I’m currently working on a mobile application for a local user group’s annual conference. The group is PABUG (Pennsylvania Banner User Group). Each year we hold a conference with multiple tracks, dozens of sessions, and host between 350-500 attendees over the course of two days, not bad for a small user group 🙂
Sungard Higher Education has released a Mobile Connection (MC) framework that builds on Rhomobile‘s Rhodes framework. MC gives you access to a nice GUI (Mshell) and the ability to add new functionality to your app (called mApps). You can read all about MC and Rhomobile other places in my blog.
Back to the app. The Conference App was thought up one night at the conference when we talked about the changes to sessions and having to post notices all over. Thinking it would be great to simply text attendees about changes, it continued to morph into a pretty well thought out app; listing sessions, a schedule builder, exhibit/sponsor information, presenters, social integration etc.
I’ll be posting my progress as I go through this building out new functionality explaining how I did it with Mobile Connection.
I started out with a pencil drawing – planning out what we wanted – menu options, making notes, etc. Then I did some wireframes in my favorite package – Balsamiq. The purpose of wireframes for me is to get ideas out in a format that simulates what I’m aiming for. For me, since I’m not doing this for a client, per se, I needed something to run by others to help get my ideas across. This did it, as did the pencil scribblings I did.
I pulled together a couple others here @ Messiah and we talked about the backend data collection and how it’ll all come together technically. Dorie created the database schema with all the tables and wrote a set of web screens in Grails to allow us (and others) to enter data. Bob is going to build out the session evaluation functionality. This will allow attendees to evaluate a session quickly and easily from within the app itself. No paper forms, no need to have them remember to do it on their computer when they get home, no need for Kiosks every 10 feet (although I think a few scattered around would be a good idea)
Simply the fastest and easiest way to get external data from one place into a mobile app is to use JSON formatted text. So that’s what we’ll do. I have a PHP server here that will query the data, and render it in a format the mobile app can consume, parse and render for the user. This will speed up the screen renderings and make it a simple clean system of delivering content. The issue becomes then – what happens when you loose your signal. The Holiday Inn where we have the conference is notorious for bad wireless and terrible cell service, so the app will _have to_ behave if no signal is present. What does that mean exactly ? I think that means that I might not have the absolute latest data on my phone, but I can still tick through the data I pulled last time. Yes, offline functionality. Meaning the app will have to cache the files it pulls and use those to render the screens if signal is lost. Sounds like fun.
Stay tuned as this goes from pencil and paper to downloadable app.