A Design Concept for all Business Critical Mobile Apps

400 x 400 Phone SketchMany moons ago when we were still building salesforce.com mobile apps on an ad-hoc basis, with ever changing technology, we started to see a pattern in what we were being asked for (in terms of the app and its performance) against what was actually needed.

The general requirements stated everything about the application logic and the user interface. This really boiled down to what the app should do and what it should look like. Fair enough and makes sense when coming from a desktop or browser based application.

But as we are seeing mobile is a very different beast. There is so much more outside of the developer’s and organisation’s control which is often not even considered, due to either being unknown, or just something that had to be accepted so best not discussed.

Where this always falls down is when the app is deployed. For starters the actual pain of deployment. Mobile means just that. These people we want to deploy to are literally all over the place. They are often running different devices from different manufacturers and different mobile operating systems. And if they are not today they maybe tomorrow. That lack of control is creeping in.

Now, when we actually get the app working and deployed, these mobile users do the unthinkable and go to places where there is no wifi. Huh! And then, the cheek of it, they go where there is patchy or no cellular connection. Now this app that worked on a certain device on a speedy wifi connection in the office is of no value at all. In fact it is worse than not having the app as we have taken all their paper processes and literally thrown them away. We are now reliant on this app.

Through frustration we started to look at communicating this upfront. And slowly a set of rules and guidelines took shape.

What we realised very quickly was that these were not about the application logic or even the user interface. Yes, mobile brings new opportunities and challenges to both of these, but the assumption that the application will ‘just work’ is already made.

We wanted to go deeper. To create a foundation for building all business critical mobile apps. Something that was powerful but simplistic. Something that would carry us and the apps through the inevitable technological innovation that we are going to see.

MORE(s) Design ™

  • Mobile First

  • Offline First

  • Robust

  • Efficient

  • Shared/Separated

Lets look at each of these in a little more detail.

Mobile First

  • From the outset every user is expected to be mobile.

  • To be in any location, worldwide.

  • To have multiple devices, multiple OSs and multiple form factors

Offline First

  • No Connection is to be assumed

  • The application is to interact with a local encrypted store

  • Synchronisation will be a separate service that does not impede the functionality of the application

Robust

  • Every potential failure point, whether in our control or not, must have an elegant fall back position

  • Data loss is not acceptable under any circumstance (loss of signal, battery failure etc)

  • The application is expected to be enhanced. Every element of the application must be upgradeable via a versioning engine.

Efficient

  • Each Byte of data is sacred and carried a cost.

  • This cost can measured in both monetary value as well as the cost of increasing failure

  • Efficiency must be prioritised at all times but not at the cost of robustness

Shared/Separated

  • When Offline First is the new normal, application logic (and the data is requires) must be viewed in a new way

  • Its outcome must be shared by both the platform and the device code

  • It must be separated in the sense that it can run independently on both the platform and the device, especially considering the device may have no active data connection.

Each of these items deserves a post in itself but I hope this gives you a feel as to what you should expect, in fact demand, from your business critical salesforce mobile applications. The force.com platform is easily the most important IT asset that you have at your disposal in my eyes. It never ceases to amaze me what it can achieve in the right hands.

By enforcing this design criteria on your mobile applications you can take this power and deliver in, uninterrupted to a truly mobile organisation.

To find out more about how you can build, deploy, monitor and enhance these fully offline enabled and robust mobile applications please contact me directly at ceo@mobilecaddy.net or sign up for a demo with the form below.

If you are interested in developing these applications please visit our dedicated developers website http://developer.mobilecaddy.net

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