Enabling efficient development and management of mobile apps for a diverse population of mobile devices has been a major aim of IBM’s MobileFirst initiative, announced on February 21, 2013, since the start of development. This includes expanding IBM’s long-standing relationship with AT&T to team AT&T Labs and its Big Data database on app development and use on its network with IBM’s own large resources.
Just getting apps in the market, first for the Apple iPhone when that burst on the scene, then for Android phones, and then for the Apple iPad and the Android tablets, and now for Windows 8 RT and Pro phones and tablets, has been a major challenge for companies. Their only choice each time a new platform has appeared has been to start over from square one. One result of that is that the Android tablet market has been held back for the last year by the lack of Android apps designed for large screens. Now companies face a similar challenge over again with the the recent announcement of the Blackberry Z10 tablet.
Writing those apps are one thing. Managing five or more different versions of each app and keeping them all in sync through multiple versions as well as multiple iterations of the platforms with different features, capabilities, and displays, quickly becomes an almost impossible, and certainly very expensive, task.
The ideal fix for this problem would be a single platform that allows developers to write an app once and then simply port it across all platforms with no change to its basic code. The problem is that each of these platforms has its own native environment, which is totally different and incompatible with any of the others.
Third, IBM and AT&T have built libraries of native code for each platform that invoke specific functions or advanced features such as voice recognition or online payments that developers can plug into their app. This makes development easier and faster and means that teams without deep knowledge of the native code for each of the different devices can build apps with advanced features confidently.
Security, of course, is also a growing concern in app development. As part of MobileFirst, IBM has announced a security tool that allows developers to build security testing into the first iteration of a new app, allowing them to identify and fix vulnerabilities in the code before the app is finalized and distributed. All of this is designed to make supporting BYOD inside a company, even one as large as IBM, which uses MobileFirst to support its employees, is as close to native code level as practical.