MobileCampRDU Event Recap

Matt Henry, Former Viget

Article Category: #Code

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This past Saturday, we held the first-ever MobileCampRDU event here at our Durham office. We had a great group of seasoned mobile pros as well as folks who came eager to learn about the emerging mobile technology scene. Here's a run-down of some of the awesome presentations/discussions we had:

Blake Watters from Two Toasters gave an intro to the RestKit framework. RestKit is a really useful tool for building iOS apps that interface with Rails apps (or any other JSON web service). It provides a really nice abstraction around communicating with the server, parsing the JSON data that get returned, and then persisting those data in Core Data. If you're building an iOS app that needs to talk to a JSON web service, you should absolutely look into RestKit.

Dirk Smith from OnWired led a really useful discussion about the frameworks available for building cross-platform native applications (e.g. PhoneGap and Appcelerator Titanium). While the conversation started with those frameworks and the difficulties inherent in using "write once run anywhere" tools on any platform, there was also a lot of general discussion about the relative merits of mobile web applications vs. native, platform-specific apps.

Viget's own Todd Moy gave a couple of short talks: one on the peculiar acrobatics involved in conducting usability tests on mobile sites/apps, and another on Luke Wroblewski's increasingly popular strategy of designing the mobile version of a website before tackling the desktop version. The so-called "mobile first" approach relies on the constraints of the mobile platform to help you focus on the most important aspects of your content and functionality. That focus can be invaluable in making a usable, engaging experience on your desktop site.

Dan Lee from IBM gave a really cool presentation about an iPhone game he's working on that leverages the Cocos2d framework for building iOS games. Cocos2d looks really powerful, but I was even more impressed by the lessons Dan learned from his experience in taking a little Flash word game and turning it into a fun, addictive iOS app.

Another IBM-er, WebKit hacker Patrick Mueller, presented his WeInRe (pronounced like "winery") project for debugging mobile web apps using the WebKit Inspector. Even though the project is still at a fairly early stage, with the features it has already, it looks extremely useful. As anybody who has tried debugging an app in Mobile Safari using its debug console will tell you, the mobile web app debugging situation is pretty dismal, so Mueller's efforts in that space are much appreciated.

I ended up reprising my talk on building mobile sites that support a wide range of devices that I gave at Refresh the Triangle back in November. The gospel of user-agent sniffing (as opposed to client-side feature-testing) feels less heretical now that it has been taken up by no less than Alex Russell since last time I gave the same talk, but I'll humbly suggest that the content was nonetheless worthwhile.

We ended the day with some more general roundtable discussion of what makes a good mobile app, which was a nice way to cap things off before heading to Fullsteam for post-camp happy hour.

All in all, it was a good day of useful presentations and group discussions. I imagine we'll probably do a similar event again this year (perhaps casting a wider net than just targeting developers). If you're interested in finding out when that will be, you can follow MobileCampRDU on Twitter.

Thanks to everyone who came, and everyone who pitched talks. See you all at the next MobileCampRDU!


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