Enterprise mobile apps are shifting from small, narrowly task-oriented programs to larger, more complex ones. To design them well, enterprise developers can learn a lot from a surprising source: mobile games.
That's the provocative thesis of Alex Caccia, president of Marmalade, which sells a cross-platform SDK for high-performance mobile applications, ranging from games to sophisticated enterprise apps. With Marmalade, developers can design and build a native or hybrid app and then distribute it on multiple mobile operating systems.
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Caccia, during a presentation at RIM's recent BlackBerry World conference, described how mobile gaming experience can help enterprise developers. Marmalade supports the current BlackBerry PlayBook OS and has been working closely with RIM to support its next iteration, BlackBerry 10, due out later this year. A few of the games created with the tool set are "Need for Speed: Shift," "Golf Battle 3D," "Backbreaker 2 Football," and "Pro Evolution Soccer 2011."
Enterprise IT groups usually don't see the relevance of game development because they view games through a distorting set of myths, he says. Games are considered time-wasters, the enemy of business productivity, he says. And it's assumed that "when you play, you switch off your brain," Caccia says. This was, he says, almost exactly the same criticism leveled against a new literary form, the novel, nearly 300 years ago.
"Games are inherently creative," Caccia says, and cites a quote from the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung: "One of the most difficult tasks men can perform, however much others may despise it, is the invention of good games and it cannot be done by men out of touch with their instinctive selves." Games are part of what being human is, and an essential part of what humans, at all ages do. "We make games out of anything," Caccia says. "The process of game play is deeply natural."
Except, he implies, when it comes to work, and specifically when it comes to software applications for businesses. One company that intuited this was the online retailer Amazon.com. "Amazon saw very early that the responsiveness of its website was really critical to the pleasure of shopping," Caccia says. The speed of apps -- a passionate, pixel-level obsession for game developers -- goes beyond simply lower latency: It relates to engagement and pleasure.
Caccia references an observation by German poet, playwright, and philosopher Friedrich Schiller in his "Aesthetic Letters": "Man only plays when in the full meaning of the word he is a man, and he is only completely a man when he plays."