Are desktop style mobile interfaces useful for business?

I was browsing the iTunes business apps section the other day. Two of the top ten free apps are remote desktop viewers. I asked a few of my colleagues what they thought about this and got back responses wondering why anybody would care. How often were these apps really used? Were these just cool demos and a gimmick?

I then searched the paid business apps section, and still in the top 100 apps I found several remote desktop viewing apps. So clearly people are buying these type of apps, but it’s unclear to me how useful they really are to drive a business. Perhaps they are, would love to hear your thoughts.

How many mobile platforms should you develop for?

Then I turned my attention to the top free apps which at the time of writing this blog are from UPS and FedEx. Makes a lot of sense to me, as it makes it so easy for people to get to the information they need so easily without all the hassle of having to navigate a desktop UI. Certainly, a well thought out strategy at UPS and FedEx to engage with their customers in a whole new way!

Of course they have had to develop a custom application for the iPhone. So that means for every mobile OS, a new version of an application will have to be written. One for Android, Blackberry, Symbian, Windows mobile etc. That also means acquiring or renting the skills to write and maintain these applications. There are of course advantages to doing this but it is at a cost. Additionally, security on hostile consumer owned mobile devices is going to either limit what you can do with data or severely complicate the development and management efforts impacting the TCO.

Think differently to reduce mobile development platform costs

So if you have a number of applications, especially if they are developed in-house, that you want to make available to users on mobile devices, or perhaps you are a software vendor looking to make your applications more accessible in a mobile world, are there other options? Citrix has been investing to enable application delivery from mobile devices. Our iPhone client has been available for several months, our Android client has just been released as a tech preview, check out Adam Jacques blog, and our Blackberry client is coming soon.

My belief is that remote desktop access will look ugly on a mobile form factor and it’s a cumbersome user experience once the wow demo factor is over. So why not re-factor your applications for the screen resolution of the mobile device you want to publish on? Not only can you re-factor the screen size, but expose only the functionality you need for the mobile use case. Just like UPS and FedEx make it simple to consume a highly task-orientated function in a format suitable for a small form factor. Why not make a small incremental investment to build a mobile UI for existing Windows applications when you already invest time in building UI’s for the desktop applications? The best thing about this is if you build a UI for your app that makes sense for the mobile use case, you can host it on XenApp infrastructure and simply publish with different screen resolutions for the various Mobile form factors and OS’s. Your data will be secure centrally and this will have the added benefit of not having to worry about learning or investing in a mobile platform development language or team. Your existing Windows app developers can easily build another UI for the iPhone or other devices.

Examples that show what can be achieved to enable mobile business

Doc Finder is a purpose-built Windows Explorer for small form factors.

App Viewer is a purpose built web browser optimized for screen area usage on small form factors accessing web apps. What I really like about it is that it’s just IE rewrapped so a lot of the complexity of building such an app is already taken care of.

At the top of this blog you can see an example of a task based medical application as opposed to a full desktop based app for the same purpose. Other examples can be seen at the CitrixCloud demo. Interested parties can register for an account and see demo apps that we have re-skined for the small form factor. Here are some of my favorite examples.

Xrays for view. Powerful for doctors on the move

App with data in columnar format which is much easier for mobile users to pan and navigate

Secure access to business data on the move

Drive more productivity with your existing apps and XenApp investments

The projected growth of the mobile device market is expected to just skyrocket for years to come. Finding ways to leverage them to securely conduct commerce is a huge opportunity IMO. As mobile devices become even more capable, in effect many of these devices can be considered to be your mobile computer for many tasks. No need to always haul around a laptop or netbook to conduct business. It’s especially eye opening for me when I see the proliferation of mobile devices in the emerging markets. During my last visit to India, everybody had a cell phone and the network coverage was better for me than in many parts of the US. There are so many simple apps that could be written in an efficient and secure way to deliver applications for so many new mobile use cases. I listened to an interview with Melinda Gates on a flight last week. She was talking about using mobile devices in Africa to remind people about important health care issues. To do innovative things like send reminders when doctors visits were due to help communities prosper. Simple, yet so powerful.

I think the opportunity to increase customer/user loyalty is enhanced if you empower them. One can even increase the frequency and type of transactions that generate revenue if you can find more opportunities to interact with your customer base anywhere on any device.

We will publish more articles to walk you through how to do this for your own apps

Look out for blogs from Steve Parry and his development team on Receivers for various platforms and keep an eye out for a development series we’re planning on best practices for developing and re-factoring existing apps for smaller form factors. Finally, if you’re interested in seeing the Receivers in action in your own environment, check out this TechTalk where Vinny Sosa and Pedro Llaguno will be talking about how to configure them.

TechTalk link is