The IBM Apple MobileFirst Strategy

Apple & iOS programming trainingYou may have seen some of the marketing material surrounding the IBM / Apple MobileFirst for iOS initiative. On the face of it, it’s a suite of powerful applications which takes IBM’s back-end experience and combines it with the user-interface and mobility of the Apple iOS platform. In this post, I’m taking a look a little deeper into what MobileFirst is all about from a developers perspective.

Where it all Started

A good starting point is to look at where the technology has come from. Until recently, the IBM MobileFirst platform was known as WorkLight. IBM described Worklight as enabling “the development of rich multiplatform applications”. On first sight, I made the assumption that this was yet another attempt to deliver a platform for developing native applications for multiple devices from a single code base. It is not!

In fact, Worklight (I’d better call it MobileFirst from here in) is a much more intelligent approach to the problem. IBM have rightly accepted that the device operating system creators have already produced excellent API’s for the development of the GUI portions of mobile applications and the existing hybrid (HTML + JavaScript) techniques provide a cross-platform GUI solution. The role of MobileFirst is to provide techniques and APIs for communication with server-side capabilities from mobile applications written either as native (Android, iOS, Windows Phone) or hybrid mobile applications.

It is after all the server-side where IBM excels. MobileFirst simplifies the integration of server-side capabilities such as Big Data into a mobile application. At the heart of MobileFirst lie Adapters: a mechanism for connecting mobile applications to back-end services in a uniform manner. Adapters are provided for:

  • HTTP
  • SQL
  • Cast Iron
  • JMS
Mobile First Strategy
MobileFirst Adapter Architecture

How Adapters Move MobileFirst to the Front of the Line

Adapters are components which run within the MobileFirst server and provide connection to enterprise systems and data. They are defined using a combination of XML configuration files and server-side JavaScript. Communication between the client device and the MobileFirst adapters is tightly controlled by the MobileFirst management capabilities. It is the management of this communication which makes the MobileFirst strategy stand out from the crowd.

While the basic functionality of the adapters (connecting mobile apps to enterprise systems) is very useful, it is entirely possible to create a mobile application which makes these connections without the adapter support. Doing so however introduces all sorts of potential security issues as those enterprise systems are then directly connected to mobile devices with all of their much publicised problems. Providing a controlled connection to the adapters allows strict authentication and authorization to be applied before allowing connection to the back-end systems. It also allows tight firewall rules to be enforced and the back-end services are only being accessed from a single server: the MobileFirst server and not a potentially limitless number of individual mobile devices. The net result is that as long as the MobileFirst server maintains security, the back-end applications should be safe from attack.

My take on the IBM / Apple joint initiative is that by getting Apple to promote apps built on the MobileFirst platform, IBM have taken the first steps toward raising awareness of what appears at least to be a solid set of technologies.

If you are interested in furthering your knowledge of mobile application development, then do consider one of Learning Tree’s great courses in their Apple OS X & iOS Programming curriculum.  It includes courses on iPhone and iPad Programming, as well as new courses on Swift Programming and how to Integrate Mac OS X into the Enterprise.  For the Android folks, there is also a course on how to Develop Applications for Android Devices.

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