A Vision is Not Enough, and a Poorly Defined Vision is Worse

For any product group or organization to be successful they must know where they are going and how they are going to get there. I’m not talking about the product backlog or the release schedule – I am talking about something more abstract than that. Within the DNA of any product group or organization there needs to be a driving force and a code of conduct. The compass that guides the group. I am talking about a vision and a set of principles that guide a product group, organization, or even a company (from here on out I’ll use ‘organization’ to refer to all of these).

The organizational vision provides direction and informs all constituents – employees, partners and customers – what the organization is trying to achieve. In partnership with the vision, a set of organizational principles provides working guidelines and informs all constituents how the organization will operate.

Defining a Vision

A vision statement is something that needs to be taken very seriously, with time and effort put into it. The vision statement becomes the North Star for the organization. It defines WHAT the organization is attempting to do or become. Pithy, jargon-filled vision statements provide no value; they provide no direction. As a member of an organization how can I make decisions about my work and how I use organizational resources if the vision doesn’t provide me any guidance or direction? If the vision statement says something as trite as “We strive to build great products” how am I armed to make good decisions on a day to day basis, or even in strategic planning? Conversely, complicated, all-encompassing vision statements provide equally little or no direction.

A vision statement should succinctly define the future you see for the organization – it should say a lot in as few words as possible. A good vision statement is easy for every constituent to remember and provides direction. Conversely, generic vision statements, especially those that provide no clear differentiation from others in the market, don’t help the organization align and head in the same direction.

Take for example the following:

“Be a highly effective, lean and fast moving organization that builds high-quality products that customers love.”

This sure sounds great. Who wouldn’t want to be a highly effective, lean fast moving organization? Who wouldn’t want to build products that customer love? Does this really provide much direction? Does this really provide much differentiation?

Imagine the alternative vision statement from a competitor:

“Be an ineffective, bloated and slow moving organization that builds mediocre products that customers simply tolerate.”

No one is going to have that as their vision statement. The fact is, the first one is simply too generic and vague. It’s a vision statement of common sense, not direction. No one in the organization is going to make better decisions based on the first vision statement (can you imagine – “Well, I was going to ship the product with this critical bug, but our vision is to make products that customers love, so I better get it fixed”).

A good vision statement both directs the organization and identifies what sets it apart from its competitors.

For example, consider the vision statement from Amazon.com:

Our vision is to be earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.

With this vision statement it’s easy to understand what the company wants to be, and for the members of the organization to make decisions about how to use company resources. Any decision that needs to be made can be evaluated against this vision. Answer the following question and you will have the answer:

Will allocating resources to a given idea move the organization closer to the vision?

As we began the journey to create and bring to market Icenium, I set forth a vision that defined what Icenium should become.

Icenium is all you need to build applications for the most relevant mobile platforms in the world.

The vision for Icenium is clearly targeted at mobile devices – but not all mobile devices, only he most relevant ones. Additionally, Icenium should be all you need; in other words, it should enable coding, testing and publishing an application for the devices it targets. Every decision we make about features and capabilities are evaluated on how they enable this vision.

If the vision defines WHAT an organization is trying to become, then the principles define HOW it will get there.

Defining Principles

When I say that the principles define HOW an organization will achieve its vision, I am not talking about the execution plan – the sequence of steps to go from A to B. Rather, I am referring to the way in which an organization operates in order to achieve the vision. I am referring to the day-to-day behaviors of everyone in the organization. I am referring to the culture of the organization.

Without principles there is no common ground – no way for all the members of the organization to come to terms with one another. How does an organization make decisions when there is not guidebook for how to behave? How does conflict get resolved when there is no common code of conduct?

Imagine if you lived in a world without principles? What would guide you as you made decisions? If, by principle, you don’t steal, then this is an absolute. You can’t live by this principle, and then steal a little bit. You either live by the principle, or you abandon the principle. In the worlds of the immortal Yoda,

Do. Or do not. There is no try.

Amazon.com has very public Leadership Principles that guide the company in how they achieve their vision. These principles are well known (or at least very public), and every employee has their performance measured by both what they accomplished (the results they got) and how they fulfilled the Leadership Principles along the way. While I won’t go into all 14 Leadership Principles, I will examine a few to demonstrate how principles are used to guide an organization.

In their quest to become earth’s most customer centric company, Amazon.com has defined a principle to support the end goal – Customer Obsession.

Customer Obsession – Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.

At the very core of Amazon.com is customer obsession. Not only is it part of their vision, but it is part of their guiding principles that define how they work on a daily basis. Every decision they make should be evaluated against this principle. In every decision they should be asking themselves, “Are we doing this for the customer?” and “Will this improve our customer’s experience with us?” If both answers aren’t a solid, clear and concise “Yes” than their decision is made for them – don’t do it.

Principles often come from the founder’s or the organizational leader’s personal beliefs. For Amazon.com, another principle is Frugality, which has been a well documented personal belief of the founder, Jeff Bezos.

Frugality – We try not to spend money on things that don’t matter to customers. Frugality breeds resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and invention. There are no extra points for headcount, budget size or fixed expense.

Again, this principle can and should be applied in the daily life of every Amazon.com employee. This doesn’t mean that Amazon.com is cheap – I don’t believe they are. In fact, I believe they spend money very wisely when they need to. Here in Seattle, Amazon has bought up a lot of property and built or bought some very nice buildings for their employees. This is money (a lot of money) spent on things customers don’t see, but it enables the company to operate more effectively. The frugality is revealed in the superfluous detail, in the lack of extravagance within the buildings. The desks are simple constructions of 2×4’s and doors. The wall paper isn’t some fancy design – it’s maps or newsprint in some cases.

In another case of frugality, Mr. Bezos spent over $700 million to acquire some robotic shelving technology so that the shelves containing product could be moved to the warehouse worked, rather than the other way around. This is a huge amount of money – but it wasn’t spent simply because they could do it. It was spent because, in a pilot they found that packing and shipping was more accurate and efficient using this technology. In other words, the expense directly benefitted customers.

Having a set of principles enables all Amazon.com employees to make good decisions in their daily work. In some ways it gives each of them a WWJD (What Would Jeff Do) barometer.

As we defined the vision of Icenium, we established some core principles. Some directly influenced by the corporate culture, and others define by me and the team, to guide us in creating the right product.

  • Simplicity – Every feature and capability added to Icenium should serve to simplify the developer workflow of building, testing and publishing an application.
  • Decouple Platforms – Developers should not be restricted to target only platforms that are compatible with their development platform (OS, Hardware). We should strive to decouple the two ends of the application spectrum whenever possible.
  • Skills Reuse – Icenium should enable developers to use the skills they already have, rather than require them to learn new skills. Whenever possible Icenium should provide the option for a developer to use technology or languages they already know.
  • Start Fast – A developer should be able to get started with Icenium in under 5-minutes. Any tools that a developer is required to download to use Icenium should not prevent them from creating a new project and writing code almost immediately.
  • Developer Choice – Icenium should enable developers to chose the technology they prefer and never lock them into our technology stack.
  • Customers Drive the Roadmap – Our customers are who we build Icenium for and thus their needs are the primary driver of every product decision we make. We strive to have strong communication with our customers to better learn about and understand their needs so that we can build solutions that meet and exceed their expectations.

This set of principles armed us with the ability to make decisions and trade-offs along the way to deliver to our customers a product they would love (and isn’t that everyone’s goal). As we set out to make a product that was all a developer needed to build applications for the most relevant mobile platforms in the world, we could make decisions about how we built the product by evaluating those decisions against the principles. Should we package the platform SDKs into the development environment, or should we abstract them as services? Test that question against the principles of Simplicity  and Start Fast  and you have your answer. Should we base our projects on Apache Cordova? Consider that the most common technology skills among developers in HTML and JavaScript, and overlay that on the Skills Reuse  principle and you have your answer.

Principles define how we behave, as individuals and as an organization. Without principles we have no guidebook for how to fulfill our vision. We are left to figure it out along the way, which ultimately leads to churn and, in many cases, unresolvable conflict. By defining a set of principles everyone knows how to operate, and while conflict may still occur, it is resolvable by discussion the conflict with the principles in mind. In fact, i n the book Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, 3rd Edition by Roger Fisher and William Ury, the authors states:

Conflict is an inevitable—and useful—part of life. It often leads to change and generates insight…The challenge is not to eliminate conflict but to transform it. It is to change the way we deal with our differences—from destructive, adversarial battling to hard-headed, side-by-side problem solving. We should not underestimate the difficulty of this task, yet no task is more urgent in the world today.

Principles are the tool that enable an organization to resolve conflict more easily. They are the objective criteria that everyone in the organization is aligned to, and the only real discussion to have is about the interpretation of the principle(s) on either side of the conflict. For example, in the case of Amazon.com, I’m sure they frequently get into discussions of what the Frugality principle means, and whether or not a spending proposal adheres to the meaning and intent of the principle. With this in mind, it is easier to resolve the conflict by focusing on the meaning of the principle, and not the pressure or influence from the other side. With Icenium, for example, if a new feature proposal makes the developer workflow more complicated without a significant trade-off, the decision is an easy one.


The combination of (1) a well thought out vision, and (2) a set of principles you are willing to live by could very well be the most important two artifacts you create for your organization. They are so fundamental to everything you will do. Without a clear and concise vision it is difficult to know where you are going. Without an agreed upon set of principles, it is difficult to know how to act.

Don’t fall into the trap of defining too generic or a vision. If you can Ctrl+F / Ctrl+R your name with your competitor’s name and the vision holds true, you need more work. Your vision should be specific and clear and differentiate you. Don’t have the vision to “always put customers first” – have the vision to be “earth’s most customer centric company” – and if you competitors strive for the same vision, then beat them at it while also differentiating yourself.

Define your principles now. It’s never too late. Decide who you want to be as an organization and write it down. Don’t have a principle that says “we will be transparent” – that’s too ambiguous. Have a principle that says “One-up, one-down and all around – we strive for transparency through by ensuring all team members can articulate the product strategy (one-up), the customer needs (one-down), and what is happening in the organization (and all around).”

Now go make great products.

Icenium v1.1 Now Available

Today I am proud to announce the first update to Icenium since our v1 launch a month and a half ago. As a cloud-based solution, we have always planned for a regular cadence of product and service updates – continuous delivery of value, if you will. This v1.1 release represents our first step toward establishing a regular cadence of updates that include new features, improvements in existing features and fixes for any issues discovered (thank you for reporting them to us in our forums). As we continue to develop Icenium, we expect to deliver updates on a regular schedule, starting at about every 6-10 weeks, and eventually accelerating to where we can deliver product and service updates at high frequency.

With this release we have added a few new features, updated support for Apache Cordova and fixed some bugs reported by you. To summarize this release, I will categorize the changes into four buckets:

  • General – Changes and updates to the back-end services, or changes that apply to all client tools.
  • Icenium Graphite – Changes and updates to the installed client for Windows.
  • Icenium Mist – Changes and updates to the browser-based client for all platforms.
  • Icenium Ion – Changes and updates to the iOS development and testing utility.

The complete release notes can be found here.


Apache Cordova v2.2

All Icenium projects may now use Apache Cordova 2.2. All new projects will be created using Cordova 2.2 by default. Existing projects can be upgraded to the new version in by opening the Properties settings for a project.

ChildBrowser Plugin

The ChildBrowser plugin has been updated to version 4.0. This version is compatible with Apache Cordova 2.2.

Kendo UI Mobile

The new project template (Kendo UI) has been updated to use Kendo UI Mobile v2012.3.1114.

jQuery Mobile

The new project template (jQuery) has been updated to use jQuery Mobile v1.2.0.

Android Hardware Acceleration

In the project properties you may now select to enable or disable Android hardware acceleration. Hardware acceleration will improve the rendering of UI animations.

OS Version Support in Device Simulator.

OS version selector has been added to the simulators. Changing the OS version can affect behavior of the app.


Icenium Graphite

Cut/Copy/Paste/Select All

Cut, Copy, Paste, and Select All commands have been added to Code Editor’s context menu.


Reload Project in Simulator

New ‘Reload’ button in the device simulator reloads the current project.

Reorder Open Documents

You can reorder open documents by dragging and dropping the tabs in the order you prefer,

Icenium Mist

Version Control

The version control capabilities of Mist have been improved to parity with Icenium Graphite, including the ability to Clone projects from a URL-based Git repository, such as GitHub, and push and pull changes to and from the parent repository.


Find Function

A keyboard shortcut (CTRL+F) will open a Find dialog enabling you to search code files for specifies text. Additional shortcuts have been enabled during Find operations – Find Next (Enter or F3), Find Previous (SHIFT+Enter or SHIFT+F3).

Case-sensitive search and search with RegEx are supported. When RegEx search is enabled case-sensitive search is disabled.

Device Simulator Improvements

Status bar and orientation properties have been added to the device simulator.

Reload Project

New ‘Reload’ button in the device simulator reloads the current project.

CORS Requests

When a CORS request is executed via the device simulator an information message is displayed letting you know what is happening.

Icenium Ion

Ion works with Cordova 2.2 only. A warning message is displayed when attempting to use older versions.

Mobile MeetUp at the Movies

Last night I had the great pleasure of introducing a few hundred mobile app developers to Icenium, and then treating them to a pre-release private screening of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in High Frame Rate 3D. I have to say, I had a blast. The energy level was high, I meet a lot of very cool, developers, and learned a lot about some of the start-ups in the area.

Hobbit Splash - Telerick

I want to thank the organizers and members of some of the Seattle area MeetUp groups for coming to the event, and generally being pretty awesome:

From talking to lots of you as you were coming out of the theater, it sounds like the movie was great – especially in HFR 3D (Sony was onsite ensuring the 4k projectors were in top shape!). Thanks again for attending – see you next time!


2012-12-13 19.22.39

2012-12-13 19.30.19


Configuring Icenium LiveSync with the SGS3

Icenium LiveSync enables you to easily deploy an app in development to one or more devices and see changes made–in real-time in both the integrated device simulator and across all connected devices–without having to recompile. In order for LiveSync to work, your development environment must be able to communicate with the device. For Android devices this requires communication using the Android Debug Bridge (ADB). This video shows you how to set up your development environment to enable LiveSync between Graphite and the Samsung Galaxy S III.

This video shows you all the steps outlined in this blog post.

What to Do

The steps outlined in the video are simple and easy to complete.

  1. Install the Samsung Android USB Driver for Windows
  2. Enable Debug Mode on the Device
  3. Optionally Verify with ADB

Install the Samsung Android USB Driver for Windows

This is pretty straight forward. Go here and download the Samsung Android USB Driver for Windows. This is the driver package for many of the Samsung devices, including the SGS3 and other smartphones and tablets in the Galaxy product line.

Enable Debug Mode on the Device

For any device that will be communicating over the ADB, you must enable USB Debugging. On the SGS3 this is in Settings > Developer Options. Check the box for USB Debugging so that there is a green check mark in the box.

Optionally Verify with ADB

When you installed Icenium Graphite part of the installation package included the Android Debug Bridge, which is used for LiveSync communication between Graphite and the devices. You can use ADB in a command line to verify that your SGS3 is visible to ADB (this isn’t necessary, but can be useful if you are troubleshooting any device connection issues).

  1. Open a command line end enter:
    cd %USERPROFILE%\AppData\Local\Temp\ADB
  2. Enter:
    adb devices

You should see a device ID for your SGS3 (for example, in the video mine is 4df1d84539005ffd).

That’s it – you are all set. When you create or open a project in Icenium and your SGS3 is connected, you should see it in the Device list.

Setting Up the Kindle Fire HD 7 for Icenium LiveSync

Since we released Icenium a couple weeks ago, a few folks have asked me if it could be used to build apps for the new Kindle Fire HD. The simple answer is “Yes.” The Fire HD is an Android Ice Cream Sandwich (v4.0.x) device, and Android (v2.2 and greater) is a supported operating system for Icenium projects.

In order for Icenium to communicate with devices over USB, and deploy and update apps, the device drives for those devices have to be installed and configured on the PC. For Apple iOS devices, the device drivers are included in iTunes. For Samsung devices, most of these are in Samsung Kies. For HTC devices, these are in HTC SyncManager. You get it.

But what about Amazon? They don’t have a utility like this.

Setting up the Kindle Fire (1st Generation) to work with Icenium LiveSync was pretty straight forward – download the USB driver, update an INI file and wham-o, it works. Then Amazon released the Kindle Fire HD, which included an updated operating system (the original Kindle was based on Android Gingerbread – v2.3.4) and it was proclaimed to be unhackable. This meant that for developers it was going to be a challenge to work with it as a development device in any way not prescribed by Amazon. Of course the official guidance is to use the Android SDK, platform tools and Eclipse as your development environment. Yuck.

When you plug in a Fire HD, it installs a driver that enables you to copy media files to and from the device, but it doesn’t enable the Android Debug Bridge (ADB) to access the device to install apps. Icenium LiveSync uses ADB for the communication to Android devices to enable deployment and updates on devices (don’t worry, you don’t need the Android SDK for this, ADB is installed in C:\Users\<usernmae>\AppData\Local\Temp\ when Icenium Graphite is installed).

I bought a Kindle Fire HD 7” and began following the unofficial steps to connect to it as a development device. Turns out it was very troublesome, especially if I refused to download the Android SDK. I found a few blog posts that all pointed back to a forum post on how to root the Fire HD, so I gave it a shot. Unfortunately for me when I followed the steps it didn’t work. No matter what I tried, the correct driver would get installed, and the Fire HD wouldn’t show up in the ADB device list.


Rather than get discouraged, I experimented and got it to work. The steps in the forum post may work for you, but they didn’t work for me right away. The only ADB driver that I could get to install was the Android ADB Interface (not the Android Composite ADB Interface driver as outlined in the forum post). I had to manually install a different driver (a generic USB Composite Device driver), and then the Kindle Fire HD was recognized by ADB.


After that, I connected the Kindle Fire (1st Gen) that I previously had working, and the Android Composite ADB Interface driver magically appeared. I disconnected both Kindle devices and reconnected them and both of updated to the Android Composite ADB Interface driver.


Now both the Kindle Fire 1st Gen and the Kindle Fire HD were visible to ADB…


…which meant that both devices are ready to by used by Icenium LiveSync.


Now when I click on “Run on Device” the app is compiled in the cloud for Android using the Icenium Compiler Service and pushed through Icenium Graphite and over ADB to the devices.


That’s it. Now you can test your Icenium project on either a Kindle Fire or Kindle Fire HD. As soon as the Fire HD 8.9” arrives, I’ll give that a test.

And stay tuned for a video series on Icenium LiveSync called “Getting to 50’ where I will add various devices to see if we can successfully support simultaneous LiveSync to 50 devices.


What About Windows Phone?

In the past couple of days since I announced the release of Icenium, I’ve had a number of people asking me if it supports Windows Phone in addition to Apple iOS and Google Android. I suppose that is because nearly all other Telerik products are dedicated to the Microsoft technology stack, so it would be almost expected that Icenium would get on the band-wagon.

Its All About the Data

Allow me to let data do the speaking: 


In the past year Apple and Google have grown in market share by nearly 17% (Source: comScore, U.S. Mobile Subscriber Market Share). In that same period, Microsoft dropped nearly 2% – meaning Apple and Google are outpacing Microsoft by nearly 20%. In fact, Apple and Google are the only two mobile platform providers that have been consistently growing in market share during that period.

So I decided to focus our efforts on Apple and Google. Microsoft will have to wait.

What Will Windows Phone Do?

I used to be a Windows Phone user. I loved my Windows Phone (I missed a lot of the apps from my old iPhone, but I LOVED the operating system and the Live Tiles). In the last year I have regularly switched phones every month or two, trying out several Android devices in addition to the iPhone 4/4S and now iPhone 5. I’m a believer in Windows Phone – I think it is a great operating system. That is completely separate from the business decisions I make.

With Windows Phone 7 already on death row, and the success of Windows Phone 8 nothing more than speculation (like this and this), I didn’t feel like WIndows Phone warranted our time…yet. I am bullish on Windows Phone. Like I said, I love the OS and the new hardware is looking pretty good.

I have maintained a wait-and-see stance on adding Windows Phone support to Icenium.

We’re Not Waiting Idle

Of course, Telerik has a lot of knowledge in Windows Phone, which means we’ve already done some research. We’ve done a proof-of-concept to learn more about what it would take to support Windows Phone, and we know what we need in order to give Windows Phone the Icenium treatment. We’ve already engaged Microsoft to work out some of the details, in the event we decide to move forward.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be watching the early adoption of Windows Phone to see what the consumer reaction is, and use that to make some decisions about how we prioritize our backlog for the remainder of the year, and early 2013.

OK, What About Windows 8?

Having worked on Windows 8 tooling before I left Microsoft, I feel like I know the app-type Formerly Known as Metro (FKM) pretty well. I’m curious to see how consumers and enterprises react to both the app-type and the new hardware. Clearly Windows 8 will be successful in the PC market – although I’m not sure how well PC users will take to the FKM style apps.

ImageFor the mobile device market, the success of the Surface with Windows RT (Surface RT) and the OEM tablet form factors will have a huge impact on the success of FKM apps on devices. If the hardware isn’t sexy, the Windows 8 tablet will suffer the same fate as Windows Phone 7.

If the Surface RT and its cousins do well with consumers (and even in the enterprise), then the FKM app-type has a shot, and it would make sense for Icenium to support it. The advantage we have is that FKM apps can be built with HTML and JavaScript, which work through a projection layer into the Windows Runtime (WinRT) – basically the exact same way Apache Cordova works (in concept), making adding FMK app support to Icenium very achievable.

Like WIndows Phone 8, I am bullish on Windows 8, and the Surface RT – I’d say I am even more bullish on Windows 8 than Windows Phone 8. I’ve already pre-ordered my Surface RT and a Windows 8 Ultrabook with a touchscreen.

Keep Your Fingers Crossed (and Buy a Surface RT)

I hope that helps you understand some of the decision making process I used for deciding what platforms to support in the initial offering of Icenium. We have aspirations to support all relevant platforms – and right now that definition excludes Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. Let’s hope that changes.

I’d love to see a three-horse race in the mobile market.

Introducing Icenium – an Integrated Cloud Environment for Hybrid Mobile App Development

Today is a day that my team and I have been looking forward to for a long time. Today I am happy to announce that Icenium, an Integrated Cloud Environment (ICE) for hybrid mobile app development, is now available to everyone!

Icenium Logo (1416x321, 54k)

The Story Begins

Back in July 2011, I left Microsoft and joined Telerik to take on an ambitious idea. In my time at Microsoft I had spoken with hundreds of developers and was able to witness first-hand the frustration that many of them felt working with Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) – they were big, bloated and most were designed with only one platform, or one platform vendor in mind (e.g. Visual Studio, xCode, etc.). For developers that targeted multiple platforms, using these IDEs meant downloading, installing and managing multiple platform SDKs and two or more separate development environments. For example, targeting the most relevant platforms in the world today – iOS and Android – meant using xCode with Objective C and Eclipse with Java, along with all the SDKs and tools that go along with them. Nearly 3 GB of downloads to install and maintain (not to mention, you have to have a Mac OS X environment, automatically excluding Windows-based developers). I was no different from the developers I talked to. I used these tools all the time. They took up a lot of my time to download and configure, they took up a lot of hard drive space, and they required a powerful development machine.

I also observed that while I was writing code, I was also listening to music from Pandora, saving documents in DropBox, and keeping notes in Evernote. Nearly everything I used daily was not only cloud-connected, but the cloud played a significant role in enabling the technology; that is, the technology wouldn’t have functioned without the cloud. Everything except my development tools (OK, maybe I’d deploy an app to the cloud, but the cloud didn’t aid me in my development efforts).

An ICE Age is Coming

The idea that a development environment required all of the SDKs and platform dependencies to be installed locally on a development machine with massive RAM and a big hard drive felt so antiquated compared to the other apps I used which were light-weight and used the cloud in a meaningful way. This made me want to redefine what a development environment was. I wanted to build something that enabled developers to build across a variety of platforms, and now that cloud connectivity was ubiquitous for developers, it was possible.

I left Microsoft in pursuit of a company that would allow me to chase my crazy idea, and Telerik is just that crazy (talking to you Forte). I didn’t want to build just another IDE. I wanted to build something different; I wanted to build an ICE – an Integrated Cloud Environment. I believed that we could improve cross-platform development by decoupling the gestures of writing code from the platform dependencies required when building apps. Specifically I wanted to decouple coding from the big, bloated SDKs that limited the development experience to one where the coding environment and the target environment required affinity.

The primary objective in building an ICE was to enable developers to build apps that targeted any relevant platform from any development. My theory was that we could extract the SDKs from the local coding environment and turn them into cloud-based services that could still function as part of an integrated workflow for developing apps. In other words, it still had to be an integrated development experience, and the cloud – not your OS and RAM – would become the enabling technology. The experience had to be functional, capable and simple. The age of having to master multiple complex development environments and SDKs is coming to an end. The new ICE age will usher in a new type of development tools, and the dinosaur IDEs will die off soon enough.

Welcome Icenium

Icenium™ is the realization of that vision. Icenium combines the convenience of a modern coding environment with the power and flexibility of the cloud to manage platform dependencies. Icenium enables you to build applications without being limited by the development environment having to be compatible with the run-time environment (e.g. Mac OS X to iOS). It enables you to focus on the content of your application without the headache of managing multiple SDKs and development environments. With Icenium you can use Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, or even device operating systems, like iOS on an iPad, to build hybrid applications that are distributable through the app stores, and run natively on iOS and Android devices.

I believe web developers are looking for ways to move from mobile-optimized web sites to building apps that run on devices, so we built Icenium with web developers in mind. We leverage Apache Cordova (aka PhoneGap) to enable you to use HTML, CSS and JavaScript to build your application. When your project is compiled, we build the iOS and Android native bits in the cloud, which means you don’t have to think about SDKs, Objective C or Java. Just focus on your app and leave the platform dependencies to us.

We also tailored the development experience to web developers. Most web developers (me included) prefer to work with capable, text-based code editors (and not WYSIWYG tools that modify your code without your consent), a browser and some debugging tools, such as WebKit Inspector, so we designed Icenium to work the same way. The Icenium coding environment is a simple text-based code editor, packed with advanced capabilities including syntax coloring and formatting, real-time error detection, refactoring, code navigation, and more.

Iterate quickly on your design with the integrated device simulator.

Each development client (Icenium Graphite for Windows and Icenium Mist in the browser) includes a device simulator that enables you to test your application much like you would test a web app in a browser. The device simulators include options for simulating iPhone, iPad, Android phone and Android tablet, including a geolocation simulator and the ability to rotate and flip the device. The device simulators expose the ability to use WebKit Inspector-based debugging tools – the tools you already know. We have tried to replicate the working style you already use for web apps, making the transition to mobile application development simple and intuitive.

Icenium Graphite™

Icenium Graphite with real-time syntax error detection.

Icenium Graphite is an installable development tool for Windows operating systems. It is a WPF app that provides you with the ability to build a cross-platform mobile application, test it in a device simulator, build the app (in the cloud of course) and deploy it to multiple devices at once. When you are ready, you can switch to a “release” build setting, add your icons and splash screens and package your app for publishing to the Apple AppStore or Google Play.

Icenium LiveSync™

Icenium LiveSync is one of the truly magical features of Graphite. With LiveSync you can build and deploy your app to one or more iOS and Android devices with nothing more than the click of a button. Your app is built in the cloud, and then delivered back to Graphite where it is pushed over USB to all connected devices.

Icenium integrates Apache Cordova to enable cross-platform mobile application development for iOS and Android devices.

I usually have 10 or 11 connected at once, including iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPad 1, iPad 3, Google Nexus, Google Nexus 7, Galaxy S2 Skyrocket, Galaxy S3, Galaxy Tab 8.9”, Galaxy Note 10”, HTC One X, and the Kindle Fire.

After the app is on the devices you can test it out and see how it works on different screen sizes and pixel densities (e.g. Retina display), not to mention different form factors (phone and tablets). If you want to make a change, simply add, edit or remove the HTML, CSS or JavaScript in your project and click “Save.” When you do, the changes are saved (in the cloud of course) and immediately pushed down to the running app on all connected devices. That means you can work in rapid iterations and see your changes on the devices in real-time, as you make them.

Icenium Mist™

Icenium Mist is a browser-based development environment..

Icenium Mist is the browser-based sister of Graphite. Mist provides nearly all of the same functionality as Graphite, and works on a variety of platforms. I use Mist on my MacBook Air, and even on my iPad, when I am away from my office. Mist also includes the modern conveniences of Graphite, such as syntax coloring, statement completion, and version control integration, as well as a browser-based device simulator that can render your app on an iPhone, iPad, Android phone and Android tablet.

Since Mist is browser-based, it doesn’t have access to deploy apps to devices via USB. Instead, you can build your app and deploy it to a device by downloading the app and pushing it to your devices manually, or simply scan the on-screen QR code and the app will be downloaded to your device.

LiveSync On-Demand

Whether using Graphite or Mist, we’ve included the option to use LiveSync in an “on-demand” way. If your app is on a device and either you’ve disconnected it from USB (when using Graphite) or you deployed the app manually or with a QR code, you can request an app update easily and the content of the app will be refreshed based on your latest saved changes in either Graphite or Mist. If it’s an iOS device, simply press three fingers to the screen for a couple seconds and you will see the download begin. If it’s an Android device, simply press the context menu and the download will begin. LiveSync on demand means you can see your changes on any device, anytime, anywhere.

Icenium Ion™

Icenium Ion enables you to forget about device provisioning during development.

If you’re familiar with Apple’s iOS development model, you know that in order to deploy an app onto an iOS device you need to first provision that device through the Apple Developer Center. Icenium fully supports working with provisioned devices – in fact Icenium can aid you in creating the Certificate Signing Request required when requesting a device provision. However, if you want to try out your app without provisioning your phone, or you want a stakeholder or beta tester to try out your app and give you feedback, then Icenium Ion is the tool you need. Ion is a development and testing utility (downloadable for free from the AppStore) that enables you to load your app onto any iOS device regardless of whether or not it has been provisioned. Simply scan a QR code provided by Icenium and the app will download and launch inside Ion. Of course, LiveSync on demand works perfectly with Ion too.

Version Control

Icenium Graphite Code Editor with Version Control-Diff Window
Integrated version control means your code is safely stored and versioned in the cloud.

Of course a development tool wouldn’t be complete without integrated version control, and a cloud-based tool better integrate with popular cloud-based version control systems, so we did just that. By default all Icenium projects are connected to an integrated Git repository in the cloud, and you can optionally configure your project to use any URL-based Git repository, including GitHub and BitBucket. Both public and private projects are supported, enabling you to collaborate and version your code safely.

Kick the Wheels (for a while)

As I mentioned, today we have released Icenium for everyone to use. In fact, I don’t want there to be any barrier in your way to trying out Icenium, so I decided to make it free for the next 6-months. We won’t begin charging anyone for Icenium until May 1, 2013. So go to Icenium.com, create an account and start building cross-platform mobile apps today. I’ll bet you can build an app faster than it takes to download xCode.

Hybrid or Native?

In their recent Developer Economics 2012 report, VisionMobile calls out (on page 29) the question of Hybrid or Native. What is the right technology choice when considering the development of a new application? Which is better, HTML5 (mobile web or hybrid) applications, or native applications. Clearly each have their advantages and disadvantages, right? According to VisionMobile, this is the wrong question.
In the report, VisionMobile identifies three decision criteria that must be evaluated in order to make the choice between HTML and native.

  1. Existing assets: Which languages does your development team know? What languages are your legacy content assets coded in?
  2. Depth vs. breadth of experience: Do you need to deliver deep experiences and code directly to the platform? Or is breadth of experience more important, which would lead you to leverage cross-platform tools/hybrid solutions?
  3. Distribution channel and monetization: Are you a major brand with existing customer accounts, or do you need app stores to reach and bill customers.

Personally I like the way VisionMobile looks at this decision tree. The fact is, there is no universal truth – hybrid is not always better than native and native is not always better than hybrid. The technology decision has to be made while considering all of these factors.

Recently I was at a technology trade show where we were demo’ing Icenium non-stop for several days. Every demo I did I would ask the person I was speaking with about their interest in mobile app development and their background. My anecdotal findings are that the majority of the people I engaged with were coming from a web development background and either approaching mobile because of the opportunity it provides (reaching millions of people) or because they are being directed to by their boss (e.g. how can they mobilize their existing web assets). In either case, the person I was speaking with and the development team they were representing had existing skills in HTML and JavaScript, and were somewhat intimidated by Objective-C and Java (or at least frustrated that they were going to have to learn anther set of skills to solve this problem).

In either case, if these people used the decision tree presented by VisionMobile, in many of their cases they would choose Hybrid as the right solution for them – the have skills and content assets in HTML & JavaScript (#1), in almost all cases they were looking for a breadth experience over a depth experience (#2), and either wanted in-house enterprise distribution or AppStore distribution.

The fact of the matter is that Hybrid apps are a perfectly good technology choice in many cases (possibly more so than native). They are easily approachable because they use languages and technologies that the majority of developers are familiar with, which drives down the cost of development, and they can reach multiple platforms with a relatively low cost of development per platform (another huge plus for the people I spoke with).

Hybrid apps may not be the right technology choice all of the time….but I am betting hybrid is the best choice 80% of the time. What do you think?

Should You Go Hybrid?

Over the past week, since we released the first beta of Icenium, I’ve been talking with lots of web and mobile web developers who are either starting to develop apps for mobile devices, or who are going to be starting soon. These folks, who are new to building apps that run on devices, have lots of questions about the options available to them, and lots of confusion over native-vs-mobile web-vs-hybrid.

For the purposes of this conversation, I’ll use the following definitions:

  • Native apps are built for a specific platform with the platform SDK, tools and languages, typically provided by the platform vendor (e.g. xCode/Objective-C for iOS, Eclipse/Java for Android, Visual Studio/C# for Widnows Phone).
  • Mobile Web apps are server-side apps, built with any server-side technology (PHP, Node.js, ASP.NET) that render HTML that has been styled so that it renders well on a device form factor.
  • Hybrid apps, like native apps, run on the device, and are written with web technologies (HTML5, CSS and JavaScript). Hybrid apps run inside a native container, and leverage the device’s browser engine (but not the browser) to render the HTML and process the JavaScript locally. A web-to-native abstraction layer enables access to device capabilities that are not accessible in Mobile Web applications, such as the accelerometer, camera and local storage.

What Should I Choose?

One of the most common concerns for web developers new to the mobile app world is the learning curve required to build native apps, or the lack of education on what a hybrid app is. My advice is, before committing down a single path, consider the user experience and what each option provides you. Native apps will always provide the fastest performance, at the cost of being more complex to code when compared to a hybrid app, while a hybrid app will be easier to build, using HTML5 and JavaScript, at the cost of giving up a little bit of speed. If the user experience you want to create is a Need for Speed style game, chances are you’ll want to use native technology to implement the app for each mobile platform you’re targeting in order to get the best graphics performance. If you want to build the next Foursquare, using geolocation and providing a means for displaying data and updating data, a hybrid app is a perfect solution and enables you to build it once, publish it through app stores, and have it work on several platforms.

Like any other technology choice, deciding between native and hybrid requires you to look at the user experience and decide on the level of investment you need to make to achieve the goal. Native apps will always require more investment because they are written with more complex languages, designs and structures. They also need to be written/rewritten for each mobile platform you are targeting. Hybrid apps will always enable you to build for more platforms faster, if you are willing to sacrifice small amounts of performance (e.g. game-level responsiveness).

What is a Hybrid App?

Hybrid, by definition is anything derived from heterogeneous sources, or composed of elements of different or incongruous kinds. A hybrid app is one that is written with the same technology used for websites and mobile web implementations, and that is hosted or runs inside a native container on a mobile device. It is the marriage of web technology and native execution.

Hybrid apps use a web view control (UIWebView on iOS, WebView on Android and others) to present the HTML and JavaScript files in a full-screen format, using the native browser rendering engine (not the browser itself). WebKit is the browser rendering engine that is used on iOS, Android, Blackberry and others. That means that the HTML and JavaScript used to construct a hybrid app is rendered/processed by the WebKit rendering engine (for you Windows 8 folks, this is what the IE10 engine does for Metro style apps that use WinJS) and displayed to the user in a full-screen web view control, not in a browser. No longer are you constrained to using HTML and JavaScript for only in-browser implementations on mobile devices.

The real secret sauce of hybrid apps is the implementation of an abstraction layer that exposes the device capabilities (read: native APIs) to the hybrid app as a JavaScript API. This is something not possible with Mobile Web implementations because of the security boundary between the browser and the device APIs. Apache Cordova (formerly PhoneGap) is an example of a JavaScript abstraction layer over native APIs (for you Windows 8 folks, WinJS is another example of a JavaScript abstraction layer on top of native APIs). Through this abstraction layer a common set of APIs is exposed in JavaScript, and these JavaScript APIs work on any device supported by the framework (for WinJS that’s only Windows 8, but for Cordova that is seven mobile platforms including iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone 7). When the native wrapper is compiled around the HTML, CSS and JavaScript resources, there is an interop layer added that connects the JavaScript APIs with the platform specific APIs.

What this really means is that, for example if I build a mobile app with Apache Cordova, I can use JavaScript to access a native API, like the camera, using a single API call regardless of what platform the app will run on.

navigator.camera.getPicture (onCameraSuccess, onCameraError, { quality: 50,
    destinationType: Camera.DestinationType.DATA_URL

function onCameraSuccess (imageData) {
    var image = document.getElementById('myImage');
    image.src = "data:image/jpeg;base64," + imageData;

function onCameraError (message) {
    alert('Failed because: ' + message);

Under the covers the JavaScript is making an interop call that access the native API for the camera. That means that on an iOS device this JavaScript is calling into the native layer to instantiate a  UIImagePickerController and on Android it creates an Intent to use MediaStore.ACTION_IMAGE_CAPTURE to take a picture. When developing a hybrid app you don’t need to worry about this level of detail. All you need to do is call the JavaScript function (navigator.camera.getPicture() in this case), and respond to the outcome (the imageData passed to the onCameraSuccess call back function in this case).


Hybrid apps are a great option for you if you:

  1. Want to target multiple mobile platforms
  2. Want to take advantage of device capabilities like geolocation, accelerometer or the camera
  3. Want the app to be useable when the device is offline
  4. Don’t need the advanced graphics performance that you can only get from a native app.

Hybrid apps are built with web technologies which means there are millions of web developers who already have the base skill set to build mobile apps.

Here is a graph that highlights the differences in native, hybrid and mobile web applications.