uxebu and the Web as a mobile application platform

12 05 2011

I have been conducting a series of interviews of SMEs that use Web technologies to build mobile applications, as part of our work in the MobiWebApp project to build a standardization roadmap for mobile Web applications.

For this fifth interview, I have contacted Wolfram Kriesing, co-founder of uxebu, a Germany-based company that develops mobile cross-platform applications.

Hello Wolfram, could you give us a bit more details about your company?

We founded uxebu as a pure JavaScript company. We quickly moved into the mobile Web space and are trying to push the limits there now.

So we are packed with geeks who love to do bleeding edge web stuff especially on all the newest and hottest devices and (browser) runtimes out in the wild.

How have you been using Web technologies as part of your deployment of mobile applications?

We only use Web technologies for deploying mobile applications!

And to relieve us from the pain of installing an SDK we have launched the service apparat.io which allows to do the packaging of HTML5 apps into native apps. Currently only for iOS and Android, but we are working hard to broaden the reach.

What are the advantages you’ve found to using Web technologies?

The core of it all is our passion for the technology, that we all have already for a long time.

We know that the write-ones run-everywhere approach is not as easy as it sounds, but with the web and with all device vendors having the necessity to improve their web technology stack we are sure that we can get pretty far. It’s simply the future. Who doesn’t want to have a good browser on his device? And that is exactly the fact that is what is strengthening our approach.

And just look at the huge crowd out there with web experiences, we know we have to enable them all to create fascinating apps and web apps.

And by making it easy their ideas can become reality using just one set of technologies.

The browser is my SDK and the web my API – doesn’t that sound like it best fits web technologies? It does!

What are the missing pieces that prevent you from using Web technologies in more products, or in a more advanced fashion?

One thing that we see is being worked on are the device APIs. One common standard that is implemented across all devices is definitely a thing that is still lacking.

Sometimes we have the impression that more web technology focus will do the vendors good, but I guess that is in progress, it just takes a bit. And there are definitely areas where web technologies can not yet compete with native technologies but that is exactly our job to push those boundaries. And there are little successes and bigger ones every day!

In your experience, what are the type of situations where Web technologies are a better fit, and in what situations are they still lagging behind?

We would not (yet) use web technologies for games that require very hard core 3D action with very strong timing interaction patterns. But there are enough use cases that web technologies can cover very well. Just see all the information feeding apps, like news readers, twitter-like apps and alike. Though we have yet to find the time and funding inside uxebu to prove that we can go beyond and tackle the above mentioned use case, and we are working hard on it.

Expect to see something this year.

Any practical advice you would like to share with other companies that would like to take a similar approach?

Find a customer that believes in the web, who has a use case that fits web technologies well and go for it. Be sure to take some extra time and invest some knowledge and research in getting to a satisfactory result, it still is a road that needs to be paved. But there are enough companies out there who understand it and believe in exactly what we believe in and the number is growing. And don’t expect to never fail, that just makes you learn and want to reach the goal even harder.





Future Platforms on mobile Web applications

7 04 2011

I have been conducting a series of interviews of SMEs that use Web technologies to build mobile applications, as part of our work in the MobiWebApp project to build a standardization roadmap for mobile Web applications.

For this fourth interview, I have contacted Tom Hume, Managing Director of Future Platforms, a UK based software agency specialized in mobile.

Hello Tom, how would you describe the business of your company?

We launch software products for mobile phones. Over the years we’ve worked with most mobile platforms, including the web.

How have you been using Web technologies as part of your deployment of mobile applications?

Some of our first work, in 2000, was WAP sites and AvantGo (an offline web browser) services. Since then we’ve built mobile sites, hybrid native/web apps using PhoneGap, and have frequently used HTTP as a transport even in otherwise un-webbish applications.

What are the advantages you’ve found to using Web technologies?

The main one is speed of iteration of user interface; and finding skilled individuals who can work with them.

What are the missing pieces that prevent you from using Web technologies in more products, or in a more advanced fashion?

Browser fragmentation on mobile devices is a problem (even WebKit isn’t consistent). Performance of the web stack doesn’t match performance of native apps, and is unsuitable for producing apps which look native.

In your experience, what are the type of situations where Web technologies are a better fit, and in what situations are they still lagging behind?

They’re a great fit for adapting content to mobile devices and getting reach across a wide range of mobile OS and device platforms. They’re pretty good for producing apps which don’t necessarily look like native applications: we’ve done work for ad agencies which is a good fit, because they tend to be keen on producing highly branded, and therefore customised, apps.

They lag behind on delivering an experience which matches expectations of quality driven by native apps.

Any practical advice you would like to share with other companies that would like to take a similar approach?

Test across different platforms from the very beginning; evaluate the “kitchen sink” apps of toolkit and framework providers carefully; produce differing versions of your product for different OS platforms which fit with the UI metaphors of that platform. For instance, Android users expect to use the hardware back button, whilst iPhone users expect there to be a “back” button at the top left of their screen.





Grinwalk and mobile Web applications for culture and tourism

22 03 2011

I have been conducting a series of interviews of SMEs that use Web technologies to build mobile applications, as part of our work in the MobiWebApp project to build a standardization roadmap for mobile Web applications.

For this third interview, I have been in contact with Romain Pellerin , the co-founder of Grinwalk, a young French start-up that is exploring the role mobile applications in enriching cultural and touristic experiences.

Bonjour Romain, could you describe quickly your company and its business in general?

Grinwalk is a company that aims to build interactive mobile applications in the context of culture and tourism, for example in museums. Our applications integrate serious gaming as a core concept. Thus, we’re developing a generic game engine that can be deployed on smartphones and also on the web.

Have you been using Web technologies as part of your deployment of mobile applications? if so, how?

We have recently started to port our engine to web technologies in order to bypass native mobile application development that requires a lot of work, and thus high costs, for our company.

Now our engine is built on a HTML5/JavaScript based framework. In addition, we use server-side open source and standardized web technologies like web services and OSGi framework.

What are the advantages you’ve found to using Web technologies?

Web technologies are solutions for us to work around language and device heterogeneity and to reach application portability. In addition, we plan to adopt a transmedia strategy for our future products, and these technologies enable us to build a unique code base to build our engine to be deployed on various devices.

What are the missing pieces that prevent you from using Web technologies in more products, or in a more advanced fashion?

On the client-side, mobile browsers currently seem to not perfectly support an HTML5/js framework. In particular, we have encountered problems with canvas element displaying or touch based actions handling. In my opinion, the hot topic for mobile web technologies is to reach full webapp portability from one mobile browser to another, in order to avoid portability problems.

Moreover, our engine needs to access data from smartphone embedded technologies like GPS, Bluetooth discovery, NFC, accelerometer, digital compass, camera handling etc. Mobile web technologies standardization should expose all of these features to HTML5/JS environment to enable us to keep of our existing engine functionalities.

In your experience, what are the type of situations where Web technologies are a better fit, and in what situations are they still lagging behind?

As our client application can be deployed on smartphones or in browsers, web technologies enable us to have only one generic game engine to run on various devices. Thus, we are ready now to introduce transmedia features in our applications.

On the server side, web services technologies enable us to make our engine interoperable with any other web service that shares its interfaces/APIs.

Any practical advice you would like to share with other companies that would like to take a similar approach?

I strongly recommend to companies that take a similar approach to adopt standardized web technologies in order to develop their applications. This way ensures to build sustainable, portable and interoperable services. However, it is important to select carefully the libraries implementing these standards, in order to fit application requirements.





Arianna Mobile and mobile Web apps

8 03 2011

A month ago, I published a first of a series of interviews of SMEs that use Web technologies to build mobile applications, as part of our work in the MobiWebApp project to build a standardization roadmap for mobile Web applications.

For this second interview, I’ve contacted Pietro Ferraris, who co-founded Arianna Mobile, as part of Econoetica SRL, a young Italian SME which works in the field of mobile applications for tourists — they had already participated in the definition of e-business cases for European SMEs.

Hello Pietro, could you describe quickly your company and its business in general?

Econoetica srl was born in 2008 by 8 young entrepreneurs. Along the years we developed 2 business units, matching two different products:

  • ariannamobile.com is a web based platform for creating and distributing mobile tourist applications. In the months to come, we are spinning off ariannamobile as a new company with a different name and target — you can have a taste of it on www.maptoapp.com, the new “skin” of ariannamobile. My next answers will focus on that product.
  • noody.it (in Italian only) is a network of more than 500 wifi hotspots distributed in many italian cities.

have you been using Web technologies as part of your deployment of mobile applications? if so, how?

The core of maptoapp platform is the backoffice, i.e. a web based application that allows our customers to create their apps online. The backoffice uses different interesting technologies: cloud computing, cloud storage, NoSQL database and Single Sign-On (OpenID) for authentication. It is implemented with RESTful paradigma on top of an Object Oriented Design. We used Google App Engine and Amazon S3 for business-logic and data and ExtJS framework for the user-interface.

Regarding the clients, our customers can publish both apps and web apps, these being based on JS and HTML5. The framework used in this case is JQuery Mobile.

What are the missing pieces that prevent you from using Web technologies in more products, or in a more advanced fashion?

We found some missing pieces in the development of web-applications for mobile: HTML5 is not yet completely standard and supported from new browsers. The discussion regarding media capture API is still in an early stage: we really need these features to offer augmented-reality and device control (camera and mic) directly in HTML5 app. For these problems we had to develop native app (iPhone and Android).

Another suggestion to W3C should be to create an open store for web-apps (something similar to Apple-Store or Android Market) in order to have a centralized place where downloading/accessing web-apps.

In your experience, what are the type of situations where Web technologies are a better fit, and in what situations are they still lagging behind?

I can suggest the usage of web technologies almost for everything, except for applications where interactions with camera and microphone are critical.

Another problem with web technologies is the exchange of big amount of data and the latency introduced by the network. In these cases it is important to take into account cache or local storage solutions.

Any practical advice you would like to share with other companies that would like to take a similar approach?

There are no perfect solutions that works for everyone: study a lot and go deep in the architecture of several technology in order to choose the best for you. Furthermore select a technology with a big community behind: it is always important to look for best-practices and common-mistakes.

 

If you too are interested in sharing the experience of your company on building and deploying mobile Web applications, please let me know (dom@w3.org). And in the meantime, stay tuned for other interviews!





Andago & mobile Web applications

8 02 2011

As part of our work on the MobiWebApp project, we are to build a standardization roadmap, taking into account the needs from the market, and more specifically from SMEs.

While we have several ongoing actions toward that goal, we are also proposing to conduct simple interviews from SMEs that are using or are considering to use Web technologies to develop and deploy their mobile applications.

We are starting this series with an interview of Manrique Lopez de la Fuente who is a passionate advocate of Web technologies in the company he works for, Andago.

Hello Manrique, could you describe quickly your company and its business in general?

Andago is a 15 years old SME company, that was born as an IT Consultancy Services company focused on Public Administrations as customers. From the early days we have been using and promoting the use of Open Source and Open Standards as key factor for innovation and interoperability. Lately we have been moving our business model to one the let others to integrate their services in our platforms. We are building Web based platforms that would let anyone to have access to different kind of services (Governance, Health and Well-being, Tourism, Green ICT, etc.) from anywhere using a Web browser (PC, mobile device, TV, car, etc.).

How have you been using Web technologies as part of your deployment of mobile applications?

The Web has become the platform where all the services (public and private ones) live, so we have moved from local and native applications development to distributed and cloud based services integration platforms, and always using the Web as interface with the user. On the other hand, more and more people is using mobile connectivity to access these services, so we must have in mind that our services should be available in many devices, not just PC or laptops.

Any specific examples you can share with us?

One of the main sectors where Andago is currently working is mHealth solutions, specially as an active members of Continua Health Alliance. Continua Health Alliance is a non-profit, open industry organization of healthcare and technology companies joining together in collaboration to improve the quality of personal healthcare.  With more than 230 member companies around the world, Continua is dedicated to establishing a system of interoperable personal connected health solutions with the knowledge that extending those solutions into the home fosters independence, empowers individuals and provides the opportunity for truly personalized health and wellness management.

As part of of our R&D activities, we have implemented IEEE 11073 standards for wireless communication (Bluetooth) with medical devices (weight scales, glucosemeters, etc.), so we can get devices measures using standard mobile phones. On the other side, this data has to be sent to a Personal Health Record (PHR) provider using some standard web services definitions. So, thinking about how to create an app for the whole E2E solution, we found more interesting using a mobile web application, because, we could use it on any mobile phone. Our focus is giving universal access to health and well-being services to anyone, without mattering which device they are using.

The app connects over internet with our health and well-being platform, and it exchanges and syncs measures, appointments, contacts, etc. So, we have involved W3C recommendations in several ways:

  • We have implemented W3C Calendar API in Android (we are currently working on the W3C Contacts API and W3C Camera API) to integrate synched data with the calendar events on the mobile phone.
  • We have defined a Web API for getting measures from IEEE 11073 compliant devices, and we have implemented it on a modified Web browser for Android. It is based on, and extends, W3C Sensors API. One of the nice things about this is that we have found another company doing similar things in another open mobile platform, so we are sharing information and considering the option about promoting our common API as part of W3C Devices API, or maybe creating a group of interest focused on Mobile Web for Health and Well-ness, maybe aligned with W3C Mobile Web for Development initiative.
  • And of course, the app is coded using HTML5 and taking advantage of several already implemented features like local storage, geo-location, etc.

This app is part of our Open Health Assistant (OHA) framework that is going to be released as Open Source in Open Health Tools during Q1 2011, and the support for Health Device Profile (HDP) over Bluetooth has been released as part of BlueZ during Q4 2010.

What are the advantages you’ve found to using Web technologies?

Too many times, developers have been facing the problem of how to compile once and run anywhere their products. Web technologies offers one solution to this problem. This has become very important on mobile market, where there are a lot of different device technologies like different O.S., programming languages, etc. But, all of these devices, in particular for the two past years, come with powerful Web browsers so developers can create Web based applications that can run on many devices.

What are the missing pieces that prevent you from using Web technologies in more products, or in a more advanced fashion?

Device manufacturers are very focus on promoting their own platforms, so they provide powerful development tools, with easy to use APIs and SDKs. So, it is very easy to create apps for some particular devices (Android, iPhone, etc.). But, there is some lack of cool and easy to use SDKs for mobile Web applications design. There should not be needed to have mobile and desktop Web development environments. Existing SDKs and development frameworks should take into consideration that the Web is not PC based and always connected anymore, and they should have in mind things like W3C Device APIs, context aware technologies like W3C Ubiquitous Web domain activities.

On the other hand, W3C is doing a great job building recommendations about the APIs that Web developers could use for creating mobile web apps. There should be more open implementations of these APIs, and there could be more APIs that could be applied not just on mobile environment but on new ones where Web is appearing like TV, Cars, etc.

In your experience, what are the type of situations where Web technologies are a better fit, and in what situations are they still lagging behind?

If you are trying to build an application for as much users as possible, you should consider the Web as the platform for it. If your application is strongly tied to a particular device feature, maybe you should go to a native application, or try to find a workaround for it and keep as much of the functionality on the Web. This would let applications to be available for the most of the people, and it could have a bigger impact on the market.

Any practical advice you would like to share with other companies that would like to take a similar approach?

I don’t like giving advices, but:

  • don’t try to reinvent the wheel and read W3C recommendations, there are many of them waiting for open implementations or just expecting feedback for making them better.
  • think global, and act local for a win-win strategy. If you can create a good Web app for an specific device feature, and it has some market impact with a good business model, maybe other device manufacturers will add this feature to their devices, and your app would run on more devices without any change.

If you too are interested in sharing the experience of your company on building and deploying mobile Web applications, please let me know (dom@w3.org). And in the meantime, stay tuned for other interviews!








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