September 17th, 2013

Mobile Strategy Handbook Chapter 8 – The best tools for mobile app development

best_toolOne of the great things about mobile app development is that there is so much knowledge, experience, 3rd party cloud services and open source code available from the community. Why should we invent something that already exists unless we can do it much better. Here’s a list of some of the tools that we use to power our clients’ mobile solutions.

Augmented Reality
Although we’ve previously spoken about Augmented reality as a bit of a hype and slow to take off, we’ve done quite a few apps in this space and the demand is growing. Here are a couple of the tools we use:

  • Qualcomm AR engine (Vuforia) – The best AR engine for game development (works with Unity) and even better, it’s free.
  • Wikitude – Great for mapping apps such as Yellow Pages, Tube apps, etc where you quickly want to locate things around you.
  • Catchoom – Barcelona based startup with one of the best solutions for image recognition which is great if you want to activate services based on items and images around you.

Reporting
As mentioned in our previous chapter setting and monitoring targets this is one of the most important aspects of mobile service development and so are the tools that come with it. There are a LOT of tools available. Our top 3 are:

  • Google Analytics – Free up to almost unlimited usage and now has great tools for app development, websites, mobile websites and more. The most comprehensive free platform available today.
  • Flurry – One of the pioneers in mobile analytics and still going strong. Probably equal to Google Analytics but Google has the added advantage of better integration with other tools such as AdWords.
  • Distimo – Simple but great tool for tracking app downloads across appstores and great if you have a large portfolio of apps to manage.

Push Notifications
Ongoing customer engagement is one of the most important things to succeed with mobile apps whether it is a game, utility or enterprise app and there are lots of great services available to support you. Our top two are:

  • Urban Airship – One of the first services in this area and by now almost industry standard. Pricing has historically been attractive as well but more recently Urban Airship has raised their pricing.
  • Amazon AWS SNS (Simple Notification Service) – Just launched with a great commercial offering powered by AWS and for our bigger clients we are now looking at migrating from bespoke solutions to SNS.

Backend-as-a-service (BaaS)
Want to reduce the cost, risk and time to market of back-end service development? BaaS providers offer some great solutions for simpler services requiring a database, customer management and storage. These are the ones we recommend:

  • Parse – Recently acquired by Facebook and is still the most dominating start-up. Great to get started with but over time pricing can be 2-3x higher than if you set it up yourself with Amazon or Google App Engine.
  • Kinvey – Great for Enterprise apps as they include plug-ins for Oracle, Websphere, SAP and more and this is also where the pricing is geared towards.
  • Other – We also have experience of SAP SUP, SAP Syclo and IBM Worklight but these will only be used in conjunction with their platforms.

Cross-platform development tools (sometimes referred to as MEAPs)
Generally we are not very supportive of cross-platform tools. Our recommendation is usually to either go all in for native plus webview where required or do 100% web app using HTML5. Nevertheless, here are some of the tools we’ve used in the past and have experience with:

  • Phonegap – Pioneered cross-platform development and got acquired by Adobe but still available for free. Now the leading platform but we wouldn’t recommend it other than for very simple apps or just wrapping of mobile websites.
  • Appcelerator Titannium – Better support than Phonegap but otherwise equal or potentially a bit slower to support new devices and OS. We recommend Phonegap unless support is important.

Other
At the last count we used over 100 different 3rd party tools so the list above is limited. Here are a few other random ones

  • Bar Code readers – We’ve used zBar and zXing to read all kinds of old and new bar codes. Both are open source and handle almost anything using newer devices with autofocus.
  • WordPress – Yes, we use WordPress for a lot of things including simple things such as providing Terms & Conditions
  • Ricotta – Open source application translation tool developed by DMI.

In summary, don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to. Use the tools available instead. Also, please contact us if you have a great tool we should be using.

 

Image courtesy: SoftFacade

Tags: App development mobile apps Mobility Strategy push notifications reporting

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