We’ve talked about many different ways to make enterprise applications accessible from mobile devices—mobile app management, remote desktops, Windows app refactoring—now add web app refactoring to that list. I recently became acquainted with Capriza, a startup with a product that reformats traditional web-based applications into focused, browser-based mobile apps.
Essentially, Capriza sits as a proxy in between a web app and a mobile browser and remaps elements to work better on a mobile device. But the interesting part is that instead of just converting an entire website into a mobile version with big, touch-friendly buttons, Capriza combines specific elements into custom workflows that are much more like mobile apps. All refactoring takes place in a Firefox-based conversion engine, but the client can be any mobile browser on any mobile platform.
Building an app involves manually remapping the functions of your existing web app into the format and workflow you need for the new mobile app, but Capriza makes it pretty easy. It provides a Firefox-based console that shows the source website on one side and a mock-up of the mobile version on the other; from there you simply select what elements you want to appear on each page of the mobile version, building the app workflow as you go. There’s an array of different tools for converting text, links, radio buttons, charts, graphs, images, and so on. You can also reorder elements and change things like labels, colors, and the theme.
Underneath the hood, Capriza reads the source web app’s code, using HTML div tags as reference points, and all the conversion instructions are stored as XML files. Since everything Capriza does is based on the tags in the source website, weird formatting could mean that you have to work harder to the get exact output you want for the mobile version. And as you can imagine, Capriza doesn’t work with web apps that use Flash or ActiveX. Keep in mind that Capriza doesn't require any changes to the source website at all, so these apps can be built for public websites, too!
On the client side, the re-formatted apps can use device-native features like drop down pick lists, and Capriza can distribute the apps by sharing links or giving users a portal to go to. From there, creating a shortcut icon and hiding the browser menu and navigation bars gives a more native experience.
In production, the Firefox-based conversion engine can run in the cloud, hosted by Capriza, or in a virtual machine completely on-premises. And if your app requires a VPN, it just uses whatever infrastructure you currently have in place.
Where Capriza fits into the landscape
Like I said earlier, we talk a lot about all sorts of ways to get enterprise applications to mobile devices, and Capriza is a welcome addition to our toolbox. Out of all the techniques—building native apps, using mobile app management, remote desktops, or Windows app formatting with the XenApp Mobility Pack or Framehawk—Capriza seems like one of the quickest and easiest. This will definitely fit the bill for a lot of apps. It even seems like a product that someone in outside of IT could pick up to spend an afternoon or two building an department-level app.
A few more bits of information about Capriza: For right now, it’s really just meant for internal-facing apps, not public apps. The rack rate is $9.99 per user per domain per month (with unlimited apps), with a sliding scale from there. They’re in a fairly early stage, with 15 employees in Palo Alto and 15 in Israel. Capriza has been working on their product for about two years now, they just came out of stealth mode in January, and they have about 30 customers.
Take a look at this test app I built for BrianMadden.com
As you know, BrianMadden.com isn’t exactly mobile enabled, so I instantly thought of all sorts of things I could do with Capriza. First things first, I built an app to let us view and post article comments. I sent this out to Brian and Gabe, so we’ll give it a good trial.
While building this app I found that I had to work around a few limitations with the way our article pages are formatted, but a few extra div tags in our template would smooth things out. Still, it was pretty easy to get what I wanted, and the app works consistently across different pieces of content. I asked Capriza about the this, and they said they do sometimes run into these issues for blog sites, but they have fewer problems with more enterprise-type applications. You can see some of their examples at https://www.capriza.com/use-cases.
My only complaint about using Capriza so far is that I would have liked some sort of ability to see what was going on in the code in addition to the the visual app-building tool. Building the app was like using a WYSIWYG editor without having the option to switch over to a code view to really know what’s going on underneath the surface. The documentation was also pretty limited—of course in a startup there are always a million things to do, but hopefully they’ll get to that soon.
Overall, I’ll be keeping an eye on Capriza—it’s definitely interesting and has a lot of potential for our space.
Finally, here’s the app I built. The Capriza version is on the left and the unmodified pages are on the right, for reference. It’s pretty simple. First, sign in to BrianMadden.com:
From there you’re taken to the list of all articles:
Click on the individual article:
And comment away!