mrc's Cup of Joe Blog

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


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:

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.

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.

What’s a QR code? Should you even care?

You’ve probably seen those strange-looking black and white boxes (like the one on the left) popping up all over the place. You may have seen them on bus stations, websites, business cards, and more. What are they, and should my business pay attention to them?

They’re called “QR Codes” (short for “Quick Response Codes”) and are used to encode nearly any type of data. QR codes have become popular recently because they are perfect for transferring data to a smartphone or tablet. When a user scans a QR code with their device, any data stored in that code instantly appears on the smartphone/tablet.


Want to try it for yourself? If you have a smartphone/tablet, just download a free QR code reader app and use it to scan the QR Code on this page. It will pull up this blog post on your phone/tablet. Pretty cool, isn’t it? Now, let’s take a look at what type of data can be stored in a QR Code.

Do you believe these 3 development tool myths?

Education*This post is from Brian Crowley, mrc’s Director of Development*

While at a recent tech conference, I had an interesting conversation with a long-time programmer. The programmer had apparently had some bad experiences with development tools, based on his views on the subject.

Frankly, nothing he said surprised me. I’d heard it all before. Most “anti-development tool” programmers usually cite the same reasons, and to be honest, I understand where they’re coming from. They’ve run into enough bad development tools in the past to form a pretty negative opinion of the whole lot. Their criticisms aren’t always accurate, and certainly don’t apply to ALL development tools, but I get why they feel that way.

6 must-have features of good reporting software

EducationI believe we’re seeing a shift in IT responsibilities. As more and more computer-savvy employees enter the workforce, many of the traditional IT-specific tasks are being handled by the end user. For example, simple tasks like plugging in a monitor or keyboard are easily handled by most end users.

The same is true for business software. Certain task, which used to require highly technical software, can now be handled directly by the users (with the right software). For example, reporting used to be an IT task. The only reporting option for end users went through the IT department. Now, many of the enterprise reporting options are simple enough for end users. If an end user needs a report, they can either build their own, or access a pre-built web-based report that pulls data from the database in real-time.

Pivot table comparison: Excel v. Google v. Web-based

EducationPivot tables are great tools for spotting hidden details and trends in a sea of data. One pivot table lets you quickly examine nearly any aspect of your data. Also, unlike static reports, the user determines what parts of the data to analyze.

The big question with pivot tables is this: Which pivot table option is best for my company? Right now, there are three main pivot table options: Google Docs, MS Excel, and database-driven web pivot tables. How do they compare? We’ve put together a handy one-page guide which explains the differences between each pivot table option. I hope you find it useful.

8 things to look for in a BI tool

EducationBy now, you probably understand the concept of business intelligence. It helps you keep a pulse on your business and make decisions based on factual data. It helps you spot trends (both negative and positive) and adjust your business plan accordingly.

But, the difficult question with BI is this: What should I look for? What makes a good BI solution? If you’ve ever looked for BI software, you quickly learned just how many options exist. How do you know which one is best for your company?

Pivot tables in Google Docs: How do they compare?

EducationA couple of weeks ago, Google announced some big news: Google Docs now has pivot tables! I know what you’re thinking: How is this different than other pivot table options, such as those found in Excel? Are they right for business? I’d like to help you answer these questions.

First, how does this differ from other pivot table options? Before we answer that question, we must first answer this question: What are the other options? Before Google pivot tables came around, there were 2 main approaches to pivot tables: Excel pivot tables and database-driven web pivot tables (like those created with m-Power). With Google’s foray into pivot tables, we now have 3 legitimate pivot table options. So, which one is best for your business? The best way to answer that question is to take a look at how each option compares in 5 key areas: …