Mobile phones play a prominent role in Sherlock, the modern-day BBC television reinterpretation of Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Text messages fly between Sherlock and his allies as well as his adversaries. Compatriot John Watson tracks the GPS of a phone Sherlock carries in “A Study in Pink.” A locked and booby-trapped mobile phone holds valuable secrets collected by Irene Adler in “A Scandal in Belgravia.”
Sherlock’s arch-nemesis James Moriarty tops them all, naturally, in “The Reichenbach Fall,” aired in the United States on PBS on May 20. Moriarty uses customized mobile apps to simultaneously break into three places at once: the crown jewels vault at the Tower of London, the Bank of England, and Pentonville Prison. He claims to have written code that can break into any computer system in the world – and he casually launches these cyber attacks with his thumb while listening to music on his mobile phone.
Moriarty’s claim of picking any virtual lock with a single key, of course, is a ruse. As any mobile app developer will tell you, the tiny snippet of binary code Sherlock discovers wouldn’t be enough to store the app’s icon, much less a whole automated hacking program. In reality, he admits, the mobile apps merely sent “go” signals to accomplices inside his targets, security guards malleable with bribes or blackmail.
Though there’s no denying his madness, Moriarty’s method has much to teach about mobile app development. The criminal’s apps applied a convenient interface for a function that already existed: sending a pre-written text message to a designated recipient. He might have preferred a genuine lock-picking app, but hooking into existing systems – the security guards who could unlock the right doors – achieved the desired effect.
When asking yourself the essential questions of mobile app development, consider: what is the actual end goal of the app? Should it sell products or direct users to retail stores? Should it have its own unique content or format content from your web site for the mobile screen?
Just don’t expect it to break into any vaults for you.