Mobile app dev unity debated

Frameworks pitted against the Web paradigm by panelists at open source conference

Mobile software development proponents debated on Thursday the merits of framework and Web approaches to combat the fragmentation developers face when building applications for the multitude of handheld phones.

The proponents, serving on a panel at the OpenSource World conference in San Francisco, also hailed open source as a mechanism to boost software development for these devices. But they clashed over how to deal with mobile device fragmentation, in which there are several different software platforms to choose from, such as Apple iPhone, Windows Mobile, and Symbian, along with a whole host of different phones themselves.

[ Another effort to unify mobile application development, Eclipse Pulsar, is afoot at the Eclipse Foundation. ]

"I absolutely believe that a framework is the way to go," to build software that can work on multiple devices, said Adam Blum, CEO of Rhomobile, which provides the Rhodes open source framework for building applications for major smartphone operating systems.

But Fabrizio Capobianco, CEO of Funambol, which offers open source cloud services for mobile phones, countered that Web development staples like JavaScript, HTML, and CSS provide the surest path to application portability. "The only way forward to me is a Web platform," Capobianco said. An application layer will surface allowing a developer to build a mobile application based on HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, he said.

Blum shot back, "The [point] I disagree with is the idea that somehow it all becomes the Web." The Rhodes framework and the Titanium framework offered by Appcelerator, which also was represented on the panel, "both leverage the Web in major ways," Blum said.

Appcelerator CEO Jeff Haynie saw even more fragmentation on the way in the mobile space. "Personally, I believe  that [Google's] Android is going to fragment as well," Haynie said. Carriers like Android because it is open source and can add their own customizations to it, he said.

"That's the awful reality for developers," said Haynie.

Panelists were glowing on open source, though.  Open source in the mobile arena enables community development, they stressed.

"I would like to see more of Symbian and Android and other companies that want to be open source really do everything that's necessary," Blum said.

Haynie remarked on the growing ubiquity of open source. "I think this conference is probably not needed anymore," he said. Open source makes good business sense, he said.

He also stressed open source during an earlier presentation on Thursday. "It's becoming more and more [a reality] that open source will be part of the mobile platform much like it's been part of the Web platform," said Haynie.

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