It’s a given that you’d better get online if you want to reach out to your customers. With more and more people having mobile access to the internet, firms need software that can help clients to interact on the move.
Step forward web-based rich internet applications (RIAs), which are online tools that have many of the features of their desktop counterparts. The use of RIAs date back a decade but their use continues to evolve.
As analyst Gartner concludes in respect to enterprise-level adoption (see further reading, below), RIA platforms are still in a dynamic and early adopter phase of market evolution. What is certain is that the RIA market is highly competitive.
As well as the most distinct and prominent flavours, Apple pushes the use of its own software. Such divisions are inherent to the RIA market and competition is now taking a specific route.
Most RIAs are splitting into two distinct groups: client technology, where a specific app - such as Silverlight or Flex - is installed into the client; or the server-based and Ajax route, where users only need a browser and no other client requirements.
The distinction between the two approaches is such that Gartner considers Ajax and client-based RIAs as similar but separate technologies. Many firms choose to opt for the client approach - but for me, going with the client approach seems like a backwards step. It like we’re re-inventing the battle between desktop and browser apps, only this time both options are in the browser.
First, users normally need to install a specific framework that executes the RIA before an application can launch. In Java-based alternatives like Ajax, there is no installation requirement - built-in browser functionality means required components are kept server-side.
Second, the line between the desktop and the browser is blurring (see further reading). The browser is increasingly seen as the operating system, with individuals able to securely access social networking, music streaming and enterprise applications via the browser.
Take note, however, that going for development via the browser is not a standalone decision. Businesses must also consider mobile development - and must avoid relying on a specific toolset for mobile development.
Open source development frameworks like Rhodes and PhoneGap allow skilled web specialists to write once and deploy anywhere, creating mobile apps that have access to local device functions like camera, contacts and GPS.
If you want to give your software the greatest reach, make sure your web-based developments take a direction that allows you to serve your savvy customers.