C# as Universal Smart Phone Programming Language?

We started thinking about building a smart phone app to interface to PeopleMatrix. The obvious devices to support are BlackBerry, iPhone, Android and Windows Mobile. There is also Symbian but those devices are unusual in our primary market. Each one of these platforms has a totally different programming model:

  • BlackBerry –> Java ME + RIM libraries
  • iPhone –> Objective-C
  • Android –> Subset of Java 5 + Apache commons and  Android libraries
  • Windows Mobile –> C/C++ and .NET CF
  • Symbian –> Weird non-standard Symbian C++ variant and Qt

I just can’t envision anyone using their smartphone to interact with a sophisticated app on a screen the size or a postage stamp. That eliminates Blackberry and (many) Windows Mobile devices. Also, you have to prioritize developing for the device platforms that are growing. That means iPhone and Andoid. iPhone is very popular and Android has shown amazing growth.

The problem is that the development environment is totally different so that porting applications between Android and iPhone is a complete re-write. One ray of hope for leveraging code across these platforms is the Mono project. Novell is currently shipping a product called MonoTouch which compiles C# code into native binaries for the iPhone. The Mono guys also have Mono working on Android with proxy classes that call into the Android libraries. (In early testing Mono appears to out-perform Dalvik, too.)

If Mono on Android gets polished up like MonoTouch, that would make C# a first class programming language for a huge swath of the most exciting devices. The largest challenge for managing the codebase of an app is that it is very likely that each platform would require care to abstract access to platform-native APIs which would certainly include the GUI and other hardware interfaces.

Even so, I am watching Mono closely. Interesting times.

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