Easier, faster app development for all devices

US-based app and database development software provider Embarcadero has released an app development suite that promises to allow developers to build apps that can run on most devices and desktops as a native app.

Called RAD Studio XE4, the software will allow developers to use one code base for all devices, including the iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Windows Slates and Surface Pro tablets, along with Mac OS X and Windows PC applications, with support for Android coming soon.

Embarcadero's Sydney-based senior director for the Asia Pacific and Japan region, Malcolm Groves, said the software would help overcome a common problem in app development, in which developers have a choice of either tailoring the app for individual platforms as a native app and then having to rewrite the code completely for another platform, or compromising some performance by building a platform-agnostic app using HTML5 or JavaScript.

“Everyone is thinking about mobile and as part of that they are faced with this choice: they can build an app as a native application, for example if you wanted to target iPhone and iPad, the options until now have been to use an Apple tool called Xcode,” Mr Groves said.

“That basically means that you build your application for iPhone and iPad and you've got full access to all of the capabilities of the platform – the cameras, GPS, all that sort of stuff. It also means that it performs really fantastically on that platform.

“However, if you want to target more than just the iPhone and you want to target Android as well, or PC or Mac desktops, then you have a problem because doing that native design exactly for the platform means that when you come to do your Android app, you are totally rewriting it. There's no shared code, there's no shared investment and you are essentially starting from scratch again.”

Mr Groves said that while some app developers have moved to web technologies and virtual offerings such as HTML5 or tools like Xamarin, often functionality or performance have to be sacrificed.

“If you want to use the camera, most devices have a camera so there's probably support for that, but if you want to target something like barcode readers that some devices have and some don't, then there's probably a good chance you haven't got that in your language,” he said.

“You can hit iPhone, Android and Windows by writing your platform once, but it comes at a cost because it is not compiled specifically for the platform. It doesn't run as fast.”

Queensland-based EHR and secure messaging provider Medical-Objects has been beta testing the new suite since last year, as much of its Windows applications have been built on the Delphi programming language.

Medical-Objects' CIO Jared Davison said the new product would allow the company to use the Delphi programming language on other platforms such as iOS, which wasn't possible before.

“We have been programming in other languages and using web technologies to target those other platforms,” Mr Davison said. “Delphi has some advantages over some other languages as it has become platform-neutral; for instance Microsoft .NET – it is very much a Microsoft language and it targets Microsoft systems. If you build with Apple stuff, your applications are restricted to their computers and their mobile devices.

“We have existing mobile products operating out of the Medical-Objects cloud which use web technologies and web browsers, but we have also built a lot of code over 10-plus years that is in Delphi and we now can actually reuse this investment within iOS. Rather than having to redevelop everything, we can get some acceleration in our development by being able to use the same language that we've been using for years.”

Mr Davison said that to date, Medical-Objects had released apps that allow clinicians to review pathology results or medical records, and had used web technologies to build those apps. However, many apps are simply running a web browser, and by putting more native gear in the apps, the developers can increase the performance and capabilities of these applications, he said.

“With the existing apps, basically you connect your web browser on your device and the server provides web pages that are suitable for your device. When you are using 3G networks, which are not all that fast at times, the network can degrade performance of the app, so the less data you have going through the network the better the application performance is.

“Having access to RAD Studio products provides us with something in which all the code can reside inside the memory of the device, and also data can be cached for offline mode use, rather than loaded from a web server on the internet each time. By using RAD Studio we can provide much better work efficiency to our users, who need responsive applications to assist them as they work.”

The technology will allow Medical-Objects to further develop apps for its secure messaging system and its electronic health record (EHR) software for allied health professionals and specialists, both of which are built in Delphi and use HL7. Mr Davison said apps to access this software could now potentially run on different mobile devices without having to rewrite huge amounts of code.

“We can reuse what we've already done,” he said. “We have more than 10 years' worth of programming – we don't want to be rewriting that – and a lot of it is really good stuff. Harnessing this, we will be able to offer our customers new innovative products for their mobile platforms.”

Mr Groves said that one of the frustrations for clinicians is the inability to access the many different clinical applications they use through mobile apps, simply because the app cannot access certain databases.

“If you're using Xcode to develop an iPhone application, you are pretty limited in the database you can use,” Mr Groves said. “For example, a database in a server in a hospital or a medical practice that you want to talk to from your device, you are constrained.

“One of the things that has always been the strength of RAD Studio is that we provide access to a whole bunch of other systems out of the box. There is support for 12 or 13 different databases, including DB2, Sybase, SQL Server and Oracle, as well as support for web services and cloud services. A big part of this is that you can get at pretty much anything from it, and a lot of that strength comes across in the mobile suite.”

For clinicians who these days use a desktop and a tablet during a consultation and an iPhone or smartphone while out and about, the development of apps that can perform like native apps on any of those devices will come as a relief.

“The days of thinking you can have a system totally self-contained that doesn't have to talk to the rest of the world are long gone,” Mr Groves said.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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