Liferay's Balanced Stance on Mobility #LRNAS2012

4 minute read
Josette Rigsby avatar

Liferay’s annual North American Symposium is underway in SanFrancisco. Liferay, like almost every other technology vendor, is focusingheavily on mobility. I had the opportunity to sit down with Mike Han, Liferay’sVP of Operations, to discuss exactly how.

Everybody Needs Mobility, Nobody Knows Why

According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), at the end of 2011 there were 6 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide. In case you haven’t been counting, that’s 87 percent of the global population.

Today’s workers expect convenient access to information and constant connectivity -- no matter what device they elect to use. Customers and partners are pretty much the same.

This demand is driving businesses to want mobility. They really, really want it. They have to have it. However, according to Han, most organizations don’t really know why the need it, much less how to make decisions about mobile web versus native versus hybrid applications.

However, that’s not stopping from companies from investing in platforms that support mobile or demanding the features from vendors. As a platform vendor, Liferay can’t afford to play favorites.

Liferay’s Mobile Strategy

According to Han, the company tries to be ubiquitous as possible when it comes to its support for mobile technology. Liferay’s mobile strategy revolves around three separate segments:

  • Mobile web
  • Native apps
  • Hybrid apps

Liferay’s mobile web strategy is really focused on ensuring customers can create portal applications that display appropriately on mobile devices. That means concepts like responsive design and other topics that keep user interface designers awake at night.

Support for the mobile web might seem straightforward. Throw up a little HTML; write a little CSS. You’re good to go. Right? Wrong. Mobile web development is complex and filled with opportunities for controversy. Should the site leverage WebKit or embrace standards at all expenses? Should the site support HTML5; if so, which features should it support because every device browser differs in its level of support?

Learning Opportunities

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Han’s stance (he was careful to clarify it wasn’t Liferay’s official position) was, “it depends.” Han said, as an open source company, Liferay staunchly supports standards. It’s critical for the growth and success of open source. However, ultimately Liferay needs to deliver value to its customers and sometimes that means taking a step beyond standards and using something like WebKit.

Liferay’s attitude about native apps is similarly measured. The lack of standardization in the industry and huge variation across devices can make developing native apps complex, time consuming and frustrating. However, Han suggests that the benefits of native apps like faster performance and access to local hardware resources such as GPS makes going native the right choice in many cases.

Liferay is currently investing in creating several apps like their Liferay Sync product that benefit from being native. However, there are no plans at this time to go 100 percent native.

When it comes to hybrid apps, Han confessed that Liferay definitely sees the benefit of having the best of both worlds. Native features with write once run anywhere with simplicity. The problem, according to Han, is that most mobile frameworks for hybrid apps like Phone Gap don’t have the performance many companies require.

Liferay is developing its own mobile framework -- Alloy Mobile -- which should make an appearance around the second quarter of next year. Han promises the framework will be developer focused, easy to use and perhaps most importantly, support performance profiles that optimize its configuration for various usage scenarios.

Even if enterprises don’t quite understand it, mobile is here to stay. Liferay, like other companies, is working to stay ahead of the curve. The company seems to have a balanced attitude and strategy. It is embracing the fact mobile technology is constantly changing and so are business needs.