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Build for One, Deploy to Many

A new platform opens things up for aspiring app developers.

The mobile content applications sector presents entrepreneurs with an ever-widening target for fresh ideas. They need only to overcome the fragmented technology nature of the mobile industry itself.

Devices such as the iPhone and the Droid have redefined mobile phone capabilities, but device formats and software operating systems and carrier delivery platforms are silos within silos, each requiring a single, usually small, usually cost-challenged application developer to reinvent the wheel every time it tries to land its app on a new device.

The folks behind Tarsin, based near Reno, Nev., have been studying this problem long before game-changing devices hit the scene.

"The idea of designing once and delivering across a portfolio of devices hasn't existed," says John Osbourne, CEO and co-founder of Tarsin. The company began life as a partner to Osbourne's former employer, Motorola. Device makers traditionally don't concern themselves with configuring apps to work on one another's devices (kind of encourages comparison shopping). Tarsin developed Capsa, a widget-style framework supporting apps to run on devices with different operating systems, screen presentations and functional menus. Capsa doesn't replace the software development kits designers use to create apps for specific phones; it helps them make sense of a world in which so many SDKs exist in the first place.

"There's a thin client in the platform that helps an app recognize what kind of device it's delivering to, so you can have devices of different screen formats sharing the app, and it works on both of them," says Mitch Harbaugh, Tarsin vice president of marketing.

The cost and labor required to create apps again and again for different phones likely has kept some developers out of the game. Tarsin's trying to open the gates for entrepreneurs flummoxed about how to achieve mass-market scalability.

It also solves the same pressing problem for megawatt corporate brands. Hallmark, for instance, used Capsa to launch a mass-market mobile greeting app, Osbourne says. "Many big corporate brands have wanted to do a mobile app, have dipped a toe in the water and said, 'Shit, this is difficult.'"

Dan O'Shea is a Chicago-based writer who has been covering telecom, mobile and other high-tech topics for nearly 20 years.

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This article was originally published in the April 2010 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Build for One, Deploy to Many.

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