This blog is dedicated to open, interoperable manufacturing software and the coolest, latest and greatest things I see every day while conducting business under the banner of Inductive Automation.

Hello, my name is Steve Hechtman and I am president of Inductive Automation. During the span of one day there is more excitement, more discovery than I can possibly keep to myself. This blog is, therefore, my outlet. WARNING: This site is highly biased in favor of the most powerful, affordable manufacturing software in the world - Ignition by Inductive Automation!

Ignition Mobile - The Backstory

You will soon see announcements about the Ignition Mobile Module. But in this post I want to tell you about the behind-the-scenes action leading up to its development.

For over five years, mobile access has been the most requested item for Ignition – overwhelmingly so. It's not that we took so long to develop it, but rather, we weren't settled on the best way to go about it. We didn't want to jump off rashly into using a poor model or short-lived technology that we would later regret using.

We hadn't settled on our approach until recently. The final product (which is still in beta testing) makes it look so simple, but what we've done behind the scenes is unprecedented. Ignition Mobile is based on the HTML5 canvas element. It can run on iPhone, iPad, iPod, Blackberry 6 or any Andriod-based device such as the Droid, DroidX or HTC smartphone. It doesn't require the JRE or any sort of plug-in at all.

The best part of all is that you don't need to develop separate special screens (unless you want to) because the screens you develop for standard deployment can be used for mobile as well. You can zoom and pan your existing applications such that even the most densely populated screens can be viewed and interacted with in amazing detail.

Technology Decisions
So how did we get there? We considered quite a few technologies because settling on the right technology was vital. Consider if we had selected Flash as our technology in light of Apple's recent decision not to support it on mobile devices. Silverlight Mobile technically holds promise but since it's likely to remain proprietary, and given Microsoft' proneness to abandon technologies in favor of newer ones every four years or so, we didn't think that was a good choice either. We considered many, many ways to make mobile and vacillated all over the place for years.

Finally I laid down some criteria: 1. Must be able to run on any modern mobile device. 2. Must not require a plug-in. 3. Must be able to reuse existing applications and not require duplicate mobile app development. 4. Must support zoom and pan. 5. Must be based on open standards. 6. Must be based technology that holds the best promise of longevity. 7. Must be secure. 8. Must be a simple to install module with near zero configuration.

Once those criteria were laid down things really started to move fast. Like I said before, we make it look easy, but there's a lot of technology behind it. In essence, when you launch from a mobile device it actually launches it on the server in the headless mode (resides in memory instead of going to your monitor). You can launch any number of these but you do use server resources, unlike the normal deployment model. What you see on the mobile device then is a picture of the application running on the server updated in real-time. Your clicks and other interactions are then fed back to the client application running on the server.

This is sort of like VNC but it doesn't project the desktop, only the application. And it does it into a webpage via the HTML5 canvas component. The canvas component is very fast and it allows you to zoom and pan for those devices that support that.

Surprised by the Results
Now we've got people running all over the office with cell phone in hand showing off the coolest new things in Ignition Mobile. Frankly, we did have our doubts this technological approach would really work. We didn't think it would be responsive enough. But in our early proof-of-concept testing we were left ecstatic because it worked so well. But as always, the devil is in the details. There have been many technological challenges while perfecting this technology but we've overcome them.

We really hope Ignition Mobile will generate as much excitement outside our office as it has inside. It is targeted to be available January 25.

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