Saturday, 23 April 2016

Issues in Mobile Application Development

1. Introduction

While application development for mobile devices goes back at least 10 years, there has been exponential growth in mobile application development since the iPhone AppStore opened in July, 2008. Since then, device makers have created outlets for other mobile devices, including Android, BlackBerry, Nokia Ovi, Windows Phone, and more. Industry analysts estimate that there are more than 250,000 applications available through the various stores and marketplaces, some of which are available for multiple types of devices. We have recently conducted a small survey of mobile developers, using available mobile developer forums to solicit respondents. A key goal of the survey was to gain a better understanding of development practices for mobile applications for custom application development companies. Our conclusions included the following points: 

1) most of the applications were relatively small, averaging several thousand lines of source code, with one or two developers responsible for conceiving, designing, and implementing the application;  
2) there was a sharp divide between “native” applications, those that run entirely on the mobile device, and web applications, which have a small device-based client with execution occurring on a remote server.

There are numerous comprehensive programming environments available for the major mobile platforms. Apple’s iOS Dev Center offers the Xcode package, which includes an Interface Builder, an iPhone emulator, and a complete development environment that can be used across all Apple products. For Android, developers can use the Android Development Tools plug-in for the Eclipse programming environment. For Windows Phone, developers can use a specialized version of Microsoft’s Visual Studio environment. Similarly, there are application development tools for BlackBerry, Symbian, and other platforms. In addition, there are now some cross-platform development tools, such as RhoMobile’s Rhodes, MoSync, and PhoneGap, which can be used to create native applications on various brands of Smartphones. Along the same lines, Netbiscuits, Appcelerator, Kyte, and other companies provides tools and frameworks to support the creation of mobile web and hybrid sites using their SDK or one of the previously mentioned environments. These powerful development tools and frameworks greatly simplify the task of implementing a mobile application. However, they are predominantly focused on the individual developer who is trying to create an application as quickly as possible. 

Considering custom application development companies, for small and medium-sized mobile applications that can be built (and easily updated) by a single developer, they represent a vast improvement on the previous generations of tools, and encourage developers to adhere to the important principles of abstraction and modularity that are built into the platform architectures. However, as mobile applications become more complex, moving beyond inexpensive recreational applications to more business- critical uses, it will be essential to apply software engineering processes to assure the development of secure, high-quality mobile applications. While many “classic” software engineering techniques will transfer easily to the mobile application domain, there are other areas for new research and development. The remainder of this paper identifies some of these areas.

2.1 What Makes Mobile Different? 

In many respects, developing mobile applications is similar to software engineering for other embedded applications. Common issues include integration with device hardware, as well as traditional issues of security, performance, reliability, and storage limitations. However, mobile applications present some additional requirements that are less commonly found with traditional software applications, including: 

1) Potential interaction with other applications – most embedded devices only have factory-installed software, but mobile devices may have numerous applications from varied sources, with the possibility of interactions among them; 

2) Sensor handling – most modern mobile devices, e.g.,  “smartphones”, include an accelerometer that responds to device movement, a touch screen that responds to numerous gestures, along with real and/or virtual keyboards, a global positioning system, a microphone usable by applications other than voice calls, one or more cameras, and multiple networking protocols;   

3) Native and hybrid (mobile web) applications – most embedded devices use only software installed directly on the device, but mobile devices often include  applications that invoke services over the telephone network or the Internet via a web browser and affect data and displays on the device; 

4) Families of hardware and software platforms – most embedded devices execute code that is custom-built for the properties of that device, but mobile devices may have to support applications that were written for all of the varied devices supporting the operating system, and also for different versions of the operating system. An Android developer, for example, must decide whether to build a single application or multiple versions to run on the broad range of Android devices and operating system releases 

5) Security – most embedded devices are “closed”, in the sense that there is no straightforward way to attack the embedded software and affect its operation, but mobile platforms are open, allowing the installation of new “malware” applications that can affect the overall operation of the device, including the surreptitious transmission of local data by such an application.  

6) User interfaces – with a custom -built embedded application, the developer can control all aspects of the user experience, but a mobile application must share common elements of the user interface with other applications and must adhere to externally developed user interface guidelines, many of which are implemented in the software development kits (SDKs) that are part of the platform. 

7) Complexity of testing – while native applications can be tested in a traditional manner or via a PC-based emulator, mobile web applications are particularly challenging to test. Not only do web application development companies have many of the same issues found in testing web applications, but they have the added issues associated with transmission through gateways and the telephone network 

8) Power consumption – many aspects of an application affect its use of the device’s power and thus the battery life of the device. Dedicated devices can be optimized for maximum battery life, but mobile applications may inadvertently make extensive use of battery-draining resources.

Author Signature: Shreyans Agrawal (

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