The Cross-Platform Conundrum

ubiquitousstrumpetMobile - Wireless

Dec 10, 2013 (2 years and 10 months ago)


The Cross-Platform
Selecting the right tool for business
With mobile application development turning mainstream, developers are
increasingly looking at cross-platform mobile application development tools to
help reduce cost of development and improve time-to-market. Cross-platform
mobile application development tools attempt to deliver these benefits by
providing a neutral way of writing applications using their own particular
language/dialect/tools that is then translated into the multiple forms required
for deployment to each mobile platform.
Customer interest in cross-platform mobile application development is at an
all-time high. This is evinced by a 20% increase in vendors providing qualified
mobile application development tools and frameworks in 2011 and a significant
flow of venture capital and other investments in this area.
In addition, vendor
consolidation also increased with Adobe® acquiring Nitobi PhoneGap, IBM®
acquiring Worklight, SAP® acquiring Syclo, Antenna Software® acquiring
Volantis, Dexterra and others.
Approaches to cross-platform development
Gartner, Inc. has categorized the approaches to overall mobile application development as follows:
Source: Gartner Inc. “New Directions for Mobile Enterprise Application Platforms: Convergence 2012, Multichannel 2018” Published: 29 February 2012
Figure 1: Categories of Approaches to Mobile Application Development (AD)
Scope of 2012
MEAP Magic
MEAPs with prepackaged apps
For example, SAP Sybase, Syclo, Antenna (AMP), Spring Wireless and Verivo
Native AD toolsets and runtimes
For example, Xcode + Cocoa Touch, Visual Studio, Java Development, Blackberry SDK,
Android SDK and NDK
MCAPs, AD tools with web support
For example, Kony Solutions, Adobe (Flash, PhoneGap), Silverlight
JavaScript and RIA frameworks
For example, Sencha, jQueryMobile, Dojox Mobile, Modolabs
Web adapter/transcoding tools
For example, Netbiscuits, Usablenet, Antenna (Volantis)
Smartphone-optimized site
Using current Web tools - for example, Oracle Fatwire, Akamai
Do nothing - rely 100% on web
Users access current site
Quality of User Experience
Cross-platform mobile
application development
refers to a subset of these
approaches that allows the user
to “write-once” and deploy to
multiple mobile platforms.
On one hand, these approaches could
completely rely on the web and use the
browser application on the device as the
translation environment—as depicted by
the approaches below the blue dotted line
in Figure 1. However, such applications lack
the sophistication of native applications
and browser-based deployment hinders
application discoverability and adoption.
Hybrid web apps
Hybrid web applications seek to overcome
some of these disadvantages by allowing
a regular web application, consisting of
HTML/CSS/Javascript files, to be deployed
locally on a device, packaged up in a
native distributable package that can be
distributed via popular application stores.
Frameworks that support the development
of hybrid web applications include
PhoneGap® (Adobe®) and MoSync. Web-
based frameworks that assist the creation
of rich web applications, such as Sencha
Touch®, Sproutcore
, jQuery®Mobile
and QuickConnect® can be used along
with above-mentioned hybrid web
application frameworks (e.g., PhoneGap®)
to create hybrid web applications.
Script-based frameworks
Some of the popular tools categorized
as MCAP (Mobile Consumer Application
Platforms) follow a script-based framework
approach that requires the application
to be written using a framework-specific
dialect of a standard scripting language
(e.g., Javascript, Ruby, Lua). Commonly this
script is executed on the device through
an interpreter which the framework
packages up with the application.
Examples of this class of framework include
Appcelerator® and RhoMobile® platforms.
Platform approach
In this category the tools adopt a platform
approach, complete with a fully integrated
IDE, middleware components, connectors to
enterprise systems, device connection layer
components such as authentication service
and sync service.
Examples include Kony
and Sybase®
Unwired Platform (SUP) amongst others.
Packaged applications
This category provides end-to-end vertical
solutions that can be customized and
deployed within an enterprise. Solutions
include asset management, sales force
automation and banking solutions.
Examples include SAP®-Syclo,Verivo

and Spring Wireless amongst
other mobile applications.
The plethora of cross-platform approaches
and proliferation of vendor offerings
can easily perplex customers. The low
adoption barrier for most of these tools
(e.g., opensource and low development
license costs) can often lead customers
to evaluate vendors and their solutions
based on the most immediate requirements
such as number of platforms supported, a
rich feature set and ease of development.
However, requirements evolve over the
application development lifecycle and the
selected solution may no longer serve the
extended requirements of the business.
Accenture recommends a holistic approach
to evaluation of cross-platform application
development strategy that can lead to long
term business value. It involves a thorough
evaluation of the mobile application lifecycle
within the customer context and identifying
business requirements associated with
each lifecycle phase. These requirements,
weighted by their relative importance,
can then be used to score the various
approaches and to narrow down the options.
Options galore ... selecting the right partner
The major phases in the
application lifecycle can be
characterized as below:
1. Ramp-up Phase
In this phase, the team familiarizes itself with
the selected mobile application platform
capabilities and associated infrastructure
and tools. Trainings and environment
configuration are followed by a successful
“Hello World” application.
2. Design-Build-Test (DBT)
In this phase the functional requirements are
translated into technical architecture. The
emphasis is on multi-site development, agile
workflow, rapid integration and integrity of
functional requirements.
3. Train and Deploy
This phase involves a brief pilot run, quick
alterations to incorporate feedback from the
field, followed by large scale deployment of
the application.
4. Maintenance
This is the phase with the longest span
and includes defect fixes, enhancements,
application porting and asset creation.
The Application Lifecycle
“Key asks”
Throughout the application
lifecycle, the mobile
application development tool
and the tool vendor remain an
integral part of the customer’s
mobility strategy. The tool
and the vendor firm need to
provide varied capabilities and
support elements throughout
the lifecycle. Based on key
activities performed across
the application lifecycle
phases—as outlined in the
above section—the key asks
from the tool and the vendor
firm vary and cover a gamut
of areas, from the tactical
to the very strategic.
Figure 2: Key asks from mobile AD tool and vendor firm in each lifecycle phase
“Key asks”
Degree of
• Skill training
• Developer support
• Ease of development
• Developer support forums
• Ease of development
• Platforms support
• Features support
• UI
• Quailty assurance
• Developer support forums
• Ease of development
• Quallity assurance
• Performance
• Developer support forums
• Ease of development
• Platforms support
• Features support
• Quality of UI
• Quality assurance
• Performance
• Openness
• Future-proof
• Platform TCO
• Business orientation
DBT Train & Deploy Sustain
Source: Accenture
From the above depiction, it becomes clear
that the most popular criteria applied for
evaluation of mobile application development
tools, such as ease of development and
platforms/features support, are based on
just a few key requirements in the Ramp-
up and DBT phases. However, specific
requirements are added in subsequent phases
that ultimately decide the prudence of the
investment made.
Also, depending upon the business context,
the relative importance of each of these
key asks will vary. For example, ‘Openness’
of the platform may be a key value driver in
comparison with ‘Ease of development’. So
an important part of the evaluation process
is formulating a model that assigns relative
weights to each key ask. The weights thus
assigned will be a function of the business
and technology priorities. In a quantitative
evaluation model these weights can then be
applied to scored values against each key ask.
We now look at the factors in more detail.
Table 1: Description of key asks from mobile AD tool and vendor firm
Key ask Description
Skill trainings Does the tool require new skills to be learned or can existing skills and resources be leveraged?
Does the vendor firm provide assistance towards training?
Developer support forums Does the vendor firm maintain an official technical support site?
Are there active public forums?
Ease of development Does the tool offer an integrated environment for GUI design, programming and testing?
Availability of quality documentation?
Platforms support The multitude of mobile platforms supported. HTML? Desktop web?
Features support
Richness of features – UI, multimedia, sensors, security, back-end connectors, etc.
Quality of UI Quality of UI elements as compared to native look-and-feel
Quality assurance Does the tool provide an integrated test/verification framework? Ease of debugging, performance
analysis, etc.
Performance The memory footprint and responsiveness of application binary
Is the tool open-source?
Does it allow external contributions?
Is there a healthy ecosystem for modules/plug-ins?
Future-proof Does the tool provide SLAs on incorporating support for newer platform features and revisions?
Does the tool allow break-out to native code?
Can existing native libraries be reused?
Couplings Independence of applications from native platform changes/updates?
Independence of applications from cloud/remote services?
Platform TCO What are the one-time and ongoing development and deployment costs?
Update and support costs?
Business orientation Maturity of the company? Robustness of product roadmap
Ability to implement on product roadmap
Installed customer base
Client’s ability to observe and influence product roadmap?
Source: Accenture
In practice …
A company wishes to develop mCommerce
applications that will allow customers
to browse its products online, make
inapplication purchases, redeem purchases
using digital coupons and receive
notifications about promotions and
discounts. These are B2C applications that
will allow the company to engage with its
customers in a more meaningful manner.
Mobile solutions are a critical part of the
company’s growth strategy and it intends to
leverage cross-platform mobile application
development tools to help reduce the cost of
application development and maintenance as
well as improve time to market.
The application requirements can be
summarized as below:
The next section describes how the
evaluation parameters explained above
were used to score the various solutions
and to narrow down the options.
# UI screens
30 – 50 screens
15 – 25 modules
5 – 10 modules
20 – 30 services
Business logic modules
Platform integration modules
Web service integration
Evaluation approach
A list of candidate cross-platform mobile
application development tools was
shortlisted based on prior experience
with the tools, market momentum and
community support for the tools and
client recommendations. For this example,
the tool needed to support generation of
locally deployable applications that users
could download via application stores and
hence web applications were excluded.
Enterprise application tools with prepackaged
applications (e.g., SAP®-Syclo and Verivo
were also excluded from the evaluation as
the focus was on consumer applications.
The final list of tools evaluated included:


Marmalade SDK


jQuery® Mobile (with PhoneGap®)

encha Touch® (with PhoneGap®)


(with PhoneGap®)


A multi-stage approach was taken towards
the assessment of each tool, comprising
of objective research-based data, vendor
questionnaires and hands-on practical
exercises. Each tool was scored against
the parameters listed above. Appropriate
computations were performed to convert
qualitative observations into quantitative
values and to normalize the resulting scores.
Finally, the assessment parameters were
assigned relative weights based on the
business context. In this case, multi-platform
support was assigned the highest weight
(as this was a B2C application), followed by
richness in feature set.
The result of the evaluation and relative
scores of the top 3 tools is presented below.
The top 3 tools scored a satisfaction rating of
60% or above indicating that it can provide
MODERATE to STRONG support for the
overall customer requirements.
Thus we see that a comprehensive assessment
helps to narrow down options from a large set
of seemingly plausible solutions and to align
the approach closely with business priorities.
Accenture works very closely with clients
to help them build their mobile application
development strategy, rationalize investments
and perform vendor assessments.
Figure 3: Relative scores of the top 3 tools (NOT to scale)
Ease of
Quality of
Performance Openness Futrure-
Couplings Platform
The top 3 tools scored a satisfaction
rating of 60% or above
Tool A
Tool B
Tool C
Relative weight
Source: Accenture
Gartner expects enterprise investments in
mobile application development to increase
at a rate of 20% to 30% per annum
through 2015 to meet the rising demand
for custom applications.
mobile application development tools and
frameworks that help to reduce the cost of
development and improve time to market
of mobile applications will continue to be
a key focus area. It is therefore important
to perform a holistic evaluation of options,
not only from a technology stand-point,
but also taking into consideration longer
term requirements and market momentum.
However in this period of innovation and
associated chaos, it is also important to
remember that cross-platform approach,
vendors and business models will continue to
evolve further for the next 1-3 years based
on progress in underlying standards and
technologies and maturing of application
requirements. What is clear is that the
role of cross-platform tools in the long
term in enabling and supporting mobility
solutions is undeniable and those tools
that promote open standards and help
avoid lock-in will find favor. A periodic
review of mobile application development
approach and investments every six to
twelve months is highly recommended.
Accenture, as part of its Application Factory
offer, performs a holistic evaluation of cross-
platform application development tools and
frameworks and applies the learnings to
recommend suitable solutions based on the
client’s business context. It also refreshes
its assessments periodically based on tool
improvements and newer solutions.
Finally, as is the case with any innovative
solution, people tend to overestimate its
impact in the short term, but underestimate
its significance in the longer term. The final
set of solutions that will emerge from this
period of flux will help customers harness
the full potential of mobility solutions.
Copyright © 2012 Accenture
All rights reserved.
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High Performance Delivered
are trademarks of Accenture.
This document makes descriptive reference to
trademarks that may be owned by others. The use
of such trademarks herein is not an assertion of
ownership of such trademarks by Accenture and is
not intended to represent or imply the existence of an
association between Accenture and the lawful owners
of such trademarks.
Contact Us
For more information about how Accenture
can assist with positioning your organization
as a mobile trendsetter, please contact:
Juby Jose
Manager, Mobile Application Factory
Karthik Srinivasan
Product Offer Lead –
Mobile Application Factory
Robert Palmer
Tech Lead, Mobile Web Technologies
Contributors to cross-platform tools
evaluation project:
Jeremy Morris
Tech Lead (Web Technologies)
Nithin Vijay
Tech Lead (Web Technologies)
Mark Welsh
Tech Lead (Cross-Platform tools)
Rob Pallister
Tech Lead (Cross-Platform tools)
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Copyright © 2012 Gartner Inc. “New
Directions for Mobile Enterprise Application
Platforms: Convergence 2012, Multichannel
2018” Published: 29 February 2012
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