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Examining Developers' Artillery

Tools for building wireless applications are getting better. Find out what tools developers have turned to in the past and how those profiles will dramatically change by 2005.


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he job ahead of creating new wireless applications and extending traditional desktop applications to mobile devices is somewhat ominous, but the good news, according to Gartner Research Analyst Theresa Lanowitz, is that the available tools are getting better.

"Tools have gotten pretty good over the past 12 months," she said. "We expect them to get better and we expect them to be more integrated."

So what are developers using to make mobile applications? Today, Lanowitz says, for PDA development overall, the vast majority of developers are using 3GL language tools, mostly C and C++. Figure 1 shows the breakdown of tools use in 2001 and predicted for 2005.



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Figure 1. PDA Software Development. Overall, PDA development today is done primarily in 3GL languages, but over the next two years, Java and .NET will split the majority of PDA development equally.

Development for cellular phones, of course, will have a significant base in Java. Gartner predicts that by 2005, about 68 percent of 700 million cell phones in use will be Java-enabled and that makes Java a natural choice, especially as the big Java IDE vendors release integrated toolkits designed for mobile app development.

"Java on the wireless phone platform is a great opportunity for the Java tool vendors—people who make virtual machines, people who make Java IDEs, management tools, full lifecycle development tools for Java—a great opportunity," said Lanowitz.

However, she advises that you not rule Microsoft out. "There may be some backlash against the availability of J2ME tools vs. the .NET tools and that may push some developers or organizations to the Microsoft platform.

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Figure 2. Pocket PC Development. Development tool use in 2001 and in 2005 (predicted) for Pocket PC applications only.

"[.NET] platform is gaining the most rapidly, and [it is] the one we expect to control the operating system platform within the corporation is the Microsoft Pocket PC. So if you want to write for the Pocket PC/PDAs as well as for phones, maybe it makes sense to use Microsoft .NET Compact Framework."

Figure 2 shows the use of tools in 2001 and in 2005 for the Pocket PC platform development.

Palm is a strong handheld platform, if for no other reason than because it was the first PDA to reach widespread end user adoption and, therefore, to this day retains 50 percent of the PDA market. Figure 3 shows development tool use for PalmOS applications, in 2001 and 2005 (predicted).

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Figure 3. Palm OS Tools. Metrowerks CodeWarrior is popular with developers of Palm applications because it goes right to the API level and is efficient with space, but as Java IDE vendors release wireless toolkits, developers will have more options that are easy to use.

Analysts are unwilling to dismiss Palm's chances at competing against the Pocket PC; instead, they put Palm's long-term viability directly in the hands of the PalmOS team.

"The big challenge for Palm is really PalmSource, because in a year's time they will have moved from version 4 to version 5 to version 6," says Ken Dulaney, vice president and research area director for Gartner. "Because of some mistakes made in the past the group at PalmSource is really trying to do some heavy catch-up work in the next year. When I've had clients tell me why they are switching away from Palm it's because they don't want to go through these changes that seem to be in front of them for the next year."

"That's not to say we don't recommend Palm; Palm has some of the richest applications," and is especially strong, he says, in education, health care, and government. "But I think we have to watch this year to see whether PalmSource is able to make it through effectively. They have a lot of changes to do and that probably is what's scaring most enterprises today."

Whatever platform you develop for, the availability of mobile-friendly IDEs is sure to get a lot better in the very near future. The next step, says Lanowitz, is to get the rest of the enterprise tool suite to catch up.

"What we're looking for now is for the software development lifecycle vendors like Rational and Telelogic to step up to the plate and to really put some more mobile functionality into the software development lifecycle tools."

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