A new startup called "PowWow" is coming out of stealth today with a cool way to deliver Windows, Linux, and desktop web apps to mobile devices. (iPads are the focus now, with other platforms and form factors coming soon.)
PowWow is trying to fill the niche for customers who need usable mobile apps but who don't have the time, budget, or expertise to actually develop a native mobile app. Before PowWow the only real options have been to use web apps (which often lack functionality and still don't always work well on mobile devices), or to use a desktop remoting solution like RDSH or VDI (which are clunky since they're delivering desktop apps to mobile touch-based clients.)
PowWow's solution is to use RDSH to deliver remote desktop applications to mobile devices (just like Citrix or VMware), but with a twist—PowWow has per-app and per-device gesture and custom keyboard mappings, meaning you can make the desktop applications feel more like mobile apps.
PowWow's platform also has multiuser app sharing built in, so you can instantly share your desktop app for collaboration, screen sharing, etc.
Gesture mapping and custom keyboards
When you configure a new desktop app which you want to deliver to your mobile users via PowWow, you can map any iOS gesture (swipe, long press, two-finger tap, etc.) to any of several "hooks" in the desktop app, including:
- Keyboard and mouse events
- Anything they can get to via COM
- The application's APIs
These mappings can be different for different apps.
PowWow can also map device-specific items like the camera and geolocation to APIs running on the remote host.
For keyboards, PowWow can add additional keys to the main keyboard or they can add full additional keyboards (like for the Bloomberg terminal). They can also add buttons that can cascade and replace Windows menus or that can perform anything the gestures can do from the list above. This means that you can create what's essentially a single row "keyboard" across the bottom of the iPad screen which can map to important tasks in that app, and users can show/hide it as needed or flip to the full keyboard whenever they need.
PowWow also does UI mapping which translates UI elements of the backend desktop app to device-specific UI elements on the client. For example, if PowWow sees a scroll bar in a window in the remote app, that scroll bar will not appear one the client and the user will scroll that window via a drag gesture. PowWow can also swap out remote desktop app drop-down menus for iPad-specific buttons. For remote web apps, anything that's accessible via the DOM is fair game, so they can really transform how they look from an iPad client.
To get this mapping set up, you can start with simple gesture mappings which mean you get applications available on mobile devices very quickly. Once the apps are running, you can get feedback on the problem areas of the application, and take more time to provide a better experience by implementing some more of the app-specific tweaks mentioned above.
App sharing and multiuser capabilities
The other major feature of PowWow is that since all the apps they deliver are coming from datacenter or cloud-based servers, they can allow users to share their session from any application. This is kind of like Join.me or Webex, except that you can share your screen from your mobile device. (This is not possible with an iPad ordinarily since you can't have your conference client and the app you want to share running at the same time.)
PowWow allows all the stuff you'd expect. Multiple people editing at once, one person leading while the others watch, etc. It's also kind of cool because the app sharing is built around this concept of "rooms" which are like little project spaces where you gather a bunch of documents and apps together for groups of people to collaborate on.
PowWow can hook into your files via Dropbox, Google Drive, SharePoint, file shares, etc. When you click on a file to open it, it opens it from the remote end and sends down the UI of whatever app has opened it.
PowWow is available now for $25 per user per month (when they host everything for you). There are other pricing options for various architectures which allow you to run some (or all) of the PowWow servers on your site.