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Top Five Misconceptions about Mobile Development

  • January 29, 2004
  • By Robert Bogue
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3. Development Complexity

It used to be that developing for mobile devices meant developing in proprietary compilers with a completely different set of tools that were unfamiliar. However, Microsoft has changed all that for its devices. Microsoft developers that want to develop for the Pocket PC or SmartPhone can do so from the familiar Visual Studio.NET environment.

The gap is closing rapidly on what is supported on a mobile device environment versus what is supported in a PC environment. Microsoft has coded a substantial portion of the .NET framework for use on portable devices. The Compact Framework, as it's called, is familiar to .NET developers because there are the same objects in the same namespace, with the same properties and methods. In five minutes, with no previous experience, you can develop your first "Hello World" application on a mobile device.

That isn't to say there isn't an art to building mobile applications. Designing user interfaces when you have such a small canvas can be an art form, as can keeping your data storage and code sizes small; however, mainstream applications can be developed quickly and easily in familiar tools. The perceived difficulty in developing for mobile devices is definitely a misconception shared by many developers.

4. Data Entry Applications

On the surface, mobile devices appear to be perfect. Enough power and storage, easy development tools, but there is a catch. Most mobile devices don't have keyboards, causing data entry difficulties one wouldn't find on a computer. We take for granted the performance that we have working on a computer. We expect that we can enter data almost as fast as we can speak. However, without a keyboard, entering data is a bit different.

Data entry on a mobile device has to rely on techniques for making data entry easier. Techniques like drop-down or combo boxes, can make it easier to capture information when it's the same kind of information all the time. Other techniques, like transforming script writing into characters, are supported devices that are having increasing success.

In certain applications, other types of alternative data entry may be an option. Some devices support bar code readers and most devices support voice recording. Depending upon the type of data being captured, options like this may make data entry possible on the devices.

However, while data entry applications are not frequently a good fit for mobile applications, data retrieval applications are. All too often developers favor data entry applications for mobile devices while overlooking data retrieval applications with minimal data entry.

5. Durability

As I was writing this article, I reached down to my Pocket PC on my belt so that I could check and update my to-do list. I turned it on and was greeted with the welcome screen for the Pocket PC (the same welcome screen that you'll see when you first boot up the device). Somehow, in the madness of the day, the device chose to lose everything I had on it. The good news was there was little or no data on the device that wasn't backed up. I expect that I have a few to-do items that I'll have to check off again. I also have a phone number that I wrote down, which is still in my phone, which I'll have to copy over again.

The point of this was apparently a simple reminder for me that these consumer mobile devices, while durable enough for every day use, are not infallible. We tend to think about mobile applications in terms of the slick new devices that we see in the consumer market. However, as we design mission critical or even business critical solutions, we must consider whether or not the devices should be industrial versions or standard devices.

Even for those painfully aware of the fragility of the electronics and the need to protect them, accidents do happen and equipment does fail. Believing that mobile devices are infallible is the last of the top five misconceptions of mobile development.

About the Author

Robert Bogue, MCSE (NT4/W2K), MCSA, A+, Network+, Server+, I-Net+, IT Project+, E-Biz+, CDIA+ has contributed to more than 100 book projects and numerous other publishing projects. He writes on topics from networking and certification to Microsoft applications and business needs. Robert is a strategic consultant for Crowe Chizek in Indianapolis. Some of Robert's more recent books are Mobilize Yourself!: The Microsoft Guide to Mobile Technology, Server+ Training Kit, and MCSA Training Guide (70-218): Managing a Windows 2000 Network. You can reach Robert at Robert.Bogue@CroweChizek.com.

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