Thursday, March 12, 2009

Web as a mobile Enterprise Application Pllatform

John Huffman wrote up a interesting post on why the web (WAP) platform is just not cut out for enterprise applications as yet. He points out the following reasons for the thin client approach not making the cut:

"Latency - The first big obstacle was the screen refresh problem. Any time we wanted to change application state required a round trip to the server and a screen refresh. With AJAX this is better, but it does makes development more difficult.

Device Features - One of the main reason that we people use mobile devices is for all of the cool features such as barcode scanning, magnetic stripe readers, cameras, video, messaging, etc.   Not to mention a pretty powerful CPU, persistent storage, and the other features of a portable computer. With web apps, you are generally limited to the functionality of your browser. To some extent you can get around this with ActiveX controls and third party browser extensions such as Motorola’s PocketBrowser, but this is all custom.
Bells and Whistles -Audio is a critical component of Enterprise applications. For some reason Microsoft all but eliminated sound from the mobile web. Without audio cues, alerting users of errors is less effective. Again we can use third party tools for this such as PocketBrowser, but…
Web Standards Support - Here’s another big frustration area that drives developers crazy. It’s only natural that the Microsoft developers made some trade offs when they implemented the mobile browsers, but clearly they weren’t targeting it as an application platform from their choices. Take the single window limitation, i.e. no popup window for displaying error messages or alerts. Or not supporting absolute position.  While these types of limits don’t prevent development, it just makes things more difficult."

I couldnt agree with him more on the frustration at the lack of support for Web standards.  In the mobile world anything goes including very loose implementation and own interpretation of the standards. Device features is another strong point in the demise of WAP. The WTAI spec seems to have been abandoned, I would have hoped that more URI schemes would be added to support access to camera etc but the mobile browser for now is just not heading in that direction. 

Another approach would be a thin client application that embeds the browser inside it. This still gives you flexibility to modify the interface from the server and the thin client can access the device features. On BREW, IHTMLVIEWER control is something I have used, pretty flexible though it works only with the HTML 4.1 standard out of the box but certain features can be modifed. On most smart phones including Iphone the browser can be embedded inside the app. This gives flexibility to the server component to adapt and modify the user experience with ease.

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