Platform Agnostic Mobile Apps
By David Dorf on Jan 28, 2010
I've been preaching the benefits of Java-based POS systems for years. It comes down to two things: freedom of choice (regarding hardware), and future proofing (so you can change your mind later). Java abstracts the software from the hardware so the two can be selected independently, which has many advantages for retailers. While this concept is certainly important for POS, its really important if you want your mobile apps to reach all your customers. Unfortunately, there are no real standards across phone manufacturers, so you'll need to port your app to each platform. And if you decide to only support the iPhone, then you are hitting only 5% of the phone-carrying population.
One solution is to skip native apps by using the phone's browser, but the features and screen size for browsers vary across phones. UnityMobile will take an existing website and convert it for use across most mobile phones, avoiding the downfalls of relying completely on the mobile browser. This is the fifth company Daniel West has founded, so he understands that solutions need to be simple. His company provides the tools necessary to support cross-platform applications, SMS campaigns, and distribution.Another similar company is Roam Data. I recently spoke with the founder, Will Graylin, who is also on his fifth start-up. Roam's approach is to provide a "player," similar in concept to the Flash player, that is specific to phone types. Then the player interprets the mobile apps for that particular platform, making any necessary UI adjustments. In this way its easy to create a single app that runs across many mobile platforms. In addition to their framework, they also sell a complete mobile POS for sales outside stores, and have their own payment gateway for smaller retailers.
The trend for retailers to support mobile phones for both employees and customers is clear, but without either cross-platform standards or handset consolidation it will be difficult to support everyone's phone. Both of these companies address the issue head-on with software-based solutions. They can provide retailers ways to get their mobile apps onto more phones with less development costs, and that's a really good thing.