Demand is rising for mobile apps, but businesses are finding it difficult to keep pace. First, there’s a dearth of mobile developers to design, build and deploy the apps. Second, the sheer number of products wanted by both consumers and companies has outstripped the capacity of traditional development approaches. In other words: Too much demand, too little time. Last November, the research firm Gartner carved out a new class of mobile development that it saw rising to address these trends. “Traditional approaches to delivering mobile apps using conventional coding and mobile application development platform (MADP) tools demand skills that are in short supply and result in relatively long delivery times,” wrote analysts Richard Marshall, Nick Jones and Jason Wong. “Alternative, faster approaches are required for rapid delivery by a wider range of people.” The company classified such approaches as “Rapid Mobile App Development,” or “RMAD.” In practice, RMAD tools gather all the necessary mechanisms for mobile app development onto a single platform, allowing developers to tackle everything from UI creation to back-end integration in one place. “Users of these tools can come from many areas of an organization, and are not concerned with the intricate details of mobile app mechanics,” Gartner said. Theoretically, RMAD makes it possible for someone without deep development skills to create a useful app.
A Natural Evolution
“What we’re seeing now is like what we saw with website development 10 years ago,” said Derek Dodge, Vice President of Product at Snappii, a Rochester, N.H., company with a cloud-based platform that allows users to visually create mobile apps. “Early on, building a site was difficult and expensive, then tools like Dreamweaver came along. That’s happening now in mobile dev. We’re kind of like Dreamweaver. We generate native code, but you don’t have to write it.” Snappii provides a good example of an RMAD approach. Using its tools, anyone from software engineers to “citizen developers” (as Dodge calls them) can create a robust app. Snappii and other RMAD firms have created modules of functionality, along with simple approaches for putting them together. These can include products that link back to databases, provide detailed usage information, or track and report on, say, equipment inspections. Not all developers are sold on the concept. Although he can see instances where the approach could be valuable, Derek Brameyer, Lead Android Engineer for WillowTree Apps in Charlottesville, Va., notes that there are growing differences in how developers implement Android, iOS, and Windows. “It’s harder for any cross-platform solution to feel native,” he said. “With a prepackaged framework, you’re going to struggle to get apps that really hit the guidelines.” Dodge understands such points of view. “Native developers are thinking about doing specific things,” he said. “Our approach is we’ve already built a ton of functionality. You can drag and drop because we’ve invested the time upfront to save time during development.” And time is a key consideration in the RMAD equation. Dodge suggests that Snappii's tools can build “in weeks, if not days” what would take months to create by more traditional methods. That’s not an unusual pitch among RMAD companies.
That begs the question of whether such approaches can satisfy the needs of large organizations. Advocates say they can. “RMAD is really a set of capabilities, not a category,” said Sean Allen, Director of Product Strategy for OutSystems, an Atlanta-based RMAD platform provider. Many vendors are capable of meeting tech departments’ full needs, he noted, while others might be appropriate for just one or two use-cases. Snappii’s Dodge believes that “large companies” are using its platform for inventory and inspection apps, and OutSystems’ website lists brand names such as HP, Siemens and VW among its customers. Besides that, some tech leaders – IBM, Oracle and SAP among them – are offering RMAD solutions. Though RMAD does much to streamline the process, no one is arguing that the need for mobile developers is going to be reduced any time soon. And though many developers prefer the more direct approach of traditional methodologies, Allen argues that RMAD is worth paying attention to for several reasons:
- Understanding RMAD will allow you to offer your company or clients options for rapid delivery. Thus, you’ll set yourself apart.
- As technology becomes more complex, developers often spend much of their time on chores such as adding scripts. By using a platform that can automate those tasks, you’ll spend more of your time actually developing.
- Understanding the productivity gains and other high-level impacts of rapid development solutions can make you more attractive to hiring managers. They’re interested in “someone who gets that it’s not just about putting in hours of coding,” Allen said. “It’s about timely delivery.”
“People should certainly pay attention to this, but there’s a lot out there,” added Jaq Andrews, Marketing and Technology Specialist at mobile developer ZCO Corporation in Nashua, N.H. “I don’t think this is the next big wave, but it’s another tool in the toolkit that developers need to pay attention to.”