Programmer picks: 7 must-try mobile dev tools

Prototyping, proof-of-concept, and cross-platform tools are generating buzz among mobile developers


Programmer picks: 7 must-try mobile dev tools

Mobile-first development is the hallmark of forward-thinking app dev organizations, so it should come as no surprise that the roster of mobile application development tools keeps growing.

Established companies like Intel and Embarcadero Technologies, as well as lesser-known players like Appscend, are continually rolling out technologies to help meet mobile developers' needs.

We checked in once again with a group of developers to hear their perspective on some of the latest mobile development tools. Here are their insights.


AppGyver features tools for rapid development, including Prototyper, for prototyping, and Steroids, for developing PhoneGapp apps.

"AppGyver offers great tools for both app development and concepting. We use AppGyver Prototyper to mock up and test new ideas within the team and with consumers," says Ari Tulla, CEO at BetterDoctor, a service that helps people find the right doctor to suit their needs. "AppGyver Steroids is our selected tool for iPhone development, and the team has been very happy with the outcome. Steroids makes it easy to develop native mobile apps with familiar Web development technologies, which is a lot easier than using fully native code. AppGyver Steroids offers the key native components today, but there are still some specific components that are still missing."


Appscend enables cross-platform development in the cloud and features application management, analytics, and push messaging. An XML markup structure, IgniteMarkup, enables application deployment from a single code base.

"Appscend is a smart company, in my view," says developer Oystein Svarod of digital marketing company Svarod Direct. Svarod has built "sketch" applications via Appscend for pitching to clients. Appscend CEO Sebastian Vaduca "has great patience in explaining the platform to a creative guy whose ambition is to put creativity and super content into the apps."

EclipseSource Tabris

Tabris is a Java toolkit for building cross-platform native mobile apps. Leveraging the Eclipse RAP (Remote Application Platform), Android and iOS apps can be written from a single code base.

Germany-based Thieme Compliance tapped Tabris to build patient education software for iOS, Android, and Windows 8. "One of our aims is to program code once for different platforms. We picked EclipseSource to develop software using Eclipse and built a Web client and desktop client based on RAP and RCP [Rich Client Platform] using the same code," says Thomas Pettinger, Thieme project manager. "Using Tabris, we have to think a little more about how to design for all three platforms, but in the end, we could use a single code base with a few small adjustments."

DreamFactory Services Platform

This open source software is intended to simplify development, providing a back end for HTML5 application development. Developers can build apps without any server-side software development, and services are delivered for NoSQL, BLOB storage, and user management. DreamFactory Services Platform can be installed on any data center or cloud computer.

Modus Createhas used DreamFactory to rebuild the back end of a corporate address book application that also leveraged the Sencha Touch platform on the front end. "We're able to quickly [deploy] an app in the cloud that had needed everyone's contact information to be updated on the fly," CEO Pat Sheridan says. Data is rendered to fit the device on which it is being displayed. "We had a really positive experience" with DreamFactory, says Sheridan.

Embarcadero RAD Studio XE4

Embarcadero RAD Studio XE4 supports development for smartphones, tablets, and PCs. Delphi and C++ development are supported, and Android support is due later this year.

TMS Software has used the tool for an iOS app that reads Microsoft Excel files. "The thing I like most is that there is a lot of backward compatibility -- at least in the nonvisual stuff. Visual stuff has to be rewritten anyway for a phone or tablet. You aren't going to use the same desktop interface," says Adrian Gallero, product manager at TMS. "My code base is quite complex, and while it kept crashing the betas up to beta 11, they've fixed all the problems I had, and I was able to port a huge code base in days."

Intel HTML5 Development Environment

Intel's HTML5 Development Environment is a cross-platform environment for developing, testing, and deploying applications on multiple device types. It is based on Web standards and was acquired by Intel when it purchased appMobi earlier this year.

"It has a lot of really good strengths. It's a very good tool," says Stephen Campbell, lead developer at Second Fiction game studio. Second Fiction has used the tool to build HTML5 and JavaScript apps. HTML5 and JavaScript code are wrapped in a container to run as a native app. "The primary thing about using HTML5 is it isn't as fast" as native code, he says. But work is being on this, he adds.

Xamarin Studio

Xamarin Studio is an IDE for streamlined, multiplatform native mobile design, development, debugging, and deployment. Music-streaming company Rdio used Xamarin Studio and Xamarin's Android and iOS developer technologies to streamline development for devices.

"We needed a way to keep the Android app and the iOS app closer together in feature parity without having big teams for both platforms," says Rdio's lead Android developer Brett Duncavage. "We have roughly about 60 percent code-sharing between Android and iOS now." The C# language is used for developing the apps. Xamarin Studio offers good code completion, debugging, and deployment capabilities, but it still needs to mature some, Duncavage says.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.