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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.