Gartner Inc, one of the leading information technology research and advisory companies, has defined a construct they refer to as a Multi-Channel Application Gateway (MAG). Gartner believes that utilizing MAG architecture makes development of mobile applications easy and deployable to any device.
The purpose of the MAG is to extend back-end systems for mobility and manage the interactions between the user and the infrastructure. Components include:
- Application Development Tools – development tools used to extend back-office systems to the mobile worker. These tools are designed to utilize the functions of the MAG.
- Transcoding - assists in the transformation of content into a usable form on a smaller device footprint.
- Messaging - provides a common way for applications and other modules to communicate with the mobile workforce.
- Alerts and Notification – gives users the ability to choose the channel and timing when an alert is issued.
- Synchronization Management – used to keep application data on the device consistent and parallel with the back-end.
- Compression – optimizes the use of the wireless network creating a better user experience.
- Session Management – enables users to continue with transactions in the event of an interruption (loss of coverage).
This approach is in principle is an appealing idea. The problem is that in practice it is hard to automatically morph a UI to fit the device based solely on device capabilities and context of an application. In addition, most MAGs assume that a device always have a connection. This is just unrealistic with wireless communication. Wireless communication is fragile even in ideal circumstances.Today there are three archetype application architectures used by developers
- Standalone – these are applications that run without need for a network application for example Microsoft Word. These applications may have some network awareness but it is usually relies on the OS to make network resources appear to be local.
- Connected – these are applications that are network aware and require a connection to a network resource in order to work for example the World Wide Web. These applications must be connected in order to work.
- Occasionally Connected – with mobile computers and devices application developers looked for a compromise between standalone and connected applications. This would allow for users to work even in the absences of a network connection for example Microsoft Outlook. A user can read and respond to emails even without a network connection. Once a connection is available Outlook will send out emails and retrieve new emails for the user.
MAGs typically do a reasonable job in Connected application using a devices own browser to display a web page. Only recently have MAGs started to address standalone and occasionally connected applications. However, even if a MAG supports all three application types issues still exist due to the wide range of devices being supported.
- User experience and productivity suffer due to the wide variation in device capabilities.
- Applications are written to the lowest common denominator and cannot take advantage of devices unique capabilities for example not using push data since not all devices can support the capability
- 3rd party critical applications do not work always work with MAGs for example Siebel CRM, SAP ERP, and Microsoft CRM.
Finally MAGs typically are not integrated in with existing with operational tools. This in the end defeats the objective of a unified management and control of desktop, laptop servers and mobile devices from a unified operation.