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Heed the Siren Call of Wireless Development

You're about to be drafted into the mobile development army. Users' and organizations' needs are outflanking IT's defenses. Why is this happening? And when the battle comes to your regiment, will you be armed for success?


here's no lack of innovation going on in the wireless area and the technology is maturing fast. But still, the vast majority of developers have avoided taking the wireless plunge. That's going to change, and soon. But why? What's really going to drag developers off the wires?


Wireless devices are proliferating. Not so long ago the term "wireless devices" meant cellular phones. That's no longer true. Wireless devices are becoming ubiquitous, and the lines are blurring between traditional wireless devices, such as cell phones, and newer wireless devices such as wireless enabled-PDA, smart phones, tablets, and even PDA-phone hybrids (see sidebar "Inspecting the Ranks"). Beyond that, advances in wireless network technology are turning traditionally wired devices such as laptops into full-fledged wireless clients. These advances herald a new use for wireless devices—corporate applications—and that means the number of developers tasked with creating wireless applications is increasing sharply.

As devices become more capable, approaching that of traditional desktop systems, developers and IT departments will be squeezed between users' and organizations' needs. Both will apply pressure, albeit for different reasons, in an effort to acquire applications that improve employees' mobility, make using remote applications more convenient, and improve customer contact and response time, all of which will work to increase sales and cut costs. Gartner research director Theresa Lanowitz says that wireless applications are "going to creep to the top of the priority list, for the enterprise, for the IT department, and they'll make up more than 85 percent of the new development effort in the next three to five years."

That's a bold statement. To understand why Lanowitz feels such a radical shift will occur, you need to understand the driving forces behind the push to wireless.

Who Wants Wireless Applications?
Why do users want wireless applications? Well, how many wireless devices do you use? Two? Three? Five? At the Gartner Wireless Access and Mobile Business Solutions conference in Los Angeles last month, the average among attendees seemed to be three, although a few claimed to have up to seven devices. Even the low end is probably far higher than average, but you can assume that most mobile professionals have a cell phone, and some also have PDAs or RIM Blackberries; therefore, the number of wireless devices among this group probably alreadyoutnumbers PCs.


These numbers clearly point out that mobile professionals not only want remote connectivity—after all, up to this point, they've probably bought the hardware themselves—but also that they're rapidly becoming dependent on working in an always-on-always-connected manner. Users may initially buy devices because they want to be able to make personal phone calls from their car or because they like the interactivity and entertainment value of wireless messaging and gaming, or because they want to send and receive emails or manage their contacts while not in the office; but as the devices grow in functionality (and that growth is happening exceedingly fast) users increasingly expect to be able to take advantage of a greater subset of their devices' capabilities. And rightly so.

Why do organizationswant wireless devices? Providing wireless access to applications solves many corporate mobility problems, saving employees' time, improving real-time access to information, and, ultimately, directly affecting the bottom line.

Employees and corporate managers know that the devices they use now to make phone calls manage their contacts and play Tetris could very easily be used to check their corporate email, update their calendars, and access many of the applications they use every day at work—at least, theoretically it would be easy. The hard part—designing and developing new applications suitable for these devices or adding wireless connectivity to existing applications—is where you come in.

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