by Andy Carroll, 20 Oct 2012
Native mobile apps are increasing in popularity and might be the right platform for you. To demonstrate some of the potential for mobile uses I have released an example app on the Google App Store. The app is fairly modest - in summary it loads a list of news articles from my website and stores the data on the phone for later review. The data in this example is not so important but you can apply the same process to your specific application which might be products, information, statistics or reports.
Lets take a look at how it works, maybe it will spark some ideas for your own situation:
First the website has an API service which provides a list of data items, in my case news articles. The website makes this data public as a feed such as RSS or in another XML format. Alternatively the data could be private with some authorization logic to enforce protection of the data over https. If the data is specific to the phone user login credentials would provide selective and personalised view of the data. Since this specific app is public and requires no personalisation or protection (its public information) the feed can also be viewed via a normal unencrypted http request.
The phone app published to the Google App Store is selected for install by the end user, hopefully you. When you load the app on your android phone the app creates a local database on the phone and the app reads the remote data from the website. This XML data is then processed and parsed then recorded into the phones database. Once the data is loaded the phone displays the list of article summaries for your selection. Selecting the article opens the details for reading in full and any links then call the usual browser software provided by the phone.
You can manually choose to refresh the data and load any new articles published since the original install via the options menu in the article list. Alternatively you can open the app preferences and enable background updates which automatically refreshed the data each day if a network connection is available.
The benefit of this approach is that articles can be loaded when connected to the network provider and viewed off-line at your leisure.
Taking the idea forward the app could introduce facilities to hide or remove articles that have already been read. Preferences could be added to filter articles of a particular topic. When the background service finds new articles alerts can be raised in the phone's main user interface to highlight arrival of the new information. This means you wouldn't need to hunt down articles and perhaps find nothing new, instead the phone acts intelligently to keep you up to date.
Banking apps are a good example of personalised data, using encrypted calls to the server with individual logins to securely display balances or alerts. Tools and utilities such as calculators, maps and reminders help make the app even more useful while you are on the road or away from the desk.
I would be keen to progress some real world mobile apps so if you would like to discuss your plans please give me a call.
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