A variety of mobile devices can be used to display and actively work with information. Smartphones, tablets and wearables from brands such as Apple, Samsung, HTC and BlackBerry are the most common today.
A significant difference between these types of device is obviously the size of the screen, which also affects mobile BI. For instance, tablets are comparable to small notebook computers, and are typically not subject to the extreme constraints of a mobile phone. Thus, they offer more space to display content such as reports, dashboards, business data and KPIs compared to the small screen of mobile phones. Although BI applications can theoretically run on both tablets and mobile phones, they are not equally well suited to all types of BI. For example, interactive data visualizations require more screen space than displaying KPIs within a table.
There are various ways to implement content on mobile devices. The most common we see in the marketplace are:
Provision of PDF reports to a mobile device
Website (HTML rendering), partly using proprietary technologies (Flash, Silverlight)
Connection of a native application with HTML5 (hybrid application)
In principle, any BI vendor that can create a PDF or render in HTML (and almost all of them can) can say it supports mobile BI. Most mobile devices include a web browser that can access almost any web page to an acceptable degree of quality. The exception here is when proprietary technologies – which require additional software to display – are used. In the case mentioned, BI developers must check how their content renders on a mobile device when creating reports and other visualizations. This means designing their application specifically for mobile use. The main advantage of this is its independence from device types (except when using proprietary technologies), since the content can be consumed on all devices.
Another interesting trend among many software developers is the HTML5 client. BI content is displayed in the browser as previously described, but with several improvements. HTML5 enables Rich Internet Application (RIA) content to be projected across all types of mobile devices without relying on proprietary standards and without having to deal with their disadvantages. This technology is favored by software manufacturers, and not just because of its browser and operating system capabilities. The end user also benefits by being able to use it without having to install it. Unlike traditional HTML rendering, clients developed in HTML5 also provide some mobile-optimized navigation controls and functions such as zooming, pinching and double-tapping.
In addition, HTML5 can be merged with the features of a native mobile application into a so-called “hybrid” form. This generally refers to a web application that can be downloaded as an app and installed on the device, but at its core includes a web viewer. For this reason, hybrids are often hard to distinguish from native apps. This hybrid category essentially supports more of the native features of the mobile device than a pure HTML5 client, but fewer than a native application.
The “native” application type is the most expensive way for software manufacturers to support mobile BI because the software has to be tailored to the operating system (OS) of the mobile device. Native apps are typically downloaded and installed. The advantage of these products lies in their support of device-specific properties, such as the use of cache and navigation controls like “swipe” on the iPhone or iPad. Although the creation of native apps requires effort on the customer and vendor side, they enable interactive and enhanced use of analytics content. For instance, device functions such as voice recognition can be coupled with the software’s natural language generation capabilities to query data ad hoc based on speech. Moreover, app developers are able to use sensors such as GPS to guide a customer to an article which is calculated to be potentially relevant to him. The more operational use and interaction with information that is required, the better the mobile OS support has to be.
In general, the trend in mobile BI apps is veering towards knowledge generation rather than pure content consumption. Analysis and manipulation as well as input options for data are increasingly supported these days. Meanwhile, forecasts based on past data can be statistically calculated and directly reused on mobile devices.
In our opinion, information should be updated as often as the reader needs it (sometimes even in real time). Especially in operational scenarios, decision-makers often have to react instantly to insights from data or changes in circumstances.