Solving the headache of cross-platform mobile development

Motorola Solutions' RhoMobile Suite offers HTML5-based cross-platform development for mobile devices

The rise of bring-your-own device (BYOD) schemes means that many businesses are grappling with how to manage a range of mobile devices with different capabilities, form factors and operating systems. In the 'good old days' a company might have had its own fleet of smartphones — BlackBerrys for example — which made things a lot simpler. The issue of wrestling with a multitude of mobile platforms is not a new issue for developers, however: Cross-platform mobile development has always been a problem given the proliferation of enterprise-focussed devices available, particularly in sectors such as logistics.

An Australian company that has had to grapple with this issue is Barcode Dynamics, a mobile devices and solutions company that works across a variety of verticals, but traditionally warehousing and logistics.

According to Matt Candy, Barcode Dynamics' general manager, the company is betting on Motorola Solutions' RhoMobile Suite to make life easier.

The original Rhodes framework for mobile application development debuted in March 2009 as an offering of startup company Rhomobile, with the framework offering Ruby on Rails and HTML-based cross-platform development for a number of operating systems, including Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Windows Mobile and Symbian. In October last year, Motorola Solutions scooped up Rhomobile.

Motorola's RhoMobile Suite consists of three elements: RhoElements for cross-platform development, RhoConnect for enabling mobile apps to connect to enterprise applications and RhoStuid, an IDE for developing apps using the RhoMobile framework.

"We're device-centric guys but we need to enable those devices to get them into the hands of the users," Candy says. "We're very heavily involved around the mobile user interface and the mobile device software. That's why the RhoElements piece is so important to us.

"Unlike a smartphone, a lot of the enterprise mobile devices are just really the device itself and need to be enabled with user software for tracing goods, asset monitoring or inspection services. These folks need a graphical user interface on the mobile device."

Using an HTML5-based framework like RhoMobile means the company can tap into a broader skillbase, as well as offer consistent interfaces across multiple devices, including consumer-level devices like the iPad, without having to wrestle with the intricacies of different platforms and devices.

In the early days of Barcode Dynamics, the company dealt with DOS-based devices, then moved largely to working with devices running a version of Windows.

"We're now looking more broadly at a solution like RhoElements to give us cross-platform functionality," Candy says. "The mobile devices that we sold years ago were just DOS to Palm then Palm to Pocket PC. We really lived in the Windows world for a very long time because all the devices were speaking PocketPC, then Windows Mobile.

"But now of course we have many more choices with Android, iOS then a number of different versions of Windows Embedded, and then you have some of the bigger mobile devices that have got a full Windows operating system."

"The key for us is the mobile device," Candy says. "Motorola being the number one choice of most of our customers, this gives us the opportunity to develop for multiple Motorola devices… even some [Windows] CE devices, Windows Mobile , Android…

"If our customer has a fleet of Motorola products but they also have a certain amount of other devices, Apple iPads for example, we can offer them the same user solution for the same activity on those other devices as well."

RhoMobile supports Windows Embedded Handheld, Windows CE, Windows Phone 7, iOS for the iPhone and iPad, Google's Android and BlackBerry. The framework uses HTML5 for building interfaces and applications are compiled into Ruby bytecode.

Rohan Pearce is the editor of Techworld Australia. Contact him at rohan_pearce at idg.com.au.

Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p

Follow Techworld Australia on Twitter: @techworld_au

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