Driven by a passion for Mobility
"I meet customers who ask me to transfer their current web solution directly to a mobile solution. Because, as they say: 'It's more or less the same.' I have to tell them that it most definitely is not."
Some might call it luck, and others, skill. No matter what, the wave of Mobility solutions has paved the way for a dedicated career as a developer for the platform he appreciates the most – and even admires. Meet ProData consultant Jesper Zuschlag.
45-year-old programmer Jesper Zuschlag is a good example of how far the combination of talent and interest can take a career. Since graduating as a computer scientist in 2000, he has worked with both embedded systems and back-end development, but for many years has focused primarily on mobile projects and especially the development of new apps.
"I think that at a very early stage I could see the potential in always carrying a mobile phone, and how it could access the Web. This combination appealed to me – even before smartphones came into general use," Jesper Zuschlag says.
He explains how his first Mobility project took place at the start of the 2000s, when he developed a time registration system for one of the old Nokia Communicator models. "What I remember best from that time was that both the mobile technology and the network technology were very under-developed. Data communication via the mobile network was via what was called a 2.5G connection. It did not have much speed and was not particularly stable either. So even though there were visions of Mobility back then, they could not be realised," says Jesper Zuschlag.
Over the years, network connections became better and better, and cheaper and cheaper. Yet mobile phone users were still disappointed with the functionality as soon as they tried to surf the Web. But this changed in 2007, when Apple launched their first iPhone.
"I have always been a big admirer of Apple and at that time had worked with development tools and programming language for Mac for many years. But that was on a private basis, for my own benefit and enjoyment. I could not put this interest to commercial use because the number of firms engaged in Mac development in Denmark could be counted with very few fingers," says Jesper Zuschlag, explaining how the iPhone meant that he could suddenly mix business with pleasure.
"In software technology terms, the iPhone in principle functions in the same way as a Mac. The difference is that all the things that are too heavy or irrelevant on a mobile phone have been stripped away, while a new user interface has been added. Once smartphones came into universal use, I was able to use my knowledge professionally. Today, I develop primarily for iOS. I have had to acknowledge that a clear platform focus is necessary. To be able to keep up, and stay sharp on a platform, I can only cover one. There are sure to be mobile developers who are more skilled than I am, who can keep up with more than one platform, but I need to stay focused on just one," says Jesper Zuschlag.
Does not have to be so expensive
The technology, users and market have all matured considerably since the first iPhones appeared, followed by Android's competitive pursuit and the establishment of both platforms' ecosystems of apps. Yet this does not change the fact that Jesper Zuschlag can still meet customers with a rather old-fashioned mindset when it comes to mobile development.
"I meet customers who ask me to transfer their current web solution directly to a mobile solution. Because, as they say: 'It's more or less the same.' I have to tell them that it most definitely is not. It is possible that a user can learn to use a web solution on a smartphone, but this will not be a good experience for the user. Instead of the full system, you may perhaps only be presenting the user with four to five use scenarios," says Jesper Zuschlag. He explains that it is still necessary to educate and teach some clients to understand that a mobile project requires the same financial and staffing resources as a traditional developer project.
"For many, there is still the psychological aspect of developing for a physically small device. The perception is that it cannot be that difficult, cannot take so much time, and does not have to be so expensive. But they forget that a mobile project requires the same programming work as for any other development project, with tests and review of the architecture so that it is scalable and can be changed and re-used."
Tablets were a gap in the market
"What did it mean for you as a developer when the iPad appeared?"
I also believe that we should not underestimate that a tablet is a very 'intimate' device. A raised computer screen can create a barrier between two people, which a tablet does not. You can look at the screen together, and it is easy to point and visualise your message, which gives much better communication, in dialogue with customers, for example."
"Could you say that the tablet speeded up mobile development because tablet apps were a better fit for companies than smartphone apps?"
"Definitely. Tablets present many new application opportunities, especially in the business world. The tablet has definitely helped to open new markets."
Security is imperative
We also need to consider the security aspect of mobile development. How big a role does this play in your development work?
"Security is a vital part of mobile development, since you have to be aware of this in a different way to what you may be used to. Today, many mobile solutions hold personal or confidential information. When you design a system in a shielded, protected, network environment, there may not be the same focus on security. But on a mobile device, you must always take account of how and where it will be used. The user may be on a public WiFi, or the device may be lost or stolen. Things like that," says Jesper Zuschlag.
"In a team, is there typically one person that handles the security aspect?"
"Unfortunately not. It is the developer's task to include this." "That is a bit strange."
"Yes, you could say that. But this is related to how Denmark is a relatively small country. Mobile development teams are not large, and often just one person, or at most a handful. For web or server application tasks, you can see teams of 20-30 people. This is not very often the case for mobile development projects. In this respect the Danish market is actually still rather less mature," says Jesper Zuschlag.
If Jesper Zuschlag were to guide possible new mobile developers, he points in just two directions: iOS and Android.
"You can just as well select Android as iOS. At any rate these are two platforms that are here to stay. I do not have as much faith in the Microsoft platform. If you have a background within Java, which Android is based on, or you use Android yourself, you should naturally look in this direction. Generally speaking, you must pick the platform to which your entry barrier is the lowest," is his advice.
From bottom-drawer project to App Store
In Jesper Zuschlag's words, all real geeks have a bottom-drawer project. His own projects include the development of small visual tools for iOS, but also games development. In 2014, with two friends, he published the turning game Memorize in Apple App Store, since when it has been downloaded around 3,000 times. "This is not much, but it is okay," Jesper Zuschlag smiles.