It was only back in 2007 that Apple launched the first iPhone and at that time only Apple could build native apps for it. Since then Apple, the mobile industry and the world has changed significantly. iPhone, that ruled the smartphone market for the years immediately after 2007, has been overtaken by Google’s Android operating system (OS). Microsoft has launched an entirely new version of its mobile OS, Windows Phone, and Blackberry who ruled the smartphone market in 2007 is now close to death. In addition mobile has now come to mean more than just phones but a whole range of devices including tablets, convertibles and phablets.

The “Native” Challenge

Organisations have struggled to keep up with the rapid pace of change. The original “gold rush” of apps were largely built by indie developers, small dev shops and then increasingly digital and marketing agencies. They primarily served the consumer market (B2C) and were built using the “native” development approach. This meant that they were created using the proprietary tools and technologies provided by the OS vendors (Apple, Google, Microsoft and so on).

To have a single app run on three platforms required three different development teams and three separate code bases to manage. As a result many organisations have found building and managing mobile apps chaotic, un-scalable and expensive. Issues such as security, quality, integration and management have all created added challenges.

Today mobile development is moving inside organisations with IT functions (whether in-house or contracted out) having to build apps for employees (B2E) and partners (B2B). Those responsible for monolithic corporate ERP systems and Line of Business apps that are often highly unusable find themselves faced with demands to build apps within weeks that provide great user experiences.

Why Hybrid Answers the Call

To help address these many challenges there has been a rapid rise in hybrid development tools. These tools allow developers to use a single code base to build apps that run on multiple platforms. The idea is similar to the Java concept of build once and run anywhere which is ironic given that Java has been running on mobile phones for many years.

The business case for hybrid is theoretically strong: one group of developers, a single skillset, one code base and one set of tools. To make the case more compelling many of these tools have made use of open standards technology such as HTML5, JavaScript and Cordova. Not only does this allow developers already with such skills to be repurposed but hiring or re-training developers with these skills is much easier and cheaper than for example, Objective-C.

This can significantly reduce the time and cost of building mobile apps that run across different platforms. The whole process of building mobile apps can be made much more scalable and agile, especially where tools include support for automated testing and fast, easy deployment either into public app stores or private app distribution hubs.

The CIC View of Hybrid

In our report Practitioner perspective of tools for Hybrid Mobile App Development, CIC deep dives into the case for hybrid development. We look at the reality behind the industry hype and address issues such as security, backend systems and data access, management and user experience (UX). The report is for CIOs, CTOs and IT Managers within organizations, who have decided, or are considering, whether to build hybrid mobile apps. The aim is to help identify the best fit developer tools for the specific skills, legacy systems and project requirements of the organization.

Our report addresses key concerns often raised around hybrid such as app performance and reliability. We also look at emerging concerns around the multitude of form factors and how to target an app or apps at a broad range. We also go beyond the app and look at the skills and processes that organisations will require when delivering on a mobile strategy.

Hybrid Tools: A Practitioners Viewpoint

As part of our research we evaluated 5 different hybrid development tools ranging from development environments (IDEs) to platforms that include backend services and other support tools. The products chosen were PhoneGap Build, Telerik Icenium, Intel XDK, Appcelerator and IBM Worklight. Each of these was evaluated against key criteria; set-up, required skills, supported platforms, developer productivity, access to device features, team collaboration, testing, supporting backend services and deployment.

All of these tools use JavaScript as the primary language for writing application logic and they range in cost starting from free. This report helps to inform organisations as to whether the hybrid mobile approach is best fit for them and which tool might help to deliver best against their particular requirements.

To maximise the time and cost benefits purported by hybrid, any tool would need to allow developers to get as close to the hybrid ideal as possible. Therefore productivity around the core areas of writing code, building UI, accessing device capabilities and testing are examples of fundamental issues. In order to evaluate these capabilities CIC took a practitioners viewpoint and got hands-on with each product by actually building an app.

The main report is available from the CIC web store now and the product evaluations will be made available short with Telerik Icenium, IBM Worklight and Appcelerator already available. With mobile firmly established as a major growth area within software development CIC will be increasing our coverage. This will include real world experiences from leading organisations, further product evaluations and market research. We have always looked at software development as about more than just coding and an important factor in the success of mobile will be UX and design, both areas that CIC will also be delving into over coming months.