Mobile Apps – You Get What You Pay For

September 1, 2015

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My father always told me “Son, you get what you pay for.”

When it was time to buy my first car, I had a certain amount budgeted, but I was looking for a deal. Finding something inexpensive and pocketing the rest of my hard-earned cash seemed like the best bet. But I didn’t think long term. Not surprisingly, I found myself walking down the street at 2:00 am pondering my dad’s overlooked advice after my “best bet” broke down. That night I learned a lesson. My dad was right – you DO get what you pay for.

Today, as a CTO, I apply this advice freely and often when it comes to providing and creating technology solutions, especially in creating mobile applications. When you don’t have a large budget, the concept of a quick and inexpensive solution has a certain appeal. Why not save money where you can to spend on other projects? Screen scraper products, such as Capriza, Luquid UI, Webalo, and to some extent Catavolt, are able to create mobile applications without requiring extensive code changes. And there are certain advantages to that:

  • Mobile versions of web apps can be created in less time.
  • Runtime renderings can work across most mobile devices.
  • Implementation can be quicker when working with a pre-existing web-based application utilizing a WYSIWYG.
  • Distribution can be simpler if put through their app store containers.
  • Minor dependent upstream app changes (such as layout or cosmetics) may not require updates to the rendered versions of applications.
  • Existing role-based security can be utilized.

The best use case for these solutions is when a company has a limited budget and wants to mobilize a legacy application. But as I learned during my 2:00 am walk in the dark, you need to think long term. Utilizing a screen scraper program also means:

–        Keeping the legacy app in perpetuity.

If there is a planned retirement or sun-setting of the legacy app, then the screen scraped app existence goes “poof”. If additional complexity or functionality is needed, the existing application will need to be updated, which is often times more time and cost intensive than building something new from scratch.

And if you want to build an application from scratch, screen scrapers aren’t your answer.

–        Limiting or eliminating enhancement requests from the business.

The more functionality that is requested, the more changes that have to be done in both the upstream and downstream apps. This means double work.

The only way to have a truly customized mobile application that can be enhanced as needed is by having complete control over code, not by depending on a WYSIWYG.

–        Understanding performance implications.

Since screen scrapers are dependent on pre-existing upstream apps, they render through many handoffs at runtime. A slow and cumbersome legacy app results in an even slower experience downstream.

If there are any performance issues in legacy, using a screen scraper application is like building a house on top of sand.

–        Hoping that SAP or do not create a mobile app for the legacy app that does the same thing.

This is a big one. SAP has created an app for most processes. These already come as responsive and easily work with mobile devices with no coding – out of the box.

If you have an investment in SAP, it’s best to understand that every app coming from them moving forward will have a UI5 / Fiori footprint, making screen scrapers unnecessary.

I’ve designed and built many mobile apps – native, hybrid, and fully browser based. I personally know the process that works to produce quality mobile solutions for today’s mobile-savvy users. You could ultimately spend two-fold the amount of time and money you initially thought you saved by utilizing generated code or screen scraper products. In my honest opinion, skilled developers are the catalysts within the process that make great mobile apps a reality.

Yes – developers. God bless the developers.

They make our lives easier. Writing code is good, not bad. To me, there is no real shortcut to success. I’ve used all the tools and tricks of the trade out there – Photoshop, SMP, Open UI5, HTML5, JQuery, xCode, Java, CSS3. I’ve also utilized screen scrapers at times. What I have found is that while these have their niche, they don’t take the place of real applications produced from scratch that benefit from a true development process carried out by skilled professionals. The best apps are produced with complete control at the line level, from the source. As I’ve mentioned, when certain conditions exist, screen scrapers can be a good choice for the short term. But just remember, like my dad always said, you get what you pay for.

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