Smart phones as thin clients

Here's a thought: Why not do the application development on the server side and deliver it to a thin-client application on the portable device

Government Computer News ran an article in its May 26 issue that looked at the recent crop of applications being developed for smart phones (GCN.com/1117).

Whether custom-built or designed for consumer markets, the majority of applications ' from first responder applications to customer relationship management tools ' are developed to run on a specific device, whether it is a BlackBerry, Windows Mobile smart phone or other device.

But that development model has certain trap doors, said Nick Intintolo, vice president of sales and marketing at Karya Technologies.

The first problem is that you might have to develop the same application multiple times for different platforms. 'What happens if you have a segment of Black- Berry users, another segment of iPhone users, and another segment of Treo or Windows Mobile device users?' Intintolo asked. 'You are really starting to create an inefficient development architecture. We are sort of going backwards in time, back to the days when we were building systems on Big Iron and creating a lot of legacy databases and legacy applications.'

Karya Technologies and a handful of other developers are pursuing a different strategy: Why not do the application development on the server side and deliver it to a thin-client application on the portable device?

That, in fact, is what Karya's MobileReflex does: It grabs data from the Web services of existing applications running on a network and converts it. If you want to change the data delivered to the devices or, say, integrate new applications, you don't have to design a new client for each mobile device platform. Instead, you simply make the changes in the MobileReflex software running on your servers.

'Rather than building custom applications over and over and over again on these different devices,' Intintolo said, 'we solve the problem by creating a hub-and-spoke architecture where the server administrator functions as a hub.'

Although building applications specifically for clients might make sense for certain applications, Intintolo said many enterprise-level applications have footprints that are too big to squeeze onto smart phones. 'We're dealing mostly with metadata,' he said. 'We're not looking to take on a significant amount of data handling because we know that that would be excessive in a BlackBerry.'

Intintolo emphasized that Karya's solution uses open-source software. Research in Motion 'is really, really pushing to say, 'Hey, adopt our development language.' We say there are already languages out there that are just fine.' ' Patrick Marshall

About the Author

William Jackson is freelance writer and the author of the CyberEye blog.

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