Building great mobile apps has nothing to do with the language or IDE

Skip all the noise about HTML5 versus native, and get away from monolithic app design to avoid crapplications

It's kind of funny: The tech world is starting to catch up with what a bunch of us realized a long time ago. It's all about the app. I've managed to read at least 15 articles in the last week and a half about how important apps are and how you should build them. Some articles argue that you should go mobile first, others assert you should do mobile only. There are the articles that claim you should write only in HTML5, and others say you should use products like PhoneGap to hit all the different platforms with your app. It's all one gigantic mess.

Some people still think you need to be in the business of building monolithic crapplications, and others throw their hands up. In almost every case, they completely miss the point. It's not about how you make these development decisions that look awfully like the IT decisions of old. It's how you focus on enabling the user the best way possible.

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Almost all the decisions that determine how you are going to write the app that you need are secondary. The first thing you must figure out is what business need you are addressing. What is the business strategy that you are building an app to fit? How do you enable the users, whether they are the customers of your company or employees? An app should never start in IT unless the app is being built for the IT department itself. (Let's be clear: IT needs its apps, too.)

The first thing you do is meet with the business and find out what it is trying to do. The businesspeople want the app so that they can meet a business requirement. That's what you are there to do: Help them get there. But even after you've started nailing down the business requirements, you still aren't ready to build the app yet. The next step is to sit with the actual users you are trying to enable. You need to focus on what they need to do and design something that enables them to get it done.

One of the definitions of focus is "the state of maximum distinctness or clarity of such an image," while a second is "a condition in which something can be clearly apprehended or perceived." These two definitions get to the heart of the problem of building an app. You need to have the clarity of understanding the business requirement while perceiving the users' needs. Once you have this clearly defined, you are ready to start planning your app.

You can then shift your focus to building the best possible app. This mean the app you build will provide a user experience so that the users not only get their work done but can do so when they need to and where they need to. The combination of the app and the device gives your users a tool that fades into the background as they power through the task at hand.

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