Applications designed for mobile phones are becoming more and more popular, spurred by the development of smart phones such as Apple’s iPhone. But many applications are available only on high-end devices, or on the newest models. Now a startup that launched on Monday called Skyward Mobile, based in Woburn, MA, says that it can help make the most of older, cheaper phones. The company’s developers claim that their technology, called APX, allows them to create advanced applications for a wide variety of phones, some as much as eight years old.
Many software developers only build applications for, at most, the top 40 most popular handsets on the market, says Skyward Mobile CEO Jeremy De Bonet. Handsets are so different that adapting an application to a new device can be as difficult as building the application from scratch. Different screen sizes, keyboard layouts, processing power, and capacities for memory present major challenges to any would-be developer. Many software developers hire third-party companies to adapt their software to different phones, adding to the cost and time it takes to make applications available.
To deploy an application across all the major North American operators, a developer would have to create about 100 different versions to cover different devices, says Allen Lau, CTO and cofounder of Tira Wireless, a company that specializes in helping large developers such as Yahoo adapt applications to the mobile market. On top of that, Lau says, different carriers have different requirements, so developers often have to build multiple versions of an application to support even a single popular handset.
Skyward Mobile says that, by using APX, the company doesn’t have to individually convert each application to each supported handset. “If you think about the landscape of handsets as being this horribly bumpy terrain,” De Bonet says, “you can think of what we do as troweling, the way a plasterer makes a wall smooth.” When a customer downloads a Skyward Mobile application, what she’s actually downloading is a thin client layer–the file is 60 kilobytes for a java-enabled phone–which compensates for a few of the issues on the device but, most important, forms a real-time link to the company’s server. The intelligent server communicates with the client while the application runs, compensating for the rest of the device’s issues. The server might compensate for ongoing issues, such as providing information on how to play video on a device that doesn’t have a built-in system, or it might adjust for dynamic issues, such as fluctuations in available bandwidth.
De Bonet compares the APX system with that used by Web-based applications, which allow a computer running Mozilla Firefox, for example, to access games, word-processing applications, and e-mail through the single browser application installed on the hard drive.