Cloud solution or Thick Client Platform 3G
Having defined the business requirements the next choice is deciding if the mobile application should run as a cloud solution or thick client platform 3G solution whilst considering the connectivity needed from device to server.
A cloud based thin client solution is an application accessed over a web browser. There is no application or data stored locally and all processing is performed on a central server just like a normal website. A thick client solution uses a locally installed application which sits on the device along with all data required. There are many pro’s and con’s with each and a number of questions need answering to decide which would suit. There is no ‘best’ option as all requirements are different.
Cost does play a factor in this for devices they will run on. Most people nowadays have a Smartphone, be it an iPhone, Android or Blackberry. These are all capable of running as a thin client. This means the business has no or little outlay for the devices if employees use their current units, BYOD. But tied to this comes issues with connectivity, speed of the application, and data costs. All major return on investment considerations.
If the application is used in areas of poor or no signal then a thin client solution would not be recommended. If there is no data connection a thin client application cannot work. A thick client would be recommended to enable the user to work offline as all the work orders would have been downloaded to the device over Wi-Fi or 3G prior to going on site.
A thick client can also connect to backend systems as standard to receive new work orders, send completed work orders back to a server, or request data in real-time. This is sometimes referred to as a ‘Smart Client’. Connecting to backend system when in the field depends on the quality of 3G signal. When the signal is good a thick client can synchronise data to receive an updated jobs list and send back all saved results.
A strong 3G signal or over Wi-Fi will mean a Thin client can access the web service easily and quickly, but should this drop out the user cannot continue. Some thin client services can download temporary data so the user can continue to use a thin client to a point. But beyond the temporary data the user is stuck. A poor signal results in a slow lagging thin client application. This can be very frustrating for the user.
Location is another factor to be taken into consideration – Where will the application be used specifically? If the application is required to check boilers or air-con units in basements and cellars then again it is very doubtful there will be any signal. Likewise if going to rural areas away from towns and cities.
In a lot of built up areas signal is now generally very good although congestion can be the real problem. This is very good news for thin clients. Likewise when working in Wi-Fi hotspots or buildings/warehouses with very good Wi-Fi coverage. This is still not to say in this instance a thick client should be discounted.
When in the mobile application development phase it is worth thinking about where data needs to be stored. As a rule .NET thick clients are generally much quicker than thin clients. As all data is stored locally all business logic is performed on the device rather than a web server. Granted if there is a vast amount of logic to calculate a PDA may be slightly slow. This is where a rugged tablet PC with a much faster processor i5 can be used in place.
3G data costs are another area to consider, especially if the users are providing their own devices. A thin client will use much more data than a thick client. This is because a thin client requests everything to be displayed whereas a thick client only requests new data and sends results. A thick client solution can even do away with 3G connection all together in some cases. All the jobs could be downloaded in the morning or day before over Wi-Fi, removing the need to request new jobs through the day.
The key question is: In the Cloud Solution or Thick Client Platform 3G debate without guaranteeing a connection over 3G or Wi-Fi is a Thin Client solution really sustainable?