There a new James Bond movie in the air – Skyfall. I’ve been a bit of a JB fan since childhood and pulled down Quantum of Solace via Sky Anytime+ last night (which, by the way, has all JB films available on-demand).
I remember watching the film when it was first launched and, as every JB fan knows, the gadgets are also the stars of these films, being amazed at the phone JB used. It was a ‘smart’ phone before the term smartphone was really used.
The phone – a Sony Ericsson C902. The date of the film – 2008.
Fast-forward one JB film, and approximately 4 years, and the smartphone landscape is simply amazing. Some of the Hollywood-licence applied to the Sony Ericsson phone back then is now commonplace – video calling, GPS location and navigation, content sharing, image recognition.
Quantum of smartphone – how much (or how many) smartphones are there now? Apple, Samsung, HTC, Motorola – all have feature rich devices. Even Nokia and Blackberry are putting out new innovative devices. And let’s not forget the JB-franchise preferred brand – Sony (this time without Ericsson) with the Sony Xperia T.
And where does the functionality of these phones go next? I’m sure the new JB film will make the Xperia do stuff it cannot really do (one of the joys of the film). But, as history points out, this stuff may be possible in a few years’ time.
Why do I mention all of this? Well I spend a lot of time on mobile application development and we are dealing with a continually changing landscape. Blackberry was the smartphone of choice back in 2008 and we invested heavily in developing apps for that device platform. Then along came the Apple iOS platform, more investment, the Android platform, more investment, now the Windows Phone 8 platform– more investment. In the future who knows what there will be (a Raspberry Pi-based Smartphones perhaps?).
There is some commonality when developing ‘apps’ for Android, which theoretically spans many device types, but even there the major Android versions differ so much (Ice Cream Sandwich anyone?) and even the device types differ so much (“I just got the app working on the Galaxy S3 and they did what?”) that some re-work is recommended. There is also some leverage with Windows Phone 8 if you are a Windows development house.
As the functionality, the phones, the platforms continue to change and the demands of users continue to increase how do mobile development teams keep on top? Well on the one hand you can continue to invest in developing apps across the main phone/platform types – without compromise – if your budget allows. You can focus on a subset of the phone/platform types and hope that hits the sweet-spot of your customer base (“nobody got fired for developing iOS apps!”). On the other hand you can focus your efforts on the web (remember that?) and use commonality-tools such as PhoneGap, JQuery Mobile and Kendo UI to re-use the web code across mobile devices (but that involves a compromise as Facebook found to their peril). The choice, as they say, is yours. One thing is for certain – in 4 years’ time your decision will probably have been the wrong one.
As someone involved in the design of these apps what I would welcome in the mix is a user experience (UX) commonality-tool that allowed common code to behave differently depending on the phone/platform type – a sort of polymorphic UI. An HTML5 page operating differently on different devices, complying with the design style for that device, but from a common code base. Now that would be useful.