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JetBlue Airways may be known for its high-tech efficiencies, but its system for tracking cargo—computers and airplane parts—that it hauls between hubs in New York; in Long Beach, California; and around the country was decidedly low-tech. As the airline grew, its inventory tracking needed to keep pace with the times too. JetBlue turned to a mobile application to solve the problem.

Working for three months, three of its in-house programmers built an application in Microsoft Visual Studio .NET 2003 that lets personnel on the ground track shipments. Using Pocket PC-based handhelds with bar code scanners, up to 20 people in each cargo center can scan shipments and store time stamps and destination information. All the information is synchronized with a main database when they cradle their handhelds at the end of the day. In only seven months, “the application has paid for itself,” says Ryan Plant, manager of development and systems architecture at the airline. Now the company is considering rolling out the same application for its consumer cargo business.

Such success stories are playing out in more and more businesses as mobile application development rides a definite upswing and heavy hitters like Microsoft and IBM deliver robust tools for building mobile apps. These kinds of projects typically break even in six months, according to Gartner Research, and analysts there forecast an 80 percent increase in the number of mobile applications in use from 2003 to 2004. By giving workers in the warehouse, showroom, or customer location access to critical enterprise information, mobile applications are starting to have a direct impact on the bottom line.

When PC Magazine last covered mobile development in the fall of 2002, mobile corporate applications were just emerging. Since then handhelds have become more powerful, with faster CPUs and more memory, and development tools have come a long way. For this story, we evaluated four mobile development tools by building our own application to help taxi drivers record their fares. We tested the mobile versions of two competing programming environments: Java 2 Micro Edition and Microsoft .NET Compact Framework.

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