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I work for a "mature web startup" as a web developer (mainly using PHP). Our main site has about 8 million registered members at the moment. However, the site is basically impossible to use on anything that's not a real computer. One of our most-requested features, if not the most requested, is a mobile app or mobile version of the site.

I think we need to do it. Management thinks we need to do it. In fact, everyone in the company thinks we need to do it. But it's nigh impossible to hire someone with iPhone/Android skills in the present market.

I'm the only person at the company with any level of mobile development experience currently, and I'm not that good (yet), so I'm seeking comments on how to bootstrap a capacity for mobile development. Anything from general tips (should I focus on developing my personal skills first or try to pick up a more experienced mobile dev?) to specific recommendations on training, etc., may be helpful, as long as it doesn't reduce to "sucks to be you." :-)

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4 Answers

I guess it boils down first to the question if you want do that at all or not. If you want to do it, then ask your boss to give you time and some money to start experimenting and coding.

Try to come up with a prototype that you can show around in the company to get feedback - if that is well received, you may get more time funding and perhaps co-workers to come along. I would for the start concentrate one one platform (Android / iOS) and not try to tackle both. For the mobile-server communication you need to keep in mind that Android, iOS, Symbian,... are different so that you need a mechanism that will work on all of those (e.g. JSON or XML over HTTP).

Having a prototype will also help to get a more experienced dev on board, as it is more clear what is expected and you can better communicate with him, as you better know what you are talking about.

You can then still concentrate on providing e.g. the server side functionality in PHP and have the dev do the work on the mobile side (one dev will most likely not cover all platforms out there anyway).

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Learn UI for web apps on mobile devices first. You will still be using PHP, Javascript, CSS etc, and developing apps designed for mobile devices also.

Random links on this topic:

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If management considers that enough lost time is money, your company also has the option of paying seeming outrageous consulting fees (plus travel expenses) for a short period for an experienced iOS developer to come in (from out-of-town if necessary) and instruct, mentor and ramp up your team. Maybe set you up with some simple template App store app containing mobile-appropriate web apps.

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First of all you should make up your mind and decide along with your managers, which amount of your content and functionality shall be transfered to the app. Maybe the app can provide new functionality to the whole system, e.g. use of Location, Camera...

Secondly, look into cross platform development to save time and money.

Check the apps http://www.netbiscuits.com/home made. They develop a mobile website once and distribute it as iPhone and Android App also. Quality of their apps is best compared to competitors, which follow the same way. You can either work with them or copy their product. (But you have to work hard to get good ratings for an app which basically displays a website.)

Use http://monotouch.net/ or http://monodroid.net/ (or others) to share model code, but build UI in native code.

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