Spotlight

Spotlight

Charles Weir, managing director at Penrillian
Charles Weir, managing director at Penrillian

Under the spotlight this month is Penrillian managing director, Charles Weir. Penrillian is a software development company specialising in developing applications for mobile and wireless devices. Founded over 10 years ago, it is trusted to solve the trickiest technical challenges and has worked with all of the UK mobile network operators, covering server applications to the user interface.

MB: Penrillian is a cross-platform mobile application developer for operators, technology companies and others. What do you believe is the importance of focusing on cross- platform app development, rather than focusing on a single operating system? Which app platform is currently the most popular for developers, would you say, and which app platform holds the highest potential for future growth?

CW: There is huge fragmentation in the handset market, with iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian, Windows Mobile, Meego, JavaPhone, Bada, and others. To cover all handsets would require implementations for each of these.

 

Practically, for reasonable market coverage, we typically need at least three very different platforms; iPhone alone is never enough.

iPhone is most popular with developers, because it’s easy, sexy, and is seen as a boost to the CV. Apple’s AppStore is easily the best route to market, though only the top few hundred apps make money on a commercial scale.

iPhone is popular with brands too; all must have their iPhone app, though given iPhone’s relatively small share of the market, this is often ‘tick box thinking’ rather than carefully thought out strategy for reaching users.

The interesting market is for applications which deliver a valuable service using web services, with revenue from usage rather than for the application download. Perhaps the most famous is Google Maps, available for most platforms, with huge future potential via advertising. Because the cloud infrastructure is shared across all platforms, the applications can be relatively small, keeping the costs of crossplatform development correspondingly small.

However, the platform that follows the highest potential for growth right now is clearly Android. It is seen as a major target for the middle market for virtually all of the operators. The culture of Android does not encourage prepayment for applications, but if applications are used with services which are good for monetisation, then you have considerable potential for making money.

MB: The growth of smartphones has led to an increasing focus on mobile security, as these small, easy to loose devices hold and control more information and more network access. What does Penrillian do in mobile security? What are the key issues today in mobile security for businesses attempting to manage staff with devices for work and personal use? What are the most common ways in which mobile devices can be infiltrated digitally at the moment, and how can they be protected?

CW: Penrillian has done a variety of mobile security projects for our clients. We have worked on a variety of handset security solutions, and are currently working on ‘Black Belt’, a virus checking and phone security solution from UMU Global. We have produced secure messaging solutions for 2Ergo and components for device management and synchronization for a variety of clients.

The key issues for mobile security for business are: the ability to secure a lost phone; the ability to detect expensive phone use; and defending against malware.

These have different kinds of solutions. Securing a lost phone requires the ability to receive a message from a secure server to lock, disable, or wipe a handset. Checking for expensive phone use is better done from the service provider end, and several system providers have solutions to take real time or daily updates from operator billing systems and detect anomalies.

Malware on handsets is not yet the major problem it is on PCs, partly because the same fragmentation that hampers application developers also discourages malware. However, the problem is much more alarming than on PCs because the phone is capable of controlling payments from the user. And malware is moving from a cottage industry peopled by mischiefmakers, to being big crime business, with the target of making money for the distributors.

Forewarned by the PC virus situation, most manufactures have schemes to prevent malware. Such schemes are mainly based on ‘application signing’, where only code either directly or indirectly sanctioned by the phone manufacturer can be installed on the device. However, the huge rate of creation of new applications means that signing approaches can’t be relied on to detect and prevent malware.

Most handset malware gets installed by deceiving users; such ‘Trojan Horses’ offer free messaging, games or access to pornography to get them to install it. The offers may be from app stores, websites, or SMS messages. A few viruses even spread via MMS. There’s also commercial spyware, installed by someone else to spy on the user.

So nowadays the options to control malware are preventing handset users from installing any application at all, or software on the phones to check for malware (‘virus checkers’).

While the first option is possible on BlackBerry devices through Blackberry Enterprise Server, it is of course unpopular with handset users. So virus checkers are increasingly becoming the solution of choice, and Penrillian is there to lend a hand.