Mobile applications gain ground
Developer-friendly platforms help produce programs that take advantage of what smart phones can do<@VM>Sidebar: Developing mobile apps
- By Paul Ferrill
- May 22, 2008
Rugged laptop PCs have become a common feature in patrol cars, giving police officers access to a variety of criminal and motor vehicle databases. But the same functionality hasn't been available to officers on foot or motorcycle patrol ' until now.
Police in London, Ontario, have implemented an application suite for Research In Motion's BlackBerry that puts such functionality into officers' pockets. Several applications help automate access to criminal databases, motor vehicle registration information and more.
Eldon Amoroso, senior director of London Police Services, said the move was a logical step considering BlackBerry's prevalence as an e-mail and phone system and the city's use of wireless networks.
'The city of London was already a leading user of wireless technology, and we realized it was an equally good idea for us to use it to extend mobility to our patrol officers,' Amoroso said.
Until recently, hardware advances generally have outpaced software innovation in smart phones such as the BlackBerry.
Now, developers are taking advantage of some of the features that have been built into recent generations of smart phones ' including the ability to stream video and support location- based services.
Although consumer demand tends to drive a lot of the innovation in areas such as video delivery, the technology behind it has real-world benefits to many government sectors. The ability to view streaming video comes standard on many of the latest model phones from multiple handset providers. All it takes to turn the phone into a viewer for almost any video source is the right software.
Embedded Global Positioning System chips are becoming more prevalent and provide the basis for the wireless Enhanced 911 service. GPS chips provide location information to local applications and a central command center during emergencies.Platform preferences
The most common platforms for mobile applications are from Microsoft and RIM. For enterprise-level application deployment, organizations need an infrastructure with strong database, messaging and security services. RIM has a more established presence in enterprise mobile messaging, but Microsoft appears to be gaining ground.
RIM has enjoyed wide acceptance at the Defense Department, for example, and is a constant companion of many in the senior leadership, one industry expert said. 'From what we've seen in DOD, the BlackBerry platform, which includes the BlackBerry Enterprise Server and a wide choice of handsets, is the messaging tool of choice primarily due to the level of security it provides,' said Josh Mulloy, mobile wireless specialist at CDW Government.
One reason for BlackBerry's presence is the availability of hardware and software to support DOD's public-key infrastructure, including a wireless Common Access Card reader that works with many BlackBerry phones.
RIM's Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES) has an advantage in longevity and number of users over comparable Microsoft offerings and has earned a number of government security certifications, including Federal Information Processing Standard 140-2 for handsets and the BES Cryptographic Kernel. IM provides free developer tools for the Java 2 Mobile Edition platform to help take advantage of the large pool of Java programmers and BES-specific application programming interfaces to improve productivity.
The Microsoft platform has an advantage, though, in the sheer number of developers familiar with its languages and tools. The Microsoft .NET Compact Framework brings virtually the same set of capabilities you would need to develop a desktop application in any of the supported languages. It also provides the native links to Microsoft's Exchange Server for back-end collaboration and messaging, SQL Server database and now a host of applications such as the company's customer relationship management product.
The companies developing mobile applications include Trusted Mobile Solutions and Swan Island Networks, which together produced the Trusted Information Exchange Service. TIES is a Web-based managed service that aggregates disparate sources of information with alerting and notification services, then ensures targeted, rules-based information dissemination to PCs and other devices.
TIES provides geospatially based situational awareness and allows authenticated users to share information in Communities of Trust.
One of the key capabilities required for TIES is location awareness. With current smartphone technology, this requires a thick-client installation to the device. 'We chose the Windows Mobile platform for a number of reasons,' said Mark Noblitt, chief technology officer at Trusted Mobile Solutions. 'Developer expertise and cost was No. 1. After that, it came down to available device features that Windows Mobile 6 and beyond provide along with our expected time to market for development.'Some for all
Most of the major wireless carriers work with any mobile device, including BlackBerry, Palm and Windows Mobile offerings. AT&T is one provider with multiple handset choices and an approach to development and deployment based on what customers need.
'We start out with an endpoint-neutral approach and try to let the customer's requirements drive any choices,' said Rick Zambrano of AT&T Mobile Solutions. 'We try to take an enterprise approach to every customer engagement where we look at the problem from a systems engineering angle. Then we bring in our mobile application consultants, our enterprise architects and systems folks to help develop the best solution for the task at hand.'
Both the BlackBerry and Windows Mobile platforms offer a lot of capability out of the box. Keeping up with e-mail while away from the office is taken for granted, but is important nonetheless. Synchronized contact lists with instant access from your cell phone are not only convenient but also critical in the midst of a crisis.
Microsoft traditionally has used a pull model for its e-mail with Exchange, and BlackBerry has always been based on a push model. With push e-mail, BlackBerry instantly transfers email as it arrives from an e-mail server so it appears on the user's device as soon as it arrives, without user intervention. The latest version of Windows Mobile coupled with Exchange Server 2003 SP2 or 2007 also provides support for push e-mail.
RIM also recently announced a partnership with SAP to integrate SAP's customer relationship management module with native BlackBerry applications. Windows Mobile has a similar capability for users of Microsoft's Dynamics CRM tool. Built-in browsers on the BlackBerry and Windows Mobile platforms make it possible to access any number of Web-based applications tailored for the mobile user.
The BlackBerry Enterprise Server and Windows Mobile platform also provide management capabilities.
With the release of Windows Mobile 6.1 and Microsoft's System Center Mobile Device Management (SCMDM), this becomes an even greater advantage. SCMDM provides tools to securely manage device configurations and software installations. It also provides a secure virtual private network connection from the device to a corporate network allowing access to any database inside the company firewall.
Wallace Wireless offers a number of products for the BlackBerry with a focus on business continuity. The company's Information Communicator provides a secure connection into a corporate enterprise for secure messaging, contacts, database entry and forms, and emergency response information, such as evacuation instructions and location information. These features are integrated into the Black- Berry Enterprise Server environment to support security and reliability.
Telenav is another company extending wireless capabilities for BlackBerry users.
'We see a large number of our BlackBerry handheld devices shipping with the Telenav product,' said Josh Mulloy of CDW Government. 'The introduction of embedded GPS in many of the newer handsets made this product a must-have for anyone that travels.'
A high hurdle for most government agencies is certification. Information security consumes significant resources for agency IT departments, and mobile devices represent the single highest risk when it comes to protecting sensitive information ' whether from a perspective of security or privacy. Device access and data encryption require suitable measures.
The BlackBerry Enterprise Server and device software have received the Common Criteria Evaluation Assurance Level 2 augmented (EAL 2+) validations. Common Criteria is an international standard for ensuring that information technology products meet specific security requirements.
In addition to Common Criteria certification, the BlackBerry Enterprise Solution has been approved for use under the rigorous CAPS program in the United Kingdom.
SurIDx provides a unique capability for smart phones intended for first responders. 'SurIDx allows a first responder to carry his or her digital r'sum' complete with skills, experience level and a historical account of other incidents they have participated in. This allows an on-site commander or coordinator to quickly assess what talent and experience he has on hand and to then deploy the right personnel for the most urgent situations,' said Norman Schibuk, the company's chief operating officer.
SurIDx was built with commercial Microsoft development tools and works on any Windows Mobile- based smart phone or personal digital assistant.
This lets team members carry around their own information in the communication device they typically have with them at all times. Encryption that meets FIPS criteria is used to ensure that no personnel data is compromised. Information is passed from the device to a central management console in a push or pull manner depending on the situation.
With full communications, the management console can request information from the device. When cell towers are down and there is no available wireless network, the individual can initiate a transfer in much the same way you would beam your contact information to another PDA user. This method works via Bluetooth, infrared or wireless networks.
Reality Mobile has an application targeted at first responders to provide all the information they need for any emergency situation. 'Our application delivers images, text, maps and live feed both to and from a central console,' said Brian Geoghegan, chief product officer at Reality Mobile.
As smart-phone technology continues to improve, so will the available applications. Enterprise- level support is critical to keeping these applications working. The right platform for new application development will ultimately be determined by the total program cost, which includes support and maintenance.
One of Microsoft's successes over the years is producing quality developer tools for building applications targeted at its operating system. The same is true for Windows Mobile. If you have experience building applications for Microsoft's desktop operating system, you should have no problems building applications for the mobile platform.
Visual Studio 2008 represents the latest version of Microsoft's popular development platform. Visual Studio comes in different versions, but all include support for developing on the Windows Mobile platform. Emulators for many popular smart phones make it possible to see how applications will look on the smaller screen without having to actually deploy the application to the device.
The Microsoft Software Developer Network Web site provides a wealth of information, including examples and demo videos for getting up to speed on developing for the Windows Mobile Platform (GCN.com/1074).
Research In Motion offers the BlackBerry Java Development Environment free on its developer Web site (GCN.com/1075). This tool relies on the Java 2 Mobile Edition runtime environment and Java Software Development Kit from Sun. Device emulation is also provided for all the popular BlackBerry models. Other options for the BlackBerry include the NetBeans platform along with a special Mobility Pack add-on.
RIM's developer Web site includes ample information in the form of documentation and samples to help get you going. RIM has complete reference information for the BlackBerry application programming interface with examples and sample code.