Smartphones force tough decisions in enterprises

Companies must deal with many systems and make development choices if they want to move apps to handheld devices

The current trend in which smartphones and other mobile devices are becoming more prominent as computing tools will require tough decisions in IT shops. Enterprises looking to move applications to handheld devices are going to have to accommodate many device varieties and decide whether to develop native applications or leverage Web-based HTML5 capabilities, IT executives said at a technical conference on Wednesday afternoon.

Companies will not be able to settle on one device platform but will have to deal with a bunch of them because of user choices, said Neil Wainwright, CEO at Nexonia, which provides a SaaS-based expense report and timesheet filing services. "You're going to be multiplatform," he said at the Software & Information Industry Association's All About Mobile conference in San Jose, Calif.

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Platforms like Apple's iPhone and iPad, Google Android, and RIM BlackBerry were cited as prominent options in the handheld space. Workers, including executives, are using their devices for both work and personal use, executives noted at the conference. "There's not really a sense anymore of your enterprise device versus your personal device. They kind of meshed," Stuart Parmenter, director of mobile at Mozilla, said.

Choices will have to be made on application development. While Web development can reach more systems, native development can offer access to more device functionality but requires learning each specific platform. If a company opts for native development, multiple development teams will be needed and different form factors accommodated including tablets , TVs, and even cars,  executives said. "There's certainly a cost to developing native apps for all those," said Parmenter.

Assessments will have to be made about in-house development skills to determine whether to build native or browser applications, said panelist Eileen Borger, president of Agilis Solutions, which provides software engineering service.  "You can build a Web browser app pretty easily but if you want to do native apps, you probably don't have those skills. Consider the skills you have before determining what you are going to do."

The main benefit of native development is access to phone functionality such as contacts and phones, she said. "If you want that, you've got to go native," Borger said. "If you don't need that, you really should go Web [via HTML5]."

Most of what a user needs, however, can be done via HTML5 these days, Parmenter said. "I don't particularly see a huge need [for native development]."

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