Xamarin became popular for building mobile applications because it brought the programming language C# to Android, iOS and Windows Phone apps, allowing developers to use their existing coding expertise for mobile app development.
But that isn't really what makes the Xamarin framework special.
When developers use Xamarin, they are able to share code between Android, iOS and Windows Phone while still producing native mobile apps – which means the app functions just as well as if it had been written in the specific framework for that phone, rather than a cross-platform framework.
How code sharing still creates native mobile apps
Sharing code across mobile development platforms means that you can share code between iOS, Android and Windows, rather than having to rewrite 100% new code if you wanted an app that worked on more than one operating system.
Arguably the most important thing about Xamarin, and the thing that differs most from its closest alternatives, is that the final product is the same as if you had used the native language.
For example, a photography app being used on an iPhone should ideally be using code meant for an iPhone and an iPhone camera, not something written for Android that may work on iPhone, but not make the best use of the iPhone camera's features.
In this example, Xamarin offers the opportunity to share some of the general logic behind the photography app, without recycling the unsuitable Android code. The code that cannot be shared is rewritten, which will likely be a fair chunk of it.
Xamarin doesn't require you to write generic code that detracts from a specific mobile device, it instead shares the code where possible, but not all the time.
Anything you can do while creating an iOS app with Swift (the development language used for Apple) you can also do in Xamarin.
Big changes for Xamarin mobile development
Earlier this year Xamarin was acquired by Microsoft for a reported $400million. It was then announced at the Build 2016 keynote (a developer conference) that Xamarin would be integrated into Visual Studio.
This was great news for mobile app developers. It meant you no longer needed to pay for each Xamarin account you needed to develop in each platform. If you already used Microsoft's Visual Studio, Xamarin was included, while some versions of Xamarin can be used without needing Visual Studio, too.
Is Xamarin the best choice for mobile app development?
Xamarin isn't necessarily better, but it offers benefits for cross-platform app development. This has the potential to save on coding time, enabling developers to pass cost savings to clients.
The app development company I'm using is using Xamarin for my mobile app, Is this OK?
Xamarin is definitely a reputable choice. Ask your mobile developer why they have chosen it for your specific mobile app, and they should be able to explain without technical jargon.
Are there any alternatives to Xamarin for mobile app development?
Each mobile app requirement is different, and it's too simplistic to say that all cross-platform apps should be made using Xamarin. Alternatives include PhoneGap and Ionic, though neither of these offers the same features as Xamarin. Most notably, you do not produce the equivalent of native mobile apps in the way that you do with Xamarin.
Xamarin is not necessarily any better than anything else. As Xamarin mobile developers ourselves, we don't automatically use it. It depends on the circumstances.
If you are developing only an iOS app, or only an Android app, the cross-platform aspect of Xamarin is probably not relevant. Additionally, if a developer is experienced in either or both iOS and Android development, they will likely be able to code those apps entirely separately just as quickly.
Not all businesses have a formal IT policy, and it's something worth doing. The information shared here came from the cyber crime conference I attended last week in Cambridge, held by the county's PCC. A broader overview of cyber crime in Cambridgeshire can be found in the previous blog post.
What is an IT policy?
You probably already know – a document or collection of documents that set out best practice for staff regarding cyber security, online access, emails, etc.
The aim to to stay safer by educating staff. By having an IT policy, staff should be aware of preventable issues and be able to respond quickly if something is amiss.
How important is it?
We need to do more to protect company data, according to the experts: http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/Cambridge-companies-beware-cyber-attacks/story-28609175-detail/story.html
According to Cambridgeshire Police, one local medium-sized business went bust due to the extent of a cyber crime, and many companies are victims on a smaller scale (see more in this post).
What should be in an IT policy?
Below are some things to think about:
What is the policy on storage such as USBs? Can staff bring in personal USBs and use them on a work computer?
Who and where are you buying hardware, software and services from?
Passwords Are colleagues allowed to share passwords? Are all desktops and laptops password protected? Network and remote access
Can you logon to the network externally?
Who can access your office? Employees, cleaners, visitors?
Who has access to what?
Email links and attachments
Think about a policy on clicking links, or file extensions to be aware of. For example receiving a .exe file from an unexpected source should be a red flag.
Do you keep backups and who is responsible for them?
Are laptops or towers/monitors left logged in and unattended?
When I hear two-step authentication I think of banks or Google mail logins, where you have a password and a text, or password and security key.
It is also something else just as useful – literally getting a second authorisation before committing to a payment. A common way of scamming money relies on administrative staff not getting a second authorisation after receiving an email from the boss. This is called CEO spoofing (see more on CEO spoofing in previous blog post).
The policy should also include what to do in the event of a security breach (see previous article for advice on this).
Ecommerce via a mobile phone or tablet has overtaken ecommerce via desktops and laptops for number of visits, with two thirds of all online website visits being mobile.This is a higher overall percentage than the US, Germany and India. The stat of 65% of online ecommerce being via a mobile was taken from January of this year.
The report is by Similar Web, a website analytics company. We're looking at a snapshot of findings below, relating to mobile ecommerce.
Mobile ecommerce (sometimes referred to as mcommerce) has been growing steadily over the years, with mobile versions of websites being an increasing area of investment for businesses.
As an example, for Black Friday, Similar Web said that for 25 large retailers (including Amazon, Ebay and Argos), the daily average amount of visits per site was 761,000 for desktops and just under 1.4 million for mobile devices.
Desktops still popular
While more traffic was shown to go through mobiles, shoppers spend more time per visit on desktops. In turn, they also view more pages than those looking on their smartphones.
Mobile conversion rate lower
While mobiles have proven to be massively popular for online shopping, there is one significant aspect in which it is still catching up to desktop, and that's with purchasing.
In previous research by IMRG, it showed that conversation rates on mobile, while lower than desktop, had gone up significantly year on year. The IMRG study also showed that more sales themselves (rather than traffic/visits) are through a mobile device.
So while visits and sales are higher on mobiles, the conversion rate is still lower.
The report by Similar Web shows that smartphones are at a 1.16% conversion rate, while traditional computers are at 3.65%. Interestingly the tablet, in between sizes, fares pretty well, much closer to computers at 3.22%.
WindowsA US study has revealed mobile app and website browsing habits.
The report, by the Interactive Advertising Bureau, shows how users are accessing the internet, how long they are online, and their favourite websites and apps (Facebook and Amazon!).
Mobile app popularity
The report showed that during December 2015, 65% of minutes spent online were via a mobile device (tablet or smartphone). So in terms of time spent online on devices, a significantly larger amount of time is spent on mobile devices, accessing either websites or apps.
As more businesses look to mobile app development to cater for the amount of people using their smartphones to access the internet, these stats show this is a continuing trend. Year-on-year, comparing the month of December, there was also an increase on the amount of unique hits with a 7% increase for mobile and a 5% increase for smartphones.
Mobile apps absorb a huge amount of online time
When looking at online minutes spent purely on mobile devices, more of this time is spent on apps rather than websites. In fact the difference is huge – 86% on mobile apps, 16% on mobile web.
This difference does have a theory behind it. A mobile app is likely to be a game, music or chat app that you may use for prolonged periods, whereas a website is often something you take your information from, or make a purchase, and then leave.
When looking at iOS, Android and Windows Mobile Apps Development as an investment, or perhaps when considering a mobile version of your website, it's sensible to look at audience. Who is accessing your information and how? The IAB report suggests the difference between young people accessing apps and mobile web and older people isn't so big.
While people aged 18-34 spend two thirds of their time online via a mobile device, those aged 35-54 spend half of their online time on a mobile device. Both of these is an increase compared to last year.
Do websites get more hits from people using computers, or people using mobile devices?
Currently desktops are still top, with 68% of all website hits coming from computers, according to the study. However, mobiles at 32% are on the rise, whereas hits from computers are declining as a percentage of all hits.
What does this tell us about mobile apps?
Both mobile apps and mobile specific websites are getting increasing amounts of traffic. With the use of mobile devices for internet access increasing across age groups, it is becoming an essential marketing tool or function for businesses.
A study has shown that using smartphones to go online and shop is becoming increasingly popular.One of the points made last year for Black Friday, and in general, was that people will often browse on their mobile but are more likely to make purchases on a desktop or laptop computer.
But according to developers Moovweb, this is changing. Not only do more people use their phones to browse, but more people are buying on their smartphones, too.
Ecommerce report source material
Moovweb carried out their research in the five days from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday in the US. Data was taken from 13.5million shopping visits, although the websites themselves used for were not given.
We're not just browsing with any more:
The general consensus is that a lot of shoppers will browse on their mobile and buy on a desktop or laptop. According to Moovweb, the amount of smartphone traffic increased by 45% compared to last year, and one in three of their tracked transactions was taken via a mobile device (either smartphone or tablet).
While that is significant, there is something even more significant for those considering investment in mobile shops and app development – the extra traffic wasn't just browsing.
The study showed that smartphone revenue rose by a staggering 81%. So while traffic nearly doubled, revenue taken outweighed this increased when compared to last year.
That means browsers are converting to buyers, and consumers are much happier to buy on their smartphones.
Average order value increase:
Moovweb's findings were that the AOV (average order value) of smartphone purchases did have a small boost of 2%. If shoppers are going to buy on their desktop, this will often be for the higher priced items. This increase could show that this norm is shifting too.