Tuesday morning, before taxiing down the runway (the first time), my United Airlines flight ran a short video promoting a glorious future where dynamic mobile applications would let passengers book and change travel plans on the run. Two hours later, this vision blurred when the 757 returned to the gate in Boston, canceled the flight, and regurgitated several hundred people into the terminal. A single desk attendant stood nervously behind the desk, as the line snaked through the hall. Former passengers were using their mobile devices to tell people their plans had changed, but did not appear to be using UA’s existing mobile app to book new ones.
A lot of technology companies are working hard to enable developers to build interactive data-rich, service-rich, scalable mobile applications: telecoms, providers of Infrastructure as a Service and Platform as a A Service, Mobile Enterprise Applications Platforms, Backend as a Service providers, Mobile Services, Mobile SDKs, and Handset manufacturers. Earlier this year, Kinvey’s CEO Sravish Sridhar put it all together on the document that’s now euphemistically known in the industry as “the Subway Map”.
At Kinvey, we use the Subway Map to track the ecosystem, to plan strategic partnerships and figure out the best path to make more productive the companies, developers and development teams who use Kinvey’s Backend as as a Service to easily set up and maintain backends for their mobile, web and tablet apps.
Six months later, some new trends have emerged, so we’ve updated the Backend as a Service Ecosystem map:
Based on the update, here’s what we see happening lately, and speculation about why:
1) Mobile SDK and mobile services companies are moving down the stack, embracing cloud services.
Over and over again, one hears that developers don’t want to pay for development tools. Adobe, which bought PhoneGap last year, offers PhoneGap development tools free to their development community. Mobile SDK providers look elsewhere for revenue, including to backend cloud services. Appcelerator acquired Cocoafish and released the functionality this spring as Titanium Cloud Services. Yesterday, Flurry acquired Trestle to tack on cloud services to their mobile marketing services solutions.
2) Enterprise software players are moving up the stack, pursuing larger developer mindshare
Watch this space. It’s so important that we added a new category to the Subway map – the MEAPs. Mobile Enterprise Application Platforms (e.g. Sybase Unified Platform, IBM Worklight, Kony, Antenna, Verivo) offer broad software platforms to support enterprises that want to enable multiple mobile apps for multiple operating systems which access multiple sources of data. We think they belong in the Subway map of the Backend as a Service ecosystem, even though they do not offer a service, because they are a significant way enterprises address mobile infrastructure needs. Also, we see some MEAPs now working to extend their value to the large market of nimble mobile application developers.
Today, most MEAPs are traditional software stacks consisting of middleware, backend integrations and client software, that have to be purchased, deployed and supported by the enterprise. The problem, as enterprises and analysts have told us, is that these traditional software stacks pose traditional software management challenges. They do not offload maintenance and scale to the cloud; they add to the IT costs internally. A MEAP software stack requires an estimate of 2 FTEs to learn it, deploy it and manage it. Some have raised concerns about whether vendors’ outsourcing of product support will deliver the quality of support they think they may need.
Why are mobile development tool companies moving down the stack while traditional enterprise software players are moving up?
Having worked with thousands of developers and development teams building mobile, web and tablet applications on Kinvey’s Backend as a Service solution, we think we have an idea:
Many developers, including teams at companies like United Airlines, want to free their customers to do business with them through apps they can reach from any device: mobile, web or tablet. But designing for mobile apps requires a fundamental shift in assumptions from those required to build web or enterprise applications consumed through a web console. Enterprise apps are based on design principles that tightly couple database and middleware technologies and let them be consumed through a common web browser.
But mobile app developers shatter the principle of tight coupling – and then thrive among its fragments. People consume mobile apps on devices that are flung far and wide from any server or database. Somehow, these apps must incorporate data from any source – including from third party data sources, and even from those tightly coupled database systems an IT department has invested years and millions in maintaining and protecting. Beyond data, developers want to tap into many tools and services that other clever minds have created, like those offered by Facebook, Twitter, foursquare, and Urban Airship. And development teams must deliver all of this functionality, quickly and scalably, to any device that runs on any native operating systems (iOS, Android, Windows, Blackberry) – each of which requires coding in its own, unique, language.
Today’s mobile application developers want to harness all of these parts and services, and do so with elegance, ease and scale. They want to write the front end, client side code for their app – and use BaaS to take care of all of the backend features including user management, data and large file storage, push notifications, geoqueries, analytics, API versioning. Some developers also want to write custom server-side logic and deploy that on PaaS solutions.
Kinvey provides the leading Backend as a Service solution, the only one that enables developers to integrate with 3rd party data sources. We make developers and development teams worldwide instantly more productive by making it easy for them to set up a backend in the cloud in a matter of minutes, not days or weeks. We free them up to focus on what differentiates their app – what people see and experience on the front end, not the tedious and time-consuming and repetitive tasks of creating, scaling and maintaining the backend plumbing of a mobile, web or tablet app.
We’ve had a lot of feedback on the Backend as a Service ecosystem map. More than a few clever people have said that the “subway” analogy doesn’t quite hold, because each line goes only north-south. But look at it closely. The players are all moving toward the middle.