Developing mobile content: Software to master in 2014

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Nick Williams
Trainer
Acuity Training
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If the future's mobile, someone needs to build some apps. Could this be you and your business? Nick Williams gives us some tips.

Smartphones, tablets and the like are staples in a home nowadays, fuelling the constant and rapid growth in the demand for mobile-specific content. This article attempts to provide a top-level view of some of the available tools, software and frameworks that can help you either get started with or enhance your existing mobile development skills.

Usually with mobile/app development there are either those who feel comfortable deep diving into strings of code or those for whom such hardcore development is a nightmare. Luckily with the variety of tools available on the market in 2014, both parties are now catered for.

Twitter’s Bootstrap

'The most popular front-end framework for developing responsive, mobile projects first on the web' is the tagline. What makes this solution so popular is the ease of use it offers, the speed of development it creates, and its array of tools that suit almost any requirement. The Bootstrap libraries offer a large collection of blocks of code that include JavaScript. This enables you to completely customise your use of the framework to meet your development project needs. All this, without compromising what you can create. An added bonus is that the code is cross-platform compatible.

Since CSS is already built with Less, the styling aspects of design are largely taken care of. Although it is not mandatory, creating page layouts using the platform’s grids can make the work easier.

Emulators and simulators

Emulators and simulators are revered by many in the mobile development world. There are many available that are platform or mobile brand specific like the Sony Ericsson Phonegap Simulator or the Nokia Symbian Emulator. They are excellent for testing, since they let you use a web-based representation of the mobile device you are developing for.

Antenna

'...the authority on enterprise mobility, helping enterprises build and manage mobile apps.'

Antenna’s AMP (Antenna Mobility Platform) is one that has been around for a while but is still widely used for mobile development. Whilst there is a big market for new apps, there is a lot of corporate value to welcoming customers through mobile channels, which is what Antenna specialises in and what makes it a popular solution for enterprises. Although this is certainly a heavy duty platform for development; it is not as self-contained as ones like Bootstrap and still offers ‘one framework. [for] every device’ and CSS pre-processors like Less and Sass.

Kwiksher

Going down a slightly different path; Kwiksher is an Adobe Photoshop CSS plug-in that provides 'software for creative people.' It enables people to create Corona SDK storybook style apps in Photoshop compatible with iOS and Android without any coding knowledge. In 2013 they announced their new software called ‘Kut’ which is best seen as a complimentary plug-in since it is not suitable for the creation of apps, but instead used for artwork and imagery for devices. You can still use JavaScript etc. to create the apps but Kut takes care of the graphics.

ZURB Foundation

The most advanced responsive front-end framework in the world.

Responsive design is a daily part of any mobile developer’s vocabulary and this is ZURB’s primary focus. It enables rapid prototyping but the trade-off is that is has a less comprehensive array of controls that other platforms offer. It boasts fluid grids, a modular set of powerful UI tools and excellent performance. Foundation also supports a range of browsers and platforms although its CSS is not built with Less, just Sass. Due to their similarities, ZURB Foundation is often compared to Twitter’s Bootstrap but the jury still remains undecided as to which one is the best.

EmberJS

Formally known as AmberJS, EmberJS is a free and open source framework that is suitable for creating apps. At first glance Ember appears simplistic much like solutions such as Backbone. Although it operates much like a library, its focus is on building scalable desktop-like applications. It is certainly not a good choice for beginners as knowledge of coding is a must, especially the MVC code pattern. The price you pay for such a powerful framework is that installation is not as easy as some of the ‘non-coder-friendly’ solutions. It relies on additional libraries so, having jQuery and Handlebars on side is useful.

The choice of mobile development platforms are wide and varied and it can be hard to choose the ‘best’ one. Truth be told, there really is no best one, you need to judge which one is the best for your needs. Without that initial research, you could choose one that simply doesn’t do what you need it to despite it being hugely popular.

Nick Williams works for Acuity Training, who provide hands-on professional training from their two UK offices. Nick works as an assistant on the SQL training courses as well as the majority of technical/development courses.

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