Is there an App for that ?

This article is about how to deliver a service (aka your software) to your customers.

A brief history of software delivery

Life used to be very simple for software developers. You made some code, copied it to a disc and sent it to a customer. Next came the internet, so you could distribute code via a download. Or the website itself became the product.

Then computers started to shrink to the size of tablets, smartphone and wristwatches, with small touch operated screens, without a real keyboard and sometimes requiring your code to run on the device itself.

These days, to deliver the service to a customer we really have to support multiple distribution channels: a website usable from a variety of computers and devices, plus a native app for each of the major platforms (Android, iOS, Windows Phone). A lot of different technologies to learn!

Life for software developers isn’t that simple anymore. What are your options ?


The first route available to you is to only create a web based version of your service. Web browsers are getting more powerful every year. Giving you better control over the look and feel of your website, regardless of the size or type of device used by your customer.

But your customer will still need constant internet access to use your service. Fortunately the web browser can help us here as well. HTML 5 enabled web browsers support something called local storage and service workers, which you can use to make the customer think he/she is still connected to your service. When an internet connection becomes available again, you can sync changes. I am not saying that this is easy to do, far from it, but it’s do-able.

One thing that can make life easier is to use Opal. This means that you can run Ruby code in the webbrowser. Normally webbrowsers only run Javascript, but Opal cleverly translates your Ruby code to Javascript. This saves you having to learn Javascript.
It is also very handy to use the same language for both the front-end (webbrowser) and the back-end (webserver with Rails for instance).

TryRuby uses Ruby and Opal for everything.

Native apps

The other possible route is to go native. Create an app for every mobile platform that you want to support. Native apps give you ultimate control over the look and feel off your program. You will also have better access to the sensors built into the device (movement, position, …).

Huge drawback to this approach is that every mobile platform uses a completely different development environment and programming language. You might need to learn about Java, Objective-C, Swift, C-Sharp and others.

But you are in luck ! There are cross-platform tools available where you create you app once and distribute it to multiple mobile platforms.