Category Archives: Android

Android is ousting Windows from its last mobile bastion

Microsoft’s coming end of support for Windows Embedded is forcing the industry to look elsewhere

They’re everywhere, but you rarely notice them: the millions of handheld devices — often equipped with scanners — that delivery people, store clerks, and hospital staff responders often carry to manage inventory, process orders, and verify delivery.

Nearly all of these supply chain-oriented devices run a version of the Windows Embedded operating system, which has had many names over the last decade. But within five years, the companies using these devices will have ditched Windows and moved to Android in one of the biggest industry platform shifts ever.

Before Windows Embedded came to dominate these specialty handheld devices in the mid-2000s, they ran a variety of operating systems. The best-known was from Symbol Technology, which been bought and sold several times over the years, and whose remains form the core of a company called Zebra Technologies.

Why the industry is looking to ditch Windows Embedded
The industry coalesced around Windows Embedded CE version 6, which debuted in 2006 and represents 99 percent of all embedded devices’ operating system, says Mark Kirstein, senior director of enterprise software at Zebra, the company that makes most of those specialty devices.

But the industry largely skipped 2011’s Windows Embedded 7 and almost totally skipped 2012’s Windows Embedded 8, Kirstein says. He expects the same to be true for the new Windows IoT, a variant of Windows 10.

Version 8 and later aren’t compatible with Version 7 and earlier, so developers have to create their devices’ apps from scratch, he notes. Plus, Windows Embedded 8 didn’t support the wide range of screen sizes and form factors that specialty devices need.

Kirstein says Windows Embedded 8 was merely a version of Windows Phone 8 minus the Xbox functionality and not designed for specialty devices such as for supply chain use. “It doesn’t have the enterprise management capabilities or staging/provisioning services — and therefore was never adopted. It did not meet the requirements of Kohl’s, Walmart, Target, Home Depot, and so on,” he says.

Microsoft is ending extended support in 2017 for Windows Embedded 6 — the one that powers 99 percent of current devices — and in 2020 for Windows Embedded 7. Thus, developers and device makers need to rewrite their apps for a new OS — whether from Microsoft or someone else — before then to be safe. Many devices are used in regulated environments where support is required.

The transition won’t be cheap or fast: “It took Home Depot four years to migrate 28 apps,” Kirstein recalls. Enterprises like Home Depot, Carrefour, Whirlpool, Jepco, Tropicana Resort and Casino, and the U.S. Air Force typically have dozens of specialty-device apps, and some of those apps hit 1 million lines of code. The transition can cost as much as $10 million, he says. With that level of investment, enterprises need to get really comfortable with the platform they adopt.

The shift from a focus on enterprises to consumers in Windows Embedded 8, and a similar focus in the Windows 10-based Windows IoT, has prompted the industry to look elsewhere. As Kirstein recalls:

Home Depot was the largest planned deployment of WE8HH [Windows Embedded 8 for Handhelds] , but never happened. I was driving/owning the Microsoft/MSI relationship during this announcement.

The end result is Microsoft never delivered the OS on time when they committed to it, nor did it include the key requirements that were expected or needed for enterprise devices. Chipset vendors stopped supporting it, and then we were told we had to wait for Windows 10 to come out. Home Depot moved on, as well as dozens of other large enterprises.

Where did they move? “They are all rolling out Android now,” Kirstein says.
Why Android attracts embedded device developers

More precisely, most are moving to the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), the part of Android that does not include the Google Mobility Services (GMS) component set. GMS is where Google makes money from Android by using apps like Gmail, Chrome, Google Drive, Google Now, and Hangouts to gather user data, then sells to advertisers and others.

Using AOSP provides developers several advantages, Kirstein notes.

One is the large base of Android developers to draw from. The apps that run on these specialty devices come from companies like Zebra, supply-chain software development firms, and the enterprises themselves that use the apps. Few developers know how to write for Windows Phone 8 or Windows 10 — Microsoft’s latest offerings — but many know how to write for Android.

Another advantage is that developers can modify the Android OS to add capabilities and restrictions not supported in the core OS. For example, a developer can modify AOSP to set the time zone or enable Bluetooth connections without user interaction, to reduce the human errors that could mess up workflow or data consistency in logistics operations across a region.

But developers can’t remove capabilities, so any Android app will run on these AOSP devices without modification. Why does that matter for a specialty device? Kristen uses the example of Best Buy, which has special product-scanning and inventory-checking handsets for employees. Those handsets can also run the Best Buy app and the Red Laser price-checking app, as well as access the Internet. Thus, employees can see what their customers see on their smartphones and use the same apps to comparison-shop.

That example made a lot of sense to me, given a recent experience I had at a Best Buy store where the app showed a lower price than the store’s internal system. I let the clerk see the price on my iPhone to prove I was owed a discount; it would have been better if she could have done so herself — then flagged the inventory management system — on her own company device.

There’s also some feeling in the industry that AOSP is a safer bet than Windows Embedded, Kirstein notes. He says that at its height, in 2007, Windows Embedded accounted for 0.01 percent of Microsoft’s profit. Then-CEO “Steve Ballmer couldn’t afford to pay attention to it,” he jokes. That’s why Microsoft let the enterprise focus end.

Plus, Microsoft no longer needs to use Windows Embedded as a “socket to the enterprise back end,” Kirstein argues — its decision to make its apps and services available to iOS and Android (often before Windows Phone) has let all devices feed into the core Office 365 and Azure services that now power Microsoft’s revenues.

But Google makes no money on AOSP, so why is that a safer bet for enterprises’ specialty devices? Kirstein believes Google needs AOSP to create a big enough ecosystem to funnel people into the GMS part of Android; he calls it a flanking strategy and notes Google uses it in noncore products to drive users to the data-oriented services where it does make lots of money. “Google needs the broad adoption to ensure enough people who pay for the whole thing.”

Of course, Google isn’t developing AOSP in any significant way; it has pivoted to GMS, where the money is. But the open source nature of AOSP helps it remain viable, Kirstein says: “Many large companies are so invested that they would carry the ball.”

If GMS becomes required, the industry will adapt, Kirstein says — as long as “Google can better address the corporate-liable approach.” Google has taken some steps in that direction recently, such as through its Android for Work technology.

Beyond Android, Tizen might await

Of course, should AOSP wither away like Windows Embedded has, the industry will have to shift again. Kirstein sees only one possible candidate: Tizen, the open source mobile operating system backed mainly by Intel and Samsung.

Tizen has flopped in consumer devices, but Samsung is a huge player in specialty electronics and devices. If it adopted Tizen, that would create a huge base to attract developers and enterprises.

Of course, Samsung has been ineffective at garnering developer interest in its own platforms. It’s a long-shot bet that would rely more on Google forcing the supply chain industry to find a new platform than on Tizen itself.

There’s also no evidence that Samsung has an interest in Tizen for supply-chain-oriented devices. Although the company recently launched an Internet of things business (who hasn’t?), it did not respond to InfoWorld’s inquiry as to whether it saw Tizen as part of that effort. Translation: That’s often how Samsung says no without saying no.


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The best office apps for Android

Which office package provides the best productivity experience on Android? We put the leading contenders to the test

Getting serious about mobile productivity

We live in an increasingly mobile world — and while many of us spend our days working on traditional desktops or laptops, we also frequently find ourselves on the road and relying on tablets or smartphones to stay connected and get work done.

Where do you turn when it’s time for serious productivity on an Android device? The Google Play Store boasts several popular office suite options; at a glance, they all look fairly comparable. But don’t be fooled: All Android office apps are not created equal.

I spent some time testing the five most noteworthy Android office suites to see where they shine and where they fall short. I looked at how each app handles word processing, spreadsheet editing, and presentation editing — both in terms of the features each app offers and regarding user interface and experience. I took both tablet and smartphone performance into consideration.

Click through for a detailed analysis; by the time you’re done, you’ll have a crystal-clear idea of which Android office suite is right for you.

(Note: Microsoft’s Office Mobile app is not included in this comparison, as the company does not currently allow the app to be installed on Android tablets.)

Best Android word processor: OfficeSuite 8 Premium
Mobile Systems’ OfficeSuite 8 Premium offers desktop-class word processing that no competitor comes close to matching. The UI is clean, easy to use, and intelligently designed to expand to a tablet-optimized setup. Its robust set of editing tools is organized into easily accessible on-screen tabs on a tablet (and condensed into drop-down menus on a phone). OfficeSuite 8 Premium provides practically everything you need, from basic formatting to advanced table creation and manipulation utilities. You can insert images, shapes, and freehand drawings; add and view comments; track, accept, and reject changes; spell-check; and calculate word counts. There’s even a native PDF markup utility, PDF export, and the ability to print to a cloud-connected printer.

OfficeSuite 8 Premium works with locally stored Word-formatted files and connects directly to cloud accounts, enabling you to view and edit documents without having to download or manually sync your work.

Purchasing OfficeSuite 8 Premium is another matter. Search the Play Store, and you’ll find three offerings from Mobile Systems: a free app, OfficeSuite 8 + PDF Converter; a $14.99 app, OfficeSuite 8 Pro + PDF; and another free app, OfficeSuite 8 Pro (Trial). The company also offers a dizzying array of add-ons that range in price from free to $20.

The version reviewed here — and the one most business users will want — is accessible only by downloading the free OfficeSuite 8 + PDF Converter app and following the link on the app’s main screen to upgrade to Premium, which requires a one-time $19.99 in-app purchase that unlocks all possible options, giving you the most fully featured setup, no further purchases required.

App: OfficeSuite 8 Premium
Price: $19.99 (via in-app upgrade)
Developer: Mobile Systems

Runner-up Android word processor: Google Docs
Google’s mobile editing suite has come a long way, thanks largely to its integration of Quickoffice, which Google acquired in 2012. With the help of Quickoffice technology, the Google Docs word processor has matured into a usable tool for folks with basic editing needs.

Docs is nowhere near as robust as OfficeSuite 8 Premium, but if you rely mainly on Google’s cloud storage or want to do simple on-the-go writing or editing, it’s light, free, and decent enough to get the job done, whether you’re targeting locally stored files saved in standard Word formats or files stored within Docs in Google’s proprietary format.

Docs’ clean, minimalist interface follows Google’s Material Design motif, making it pleasant to use. It offers basic formatting (fonts, lists, alignment) and tools for inserting and manipulating images and tables. The app’s spell-check function is limited to identifying misspelled words by underlining them within the text; there’s no way to perform a manual search or to receive proper spelling suggestions.

Google Docs’ greatest strength is in its cross-device synchronization and collaboration potential: With cloud-based documents, the app syncs changes instantly and automatically as you work. You can work on a document simultaneously from your phone, tablet, or computer, and the edits and additions show up simultaneously on all devices. You can also invite other users into the real-time editing process and keep in contact with them via in-document commenting.

App: Google Docs
Price: Free
Developer: Google

The rest of the Android word processors
Infraware’s Polaris Office is a decent word processor held back by pesky UI quirks and an off-putting sales approach. The app was clearly created for smartphones; as a result, it delivers a subpar tablet experience with basic commands tucked away and features like table creation stuffed into short windows that require awkward scrolling to see all the content. Polaris also requires you to create an account before using the app and pushes its $40-a-year membership fee to gain access to a few extras and the company’s superfluous cloud storage service.

Kingsoft’s free WPS Mobile Office (formerly Kingsoft Office) has a decent UI but is slow to open files and makes it difficult to find documents stored on your device. I also found it somewhat buggy and inconsistent: When attempting to edit existing Word (.docx) documents, for instance, I often couldn’t get the virtual keyboard to load, rendering the app useless. (I experienced this on multiple devices, so it wasn’t specific to any one phone or tablet.)

DataViz’s Docs to Go (formerly Documents to Go) has a dated, inefficient UI, with basic commands buried behind layers of pop-up menus and a design reminiscent of Android’s 2010 Gingerbread era. While it offers a reasonable set of features, it lacks functionality like image insertion and spell check; also, it’s difficult to find and open locally stored documents. It also requires a $14.99 Premium Key to remove ads peppered throughout the program and to gain access to any cloud storage capabilities.

Best Android spreadsheet editor: OfficeSuite 8 Premium
With its outstanding user interface and comprehensive range of features, OfficeSuite 8 Premium stands out above the rest in the realm of spreadsheets. Like its word processor, the app’s spreadsheet editor is clean, easy to use, and fully adaptive to the tablet form.

It’s fully featured, too, with all the mathematical functions you’d expect organized into intuitive categories and easily accessible via a prominent dedicated on-screen button. Other commands are broken down into standard top-of-screen tabs on a tablet or are condensed into a drop-down menu on a smartphone.

With advanced formatting options to multiple sheet support, wireless printing, and PDF exporting, there’s little lacking in this well-rounded setup. And as mentioned above, OfficeSuite offers a large list of cloud storage options that you can connect with to keep your work synced across multiple devices.

App: OfficeSuite 8 Premium
Price: $19.99 (via in-app upgrade)
Developer: Mobile Systems

Runner-up Android spreadsheet editor: Polaris Office
Polaris Office still suffers from a subpar, non-tablet-optimized UI, but after OfficeSuite Premium 8, it’s the next best option.

Design aside, the Polaris Office spreadsheet editor offers a commendable set of features, including support for multiple sheets and easy access to a full array of mathematical functions. The touch targets are bewilderingly small, which is frustrating for a device that’s controlled by fingers, but most options you’d want are all there, even if not ideally presented or easily accessible.

Be warned that the editor has a quirk: You sometimes have to switch from “view” mode to “edit” mode before you can make changes to a sheet — not entirely apparent when you first open a file. Be ready to be annoyed by the required account creation and subsequent attempts to get you to sign up for an unnecessary paid annual subscription.

Quite honestly, the free version of OfficeSuite would be a preferable alternative for most users; despite its feature limitations compared to the app’s Premium configuration, it still provides a better overall experience than Polaris or any of its competitors. If that doesn’t fit the bill for you, Polaris Office is a distant second that might do the trick.

App: Polaris Office
Price: Free (with optional annual subscription)
Developer: Infraware

The rest of the Android spreadsheet editors
Google Sheets (part of the Google Docs package) lacks too many features to be usable for anything beyond the most basic viewing or tweaking of a simple spreadsheet. The app has a Function command for standard calculations, but it’s hidden and appears in the lower-right corner of the screen inconsistently, rendering it useless most of the time. You can’t sort cells or insert images, and its editing interface adapts poorly to tablets. Its only saving grace is integrated cloud syncing and multiuser/multidevice collaboration.

WPS Mobile Office is similarly mediocre: It’s slow to open files, and its Function command — a vital component of spreadsheet work — is hidden in the middle of an “Insert” menu. On the plus side, it has an impressive range of features and doesn’t seem to suffer from the keyboard bug present in its word-processing counterpart.

Docs to Go is barely in the race. Its embarrassingly dated UI makes no attempt to take advantage of the tablet form. Every command is buried behind multiple layers of pop-up menus, all of which are accessible only via an awkward hamburger icon at the top-right of the screen. The app’s Function command doesn’t even offer descriptions of what the options do — only Excel-style lingo like “ABS,” “ACOS,” and “COUNTIF.” During my testing, the app failed to open some perfectly valid Excel (.xlsx) files I used across all the programs as samples.

Best Android presentation editor: OfficeSuite 8 Premium
OfficeSuite 8 Premium’s intuitive, tablet-optimized UI makes it easy to edit and create presentations on the go. Yet again, it’s the best-in-class contender by a long shot. (Are you starting to sense a pattern here?)

OfficeSuite offers loads of options for making slides look professional, including a variety of templates and a huge selection of slick transitions. It has tools for inserting images, text boxes, shapes, and freehand drawings into your slides, and it supports presenter notes and offers utilities for quickly duplicating or reordering slides. You can export to PDF and print to a cloud-connected printer easily.

If you’re serious about mobile presentation editing, OfficeSuite 8 Premium is the only app you should even consider.

App: OfficeSuite 8 Premium
Price: $19.99 (via in-app upgrade)
Developer: Mobile Systems

Runner-up Android presentation editor: Polaris Office
If it weren’t for the existence of OfficeSuite, Polaris’s presentation editor would look pretty good. The app offers basic templates to get your slides started; they’re far less polished and professional-looking than OfficeSuite’s, but they get the job done.

Refreshingly, the app makes an effort to take advantage of the tablet form in this domain, providing a split view with a rundown of your slides on the left and the current slide in a large panel alongside it. (On a phone, that rundown panel moves to the bottom of the screen and becomes collapsible.)

With Polaris, you can insert images, shapes, tablets, charts, symbols, and text boxes into slides, and drag-and-drop to reorder any slides you’ve created. It offers no way to duplicate an existing slide, however, nor does it sport any transitions to give your presentation pizazz. It also lacks presenter notes.

Most people would get a better overall experience from even the free version of OfficeSuite, but if you want a second option, Polaris is the one.

App: Polaris Office
Price: Free (with optional annual subscription)
Developer: Infraware

The rest of the Android presentation editors
Google Slides (part of the Google Docs package) is bare-bones: You can do basic text editing and formatting, and that’s about it. The app does offer predefined arrangements for text box placement — and includes the ability to view and edit presenter notes — but with no ability to insert images or slide backgrounds and no templates or transitions, it’s impossible to create a presentation that looks like it came from this decade.

WPS Mobile Office is similarly basic, though with a few extra flourishes: The app allows you to insert images, shapes, tables, and charts in addition to plain ol’ text. Like Google Slides, it lacks templates, transitions, and any other advanced tools and isn’t going to create anything that looks polished or professional.

Last but not least, Docs to Go — as you’re probably expecting by this point — borders on unusable. The app’s UI is dated and clunky, and the editor offers practically no tools for modern presentation creation. You can’t insert images or transitions; even basic formatting tools are sparse. Don’t waste your time looking at this app.

Putting it all together
The results are clear: OfficeSuite 8 Premium is by far the best overall office suite on Android today. From its excellent UI to its commendable feature set, the app is in a league of its own. At $19.99, the full version isn’t cheap, but you get what you pay for, which is the best mobile office experience with next to no compromises. The less fully featured OfficeSuite 8 Pro ($9.99) is a worthy one-step-down alternative, as is the basic, ad-supported free version of the main OfficeSuite app.

If basic on-the-go word processing is all you require — and you work primarily with Google services — Google’s free Google Docs may be good enough. The spreadsheet and presentation editors are far less functional, but depending on your needs, they might suffice.

Polaris Office is adequate but unremarkable. The basic program is free, so if you want more functionality than Google’s suite but don’t want to pay for OfficeSuite — or use OfficeSuite’s lower-priced or free offerings — it could be worth considering. But you’ll get a significantly less powerful program and less pleasant overall user experience than what OfficeSuite provides.

WPS Mobile Office is a small but significant step behind, while Docs to Go is far too flawed to be taken seriously as a viable option.

With that, you’re officially armed with all the necessary knowledge to make your decision. Grab the mobile office suite that best suits your needs — and be productive wherever you may go.


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MBaaS shoot-out: 5 clouds for building mobile apps

MBaaS (mobile back end as a service) is a fairly new product category that has largely supplanted MEAPs (mobile enterprise application platforms). Over the past two months, I’ve closely examined five MBaaS systems: AnyPresence, Appcelerator, FeedHenry, Kinvey, and Parse. In this article, I’ll wrap up the series by summarizing all five systems, surveying their common ground and key differences, and drawing conclusions.

The general idea of MBaaS is that mobile apps need common services that can be shared among apps instead of being custom developed for each. Mobile apps using MBaaS follow a loosely coupled distributed architecture, and MBaaS systems themselves typically have more distributed architectures than MEAP systems, which tended to be unified middleware servers.
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MBaaS systems typically provide push notifications, file storage and sharing, integration with social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, location services, messaging and chat functions, user management, the ability to run business logic, and usage analysis tools. Enterprise-oriented MBaaS systems also provide integration with existing applications and databases.

Back ends don’t exist in isolation, so MBaaS systems provide some level of mobile client support. This ranges from exposing REST APIs to all comers to providing app generation for iOS, Android, some flavors of JavaScript, and perhaps other mobile platforms.

In addition, back ends need to be customized and programmed, so MBaaS systems provide a combination of online and desktop development environments. Finally, back-end services are intended to be in continuous operation, so they need a level of application monitoring and error logging in addition to usage analysis. Monitoring and analytics might be provided directly by the MBaaS vendor or through integration with a third-party service.

For extra credit, MBaaS systems can generate mobile SDKs. This is most useful when a vendor is exposing its services to partners doing mobile app development. In addition, MBaaS systems can support offline operation of their mobile apps and offline/online database synchronization. MBaaS systems may provide their own mobile device management or integrate with an MDM vendor. MBaaS systems may also support device-specific services where appropriate, such as iBeacon on iOS devices.
Commonalities and differentiators

In the course of reviewing FeedHenry, Kinvey, Appcelerator, Parse, and AnyPresence, certain capabilities and implementations became very familiar. For example, all five MBaaS products provide storage using MongoDB, an open source NoSQL document database that stores JSON objects. All of these products provide a data design UI for their MongoDB data store, and these UIs all look similar. It wouldn’t surprise me if the UIs were all based on the same MongoDB sample code.

All five MBaaS systems are available in a multitenant cloud. All have online documentation. All provide push notification and user authentication APIs. All support native iOS and Android apps at some level, and all have some way for developers to implement custom server logic.

The differentiators between these products are telling. For example, their support for integration with enterprise applications and databases ranges from the basic ability to call external REST interfaces that return JSON to deep integrations with common applications and databases. The time required for a developer to implement a given enterprise integration with an MBaaS ranges from days down to minutes, depending on how much of the work a given MBaaS vendor has already done for a specific integration.

Some MBaaS systems are available on-premise, and some are available in private clouds. Some can be hosted in compliance with HIPAA, PCI, FIPS, and EU data security standards. Some have their own testing capabilities, and some offer cloud builds of mobile apps.

Some support HTML5 and hybrid apps. Some compile JavaScript to native device code. Some support PhoneGap, some support Apache Cordova, and some avoid both wrappers for hybrid apps in favor of other solutions, such as generating native apps.

Some run their back ends on Node.js, some on Rails, and some on unspecified platforms. Some support BlackBerry, Windows Phone 8, Windows 8, or Unity clients.

Some have hosted app and back-end IDEs in their cloud, some provide multiplatform desktop IDEs, and some have desktop command-line interfaces for cloud control. Some support multiple popular JavaScript frameworks, such as Backbone and Angular, and some use their own JavaScript frameworks, which may be adaptations of specific open source frameworks.
MBaaS five ways

As we’ll see, the different MBaaS vendors have targeted slightly different markets and made slightly different technical choices. Nevertheless, they have a high degree of overlap and commonality.

The goal of AnyPresence is not only to help enterprises build back ends for their mobile apps. AnyPresence combines app building, back-end services, and an API gateway.

AnyPresence has an online designer that generates back-end code, mobile app code, and even customized mobile API code. All the generated code can be downloaded, edited, and run on compatible platforms. To cite one of AnyPresence’s favorite customer examples, MasterCard has used AnyPresence to enable partners to easily build mobile apps against MasterCard’s Open
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AnyPresence generates app UIs (or starter kits, if you wish) for jQuery, Android (XML layout), and iOS (storyboard), and it generates app SDKs for Java, Android, HTML5, Windows Phone, Xamarin, and iOS. The design environment refers to the generated JavaScript/HTML5 SDK as “jQuery.” In fact, AnyPresence actually generates CoffeeScript that uses the Underscore, Backbone, and jQuery libraries.

AnyPresence generates back-end servers for Ruby on Rails. In the future it will also generate Node.js back ends, which will be a good development. The AnyPresence environment can generate deployments to Heroku (usually for a Rails back end) to Amazon S3 (usually for HTML5 apps) to native iOS and Android apps with or without Apperian security. You aren’t limited by AnyPresence’s deployment choices, however. The generated code can always be downloaded and deployed elsewhere, assuming you have compatible deployment environments.

The AnyPresence design environment exists online and runs in most browsers. The design environment has a dashboard; a settings screen; screens to create and monitor environments, deployments, and builds; screens to generate and deploy apps, back ends, and SDKs; screens to add and manage data sources and data objects; screens for authorization, roles, and authentication strategy; screens for stock and custom extensions; the interface designer; and a customizable set of themes.
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I found the selection of data sources to be good and the implementation of the provided MongoDB data store to be on par with other MBaaS systems. What sets AnyPresence apart is the way the data model integrates throughout the design environment and into all the generated code.

The place you add most monitoring integrations, such as Airbrake and New Relic, is hidden deep in the Deployments/Add-ons tab. Naturally, monitoring is dependent on the runtime environment, and AnyPresence is designed to be environment-agnostic. For Splunk integration, you have to enable syslog output on the back end to push all the logs/events into Splunk systems for reporting and monitoring.

Appcelerator Titanium has been a player in the mobile development space for several years, with a local development environment that compiles JavaScript to native code for iOS, Android, and other targets. With the release of Appcelerator Studio 3.3 and Appcelerator Platform 2.0 in July 2014, the company added an MBaaS with about 25 APIs, Node.js support, and online analytics. In addition, Appcelerator has published interfaces to its MBaaS that developers can add to apps built with native SDKs, although it hasn’t yet supported native SDKs in its own Appcelerator Studio IDE.

Developers can see a quick overview of app installs, sessions, API calls, and crashes in the online Appcelerator dashboard overview page. Other parts of the dashboard allow for cloud management, testing, performance metrics, and analytics.

The Cloud panel shows usage, exposes data management, displays API request and push notification logs, lists custom services, and allows for cloud configuration. The testing panel uses SOASTA’s TouchTest as an integrated mobile testing solution. The performance panel allows you to monitor your apps and troubleshoot performance, crashes, and exceptions. It also lets you view crash trends, integrate with bug tracking systems, and configure your monitoring.

Appcelerator Platform’s dashboard overview for the demo Field Service application. The crashes were deliberately coded into the app.

Developers can define and view Appcelerator analytics online, as well as optionally publish selected analytics to the Appcelerator Insights app for the iPad, typically for use by a manager.

Appcelerator Platform allows you to build custom back-end services using Studio and Appcelerator’s Node.ACS MVC (model-view-controller) framework. Node.ACS combines Node.js and Express with interfaces to Appcelerator Cloud Services. Appcelerator also allows you to run plain Node.js applications on its cloud platform.

Appcelerator has multiple frameworks on the client side, and multiple API types for the cloud. At the base level on the client, Appcelerator offers the Titanium SDK, which provides an interface between JavaScript and native services. At a higher level, Appcelerator offers the Alloy Framework, which is based on the model-view-controller architecture and contains built-in support for Backbone and Underscore. When you create a new client app from Studio, you typically generate one that uses Alloy.

The Alloy framework handles some of what you need for offline/online data synchronization, but not all of it. Appcelerator lacks preconfigured, vetted enterprise data connectors other than for SAP and However, because it can run Node modules on its Node.ACS service, developers can draw on modules from the Node.js community. Appcelerator’s only commercial sync server is currently limited to a Microsoft Dynamics connector.

FeedHenry, with a focus on supporting enterprise line-of-business apps, is a Node.js-based, enterprise-oriented MBaaS and mobile application platform. It has a wide array of integrations, both online and offline development options, collaborative app building, and a drag-and-drop form builder. FeedHenry was spun off from the Irish Research Institute in 2010 and acquired by Red Hat in September 2014.

FeedHenry claims to have global infrastructure on all major clouds and support for on-premise, back-end deployment. The FeedHenry online environment integrates directly with GitHub for collaboration and version control.

FeedHenry 3 supports native SDKs for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone 8, along with hybrid apps using Apache Cordova, HTML5 mobile Web apps, and Sencha, Xamarin, and Appcelerator Titanium. The way the JavaScript interface to the FeedHenry cloud works, it would be hard to find a JavaScript framework that isn’t compatible.

When writing for FeedHenry in JavaScript, you include the feedhenry.js script in your HTML, initialize it with $fh.init, then call cloud functions from the $fh namespace. FeedHenry can import existing apps from a Zip file or Git repository.

FeedHenry includes an online editor, supporting offline tools, and a command-line interface. Here we see the mobile app, with a code editor in the middle of the screen and a preview at right. You can configure the back-end service in another pane of the online interface.

The FeedHenry build service, which functions along the same lines as Adobe PhoneGap Build, can turn an HTML5 app into binaries for Android, BlackBerry, iPhone, iPad, iOS (universal), and Windows Phone. Each binary can connect to one of your MBaaS instances, and it can be built for development, distribution, release, or debugging, depending on the platform.

FeedHenry has a drag-and-drop form builder with a good assortment of templates to use as starting points. However, at the time I reviewed FeedHenry, it had few full-fledged app templates.

FeedHenry lists more than 50 Node.js plug-ins in its curated modules list. That list includes interfaces to most major relational and NoSQL databases. Should the curated list not include what you seek, the much larger list of Node community modules is likely to yield a match.

FeedHenry runs on all major public and private clouds, and on a wide range of IaaS and PaaS infrastructures. FeedHenry operates a HIPAA-compliant cloud and live clusters in both Europe and North America.

Kinvey bills itself as a complete mobile and Web app platform. It has extensive client support, integrates with the major enterprise databases, and offers a back-end data store, a file store, push notifications, mobile analytics, iBeacon support, and the ability to run custom code on the back end.

Kinvey sells to IT as its primary customer because it provides an enterprise platform, not for one or two apps but for tens or hundreds of apps for an enterprise. However, it also engages and supports the developer community app by app.

Kinvey supports native, hybrid, and HTML5 apps. It has native toolkit support for iOS and Android. In addition, it supports Angular, Backbone, Node.js, Apache Cordova/PhoneGap, and Appcelerator Titanium, and it provides a REST API. Kinvey integrates with apps through libraries and API calls, and expects you to edit your app locally.

Kinvey cloud code is written in JavaScript, although not Node.js, and edited online. In addition to using standard JavaScript and external services, it can use Kinvey APIs for logging, accessing collections, sending push notifications, sending email, validating requests, date and time functions, asynchronous processing, rendering a Mustache template, and obtaining the back-end context. Cloud code can live in hook processing functions and custom endpoints. Cloud code is versioned internally in Kinvey.

Kinvey supports deploying on almost any cloud, including private clouds. That includes deploying to HIPAA-compliant facilities and to facilities located entirely in the EU. Even Kinvey’s multitenant cloud is considered secure enough for most apps, as the company does end-to-end encryption, and customers that use data links can keep their data in databases behind their own firewalls. If you have a Google App Engine server, you can link it to your Kinvey back end.

Authentication can be done internally by Kinvey or through LDAP or Active Directory in the business and enterprise versions. Kinvey also supports Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn identities through OAuth.

Kinvey data links connect to Kinvey’s MongoDB data store. In most cases, customers forward the CRUD requests directly to the real back end, but some cache the data in MongoDB. Kinvey currently has data links for Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Salesforce CRM, Oracle Database, and Microsoft SQL Server.

Kinvey has an automated control setup for offline data synchronization, in which data is automatically pulled from the cache if the application is offline. If the application is online, data is pulled from the network and stored in the cache. Using automated control, your Kinvey app will attempt to synchronize any locally stored data when the device goes online again, but if the server data has also changed you’ll have a conflict. You can set your conflict resolution policy to clientAlwaysWins, serverAlwaysWins, or a custom conflict resolution function.

Parse was once the poster child for MBaaS, and despite its acquisition by Facebook, it is still a viable, low-friction mobile back end for limited-volume consumer apps. On the plus side, it is well-documented, with good native client support and a JavaScript client SDK based on Backbone. Parse also runs JavaScript code on the back end, which offers developers the option of an all-JavaScript application stack. On the minus side, Parse is missing big pieces necessary for business apps, such as data integration, offline operation, and online/offline synchronization. At the same time, its pricing seems geared to lower-volume apps.

Parse supports native mobile, JavaScript, and desktop apps. On the mobile side, it has native support for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone 8. On the desktop, it has support for OS X and Windows 8 (.Net), as well as Unity games.

Parse lets you run JavaScript code in the cloud using the same Parse JavaScript SDK as the client. Rather than have you routinely edit your cloud code in a browser, as FeedHenry and Kinvey do, Parse supplies a command-line tool for managing code in Parse Cloud and allows you to use your favorite JavaScript editor on your computer. However, you can view your code and your logs in your dashboard. The command-line tool is an app scaffold generator, app deployment tool, log printer, app rollback tool, and self-updater.

The Parse Cloud data browser lets you import bulk data; add classes, columns, and rows; and view filtered data.

Parse can send Push notifications to iOS, Android, Windows 8, and Windows Phone 8. In each case, you’ll have to provision your push server, then provide the certificate or credentials to your app.

Parse has a fairly complete user system predefined, including the usual sign-up mechanism with email verification and a provision for anonymous users. A system of ACLs controls what data individual users can read and write. For more complicated use cases, Parse supports a hierarchy of roles, with a separate layer of ACLs for the roles.

Parse has nine integrations with other services. Three of them — Mailgun, Mandrill, and SendGrid — are for sending email. Stripe is for charging credit cards. Twilio sends SMS and voice messages. Third-party modules are available to integrate Parse with Cloudinary, Instagram, and Paymill.

As far as I can tell, implementing enterprise data integration with Parse requires writing a REST Web service wrapper for the data source and a JavaScript module for Parse. I haven’t seen any options for hosting Parse other than using its own multitenant cloud.

As you can see from the scores listed at the bottom of the first page of this article, AnyPresence earned the highest marks: a combined score of 9.1 and an Editor’s Choice badge. I feel that AnyPresence offers more value than the others for enterprises that need to integrate their existing systems with mobile applications, as it generates customized SDKs, along with apps and back ends, from your model and design. Costing a “low six figures” per year, however, it won’t fit into every company’s budget.

FeedHenry, which earned an overall score of 8.6, is also an enterprise-oriented MBaaS. FeedHenry has a nice integration with Git for collaboration and version control, and I like its hosted app build service, its Node.js back end and curated Node modules list, and its drag-and-drop form designer. Like AnyPresence, FeedHenry may not fit into every company’s budget.

Kinvey, with an overall product score of 8.3, engages as a company with the developer community, as well as with corporate IT departments. I like the way Kinvey does enterprise data links through its internal NoSQL database API, and I appreciate the way it has structured its hooks for back-end business logic.

I criticized Appcelerator for its apparent lack of effort to curate data integration modules, and considered that its high price relative to FeedHenry and Kinvey may diminish its overall value, giving it a net score of 7.8. However, Appcelerator as a company only recently pivoted into the MBaaS space. It may yet fill in its product’s missing functionality and adjust its pricing to be more competitive.

Finally, I consider Parse suitable for building and operating back ends for consumer-facing mobile apps, and not business apps, given its lack of any data connectors other than a basic REST client. My other major reservation about Parse is its usage-based pricing, which lets a developer get started easily but could potentially bite an underfunded startup that suddenly had a viral hit on its hands without a real business model. Its score is 7.6, the lowest in this group.

That isn’t to say you shouldn’t use Parse. It’s a viable, low-friction way to get started with back end as a service. However, if you choose to use it, go in with your eyes open, monitor your costs, and be prepared to throttle or eliminate service calls that are running up bills you can’t afford.

For business apps, AnyPresence and FeedHenry lead the pack in both ease and capabilities. Kinvey is not far behind, and its pricing is more favorable for smaller businesses.

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Microsoft Office 365 lands in US iPhone App Store

Office Mobile is only available for iPhone, iPad users can use Office Web Apps for now, Microsoft said

Microsoft released a version of its office suite for iPhones in the U.S. that is only available for Office 365 subscribers.

Microsoft released the Microsoft Office Mobile suite for iPhones Friday. The software is compatible with iPhone 4, 4S and 5, and the iPod Touch (5th generation) and requires iOS 6.1 or later, according to the iTunes release notes.

Mobile Office allows users to access, view and edit Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel and Microsoft PowerPoint documents, according to the release notes. Because charts, animations and SmartArt graphics and shapes are supported, documents look like their originals, Microsoft said, adding that formatting and content remain intact when edits are made.

iPhone users can access Office documents that are stored on SkyDrive, SkyDrive Pro and Sharepoint.

“Office Mobile is cloud-connected. The documents you’ve recently viewed on your computer are readily available on your phone in the recent documents panel,” Microsoft said. It is also possible to view and edit documents attached to email settings.

Documents can also be edited offline. Changes will be saved online when the device reconnects with the network, Microsoft said.

When opening a Word document from SkyDrive or SkyDrive Pro on an iPhone, “it automatically resumes at the place where you left off reading, even if you last viewed the document on your PC or tablet.”

While the app is free, an Office 365 subscription is required to use it, Microsoft said. The subscription version, called Office 365 Home Premium, costs US$99.99 per household annually. The app will also work with a 365 trial account, Microsoft said, adding that using the Office Mobile app for Windows Phone does not require a subscription.

The app is only available in the U.S. for now. “Office Mobile for iPhone will be available in 29 languages covering 135 markets.A The international rollout will occur over approximately 4-5 days,” Microsoft said in a blog post.

The app is not available in an optimized version for the iPad. “Like all iPhone apps, Office Mobile can work on iPad, either small or ‘2X’ scaled up, but you’ll have a more satisfying experience using Office Web Apps,” Microsoft said.

Office for iPad is reportedly scheduled for release in October 2014.


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Hottest Android news and rumors for week ending Jan. 18

All quiet on the Galaxy S IV front, but plenty going on elsewhere.After a CES week during which the Android world was all a-twitter over a device that wasn’t even revealed at the show, the previously hyperactive Galaxy S IV rumor mill has quieted down, mostly. It’s likely to only be a momentary respite, however, as the device is heavily tipped to be released at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next month.

MORE OFFBEAT: The dumbest products of CES 2013

Perhaps the biggest news on the most hotly anticipated Android device so far in 2013 is that an ostensible screenshot of mobile benchmarking results has been published by a Japanese-language blog), which points out that the 1.8GHz CPU speed matches up with Samsung’s Exynos 5 Octa eight-core SoC. (More on the Octa later.)

Given the source, it’s important to remember that this should be taken with many grains of salt – even the inclusion of the point about the Exynos 5 Octa could easily be read as a little too circumstantially convenient. (Like Manti Te’o confessing to Lance Armstrong on Oprah or something.)

Still, I can’t deny that the pairing of Samsung’s two biggest headline grabbing topics makes sense. We’ll see what happens (probably) at MWC at the end of February.

Speaking of the Exynos 5 Octa, Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs is unsurprisingly not a fan, according to a report from Unwired View. Essentially, he told reporters in China yesterday, Samsung is just covering for the fact that the four high-performance Cortex-A15 cores drain a ton of power by jamming four slower but less demanding Cortex-A7s into the SoC alongside them, and attempting to reap a publicity windfall by boasting about their eight-core processor.

While Jacobs is correct in noting that all eight of the Octa’s cores won’t operate at the same time, I’m not sure why he’s saying this means the SoC is going to suck. OK, so it’s not a “true” eight-core SoC, but the idea of using the low-power cores for light work and switching to the A15s for more serious tasks still makes sense, and could well back up Samsung’s claims of improved battery life and better performance. Seems like fairly ineffectual spin to me.

The Nexus 4 official wireless charger has appeared on the site of Norwegian store Dustin Home, providing a slick pad on which to charge the Nexus 4 that you still probably don’t have. Presumably, this means that it’ll become available soon in the U.S., but this is a product release story involving the phrase “Nexus 4,” so who really knows?

(Hat tip: Android Central)
But wait! The Nexus 4’s availability problems will soon be a thing of the past, according to an LG executive who spoke to Wednesday. LG France director of mobile communication Cathy Robin says production of the Nexus 4 is due to increase by mid-February, which could ease the supply crunch. As of this writing, both the 8GB and 16GB models are still sold out on the Play Store.

(Hat tip: r/Android)
Android Police has what it says is an internal Sprint document, which asserts that the company plans to offer a $400 device credit to new family plan customers who port at least one line in from a competitor. The deal’s supposedly set to roll out tomorrow, so you don’t have long to wait, if you’re interested.

All quiet on the Galaxy S IV front, but plenty going on elsewhere.

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The Android apps can change your life

Having an Android smart phone can be a great thing for you but if you have not installed best android apps then you will not be able to utilize your phone to the fullest. There are plenty of great apps available for the Android phones and all you have to do is to find some which can make your life easier and make sure that you are always professionally and socially active. With a great range of great apps, the Android Market is surely the place where you can get everything you need. Find some apps that will change your life and enjoy your Android phone even more.
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If you are a social person then the social android apps can surely interest you the most. There are few great apps available which take socializing to a new height. There are apps for Facebook, Twitter, blogging and many other social sites where you can have your account and get connected to thousands of people. The instant posting options and updates will make social networking on the go easier and more enjoyable for you. You can share status and images instantly right from your Android phone when using this apps. Things with social networking can never go easier than this.

The phone security and maintenance android apps are very important for you too. There are many security apps available for your Android phones which will guard your smart phone from all kinds of outside attacks like virus or hacking. This way you can always be sure that you are safe when online from your mobile phone. The maintenance apps are required for a proper use of Android phones too. There are apps which control your battery usages and increase the life of your phone’s battery. These apps automatically maintain everything when you keep them running in the background. These apps are required for better performance of your Android smart phone.

The phone security and maintenance android apps are very important for you too. There are many security apps available for your Android phones which will guard your smart phone from all kinds of outside attacks like virus or hacking. This way you can always be sure that you are safe when online from your mobile phone. The maintenance apps are required for a proper use of Android phones too. There are apps which control your battery usages and increase the life of your phone’s battery. These apps automatically maintain everything when you keep them running in the background. These apps are required for better performance of your Android smart phone.

Working with your Android phone is really easy too as there are plenty of remote access apps available in the Android market which you can install in your Android phone and access your office computer remotely. This is undoubtedly the best way to manage your works from home or when you are on a vacation. Your productivity will never decreased no matter where you are as long as you have these remote access apps for your Android phone. Just download the android apps for remote accessing computers and enjoy.

If you are a social person then the social android apps can surely interest you the most. There are few great apps available which take socializing to a new height.

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Review: Android-based Wi-Fi stumblers

Four easy-to-use wireless management and security tools that cost under $2

Wi-Fi stumblers are handy when checking for channel usage, signal strength, security status, and detecting rogue access points, in situations where enterprise-level tools aren’t necessary. We recently reviewed stumblers for your PC or laptop. Here’s a look at a few Wi-Fi stumblers for your Android smartphone or tablet, which makes it even more convenient for quick and simple wireless checks. Read a story version of this.

Meraki WiFi Stumbler (Free)
This is one of the most basic Wi-Fi stumblers, but can still be useful for simple channel and signal checks for access points in the 2.4GHz band. Once you open it, you’ll find a small bar graph showing how many access points are detected per channel (1 – 11 only), which can quickly help you identify possible channel overlapping. It also displays in numerical values how many SSIDs and access points are detected. You’ll also find a SSID list, displaying the channel(s), signal (RSSI in dB), security type, and any detected access point vendor.

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Meraki WiFi Stumbler
On the bottom of the app you’ll find a convenient Email Results button. Tap it and it will automatically summarize the scan results in the body of a message and also attach a CSV document, which includes the relevant details and the GPS coordinates as well.

Wifi Analyzer (Free)
This is a more advanced Wi-Fi stumbler, giving you multiple ways to view the access point details. In addition to the common 2.4-GHz band, it also supports the 5-GHz band on supported devices. Though by default it’s AD-supported, you can actually hide the ADs for a week at a time via the Settings.

Though by default it only shows WPA or WPA2, you can make it show full security methods via the Settings. Then you can distinguish between the PSK and EAP modes of WPA/WPA2 and the TKIP and CCMP encryption types. If you’re connected to an access point, you’ll also see the details (SSID, MAC, and IP) on top of the AP list screen.

The time graph screen shows a line graph displaying the access point signals over time in negative dBm values, which you can also filter to show only selected access points. The channel rating screen gives you recommendations on channel usage, basically showing which ones have the least signals. The signal meter screen can help you find a selected access point with a visual signal meter and sound effect.

Wifi Tracker ($1.56)
Designed for larger wireless surveys, audits, or war drives, this stumbler logs the Wi-Fi details and GPS location info for you to export a variety of ways. It can produce and send a KML file for Google Earth viewing, CVS file for Kismet or spreadsheet viewing, and can even upload real-time to or your own web server.

WLANController WiFi Scanner ($0.99)
This Wi-Fi stumbler is designed for larger wireless surveys, audits, war drives, and basic rogue AP detection of the 2.4 GHz and (on supported devices) 5 GHz bands. The app serves as a sensor/client for a cloud-based distributed Wi-Fi scanning solution, so no results are shown on the device itself. You must sign up for their free or paid service to view the scan results online.

Android IceCream Sandwich 4.0 Features

Android IceCream Sandwich 4.0 aka ICS is finally announced and its packed with features. Galaxy Nexus is the flagship device that would run ICS.
ICS basically brings Android 3.x Honeycomb features to phones. Lets go through the features quickly:

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30minutes Video demo of IceCream Sandwich

Android 4.0 ICS Features:

Updated Settings:  Revamped Settings screen organization. Items are arranged much better now.
Disabling Apps:  ICS adds the ability to disable an app outright. Don’t like an app that came preinstalled? Disable it! Its resources never run and its launcher icon is gone until you re-enable it.
Improved Download Manager.
Support for Encryption for Phones:  Honeycomb added full-device encryption, but ICS brings it to phones.
Audio Effects:  There’s a new audio effects API. Better media players coming!
New Font, Roboto: Droid Sans font is now gone for good.

OnScreen buttons, no hardware buttons: You dont need any hardware buttons for running ICS device, all the buttons: back, home are on-screen. Like Honeycomb, the buttons go invisible, smartly, to let you enjoy full screen video.
Resizable Widgets, Folders, Favorites: Dragging apps and contacts on top of each other create re-arrangeable folders. Users can stow their favorite apps, links, and folders into a new Favorites tray for quick and easy access
Screenshots: Hold down the power button and the volume down button to take a screenshot.
Notifications Revamped: Music controls have been integrated, and notifications can be dismissed by swiping
Improved Copy & Paste
Face Unlock
Enhanced Talk-to-Text: It’s more accurate.
Browser Tabs, offline: Upto 16 browser tabs. You can also save web pages offline
Gmail: Gmail now supports two-line previews, and sports a new context-sensitive action bar at the bottom of the screen. Gesture support allows you to swipe left and right between emails.
Contacts – People App: Contacts get re-vamped by showing contacts from Google+, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Data Usage: You can now look at the details of what app is doing what with your data usage. Best part: The ability to limit data usage to a certain threshold.
Camera: Image stabilization, improved autofocus, and integration with other apps for sending photos or instant upload to Google+, built-in face detection, panorama and time lapse modes, and on-the-fly photo retouching and enhancements.
Android Beam: An secure NFC-powered sharing platform that lets users share nearly any kind of content, save for applications (in that case, a link to the Market is sent instead)