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Architecting Mobile Solutions for the Enterprise

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As far back as 1999, some smart guys predicted that mobile would become the primary focus of development in only a few years. Although it has taken a bit more time than expected, the era of mobile software has arrived at last. Why did it take so long? The answer is surprisingly simple: mobile software needed a critical mass of users to develop before it could take off. The process of accumulating mobile users probably started with the release of the first iPhone back in 2007, but today, it has reached a large enough mass to trigger all sorts of chain reactions.

Back in 1990 (yes, you read that right), Bill Gates gave a keynote talk at Comdex titled “Information at Your Fingertips.” Let’s be honest—for 20 years, we pretended we really had information (that we needed) at our fingertips, but at most, we had that information only at hand—which makes a huge difference. Now is the time, though, that we can cover the short distance from hand to fingertips. With mobile devices everywhere, and especially with a revolutionary version of Windows on the horizon, I believe we’re truly entering a new era of development—a paradigm shift.

Paradigm shifts just happen—and mobile represents a big one. Mobile enables new business scenarios and new ways of doing the same business. Mobile affects nearly everybody—users, professionals, and clearly developers. Writing mobile applications is a challenge that the vast majority of developers will face in the near future. Overall, mobile applications are simpler than desktop or web applications—but that’s true only if you count just the number of functions. The hardest part of mobile development is to identify the right set of use-cases and the right user experience and interaction model. It turns out that the typical mobile application user is much less forgiving than the average user of web or desktop applications. As developers, we forced users to play by the rules of software for decades. In contrast, mobile developers will be forced to play by the rules of user experience and conform to user expectations. This is how software always should have been; but it’s definitely not how software has been built for at least the past 20 years. Moreover, before too many more years pass, mobile may well be the only software that we will be called upon to write.

The term mobile refers to a variety of platforms, each with its own set of capabilities and features, and each of which requires significantly different skills: different operating systems, different programming languages, different application programming interfaces (APIs), and even different computers. A mobile application is more sophisticated and more complex than web applications with regard to resource management, data entry, sensors, data storage, and life cycle. Furthermore, each operating system has its own set of development guidelines and a proprietary deployment model.

This book is intended as a quick-but-juicy guide to issues that you may face while developing a mobile project for one or multiple platforms. The book starts by analyzing the various types of mobile solutions, which include websites, websites optimized for mobile devices, and native mobile applications, and then identifies a few design patterns common to all mobile applications and technologies available on the various platforms. Predictive fetch, back-and-save, and guess-don’t-ask are just a few of the patterns being discussed and implemented. The book puts considerable emphasis on mobile sites and frameworks, and on techniques to detect browser capabilities accurately. For example, the book offers a chapter on Wireless Universal Resource FiLe (WURFL)—the framework being used by Facebook for mobile device detection—and compares that to the detection capabilities in plain ASP.NET.

Furthermore, the book offers an overview of mobile development for the three major platforms—iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. In particular, this book builds the same application for all three platforms, discussing tools, frameworks, practices, and illustrating architectural and structural differences along the way. Finally, the book covers PhoneGap and HTML5-based development for mobile devices.

After reading this book, you probably won’t be a super-expert in any of those platforms, but you’ll know enough to start producing code on any of the most popular devices. You’ll also know enough to advise your customers and help them define effective mobile strategies for their business.
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