September 13 2011

Zero Source Code Mobile App Integration: Announcing RhoConnect 3.0!

Rhomobile has always been focused on providing a modern open and standards-based way to mobilize enterprise apps. The first product we offered for that was Rhodes, an open source framework which makes it easy to build native smartphone apps using your web skills.

But we also offered RhoSync, a modern mobile sync server that synchronizes data from backend applications down to the Rhodes apps on devices. We were proud that we made mobile data synchronization much easier, faster and more scalable than any of the other aging MEAP platforms that offer synchronization today.

What we learned from customers and systems integrators using RhoSync was that the biggest value of RhoSync wasn’t that it enabled synchronized offline data, it was that it made it much easier to integrate with enterprise applications. By using RhoSync and writing small “source adapter” classes that run on the RhoSync server (and sync data down to the device automatically) developers were able to remove entirely the data integration part of their smartphone app, something that developers told us was 50 to 80 percent of their application development effort.

As we have discovered this we have decided to call the next version of RhoSync RhoConnect 3.0 to properly highlight the biggest value that our customers tell us that it gives them. But RhoConnect is not just a content-free rebranding. In keeping with its core value in easing mobile app integration, the theme of RhoConnect 3.0 is “low source code integration to NO source code integration”. Zero source code integration with backend applications? How is this even possible?

Well RhoSync always featured the value proposition of “write a page or so of source adapter code and your data is integrated”. How can we possibly make it “zero source code”? RhoConnect 3.0 does this in two ways. First we are shipping source adapters for all major CRM software applications. Specifically the new RhoConnect-Adapters project includes source adapters for SalesForce, SugarCRM, Oracle CRM on Demand and Microsoft Dynamics. We provide adapters for all of the major objects: Contacts, Leads, Accounts, Tasks and Opportunities. Over time we will add adapters for other backend applications, including major field service applications as well (it’s worth mentioning that your existing RhoSync source adapters will work just fine in RhoConnect).

The second major way of performing source code integration is providing “server plugins” for popular web application development environments, such as Microsoft .NET, Java Struts and Spring MVC, and Ruby on Rails. What is a server plugin exactly? Unlike source adapters which are run on the RhoConnect server, server plugins are run in the backend application itself. This means they can only be used when you have access to modify the backend app (and of course if it is written in a supported environment). But when you can do this you have an unprecedently easy method of app integration. There is no need to write a source adapter or really write any code whatsoever. You simply configure the server plugin as a component to your backend app (for example as a gem to your Rails app). You configure your component to talk back to your RhoConnect server instance. And you provide information to your models so that they know how to query the database to supply information back to the users.

The third major new feature area of RhoConnect 3.0 is support for any smartphone app development environment or SDK. That’s right, you can get the benefits of RhoConnect without necessarily using Rhodes. Of course Rhodes is still the only framework with support for Model View Controller, the broadest device operating system support and the most device capabilities (especially industrial capabilities such as barcode, signature capture and Near Field Communications). But our core business at Rho has always been our app integration server (now RhoConnect), so we want any and all smartphone app developers to be able to benefit from it. Specifically we now support Objective-C as a development environment as well as Android Java. We even support using other smartphone frameworks that have followed Rhodes into the space, such as PhoneGap. Specifically we provide a JavaScript library that can be used from JavaScript-oriented frameworks.

We are very excited about the impending production release of RhoConnect. Currently RhoConnect is in public beta. For those interested in RhoConnect’s new capabilities, we have an enticing offer for a more formal beta as well. Specifically if you want to provide direct feedback on RhoConnect’s new capabilities: out of the box source adapters, server plugins, or alternate client libraries (Objective C, Java or JavaScript), you can write to betas@rhomobile.com. In exchange for weekly structured interaction with the team, we will provide one free year of RhoConnect licensing. Whether in the formal or public beta, please give RhoConnect a try for your mobile app integration efforts. We look forward to getting your feedback directly to me or via the Rho group.