by Geoff Somner

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes

It wasn’t really our intention to move into mobile app development, but it is a very natural extension of existing web services and software systems, so when we had clients who wanted to extend their web services with mobile apps, we had to step up to the plate.

We spent a considerable time looking at the choices of technology – should we build purely native apps, or adopt one of the many emerging frameworks? How did the choices marry with the skills we already had in-house? We decided to take the framework route, so that we could develop apps that work across multiple platforms without having to write each from scratch.

After an initial foray with Cordova, which is based on HTML and Javascript web technologies with which we are very familiar, we eventually settled on Xamarin, which is based on C# (pronounced C-sharp). Xamarin has a steeper learning curve but ultimately creates native apps that utilise the full power of each platform. C# is also a familiar technology to the team and is often the technology of choice for building application programming interfaces (APIs) – which apps often have to link to in order to exchange data.

We needed to up-skill the team and made good progress with online resources, but as the workload grew, we also decided to bring on board a dedicated app developer and were extremely lucky to find Adam, who brought several years of experience across both Android and iOS app development.

App development fits very well with the Agile software development methodology which we adopted a few years ago – and are now doing rather well. We have however had to introduce a number of new systems to help manage the growing number and complexity of the projects, including Pivotal Tracker for project management, Sketch for interface design and InVision for prototype development – more learning!

Brecks Earth mobile app

This year we launched our first Xamarin app – the Brecks Earth Heritage Explorer App for our friends at Ugly Studios, which is available for Android and iOS.

SignMaster Android app

But it is the SignMaster App that we have been developing for our long-term clients Agency Express that really pushes the boundaries – the map-based app allows Agency Express’ operators to really take business management out on the road. Agency Express has around 120 operators that put up and maintain around half of all property ‘For Sale’ boards in the UK. The app we developed allows operators to view their job lists (which are already optimised into shortest routes) either on a map or as a list of cards, showing each property board that has to be erected, changed or retrieved. It also allows operators to navigate from one job to the next, mark jobs as complete and add notes and photographs if required, which immediately become available to the estate agent that requested the job. The SignMaster app is currently in beta testing and we already have two further apps in the initial development stages – an Asset Management System for a Power Station and an Appointment Management app for delegates at international travel forums.

SignMaster Android app

So what’s next? We will certainly be pushing on with mobile app development and honing our skills, but I’m sure that between the technology and our clients, there will be plenty of new challenges in the new year.

Geoff Somner

A Computer Science graduate way back when, Geoff is an experienced programmer utilising his system analysis and interface design skills to enable the team to build effective applications.

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