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With a world full of mobile device types and platforms, app developers may be forgiven their stress levels. To help bring those levels down a notch or two, this week Alpha Software is releasing the latest version of its Alpha Anywhere app development environment, which now has code-free wizards for building HTML5 mobile apps using responsive app design.

Genie, Container

HTML5 mobile apps have the advantage of being able to run across platforms without modification, as opposed to native apps, which need to be created for each targeted platform.

Responsive Web design has allowed developers to build websites once that can display properly on different sized screens, but responsive app design is a relative newcomer. It is potentially more complex because apps involve the performance of functions. Websites are mostly read-only, with a few interactive elements or data-receiving forms.

With the updated Alpha Anywhere, which originally launched in June, developers utilize one code base to create apps that are designed for multiple displays, including various kinds of smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops.

A new Responsive Layout Genie provides a wizard so that developers can forego coding and simply pick rules and associated actions of the interface controls, including conditional ones that might depend on the specific functions of a given device. Additionally, a new Absolute Layout Container offers drag-and-drop functionality for re-creating paper forms for a screen.

The Responsive Layout Genie in the updated Alpha Anywhere

The legendary Dan Bricklin is the co-creator of the world’s first spreadsheet program, VisiCalc and also the CTO of Burlington, Massachusetts-based Alpha Software. He told responsive app design is so new “we’re still learning the conventions.” In fact, he said, there isn’t even agreement on how standard functions should operate on native apps for a given device, much less how they should act across different devices.

Standard Behavior

To prompt discussion of what the conventions should be, he has set up a website, Responsive App Design.

In the previous version of Alpha Anywhere — which doesn’t use version numbers —, responsive app design could also have been implemented, but Bricklin noted “you would have had to hand code it” instead of using a menu-driven wizard.

He added that other differentiators for the current version of Alpha Anywhere, compared to competing HTML5 mobile app development environments, include the ability to customize the app beyond the wizard by adding Javascript, as well as the ability to work with a unified view of both the front- and back-ends of the app.