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Mobile application development platforms mature, market consolidates

James Furbush

As mobile device use increases, IT administrators have to develop and deploy business productivity apps employees can use on those devices, but backend integration can be an issue.

Many IT shops want to build cross-platform mobile apps that take advantage of existing data stores, rather than ripping and replacing heavy investments in SAP AG, IBM, or Oracle Corp.

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Application programming interfaces (APIs) provide the connective tissue between those databases and mobile applications.

"Backend integration is the biggest headache for enterprise developers," said Charlotte Dunlap, an analyst at Current Analysis Inc., a research firm based in Sterling, Va. "They are under tremendous pressure to provide the workforce with these mobile apps right now and they have to unlock those legacy systems. But often the data can reside anywhere from on-premises to the cloud. APIs become crucial for that." 

Where there is a problem, a vendor with a "solution" is not far behind.

Vendors are jockeying to become the leader in mobile application development platforms (MADP), which typically includes front-end application development studios, back-end integration services and API management tools.

Development tools are quickly maturing, and because mobile is the next frontier, these vendors can become the de facto standard for the next generation of application lifecycle management, said Michael Facemire, a senior analyst at Forrester, Inc., a research firm based in Cambridge, Mass    

"The Holy Grail is mobilizing the enterprise and adding the ability to manage APIs on top of development tools and [mobile backend as a service] is a great way to crack that nut," Facemire said.

Appcelerator, Inc., a mobile application developer which acquired API provider Singly, Inc. this week, is one of a handful of MADP vendors leading the charge, along with IBM's Worklight, Adobe Inc.'s PhoneGap, Verivo Software Inc.'s Akula platform and Xamarin Inc., who were all included in Gartner Inc.'s August 2013 Magic Quadrant for MADP.

Industry watchers believe the acquisitions will only heat up further over the next six to 12 months because of how important APIs and mobile backend-as-a-service (MBaaS) is to enterprise mobile app development.

"As sophisticated mobile projects get underway, more and more IT operations guys need to get involved to centralize app development and deployment," said Current Analysis' Dunlap. "It wouldn't surprise me if more consolidation happens with development platforms buying API and backend service companies, and then bigger enterprise vendors buying the development platforms to get a foothold in their mobile or cloud efforts."

Over the last year, several prominent MBaaS and API vendors have been acquired, including Intel Corp.'s purchase of Mashary, CA Technologies purchasing Layer7, Facebook's acquisition of Parse, and Axway acquiring Vordel.

Appcelerator acquires Singly for API management

Mountain View, Calif.-based Appcelerator acquired Singly Inc. for an undisclosed sum.  Last February, the company acquired Cocoafish, which provides backend integration via APIs.

Singly's core platforms are DataFabric and AppFabric. DataFabric provides an API gateway for about 40 different Web services, including Yammer, Dropbox, Google Calendar and GitHub. DataFabric also provides an abstraction layer to those APIs, so when an API is updated, the mobile app will still work. AppFabric handles authentication, friend-finding, social sharing and other common Web APIs.

Most of the APIs Singly manages are for consumer-facing apps, but software development kits (SDKs)are available for iOS, Android, and Web-based applications for enterprise developers to build their own APIs.

However, Appcelerator sees enterprise potential for Singly's data management capabilities for syncing, storage, filtering, de-duping, intelligent indexing and more, said Nolan Wright, Appcelerator's chief technology officer.

"We're going to make an SDK for data sources behind the firewall," Nolan said. "It'll be one API for our customers to get data out of existing systems and help optimize the data payload for when it's delivered to mobile devices."

Eventually, the plan is to continue adding enterprise-friendly capabilities such as rate limiting, access control, security and deeper management policies. Those enterprise-friendly features should tentatively be available by the first quarter of next year, Nolan said.

Singly offers a commercial version of its AppFabric product for $99 per month for up to 1 million users. Pricing is available upon demand for DataFabric. Appcelerator said it will work with existing Singly customers to transition as it folds the product into its existing Titantium Platform. It plans to eventually discontinue the brand.


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