we live in a world of diverse approaches to mobile app development,” IDC’s Hilwa said. “Going native may be the only way to reach certain platform-specific features and capabilities, and for many indie developers a single platform-focused approach makes sense to experiment with new apps and games.”
ACT’s Reed added: “Developing for native platforms will always be there because the device makers need to constantly be improving what they offer the consumer. If they don’t, no one will buy a new device.”