Developing for Mobile Devices (Open and Proprietary)

Blane Warrene

Developing for mobile devices may seem pretty straightforward using slimmed down pages. However, as handhelds grow in sophistication and in user base, the demand for more complex web content and even web applications is falling to the web developer.

As I explore this new arena myself, I am starting from a foundation of understanding how the most basic web content executes and appears on these varied devices. I of course have my own PDA, though, as well all know, there is a vast universe of devices as smart phones emerge – and too boot, the platforms range from Palm to Windows Mobile to Linux and other proprietary systems (think Blackberry).

The coming year is also bringing new levels of complexity as these embedded operating systems mature. For instance the Blackberry Enterprise server (4.0) will now interact with Pocket PC devices, and supports XML forms to collect and send data to handhelds as well as into back end systems. Additionally, Windows Mobile 2003 brings new and improved VPN support to smart mobile phones as well as traditional PDA’s running the OS. Thus, intranet and extranet apps may become available and demand may rise from users who can interact from these devices.

When a mobile users leaves the laptop behind and utilizes a handheld, the interface requirements dramatically change, yet, the web applications and databases still need to get the data and business continues to occur.

To get started, rather than tearing into code optimization, alternative protocols or languages (that of course is important and we will get to that in later posts and columns) – let’s identify all of the mobile device emulators and developer resources for setting up your workstations to build in this growing frontier.

In no particular order, by platform:


The Blackberry platform is proprietary, yet one of the more popular in the corporate world. Central to this popularity are the conectors for Lotus Domino and Microsoft Exchange Servers. More importantly for developers, offline forms can be developed to allow Blackberry users to submit data that ultimately can land in core web applications and sql databases powering business web sites.

There are several development tools for this platform, including:

  • Emulators for the desktop
  • A Java Development Environment
  • API access documentation

All of these are found online.

In addition, many third-party developer tools and a rich graphical toolset exist.

The Open Source Mobile Device

There is a burgeoning open source community for mobile devices running Linux. Some of the biggest companies in the mobile business are supporting the movement.

One of the central open source handheld platforms is Symbian, a company jointly owned by Psion, Nokia, Sony Ericcson and Motorola, among others, has many developer resources. Some Symbian devices can be found here.

There is also a fairly extensive list of handhelds and smart phones running Linux at LinuxDevices. A good resource for existing apps for Linux-based devices can be found here.

Palm Devices

Probably the most well known handheld, it was just surpassed for the first time in sales by PocketPC’s in this latest quarter. However, it remains a core and large share of the handhelds attached to belts and in briefcases.

The Palm Emulator and excellent developer resources can be found.

Pocket PC and Windows Mobile

The 800 pound gorilla in any category of software, Microsoft has a rich developer network for the mobile platform. This includes Windows Mobile PDA and Smart Phone emulators, and expansive toolkits, SDK’s and documentation.

Open source finds its ways onto the closed platforms in many ways as well. Aside from the Linux-based open source solutions found above, there are several outlets for open source software for proprietary hardware and OS — these are just two:

While many web developers are not rushing to build traditional software for their customers who are exploring mobile usage, web applications are surely demanding more. As business increasingly spans borders and users/customers/partners need access to secured web solutions, developing for the mobile sphere is surely another channel for revenue.