IBM has teamed with Xamarin in an effort to make it easier for C# developers to integrate back-end systems like databases with mobile apps.
The growing popularity of smartphones has put pressure on IT departments to make enterprise systems available on mobile devices. What Xamarin lets them do is take advantage of C# know-how to build native applications for iOS, Android, Mac and Windows, and reuse code between them.
Developers can use Xamarin's own IDE or Visual Studio to build the apps, thanks to a partnership with Microsoft. IBM has a new SDK that lets developers integrate apps with any back-end system directly from either IDE.
"This is the first time IBM has partnered with another mobile development platform company, so that's a big deal for us," said Nat Friedman, CEO and co-founder of Xamarin.
The integration uses IBM's Worklight Server, which works as a gateway between the mobile applications and the back-end system. It handles synchronization, provides data access and converts the response to a mobile-friendly format. Large file sizes aren't a problem when working on a desktop and a LAN, but can cause problems on a much slower mobile network.
"With a lot of back-end ERP systems when you make a query, you get an object back that's 2MB. So Worklight makes sure you don't get sent 2MB for every query," Friedman said.
The two companies are already working on apps with about a dozen customers, according to Friedman.
For those who don't want to use C#, IBM's Worklight portfolio also includes Studio, a development platform that can be used to create HTML5 and native applications, or a mixture of the two.
The last six months has seen IBM step up its mobile push another notch. In July, the company announced a partnership with Apple, which means IBM will develop iOS apps that integrate with its big data and analytics services and promote iPhones and iPads.
IBM and Xamarin announced the collaboration on Wednesday at Xamarin's user conference Evolve in Atlanta. At the conference, Xamarin also announced a number of new and improved tools.
Xamarin's Test Cloud -- a service that lets developers test apps on real devices -- has been upgraded with video capture and the ability to shorten tests by running them on multiple duplicate devices simultaneously. Both features are available immediately.
With Xamarin Android Player the goal is to create an hardware-accelerated emulator that outperforms what's currently available to developers.
"Our users have consistently told us the emulator that comes with Android is the most painful part of building an app. So it wasn't our fault but it was our problem," Friedman said.
Android Player is available for Mac OS X and Windows, and works with the touchscreen on devices like the Surface 3 from Microsoft. It has also been integrated with Xamarin Studio and Visual Studio. For now it's only a preview, but the tool is stable and developers can control GPS location and battery settings. An upgrade that adds the ability to simulate the back- and front-facing cameras is coming soon.
With Xamarin Insights, the company is also adding app analytics to its mobile app development platform. The initial focus is to provide an insight into application stability. It tracks all kinds of crashes and exceptions, and helps developers know in real-time what is happening with app users.
Just like Android Player, Insights is still under development and available in a preview version.
There are four versions of Xamarin's platform to choose between: Starter, Indie, Business and Enterprise.
The Business version is the most popular and costs US$999 per year for each developer and operating system. The Starter version is free, but limited in its functionality. It gives developers a taste of what Xamarin can do but restricts the size of the apps, for example.
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