Developing apps across platforms: Interview with 5app

By Chris Lee

There are around a billion smartphone users across the world and, according to researchers at Nielsen, 64 per cent of users’ time is spent on apps. This provides a massive opportunity to the expanding army of developers issuing apps onto various platforms.

One of the latest additions to London’s “Silicon Roundabout” at Old Street is Bristolian company, 5app. 5app provides a software platform – the 5app factory – for creating mobile apps. It is designed primarily for businesses and other organisations that need to mobilise their business processes. Most apps do not work reliably when mobile devices are ‘sleeping’ or phone reception is intermittent but the 5app system overcomes this problem, according to the company’s chief technology officer Dr Tim King.

NMK caught up with Dr King to learn more.

Briefly introduce us to 5app

5app has developed a mobile application software development environment. Unlike competitors’ systems, 5app provides a special app called the 5app Engine for each of the targets – iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows – and the developer writes a cross-platform configuration file – a “fig” – for the Engine using an online development environment called the Factory. The Engine combined with a fig enables business software developers to build apps that will communicate reliably to back-end business systems even when reception is intermittent.

Briefly explain the app development process

The 5app Factory is a cloud-hosted software development environment that enables software developers to use standard web-programming tools, such as HTML5, CSS and Javascript to create a fig. It also allows developers to write Javascript that will run on a special server called the Interchange and this has the ability to connect to any enterprise system using a standard Application Programming Interface (API). It brings software developers the major benefit of having workflow and transactional management capabilities built into the design of mobile business applications

5app Engines are native apps that load a fig developed in the 5app Factory to create a mobile application running on the mobile device, providing a reliable two-way communication mechanism.

Are apps fairly expensive to create?

The free cloud-hosted IDE (Integrated Drive Electronics) includes on-the-fly syntax checking, standards compliance validation and integrated debugging, making development quick and easy.

Once apps are ready for deployment there is a small charge per user, which varies with the number of end users.

What should companies consider before taking the app development route as opposed to having simply a mobile-ready website?

Mobile websites are suitable for some applications, but of course, only work online. An app can be used whenever the user wishes, although interactions with an external system are often needed. The 5app engine supports this with its unique, reliable, background communication library that ensures messages are not sent twice due to communication failures. This leaves the developer free to concentrate on their design. In addition, 5app lets developers build with the web languages they already know, avoiding the need to learn new and complex programming systems such as Objective C [the language of iOS apps].

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