iPad Impacts .NET Developers
Apple's new tablet PC officially emerged this month amid a roar of pre-release hype. (My ears are still ringing.) The post-launch reaction to the iPad was nearly as loud, but amidst the cheers from the true believers were the frustrated yowls of the disenthralled: "It doesn't support Flash!
No webcam? WTF?!
Apple may not have rocked the world with a device that comes off as little more than a big iPod Touch, but it's a mistake to think that nothing has changed. For one thing, Apple's tablet was born into a thriving ecosystem established to support and leverage the iPhone platform. For another, end users of that platform -- as much as they love it -- have been itching for more screen real estate.
Third-party developers appear to be champing at the bit to port their iPhone apps to something bigger. Last month Redmond magazine editor Jeffrey Schwartz reported on an Appcelerator survey that found significant "pent-up demand" among Web developers to bring their apps to the iPad. Among the 554 developers who responded to a survey, 90 percent said they intend to build an app for the iPad within the next calendar year.
What all this means for enterprise .NET developers and appdev managers is that there's probably a tablet in your future. I'm not saying it's going to be an iPad; this version of Apple's tablet lacks security and management capabilities that are essential to enterprise deployments. Currently, there's no way to remotely lock or wipe a stolen iPad, an enhancement that made the iPhone acceptable to corporate IT. There's also no support for VPNs, push email or Microsoft Exchange. And downloading applications from the AppStore is antithetical to uniform, enterprise-wide app deployment.
But it's clear that the iPad isn't just a consumer toy, and it's arriving just ahead of a wave of new, enterprise-capable tablets with similar form factors. HP's Slate device, briefly demo'd by Steve Ballmer at this year's CES, is on its way. Within the next month Fusion Garage's JooJoo Tablet PC, which originated as the TechCruch CrunchPad, should be on the market. Amazon just released an SDK for its popular Kindle e-book reader, which is a tablet of sorts, and if it attracts enough developers, may evolve. A mockup of a Google tablet was recently released to YouTube. Rumors are circulating that Acer, Asus, Dell and MSI are planning tablet releases. And somewhere out there Microsoft's Courier awaits a conference center spotlight.
Until that wave hits, .NET developers will have at least one third-party tool designed to leverage their skills for iPad app development. Just a few days after the iPad launch, Novell began promoting its MonoTouch .NET development kit for Apple's tablet.
Released last year as a .NET dev kit for the iPhone and iPod Touch, MonoTouch was the first offering from the Mono Project (http://www.mono-project.com/Main_Page) aimed at mobile software development. Mono, the open source implementation of the .NET Framework led by Novell, is a cross-platform, implementation of C# and the CLR that is binary compatible with .NET.
The latest version, MonoTouch 1.9, includes the new iPhoneOS APIs (the iPad runs a modified version of iPhoneOS 3.2) and the MonoDevelop IDE, which allows developers to write iPad apps in C#. It comes with a new project template for iPad applications, which is expected to allow developers to exploit the iPad-specific enhancements in this version of the iPhoneOS interface, including the new contextual drop-down menus, split screen app display and modal pop-overs.
What remains to be seen, of course, is how well Apple will do with its tablet. History is littered with failed tablet initiatives. But just imagine the first time an executive in your company sits down at a meeting, opens her leatherette portfolio, and starts tapping a tablet screen. The day after, it'll no longer be a matter of if your company will add tablet PCs to its technology bundle, but when.