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Monday, May 29th, 2017

Wireless Mobility

Mobile is the new desktop, and that's good for enterprise apps

Mobile is the new desktop, and that's good for enterprise apps

Android surpassed Microsoft's Windows in March to become the most popular operating system on the internet, according to figures compiled by GlobalStats, the research arm of web analytics company StatCounter.

GlobalStats found that, worldwide, Android had a 37.93 percent internet usage market share, just ahead of Windows at 37.91 percent. "This is a milestone in technology history and the end of an era," said Aodhan Cullen, StatCounter's CEO.  "It marks the end of Microsoft’s leadership worldwide of the OS market which it has held since the 1980s. It also represents a breakthrough for Android, which held just 2.4 percent of global internet usage share only five years ago."

Cullen may be overstating the significance of the findings somewhat because, allowing for a margin of error, Windows could still be top dog on the internet. But really that is beside the point, which is that mobile operating systems have come from nowhere in five years, and desktop computing in general is in relative decline.

Developing for mobile first

If mobile computing is set to dominate, is there any point in making desktop versions of enterprise applications? Shouldn't developers be thinking almost exclusively in terms of building mobile applications — albeit ones that can be accessed from a desktop machine if it's really necessary, either through a web interface or by porting some or all of the functionality of the mobile app to Windows?

In most cases that is not hard to do, and it's getting easier by the month, according to Peter Nixey, founder and CEO of email start-up Copyin.  He says tools like React Native allow developers to write native mobile apps using JavaScript that can also be turned into web apps. "The state of React Native is not quite that you can write once and run anywhere, but you can certainly write once and customize anywhere," he says. "But the quality of React Native and the JavaScript frameworks mean it doesn't matter if you want your app to run on iOS or Android or the web."

There are plenty of other tools, notably Microsoft's Xamarin and Apache Cordoba, which enable developers to build apps for iOS, Android and Windows in one go.

Now a mobile app that can also be accessed as a web app (or even as a Windows application) is a very different proposition from a classic Windows application which has been designed from the ground up to be displayed on a big screen and to be accessed using a keyboard and mouse.  So does that mean that the type of user interface that corporate desktop users should expect to see will change in the coming years? To an extent that's already happened.

UI changes ahead

For the first few years after the launch of the iPhone, Microsoft stuck to its desktop metaphor in Windows, while iOS and then Android offered something completely different.