Tech Fridays: Titanium Mobile and the Electronic Laboratory Notebook Usability Problem

September 04, 2009

Anyone trying to develop a commercially viable electronic laboratory notebook system needs to address the single biggest usability issue facing this approach: hardware.

Mobile devices are not only getting cheaper and more powerful, but they are practically begging for laboratory notebook-like applications to be built specifically for them. Their chocolate-bar form factors, low startup latency, and pin-sharp graphics make them intriguing candidates to replace awkward laptops and tablet computers in chemically-hostile environments.

The problem is that the mobile device industry is still in its infancy; unlike laptops and desktops, there is still plenty of room for newcomers to turn the market upside-down. Fewer things are more discouraging to a potential application developer.

One approach is to view mobile devices as just another consumer of Web resources and stick to HTML, CSS, and JavaScript customized for a mobile form factor. The downside is that certain kinds of services that might be quite useful in a laboratory - such as a camera - might not be available through a browser-based client.

Fortunately, there is an alternative - Titanium Mobile. This platform enables developers to write a single version of their application in JavaScript/CSS/HTML that gets compiled to native binaries for both iPhone and Android mobile devices.

I haven't yet used Titanium Mobile, but plan to do so in the next few weeks. If you have a small laboratory application that could benefit from software written for a mobile device platform, I'd like to hear from you.

Thanks to Scott Motte for his SD Ruby presentation on Titanium Mobile.