As unprecedented numbers of enterprises build mobile applications, the mobile application development platform market continues to grow and evolve rapidly.
The mobile application development platform (MADP) market remains largely distinct from the larger AD tool market, because developing mobile applications for enterprises presents unique challenges, including:
- Each mobile OS has a unique presentation style, interaction style and software stack.
- Devices have different screen sizes, input modes and hardware capabilities.
- New devices and OS versions are introduced multiple times per year.
- Network connectivity and power levels fluctuate widely in typical usage scenarios.
- New consumer applications regularly extend and revise the standards for good mobile applications.
MADP‘s are generally based on one of three technologies. Each technology requires different investments and skills:
Native toolkits, such as Apple’s iOS development toolkit, enable the development of native applications for a single mobile OS platform. Native toolkits generally provide the best performance and the most access to a specific OS platform, but are limited to only one OS platform.
Web toolkits, such as jQuery Mobile, enable the development of Web-based applications that perform well in Web browsers for various mobile OSs and devices. Web toolkits are inherently multiplatform, and leverage standard Web skill sets, but can have performance and interaction style limitations, lack feature phone support and require a network connection.
Specialized platforms, like the ones from Appcelerator and DSI, provide proprietary capabilities designed to protect the developer from the differences between OS platforms and limitations of browser-based applications. Specialized platforms take a more proprietary route, but generally provide more out-of-the-box enterprise capability than Web and native toolkits. They also often address more of the full software development life cycle — from application design, development and integration to testing, deployment and management. Some specialized platforms are optimized for high developer productivity, and others are optimized for high application performance and developer control.
Recognizing the popularity of native and Web toolkits, many MADP vendors have built or repackaged their platforms as a series of tools to complement, rather than compete with, them:
Wrapper tools, such as Adobe PhoneGap, allow mobile Web applications to work like native applications. They compile mobile Web applications into OS-specific applications, often called hybrid applications, that can be downloaded to a mobile device, access device functions beyond those provided by the browser, and run without a network connection like a native application.
Mobile middleware, such as IBM Worklight, enables native and hybrid applications to communicate securely with enterprise applications running on servers and cloud services, as well as providing application management functions.
Application generators, like the one in KonyOne Studio, produce Web, hybrid and native applications from a single set of application specifications.
Because enterprise requirements are similar, but wide ranging, we expect vendors and open-source project teams to assemble a portfolio of tools that users can combine in different tool chains to meet the requirements of specific mobile application projects.
In addition to different technology approaches, MADP vendors have different business strategies:
Pure-play MADP vendors, such as Antenna, primarily provide mobile AD tools, services, applications and templates. Some hope to become large public companies.
Enterprise software vendors, such as SAP, have broad customer bases and product suites that extend well beyond mobile AD. For these vendors, MADPs represent a way to expand within their customer bases and open doors to new customers.
Mobile application vendors, such as salesforce.com, primarily provide applications, but make the underlying platform available to customers. Their MADPs help them sell their applications.
OS platform and device vendors, such as Apple, BlackBerry, Google, Microsoft and Motorola Solutions, use their MADPs to encourage developers to build new apps, because apps help drive the sale of their OS platforms and/or devices.
Open-source projects, such as jQuery Mobile, provide focused frameworks augmented by proprietary products and support from their contributor community. The projects support the common interests of their contributors.
One of the most interesting aspects of the MADP market is that traditional enterprise software, low-cost disruptors and open-source sales models are simultaneously having an impact on the market. Given history, one might have expected the market to move from high-priced enterprise software to low-cost disruptors and to open source over a decade or more, but enterprise have all three choices today. This, plus the rapid evolution and fragmentation of mobile technology in general, means today’s leaders can easily be tomorrow’s laggards. Hence, we advise that enterprises avoid long-term commitments to any one vendor or technology and re-evaluate their mobile AD strategy often.