Thousands of ingenious — and sometimes frivolous — Apple iPhone applications have inspired developers to imagine new enterprise mobile applications. Inspiration is nice. But in this challenging economic environment, enterprises need to ask themselves how the deployment of mobile applications will solve practical business problems and how they can maximize the return on investment (ROI) when developing mobile applications.

There are three broadly defined approaches that enterprises commonly used to develop mobile applications. The most straightforward are the thin client approach. The thin client uses a mobile browser to access a server-resident enterprise application. The application relies on the server’s hardware and software resources (CPU, memory, operating system, etc.).

As a benefit, many enterprises can reuse their server-based applications by simply providing mobile browser access to those applications, which requires less time than the other approaches. They can develop thin client applications that are portable across different mobile devices and browsers.

One of the challenges is that a thin client approach requires a continuously active network connection to access the application besides being user unfriendly.

The thick client approach is built on full-featured, smart phone-resident software. The application relies on the hardware and software resources of the mobile phone. The look and feel of the application are highly dependent on the mobile device software development kit (SDK).

The benefit of the thick approach is that the developer has access to the mobile device hardware via the native device APIs application and hence can take advantage of native application programming interfaces (APIs) to achieve a device-appropriate look and feel. They have a strong security and management capabilities.

Limited portability and bigger development investment are two big challenges in this case. Besides, it is programmed for a specific software/hardware platform.

The mobile middleware approach uses an abstraction layer that sits between the native mobile phone hardware/software and the enterprise application. This approach improves application portability because the middleware APIs support a broad set of mobile hardware and software environments.

One of the greatest benefits of using a mobile middleware system is the ability to port applications to many environments. They too have a strong security and management capabilities. Some platforms provide built-in mobile messaging applications also.

Describing the use cases before developing the application, defining metrics for success, carefully identifying which applications must be mobilized, integrating security and management up front, thinking about compliance regulations and adhering to standards are some of the tips outlined in this series, for the enterprises to maximize their mobile application development ROI

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