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This is the second in a series of blog posts that will dive a little more deeply into the Track-It! 10.5 release.  Today I want to take a look at a very important question that we faced regarding our mobile solution for Track-It! - do we go with a native application or a mobile Web solution?  Things are never as clear as they seem and there are always shades of gray in every situation.  We looked at a lot of technologies and weighed this decision carefully early on in the planning for Track-It! on the go - we believe that we have a very strong solution for our customers as well as sound reasoning for the direction that we took.  You can take a look at the new Track-It! Mobile Web by going to http://Demo.TrackIt.com on your mobile device.

First of all, we had to make the correct decision with respect to the team and the resources available to us.  With unlimited resources things might be different for any team, however we always have to balance schedule, capacity, dependencies and quality when planning any project - no matter what the effort entails or what business you're in.  We actively work on the Technician Client (a thick, Windows .Net application), Track-It! Web and now Track-It! Mobile Web and this pushed us to find the right mobile solution to ensure that we were able to continue to deliver powerful solutions for our customers in a timely fashion. 


It was not appealing to me to look at putting all of the work into designing, planning for, building and testing a native iOS application only to turn around and do it all over again to build an Android application.  Oh, and by the way - what if Windows Phone 7 really takes off - we better build a Windows Phone application after the Android project is completed.  And then in the corporate world, Blackberry devices could gain ground again and we would need to build a native Blackberry OS application.  And by then Motorola may have introduced their own mobile OS that we would need to support.  It would also be difficult in these timelines to look at updating the native applications that were already in the hands of our customers.  In leading the team here, I saw quickly that we would be setting ourselves up for failure if we chose to go down this road - if not failure, then at the very least we would be raising the potential for disappointing our customers.  That's not in our vocabulary.


When I first started looking at potential solutions for a mobile solution for Track-It!, mobile web sites were still showing signs of strange old technologies like WAP and the stink of being an afterthought for a lot of companies.  In fact, even today one company whose software I use all day every day has a mobile web site for their cloud-based product that is completely hideous - it is completely and utterly useless and makes me want to find another solution every time I look at it.  Over the last couple of years, different technologies have matured to the point where creating a mobile Web solution isn't just viable for a company - it represents a real alternative with advantages over a native application.  We use JavaScript libraries from Sencha in building our Track-It! Web and now Track-It! Mobile Web solutions.  In doing this, we take advantage of common elements of their different solutions for the web and mobile web and reduce our development friction and time to market significantly. 

 

HTML5 and Sencha Touch provide powerful and rich tools and technologies that enable us to provide a very native-like experience on any mobile browser that Sencha Touch supports.  Right now that includes iOS and Android devices but soon they will support other mobile devices as well - and so will we without having to write a completely new application for each of those new devices.  Plus we've now written a platform that we can use to develop new mobile features relatively quickly - just as we did with Track-It! Web.  I went on a customer site visit earlier this year to one of our large customers and they brought up their need for a mobile solution for Track-It! without being prompted.  When I talked to them about my thoughts regarding a potential Track-It! Mobile Web solution instead of a native application, they loved it.  They actually look for vendors with mobile web solutions instead of native applications due to the ease of support and lack of deployment headaches.  Without getting into managing mobile devices and what we're thinking about in that area, our plans for a mobile web application were just what they wanted.  And the more customers we talked with about this potential solution, the more positive feedback we received.  It became clear that we were on the right track.


Another benefit to building a mobile web solution is that it brings consistency across devices and across our web platforms.  Different native applications potentially have very different UI guidelines and specifications - if you don't follow those, you may not be able to get your application in their application store or market.  Track-It! Mobile Web is modeled very much after an iOS application but where we felt we needed to, we deviated from UI standards to provide what we feel is a very consistent and powerful interface that also mimics the way that the Track-It! Web is designed.  Our customers won't have to deal with some technicians using one device and other technicians using another - with different user interfaces and even different functionality.  Also, providing some familiar workflow and information for functionality in both the web and mobile web platforms should make for an easy first look at the Mobile Web.  In fact, I was most proud of the fact that during a bug bash for Track-It! 10.5, we had some participants from other products within Numara who had never spent time using Track-It!  They reported that the Mobile Web required no introduction or training - they had no problems using it with zero questions about any functionality or how to do anything that they were asked to do during the bug bash.  We were all beaming as that is what we were going for - simple, easy-to-use and powerful functionality. 


Delivering a mobile web solution also gives our customers flexibility in how they may want to deploy Track-It! Mobile in their organization.  If we chose to develop multiple native applications on different mobile device platforms, we very likely could have run into technology issues that would have made it more difficult for our customers to deploy our solution in their environment.  With Track-It! Mobile Web, they have a couple of decisions to make and one application to deploy - and that's done via our Web installer instead of having to worry about some new step in the process of installing and deploying Track-It!  We feel that this represents a great value proposition for our customers just as Track-It! has for many years - zero to Help Desk in no time flat.


Finally, there is still the potential for getting a Track-It! Mobile solution into the iOS app store or the Android Market down the road.  There are technologies that fill in the gaps in doing this and we plan to explore them to see if that is an option for us or if our customers even would want that.  It would give us more exposure to new customers and that would be a good thing - we just want to make sure that it would make good business sense for us to do so.  The great news is that making the choice to initially go with a mobile web solution over a native application does not preclude us from taking that step at some point. 


Hopefully this gives you some insight into our thinking as we made some of the decisions around developing Track-It! Mobile Web.  It may answer some questions that you may have about native applications and mobile web applications - but it may also raise other ones.  That's great - I'd love to hear from you - you can leave a comment or contact me via any of the methods listed below.  Now it's time to get back to work - there are lots of shiny new technologies to look at and play with.  And lots of planning to be done for future Track-It! releases. 


Sounds like a lot of fun to me...

 

-- As always, you can reach me at benny_morrison@bmc.com or on twitter (@BennyMorrison) --