Prototyping tool eases design of iPhone apps

Software lets programmers design an application quickly just for demonstration

Enterprises that want to create applications for Apple's iPhone will be able to build and try out prototypes using a special programming template unveiled this week.

It's the latest template from iRise, which has been selling a prototyping platform for other types of applications for six years. The El Segundo, California, company introduced it at the Software 2008 trade show, being held in conjunction with Interop in Las Vegas.

The iPhone is a coveted gadget, selling 1.7 million units in the year's first quarter, with Apple forecasting 10 million iPhones in the market by the end of 2008. So far, application builders who want to reach iPhone users have had to get their code to run on the phone's Safari browser, but Apple's recently released SDK (software development kit) lets them write applications to run directly on the phone.

The iRise software suite is used to create prototypes that look and behave like an application but don't have the underlying code. This lets in-house or outside programmers, and even nonprogrammers, design an application quickly and easily just for demonstration. Then decision makers, such as business executives, can see how it would work and sign off on the project, according to Mitch Bishop, chief marketing officer at iRise. Using a mock-up of the user interface tells executives more than pages of description, he said.

"Their attitude is, 'I'll know it when I see it,'" Bishop said. Traditionally, the business side of an enterprise doesn't get to see a new application in action until it's largely complete. "By then, it's really expensive to make changes," he said.

About 180 customers, mostly Fortune 500 companies, already use iRise for projects, including web-based applications, portals and SAP implementations, according to Bishop. The company already has a few customers using the iPhone template, he said.

"The promise of the iPhone is that people see it as a vast leap ahead in customer experience, and it's a consistent platform," Bishop said. By contrast, most mobile-software platforms vary by both carrier and device.

The template can simulate all of the iPhone's standard menu icons and user actions, such as using sliders and zooming in and out of screens by "pinching" and "unpinching." Application designers can use it to create custom buttons, manipulate the menu icons and define the effects of actions such as double-tapping a button, Bishop said.

The iPhone simulations will run on a desktop rather than an actual iPhone, with users interacting with the virtual phone using a mouse. There is a downloadable tool for using simulations based on iRise, so companies developing iPhone applications will be able to send simulations to average consumers and get feedback.

OneSpring, a business-analysis and user-experience design company in Atlanta, uses the iRise iPhone template in an application simulation toolkit it calls the SimDK. OneSpring has helped enterprises define applications based on some other mobile platforms, said Chuck Konfrst, a senior user experience architect at OneSpring.

"Most applications, if you design them for mobile devices, are very text-heavy," Konfrst said. The iPhone's display capabilities give designers more freedom and a whole new set of choices, he said. OneSpring offers a video to demonstrate.

The iRise template for the iPhone is free to users of iRise, which costs about US$5,000 per seat, according to Bishop. The OneSpring iPhone SimDK for iRise will be available from OneSpring starting May 1 for US$495.

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