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January 06, 2014

Will Motorola's RhoMobile Suite Solve the Cross-Platform Support Problem for App Development Once and For All?

Developing mobile device apps for different platforms has often meant dealing with trade-offs. If you want the better performance of native code, that meant having to develop a source for each platform you supported.

Having portability meant using something like HTML5, which is OS-agnostic, but does not perform as well as native apps do. It also does not have the convenience of downloading apps through an online store and accessing them as desktop icons.

A common approach has been to develop hybrid apps which attempt to give developers the best of both worlds of HTML5 and native code. Platform-independent code could be developed in HTML5 while features specific to an OS would be developed in native code.

That’s far from an optimal solution. According to the Mobile HTML5 website, even that language is not 100 percent portable when examining a checklist of features among different platforms and browsers. You would still have to maintain multiple source code bases for the different platforms supported.

Motorola claims it has found the answer with its RhoMobile suite of development tools. Only one source code base has to be maintained to develop apps that run native code in different environments. If this claim is true, it would save development teams a lot of time and money. It also saves on hardware costs, since purchasing a different development device for each platform supported would no longer be necessary. Debugging would only have to be performed once instead of for each different OS.

This isn’t the first attempt at software portability. The C programming language was developed over 40 years ago with the idea of providing a single code base that could be built into different executables for each platform.

The realities of the PC marketplace squashed any visions of portability on that platform. Windows became the prevailing operating system and most IT departments jumped on the bandwagon. App development took advantage of proprietary Windows features, so portability was not only in low demand, it also wasn’t possible. 

In some ways nothing has changed when it comes to developing OS-agnostic code; teams seeking such a goal have to steer clear of proprietary features and using RhoMobile likely won’t change this. Choosing the right approach is going to be an analysis of whether or not portability is a worthy goal and at what expense a team is willing to pay to achieve it. The flip side to this approach will be to simply develop and support multiple code bases and take your lumps. 

Edited by Ryan Sartor

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