Tag Archives: mobile

GeoPix: A sample iOS app powered by IBM MobileFirst for Bluemix

In this post I’d like to show a fairly simple application that I put together which shows off some of the rich capabilities for IBM MobileFirst for Bluemix that you get out of the box – All with an absolute minimal amount of your own developer effort.  Bluemix, of course, being IBM’s platform as a service offering.

GeoPix is a sample application leveraging IBM MobileFirst for Bluemix to capture data and images on a mobile device, persist that data locally (offline), and replicate that data to the cloud. Since it’s built with IBM MobileFirst, we get lots of things out of the box, including operational analytics, user authentication, and much more.

(full source code at the bottom of this post)

Here’s what the application currently does:

  • User can take a picture or select an image from the device
  • App captures geographic location when the image is captured
  • App saves both the image and metadata to a local data store on the device.
  • App uses asynchronous replication to automatically save any data in local store up to the remote store whenever the network is available
  • Oh yeah, can’t forget, the user auth is via Facebook
  • MobileFirst provides all the analytics we need.  Bluemix provides the cloud based server and Cloudant NoSQL data store.
  • All captured data is available on a web based front-end powered by Node.js

Here’s a video of it in action:

… and you can check out the web interface at geopix.mybluemix.net.

(full source code at the bottom of this post)

This is powered by the iOS 8 MobileFirst application boilerplate on Bluemix.  With this application template you can have your backend infrastructure setup within minutes, and it includes:

  • User authentication
  • Usage/operational analytics
  • Cloudant NoSQL DB
  • Simplified Push Notifications
  • Node.js backend

In this sample I’m using everything but the Push Notifications service.  I’m using user authentication, the Cloudant DB (offline/local store and remote/cloud store), and the node.js backend.  You get the operational analytics automatically.

To get started, you just need to create a new iOS 8 mobile application on Bluemix.  See my video series on Getting Started with IBM MobileFirst for Bluemix for a complete walkthrough of creating a new app using MobileFirst for Bluemix, or check out the Getting Started Guide in the official docs.

You need to initialize your app, and make sure you have setup the Facebook identity provider.  You can create your Facebook authentication at https://developers.facebook.com/.  Once the user is authenticated, the client app is fully functional.

The app UI is very simple, basically just two buttons for capturing images (the last captured image shows up in the background):

App's main UI
App’s main UI

There’s also a gallery for viewing local images:

Local gallery view
Local gallery view

Capturing Location

Capturing data is very straightforward.  The geographic location is captured using Apple’s Core Location framework.  We just need to implement the CLLocationManagerDelegate protocol:

- (void)locationManager:(CLLocationManager *)manager
 didUpdateLocations:(NSArray *)locations {

    self.currentLocation = [locations lastObject];
    NSDate* eventDate = self.currentLocation.timestamp;
    NSTimeInterval howRecent = [eventDate timeIntervalSinceNow];
    if (abs(howRecent) < 15.0) {
    // If the event is recent, do something with it.
    locationLabel.text = [NSString stringWithFormat:@" Lat: %+.5f, Lon: %+.5f\n",
      self.currentLocation.coordinate.latitude,
      self.currentLocation.coordinate.longitude];
    }
}

Then initialize CLLocationManager using our class as the location manager’s delegate:

if (self.locationManager == nil)
  self.locationManager = [[CLLocationManager alloc] init];
self.locationManager.delegate = self;
self.locationManager.desiredAccuracy = kCLLocationAccuracyBest;
self.locationManager.pausesLocationUpdatesAutomatically = YES;

Capturing Images

Capturing images from the device is also very straightforward.  In the app I leverage Apple’s UIImagePickerController to allow the user to either upload an existing image or capture a new image.  See the presentImagePicker and didFinishPickingMediaWithInfo below. All of this standard practice using Apple’s developer SDK:

- (void) presentImagePicker:(UIImagePickerControllerSourceType) sourceType {
 if ( sourceType == UIImagePickerControllerSourceTypeCamera  && ![UIImagePickerController isSourceTypeAvailable:UIImagePickerControllerSourceTypeCamera]) {
  [logger logErrorWithMessages:@"device has no camera"];
  UIAlertView *myAlertView = [[UIAlertView alloc] initWithTitle:@"Error"
                 message:@"Device has no camera"
                delegate:nil
             cancelButtonTitle:@"OK"
             otherButtonTitles: nil];
  [myAlertView show];
 };

 if ( sourceType != UIImagePickerControllerSourceTypeCamera || [UIImagePickerController isSourceTypeAvailable:UIImagePickerControllerSourceTypeCamera] ){
  UIImagePickerController *picker = [[UIImagePickerController alloc] init];
  picker.delegate = self;
  picker.allowsEditing = NO;
  picker.sourceType = sourceType;

  [self presentViewController:picker animated:YES completion:NULL];
 }
}

- (void)imagePickerController:(UIImagePickerController *)picker didFinishPickingMediaWithInfo:(NSDictionary *)info {

 [logger logDebugWithMessages:@"didFinishPickingMediaWithInfo"];
 UIImage *image = info[UIImagePickerControllerOriginalImage];
 currentImage.image = image;
 [[DataManager sharedInstance] saveImage:image withLocation:self.currentLocation];
 [picker dismissViewControllerAnimated:YES completion:nil];
}

Persisting Data

If you notice in the didFinishPickingMediaWithInfo method above, there is a call to the DataManager’s saveImage withLocation method. This is where we save data locally and rely on Cloudant’s replication to automatically save data from the local data store up to the Cloudant NoSQL database.  This is powered by the iOS 8 Data service from Bluemix.

The first thing that we will need to do is initialize the local and remote data stores. Below you can see my init method from my DataManager class. In this, you can see the local data store is initialized, then the remote data store is initialized. If either data store already exists, the existing store will be used, otherwise it is created.

-(id) init {
 self = [super init];

 if ( self ) {
  logger = [IMFLogger loggerForName:NSStringFromClass([self class])];
  [logger logDebugWithMessages:@"initializing local datastore 'geopix'..."];

  // initialize an instance of the IMFDataManager
  self.manager = [IMFDataManager sharedInstance];

  NSError *error = nil;
  //create a local data store
  self.datastore = [self.manager localStore:@"geopix" error:&error];

  if (error) {
   [logger logErrorWithMessages:@"Error creating local data store %@",error.description];
  }

  //create a remote data store
  [self.manager remoteStore:@"geopix" completionHandler:^(CDTStore *store, NSError *error) {
   if (error) {
    [logger logErrorWithMessages:@"Error creating remote data store %@",error.description];
   } else {
    [self.manager setCurrentUserPermissions:DB_ACCESS_GROUP_MEMBERS forStoreName:@"geopix" completionHander:^(BOOL success, NSError *error) {
     if (error) {
      [logger logErrorWithMessages:@"Error setting permissions for user with error %@",error.description];
     }

     [self replicate];
    }];
   }
  }];

  //start replication
  [self replicate];
 }

 return self;
} 

Once the data stores are created, you can see that the replicate method is invoked.  This starts up the replication process to automatically push changesfrom the local data store to the remote data store “in the cloud”.

Therefore, if you’re collecting data when the app is offline, then you have nothing to worry about.  All of the data will be stored locally and pushed up to the cloud whenever you’re back online – all with no additional effort on your part.  When using replication with the Cloudant SDK, you just have to start the replication process and let it do it’s thing… fire and forget.

In my replicate function, I setup CDTPushReplication for pushing changes to the remote data store.  You could also setup two-way replication to automatically pull new changes from the remote store.

-(void) replicate {
 if ( self.replicator == nil ) {
  [logger logDebugWithMessages:@"attempting replication to remote datastore..."];

  __block NSError *replicationError;
  CDTPushReplication *push = [self.manager pushReplicationForStore: @"geopix"];
  self.replicator = [self.manager.replicatorFactory oneWay:push error:&replicationError];
  if(replicationError){
   // Handle error
   [logger logErrorWithMessages:@"An error occurred: %@", replicationError.localizedDescription];
  }

  self.replicator.delegate = self;

  replicationError = nil;
  [logger logDebugWithMessages:@"starting replication"];
  [self.replicator startWithError:&replicationError];
  if(replicationError){
   [logger logErrorWithMessages:@"An error occurred: %@", replicationError.localizedDescription];
  }else{
   [logger logDebugWithMessages:@"replication start successful"];
  }
 }
 else {
  [logger logDebugWithMessages:@"replicator already running"];
 }
}

Once we’ve setup the remote and local data stores and setup replication, we now are ready to save the data the we’re capturing within our app.

Next is my saveImage withLocation method.  Here you can see that it creates a new CDTMutableDocumentRevision object (this is a generic object for the Cloudant NoSQL database), and populates it with the location data and timestamp.   It then creates a jpg image from the UIImage (passed in from the UIImagePicker above) and adds the jpg as an attachment to the document revision.  Once the document is created, it is saved to the local data store.   We then let replication take care of persisting this data to the back end.

-(void) saveImage:(UIImage*)image withLocation:(CLLocation*)location {

 [logger logDebugWithMessages:@"saveImage withLocation"];

 //save in background thread
 dispatch_async(dispatch_get_global_queue(DISPATCH_QUEUE_PRIORITY_BACKGROUND, 0), ^(void) {

  [logger logDebugWithMessages:@"creating document..."];

  NSDate *now = [NSDate date];
  NSString *dateString = [NSDateFormatter localizedStringFromDate:now
                 dateStyle:NSDateFormatterShortStyle
                 timeStyle:NSDateFormatterFullStyle];

  // Create a document
  CDTMutableDocumentRevision *rev = [CDTMutableDocumentRevision revision];
  rev.body = @{
      @"sort": [NSNumber numberWithDouble:[now timeIntervalSince1970]],
      @"clientDate": dateString,
      @"latitude": [NSNumber numberWithFloat:location.coordinate.latitude],
      @"longitude": [NSNumber numberWithFloat:location.coordinate.longitude],
      @"altitude": [NSNumber numberWithFloat:location.altitude],
      @"course": [NSNumber numberWithFloat:location.course],
      @"type": @"com.geopix.entry"
      };

  [logger logDebugWithMessages:@"creating image attachment..."];

  NSDate *date = [NSDate date];
  NSString *imageName = [NSString stringWithFormat:@"image%f.jpg", [date timeIntervalSince1970]];

  NSString *tempDirectory = NSTemporaryDirectory();
  NSString *imagePath = [tempDirectory stringByAppendingPathComponent:imageName];

  [logger logDebugWithMessages:@"saving image to temporary location: %@", imagePath];

  NSData *imageData = UIImageJPEGRepresentation(image, 0.1);
  [imageData writeToFile:imagePath atomically:YES];

  CDTUnsavedFileAttachment *att1 = [[CDTUnsavedFileAttachment alloc]
            initWithPath:imagePath
            name:imageName
            type:@"image/jpeg"];

  rev.attachments = @{ imageName: att1 };

  [self.datastore save:rev completionHandler:^(id savedObject, NSError *error) {
   if(error) {
    [logger logErrorWithMessages:@"Error creating document: %@", error.localizedDescription];
   }
   [logger logDebugWithMessages:@"Document created: %@", savedObject];
  }];

  [self replicate];
 });
}

If we want to query data from either the remote or local data stores, we can just use the performQuery method on the data store. Below you can see a method for retrieving data for all of the images in the local data store.

-(void) getLocalData:(void (^)(NSArray *results, NSError *error)) completionHandler {

 NSPredicate *queryPredicate = [NSPredicate predicateWithFormat:@"(type = 'com.geopix.entry')"];
 CDTCloudantQuery *query = [[CDTCloudantQuery alloc] initWithPredicate:queryPredicate];

 [self.datastore performQuery:query completionHandler:^(NSArray *results, NSError *error) {

  completionHandler( results, error );
 }];
}

At this point we’ve now captured an image, captured the geographic location, saved that data in our local offline store, and then use replication to save that data up to the cloud whenever it is available.

AND…

We did all of this without writing a single line of server-side logic.   Since this is built on top of MobileFirst for Bluemix, all the backend infrastructure is setup for us, and we get operational analytics to monitor everything that is happening.

With the operational analytics we get:

  • App usage
  • Active Devices
  • Network Usage
  • Authentications
  • Data Storage
  • Device Logs (yes, complete debug/crash logs from devices out in the field)
  • Push Notification Usage

Sharing on the web

Up until this point we haven’t had to write any back-end code. However the mobile app boilerplate on Bluemix comes with a Node.js server.  We might as well take advantage of it.

I exposed the exact same data captured within the app on the Node.js service, which you can see at http://geopix.mybluemix.net/.

Web UI
Web UI

The Node.js back end comes preconfigured to leverage the express.js framework for building web applications.  I added the jade template engine and Leaflet for web-mapping, and was able to crank this out ridiculously quickly.

The first thing we need to do is make sure  we have our configuration variables for accessing the Cloudant service from our node app.  These are environment vars that you get automatcilly if you’re running on Bluemix, but you need to set these for your local dev environment:

var credentials = {};

if (process.env.hasOwnProperty("VCAP_SERVICES")) {
 // Running on Bluemix. Parse out the port and host that we've been assigned.
 var env = JSON.parse(process.env.VCAP_SERVICES);
 var host = process.env.VCAP_APP_HOST;
 var port = process.env.VCAP_APP_PORT;

 credentials = env['cloudantNoSQLDB'][0].credentials;
}
else {

 //for local node.js server instance
 credentials.username = "cloudant username here";
 credentials.password = "cloudant password here";
 credentials.url = "cloudant url here";
}

Next we’ll add our URL/content mappings:

app.get('/', function(req, res){
  prepareData(res, 'map');
});

app.get('/list', function(req, res){
  prepareData(res, 'list');
});

Next you’ll se the logic for querying the Cloudant data store and preparing the data for our UI templates. You can customize this however you want – caching for performance, refactoring for abstraction, or whatever you want. All interactions with Cloudant are powered by the Cloudant Node.js Client

var prepareData = function(res, template) {
 var results = [];

 //create the index if it doesn't already exist
 var sort_index = {name:'sort', type:'json', index:{fields:['sort']}};
 geopix.index(sort_index, function(er, response) {
  if (er) {
   throw er;
  }

  //perform the search
  //we're just pulling back all
  //data captured ("sort" will be numeric)
  var selector = {sort:{"$gt":0}};
  geopix.find({selector:selector, sort:["sort"]}, function(er, result) {
   if (er) {
    throw er;
   }

   //prepare data for template
   for (var x=0; x<result.docs.length; x++) {
    var obj = result.docs[x];

    for (var key in obj._attachments) {
     obj.image = credentials.url + "/" + database + "/" + obj._id +"/" + key;
     break;
    }

    results.push( obj );
   }
   res.render(template, { results:results});
  });
 });
};

After the prepareData method has prepared data for formatting in the UI, the template is rendered by invoking Jade’s render method:

res.render(template, { results:results});

This will render whichever template was passed in – I have two: map.jade (the map template) and list.jade (the list template). You can check out the list template below, and see it in action here: http://geopix.mybluemix.net/list

html
  head
 title GeoPix - powered by Bluemix
 link(href='//maxcdn.bootstrapcdn.com/bootstrap/3.3.2/css/bootstrap.min.css' rel='stylesheet')
 link(href='/public/css/index.css' rel='stylesheet')
 meta(name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1")
  body
 div(class='well')
  h1 GeoPix - Powered by Bluemix
  p
   a(href='/') Map
   &nbsp;|&nbsp;
   a(href='/list') List
 div(class="container-fluid")
  each val, index in results
   div(class="col-md-6")
    div(class="panel panel-default")
     div(class="panel-heading")
      h3= val.clientDate
     div(class="panel-body")
      img(src=val.image)
      p= 'latitude: ' + val.latitude + ", longitude:" + val.longitude + ", altitude:" + val.altitude

In the map view I used the Leaflet map engine and Open Street Map data, along with the Leaflet Marker Cluster plugin for displaying clustered results.

Source Code

You can check out the web interface live at: http://geopix.mybluemix.net/.  If you want to setup the environment on your own, you can grab the complete source code at:

Helpful Links

Ready to start building your own apps on IBM Bluemix?  Just head over to http://bluemix.net and get a free developer trial today!

Why Your Enterprise Needs To Be Ready For Mobile

I recently attended the IBM InterConnect conference, and it was great to be there presenting IBM MobileFirst and engaging with our clients and partners.  While there, I also took part in the “Ignite” presentation series. If you aren’t familar with Ignite, each presenter has 20 slides, with the slides auto-advancing every 15 seconds. That gives you 5 minutes to make your point, and in the session you get to see 5 or 6 presentations on different topics within an hour.  I really liked this format, so I re-recorded it to share here…

Here are all my sources for the charts/data.  I chose to use publicly accessible data for everything.  If you haven’t been paying attention to mobile usage numbers and adoption, its quite staggering, and definitely worth paying attention to.

And if you need to get your enterprise on mobile, you should look at IBM MobileFirst.

 

Video: MobileFirst for Bluemix (MBaaS)

Last week I gave a presentation to the NYC Bluemix Meetup Group on IBM MobileFirst for Bluemix. Not familiar with the branding and have no idea what that means?  It is a mobile backend as a service, which gives you analytics, remote logging, user auth, data persistence & offline synch, push notification management, and more for your mobile applications.  Yes, as a service – you can create a Bluemix account today for free and start building your apps very quickly and very efficiently.  No problem if you weren’t able to make it to the meetup.  I recorded my session which you can check out in the embedded video below.

I know – the video quality isn’t fantastic, but it’s the best I had at the time.  (I almost always have a GoPro with me.)  If you want to see the code that makes all of this work in much, much more detail, check out my post on Getting Started with Bluemix Mobile Services – it has code, video tutorials and more.  Enjoy!

Getting Started with IBM Bluemix Mobile Services (MBaaS)

I recently wrote an overview of IBM Bluemix’s Mobile Back-end as a Service offerings. I wanted to elaborate on the offerings, plus provide in-depth technical and implementation details, so I decided to produce this 5 part video series on Getting Started with IBM Bluemix Mobile Services.

This post specifically covers native iOS, though there are also Android and hybrid options available. This should have everything you need to get started. It covers all aspects from creating the app, to updating the back end, to leveraging Cloudant storage, push notifications, and monitoring & logging.

So, without further ado, let’s get started…

Part 1: Getting Started with Bluemix Mobile Services

In this first video I show how to create a new mobile app on Bluemix, connect to the cloud app instance, and implement remote logging from the client application. This process is covered in more detail in the Getting Started docs, but below are the basics from my experience.

You’ll first need to sign into your Bluemix account. If you don’t already have one, you can create a trial account for free. Once you’re signed in, you just need to create a new mobile app instance.

The process is very simple, and there is a “wizard” to guide you. The first thing that you need to do is create a new app by clicking the big “Create an App” button on your bluemix dashboard.

Create a new app from IBM Bluemix Dashboard
Create a new app from IBM Bluemix Dashboard

Next, select which kind of app you’re going to create. For MBaaS, you’ll want to select the “Mobile” option.

Select the type of app
Select the type of app

Next you’ll need to select your platform target. You can choose either “iOS, Android, Hybrid”, or the “iOS 8 beta” target. In this case I chose the iOS 8 beta, but the process is similar for both targets. Hybrid apps are built leveraging the Apache Cordova container.

Select your platform target
Select your platform target

Next, just specify an app name and click “Finish”.

Give your app a name
Give your app a name

Once your app is created, you will be presented with instructions how to connect the app in Xcode. I’ll get to that in a moment…

Now that your app has been created, you’ll be able to see it on your Bluemix dashboard. This app will consist of several components: a Node.js back-end instance, a Cloudant NoSQL database instance, an Advanced Mobile Access instance, and a Push instance. The Advanced Mobile Access component provides you with app analytics, user auth management, remote logging, and more. The Push component gives you the ability to manage and send push notifications (either manually, or with a rest-based API).

You app has been created
You app has been created – here are the components and the activity

Once your app has been created, you will need to setup the mobile app to connect to Bluemix to consume the services. Again, this is a very straightforward process.

The next step is to register your client application. Once your app is created, you will be presented with a screen to do this. If you don’t complete it right away, you can always come back later and register an application. You’ll need to specify the Bundle ID and version of your app, then you can setup any authentication (if you choose).

Register your app's bundle ID and version
Register your app’s bundle ID and version

Once your app has been registered, you need to configure Xcode. You’ll first need to create a new project in Xcode. There are two options for configuring your Xcode project: 1) automated installation using CocoaPods, or 2) manual installation. I used the CocoaPods installation simply because it is easier and manages dependencies for you.

If you aren’t familiar with CocoaPods, it is much like NPM… CocoaPods is a dependency manager for Cocoa projects. It helps you configure the Bluemix libraries and manages dependencies for you.

If you’ve got Xcode up and running, then close it and install CocoaPods, if you don’t already have it. Next open up a terminal/command prompt, go to the directory that contains your Xcode project and initialize CocoaPods using the “setup” command:

pod setup

This will create a new file called “podfile”. Open this file in any text editor and paste the following (note: you can remove any lines that you don’t want to actually use):

source 'https://github.com/CocoaPods/Specs.git'
# Copy the following list as is and
# remove the dependencies you do not need
pod 'IMFCore'
pod 'IMFGoogleAuthentication'
pod 'IMFFacebookAuthentication'
pod 'IMFURLProtocol'
pod 'IMFPush'
pod 'CloudantToolkit'

Save the changes to the “podfile” file, and close the text editor. Then go back to your command promprt/terminal  and run the installation process:

pod install

Your project will be configured, and all dependencies will be downloaded automatically. Once this is complete, open up the newly created .xcworkspace file (Xcode Workspace).

You have to initialize the Bluemix inside of your application to connect to the cloud service to be able to take advantage of any Bluemix features (logging, data access, auth, etc…). The best place to put this is inside of your AppDelegate.m class application didFinishLaunchingWithOptions method because it is the first code that will be run within your application:

- (BOOL)application:(UIApplication *)application didFinishLaunchingWithOptions:(NSDictionary *)launchOptions {
    // Override point for customization after application launch.

    // initialize SDK with IBM Bluemix application ID and route
    IMFClient *imfClient = [IMFClient sharedInstance];
    [imfClient
        initializeWithBackendRoute:@"your route"
        backendGUID:@"your guide"];

    return YES;
}

One of the first features I wanted to take advantage of was remote collection of client-side logs. You can do this using the IMFLogger class, in much the same fashion as you do with OCLogger in MobileFirst Foundation server. Once great feature that requires almost no additional configuration is the captureUncaughtExceptions method, which automatically configures the Advanced Mobile Access component to collect information for all app crashes.

// capture and record uncaught exceptions (crashes)
[IMFLogger captureUncaughtExceptions]; 

// change the verbosity filter to "debug and above"
[IMFLogger setLogLevel:IMFLogLevelDebug]; 

// create a logger instance
IMFLogger *logger = [IMFLogger loggerForName:@"AppDelegate"];

// log a message
[logger logDebugWithMessages:@"This is a log message from app launch."];

//send logged message to the server
[IMFLogger send];

Next, launch your app in the iOS simulator, or on a device, and you’ll see everything come together. Log into your Bluemix dashboard, and you’ll be able to monitor app analytics and remote logs.

Note: If you experience any issues connecting to the Bluemix mobile app from within the iOS simulator, just clear the iOS Simulator by going to the menu command “iOS Simulator -> Reset Content and Settings…”, and everything should connect properly the next time you launch the app.

Part 2: Configuring the Node.js Backend

In the next video, I demonstrate how to grab the code for the backend Node.js application, create a git repository on IBM JazzHub, then pull the code for local development.

There are two ways to push new backend Node.js code: 1) Using the Cloud Foundry command line API, or 2) by updating a git repository and leveraging automatic deployment from the git repo commits.

When the app is created, you’ll see an “add git” link under the app name. Using this link, you can create a git repository for the backend code.

Add a git repository
Add a git repository

Once your git repo has been created, you can check out the code using any Git client (I used the CLI). You’ll need to use the “npm install” command to pull down all the app dependencies. The biggest thing you need to know is that it uses express.js for the web application framework.  You can make any changes that you want, and they will be automatically deployed to your Bluemix server instance upon commit. Yes, this workflow is also configurable b/c this process may not work for everyone.

One other thing that you will need to watch out for if you are doing local development: You will want to wrap the following code on line 6 in a try/catch block, otherwise you will hit errors in the local environment which will prevent your app from launching locally:

try {
    passport.use(new ImfBackendStrategy());
} catch ( e ) {
    console.log(e);
}

Protected content behind the /protected url endpoint may not be accessible locally with this workaround, but you’ll be able to work on other pieces of your back end.

You can read more about the backend node instance for Bluemix mobile apps in the developer documentation.

Part 3: Consuming Data from Cloudant

Another part of Bluemix mobile applications is the Cloudant NoSQL database. The Cloudant NoSQL database is a powerful solution that gives you remote storage, querrying, and client-side data storage mechanisms with automatic online/offline synchronization, all with monitoring/analytics capabilities.

By default, objects within the Cloudant data store are treated as generic objects (over-simplification: think of it is an extremely powerful JSON store in the cloud). However you can also serialize your objects to strong data types within the client code configuration.

In your AppDelegate class application didFinishLaunchingWithOptions method, you’ll also want to initialize the IMFDataManager class, which is the class used for interacting with all Cloudant data operations.

IMFDataManager *manager =
    [IMFDataManager sharedInstance];

In my sample, I setup the database manually with open permissions, but you’ll probably want something more secure. Once your database is created, you can create indexes, search for data, create data, etc…

In the following code, I create a search index and query for data from the remote Cloudant database. You really only need to create the index if it doesn’t already exist. You can do this either through the mobile app code, or manually through the Cloudant database’s web interface. I did this inline in the following code, just for the sake of simplicity:

//access the remote data store
[[IMFDataManager sharedInstance] remoteStore:@"insurancedb" completionHandler:^(CDTStore *store, NSError *error) {
    // Remote store will be passed into the control handler if no errors occurred.

    // create a search index
    // this is an asynch operation
    [store createIndexWithName:@"customerNameIndex" fields:@[@"customer"] completionHandler:^(NSError *error) {
        // an error is set if index creation failed.

        // Next, we search...
        // Create a query with an NSPredicate
        NSPredicate *queryPredicate = [NSPredicate predicateWithFormat: @"(customer > '')"];
        CDTCloudantQuery *query = [[CDTCloudantQuery alloc] initDataType:@"Claim" withPredicate:queryPredicate];

        [store performQuery:query completionHandler:^(NSArray *results, NSError *error) {
            // results is an array of CDTMutableDocumentRevision objects that are returned by the query

            // convert to a NSArray of NSDictionary objects
            // you could also serialize this to an array of strongly typed objects
            NSMutableArray *array = [[NSMutableArray alloc] init];

            for (CDTMutableDocumentRevision *revision in results) {
                NSDictionary *body = [revision body];
                [array addObject:body];
            }

            // do something with the data (this is specific to my app)
            claimsData = array;

            // reload my data table in the main thread
            dispatch_async(dispatch_get_main_queue(), ^{
                [self reloadData];
            });

        }];
    }];
}];

Be sure to also read up on more of the Cloudant capabilities:

Part 4: Push Notifications

The IBM Bluemix mobile services app also contains a component for managing push notifications within your mobile applications. With this service, you can send push notifications to a specific device, a group of devices using tags, or all devices, and you can send push notifications either manually via the web interface, or as part of an automated workflow using the REST API.

You will first need to configure your app for push notifications. Apple systems using Apple’s Push Notification Service, and Android systems use Google Cloud Messaging. You must configure these hooks per the service providers.

For iOS apps, here are the basic steps for setting up the Push service. It also helps to be familiar with Local and Remote notifications in iOS.

  1. Create an App ID and enable Push Notifications
  2. Create a server certificate for sending push notifications
  3. Upload the server certificate to the Bluemix Push instance
  4. Setup the Xcode project to receive push notifications

In Xcode, open your AppDelegate class again. First you’ll need to register for remote notifications in application didFinishLaunchingWithOptions:

//register for push notifications (iOS 8-specific)
[[UIApplication sharedApplication] registerUserNotificationSettings:
    [UIUserNotificationSettings settingsForTypes:
        (UIUserNotificationTypeSound |
          UIUserNotificationTypeAlert |
          UIUserNotificationTypeBadge)
        categories:nil]];
[[UIApplication sharedApplication]
    registerForRemoteNotifications];

Next, setup the didRegisterForRemoteNotificationsWithDeviceToken callback to register this device with the Bluemix Push service:

-(void) application:(UIApplication *)application didRegisterForRemoteNotificationsWithDeviceToken:(NSData *)deviceToken{

    // get Push instance
    IMFPushClient* push = [IMFPushClient sharedInstance];

    // set current working environment
    push.environment = @"sandbox";

    [push registerDeviceToken:deviceToken completionHandler:^(IMFResponse *response, NSError *error) {

        IMFLogger *logger = [IMFLogger loggerForName:@"AppDelegate"];

        if (error){
            [logger logErrorWithMessages:@"error registering for push notifications: %@", error.description];
        } else {
            [logger logDebugWithMessages:@"registered for push notifications."];
        }
    }];
}

Next do something with the data whenever you receive a push notification inside of the didReceiveRemoteNotification method:

-(void)application:(UIApplication *)application didReceiveRemoteNotification:(NSDictionary *)userInfo {
    //userInfo dictionary will contain data sent from server.

    NSDictionary *notification = [[userInfo objectForKey:@"aps"] objectForKey:@"alert"];
    NSString *body = [notification objectForKey:@"body"];

    UIAlertView *alert = [[UIAlertView alloc] initWithTitle:@"Notification Received"
                                                    message:body delegate:self cancelButtonTitle:@"OK"
                                          otherButtonTitles:nil, nil];
    [alert show];
}

Part 5: Monitoring and Logging

Did I mention that every action that you perform through Bluemix Mobile Services can be monitored? Analytics are available for the Advanced Mobile Access component, the Cloudant NoSQL data store, and the Push Notifications service. In addition, you also have remote collection of client logs and crash reports. This provides  unparalleled insight into the health of your applications.

Need more info? You can find what you’re looking for here:

…. and of course, don’t forget the full 5-part video series available at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0U4cUwfUs26kSKY0X-qdDNO5gKj6Lr6q

Ready to get started? Just head over to bluemix.net and create your first app!

MBaaS – IBM Mobile Cloud Services, Bluemix & MobileFirst

MBaaS, or Mobile Backend as a Service, seems to be a particularly hot topic these days. MBaaS generally refers to backend services for mobile applications that provides data storage, user management, push notifications, and other pertinent mobile APIs.  mbaas

This is more than just “Cloud Services” which more generally refer to a scalable virtual cluster of computing or storage resources.  Bluemix is IBM’s suite of cloud service offerings, and covers lots of use cases:

Bluemix is an open-standards, cloud-based platform for building, managing, and running apps of all types, such as web, mobile, big data, and smart devices. Capabilities include Java, mobile back-end development, and application monitoring, as well as features from ecosystem partners and open source—all provided as-a-service in the cloud.

You can view the full catalog of Bluemix service offerings here.

Rather, MBaaS back-ends include services for data management, user management, notifications, and possibly more depending on the provider – all geared towards powering applications on mobile devices.

Why is it a hot topic? MBaaS enables growth of mobile applications with seamless (and virtually endless) scalability, all without having to manage individual systems for the application server, database, identify management, push notifications, or platform-specific services.

I’ve been writing a lot about IBM MobileFirst lately for a seamless API to deliver mobile apps to multiple platforms; though it has been in the context of an on-premise installation.  However, did you know that many of the exact same MobileFirst features are available as MBaaS services on IBM Bluemix?

IBM’s Mobile Cloud Services includes device management, user authentication, offline and back-end data storage, push notifications, operational analytics, and provides APIs for native iOS, native Android, hybrid apps, web apps, and even node.js clients for custom backend services.

MobileCloudServices

Here’s a bit more detail on what is currently exposed in IBM’s Mobile Cloud Services:

  • Mobile Data – The mobile data service includes a NOSQL database (powered by IBM Cloudant), file storage capabilities, and appropriate management and analytics features to measure the number of calls, storage usage, time/activity, and OS distribution.
  • Push Notifications – The push notification service allows you to easily push data to the right people at the right time on either Apple APNS or Google GCM platforms – all with a single API. Notifications can be sent by either an app or backend system, and can be sent to a single device, or a group of devices based on their tags/subscriptions.  Of course, with appropriate analytics for monitoring activity, distribution, and engagement.
  • Mobile Application Security – The mobile application security service enables you to provision or block any devices and/or users using your application, provides user authentication, and provides analytics for app/device usage, OS distribution, and time/activity.

Before starting development with IB’s Mobile Cloud Services, be sure to check out the following resources:

… and don’t forget the platform-specific developer guides:

Ready to get started?

Many of these are the exact same features that you can host in your own on-premise IBM MobileFirst Platform Foundation server – the difference is that you don’t have to maintain the infrastructure.  You can scale as needed through the Bluemix cloud offering.