mrc's Cup of Joe Blog

Join us in exploring the world of modern development, evolving technologies, and the art of future-proof software

Month: January 2012

6 “native” features you can use with mobile web apps

EducationWhat’s the difference between a native app and a mobile web app? Let’s start with the basics. A native app is downloaded and installed on the device, while a mobile web app is accessed through the device’s browser. Native apps must be built separately for each platform, while one mobile web app works on every platform.

Following me so far? Now, let’s get into the confusing stuff.

What can a native app do that a mobile web app cannot do? This is where a lot of businesses seem confused. Many believe that mobile web apps are nothing more than a web page running inside of a mobile browser. They believe that native apps are the only way to fully take advantage of the mobile device’s hardware.

The truth is, mobile web apps are capable of much more than most people think.  What can mobile web apps actually do? I’ve created a list of 6 “native” capabilities that many businesses don’t realize are possible with mobile web apps.  Over the next couple of months, I’d like to write up posts covering each point in more detail, with examples and tutorials on how you can add these capabilities to your mobile web apps.  Sound good?  To start things off, let me first share the 6 “native” features that you may not realize you can use with mobile web apps:

Is your IT department slow and unresponsive?

ProductivityPerhaps a better question is this: Do your end users or company executives see your IT department as slow and unresponsive? Do users complain that it takes forever to get new applications from IT? Do new development projects take months to complete?

Now, I do realize that most IT departments are swamped with work. There aren’t enough hours in the day to handle the daily duties and develop new applications in a timely manner. So, what’s the answer?

How can you turn your time-strapped IT department into the most responsive department in the company?

Rather than tell you, here’s a great story of a developer who did just that. In fact, he started completing projects so quickly, one executive in his company claimed that he was “developing solutions waiting for problems.” To find out how he did it, you can read the whole story here.

5 things to look for in embedded Business Intelligence

Save MoneyIn a recent article, I explained a couple of ways that embedded BI is typically used. Software companies embed third-party BI tools in their software to quickly add new capabilities. Internal IT staffs use embedded BI to solve user adoption problems.

The big question: What should you look for in embedded BI software? The answer: While there are more, here are 5 of the most important features to look for in embedded business intelligence software:

How one small IT staff became internally productive

ProductivityWhat does “internal productivity” mean? It means your IT staff is productive without relying on outside help. It means that you develop your apps and complete your projects quickly using your current staff and skills. It means you no longer rely on outsourcing companies or consultants.

This is a great goal for any IT department, but it’s much easier said than done. How can you accomplish everything you want to accomplish, using your current IT staff? Rather than explain it to you, I have a great example of a small IT staff that had some urgent projects, but couldn’t bring in outside help. What did they do? They found a way to become internally productive, and managed to fix everything themselves. You can read the whole story here.

Can embedded BI solve your user adoption problems?

Save MoneyUser adoption is one of the biggest reasons why business intelligence fails. After all, if no one uses it, business intelligence is worthless. What keeps users from using business intelligence? Depends on the user. Maybe it’s too difficult. Maybe it’s inconvenient. Maybe they’re just lazy.

Whatever the reason, business intelligence that isn’t used is not only a waste of money, it’s a waste of time. Users go back to what they’re comfortable doing, like using Excel or asking the IT department to run reports.

If any of this sounds familiar, then keep reading. I’m going to explain the concept of embedded BI, and how it can solve this problem.

Tutorial: Create a pure CSS navigation menu for your web apps

EducationYou’ve heard the saying, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” It’s good advice, but largely ignored. Whether consciously or subconsciously, we pass judgements based on appearance on a daily basis.

This fact is especially important in business. Studies have shown that people judge a web page/app in less than one second. What does that mean? If you’re building apps for customers or prospects, appearance can affect revenue. If you’re building for internal users, it can affect usability.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m not telling you to focus solely on appearance. I’m telling you not to ignore appearance, because like it or not, an app is judged by it’s appearance first, and usefulness second.

How can you improve your application’s appearance? There are a few ways, but one of the best and easiest way is the navigation menu. A well-designed navigation menu will improve the overall look and feel as well as the usability of the web app. If you’d like to learn a simple way to create a good-looking navigation menu using CSS, we’ve written up a tutorial, which you can find here.

For more tips on usability, this article gives a few more ideas.

Build a web (and mobile) app in 30 minutes without programming

ProductivityIf your company plans on building mobile apps this coming year, or if you just wish there was a faster way to develop enterprise web applications, you should really try the newly revamped m-Power Trial.

The m-Power Trial was recently updated, and now also lets you build a mobile web app. In roughly 30 minutes, you will create an enterprise web app, along with tablet and smartphone versions of that web app. The best part: Everything is done without programming!

You can try it here: m-Power Trial

HTML5 Tutorial: Learn to use the canvas element

EducationAdobe Flash has been one of the most widely used browser plugins for years.That’s all changing now, thanks in large part to mobile computing. Why? Tablets and smartphones are rising in popularity, but Flash isn’t supported by many of these devices. In fact, Adobe even announced a few months ago that they will stop developing Flash for mobile.

What does that mean to you? That means if your business apps currently use Flash, you’ll need to find another way to create the Flash-based elements. This problem will affect quite a few businesses, as many dashboards, charts, and graphs used in BI applications currently rely on Flash.

What should you do? There are many ways to avoid Flash in your web apps. Javascript is often used for animations, and there are a number of open source options for graphing. For instance, we use jFreeChart for graphing in m-Power.

While those are some current options, the future lies in the canvas element.  Many believe the canvas element (found in HTML5) will largely replace Flash on the web. What does it do?  It lets you create interactive images and animations on the web (much like Flash does now), and can be used for nearly anything, from simple games to data visualization. To fully use the canvas element, you’ll have to know javascript. But, if you would like to understand the basics of the canvas and how to begin using it, we’ve written up an HTML5 canvas tutorial, which you can find right here.