In the world of the World Wide Web, developers—or even “power users” who aren’t heavy-duty developers—can create amazing things using HTML, a pinch of Python or PHP, and a dash of CSS.
Those are the thoughts of Dan Bricklin, the CTO at Alpha Software, which in June rolled out its Alpha Anywhere development platform. Bricklin knows what he’s talking about. He’s created an app called Note Taker HD for iOS: “I still support my app and watch nervously about iOS 7 to see if I have to re-release it or not. There have been glitches, but Apple seems to fix them.”
He cofounded the company that created VisiCalc, the first computer spreadsheet program that helped Apple move from a hobby computer to something businesses could use. His latest spreadsheet, SocialCalc, is used in the “One Laptop per Child” education program.
As we have seen, tablets are taking over in business and are important for data capture. So, Bricklin said, “I wanted to move into that area with an enterprise app, connecting SQL back ends and port generation to work with data capture.”
There is a growing disconnect between what businesses want and who they employ. Bricklin put it this way: “Many opportunities exist for people who want to code a lot. But that’s not what businesses have. You have to run with the people you’ve got. They can whip up incredible things with Excel macros, and with the systems that they’re used to building with, like Access. Aiming at Access developers today who want to produce mobile apps and Web apps that have real things like, you tap on something and things slide in and slide out.”
Then, compound those challenges with the need for applications to perform on mobile devices. “If you only have to build one application, it’s fine to do natively,” he said. “But if you have to crank them out, that mode—the mode to build the killer app for the app store—is not the mode to do it. The higher-level builders that let you get to the low level are really important. People have been aiming at trying to build the killer app for the consumer side of the app store… The idea that you’d be having huge data tables running SQL queries and stored procedures in support of the application, they don’t think about that because it’s business stuff, and it’s not as cool as the social stuff, but business needs it.
“If you have to do both client- and the server-side (and some apps have desktop-side: the browser), and if you’re diving into data and doing analysis, you expect the full big-screen experience with a mouse for control, and you can’t do that as well on tablets or phones,” he continued. “You might have an interface that in a pinch you can dive into the data, but in many cases it’s NOT the only interface you want to have. A salesman in the field who’s only using a tablet in the field, that’s one thing. But a sales manager who wants to analyze data from many of the salespeople wants a large dashboard-type interface more commonly seen in a browser, with a forms interface that runs in a browser, to accommodate lots of typing.”
Software providers such as Alpha know they have to accommodate mobile development as well as desktop/Web development. “If you can’t do that,” he said, “you’re not what we need today.”
David Rubinstein is editor-in-chief of SD Times.