The Pros and Cons of Cross-Platform App Design

The Pros and Cons of Cross-Platform App Design

February 16, 2012 by Christina Warren

The Mobile App Trends Series is supported by Sourcebits, a leading product developer for mobile platforms. Sourcebits offers design and development services for iOS, Android, Mobile and Web platforms. Follow Sourcebits on Twitter for recent news and updates.

In 2011, having a mobile strategy shifted from “nice to have” to “must have” for businesses of all sizes. In 2012, that same shift is taking place when it comes to supporting multiple mobile platforms. Sure, some companies can focus on just one operating system and exclude all others, but most businesses and brands need to target myriad device types. It’s no longer enough to just have an iPhone app — even small and medium sized businesses need to have a plan to support iPad, Android phones, the Amazon Kindle, larger Android tablets, Windows Phone and BlackBerry.

Developing for all of these platforms is a challenge, especially for the developer or business with limited resources. Fortunately, an entire sub-industry of development tools and languages exist to help solve this problem. Enter the cross-platform mobile framework.

Cross-platform frameworks — which include Appcelerator’s Titanium, Rhodes and PhoneGap — are designed to limit the work that a developer or development team has to put in to creating apps for iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone and beyond.

As with any development strategy, there are pros and cons to taking a cross-platform approach to mobile application design and development.

NBC’s iOS and Android apps are built using Appcelerator’s Titanium platform.

Pros of Cross-Platform Frameworks

The idea behind most cross-platform frameworks is to limit development time by having users write their code in one language that can easily be compiled to multiple platforms.

To do this, most frameworks allow users to write apps in a dynamic programming language (JavaScript is the most common, though many frameworks also support Ruby or Python), rather than in Objective-C/Cocoa, Java or C#/.NET. The frameworks will then compile against the native libraries of a specific platform and spit out an app for each platform the developer targets.

The pros of using a cross-platform framework:

Code Is Reusable: Rather than having to write the specific action or sequence for each platform, a developer can just write the code once and then reuse those bits in later projects or on other platforms.

Plugins: Major frameworks, including Appcelerator and PhoneGap offer easy access to plugins and modules that can easily plug into other services or tools.

Easy for Web Developers: Because most frameworks are dynamic or scripting languages, they are easy for web developers to jump in and use. Moreover, most frameworks also support HTML5 and CSS3 alongside the calls to more native functions.

Reduced Development Costs: This is perhaps the biggest advantage because it allows companies or brands to get an app onto other platforms without having to invest in a team or developer specific to that ecosystem.

Support for Enterprise and Cloud Services: In addition to plugins and modules for specific functions, most frameworks also have the option to directly integrate with cloud services, including Salesforce.com, AWS, Box.net and others.

Easy Deployment: Deploying and compiling apps is much faster in a cross-platform scenario. This is especially true with many of the new cloud-based build tools that various frameworks are starting to push out.

Cons of Cross-Platform Frameworks

Of course, using a cross-platform framework development strategy isn’t always the ideal solution. Some of the cons include:

The Framework Might Not Support Every Feature of an Operating System or Device: If Google, Apple or Microsoft adds a new feature, the framework you are using will need to be updated to support those new additions.

You Can’t Always Use Your Own Tools: Most frameworks want users to use their own development tools and suites, and that can mean that a developer has to forgo his or her own IDE preferences and use something else. PhoneGap (which Adobe acquired last summer) is different in this regard, in that it uses the native IDE for each platform it supports (XCode for iOS, Eclipse for Android, Visual Studio for Windows Phone)

Code Might Not Run as Fast: The cross-compilation process can sometimes be slower than using native tools and calls for an app.

High-End Graphics and 3D Support is Often Limited: Fortunately, game-centric development platforms, like Unity are here to help fill in those gaps.

Vendor Lock-In: Most of the cross-platform frameworks build using their own subsets of JavaScript, which means that if you want to switch to another platform, that code you wrote before is likely not going to be reusable without a lot of work.

Design Considerations

One major factor that cross-platform developers need to be aware of — whether you use a framework or not — is app design. Designing an app for the iPhone is different than designing one for Android; The UI and UX conventions are different, and touch points and menus work in different ways.

A good cross-platform application looks at home on whatever platform it is used on. A bad cross-platform tries to look identical everywhere. For instance, if your Android app has navigation controls at the bottom of the screen, iPhone style, you’re doing it wrong.

Interaction design guru Josh Clark wrote a fantastic article detailing design considerations for major mobile and tablet platforms for .net Magazine that every app developer should read.

via The Pros and Cons of Cross-Platform App Design.

Advertisements

Why corporate mobile banking is scary

http://www.ababj.com/tech-topics-plus/why-corporate-mobile-banking-is-scary-2689.html

By John Ginovsky

In its December report on the emergence of corporate mobile banking, Celent wrote that “a slew of new devices, cheaper data plans, and faster networks are upon us. Business mobile users have the opportunity to take advantage of rich and powerful mobile banking services, provided their bank has an offering,” Sound pretty good. But the report, “Corporate Mobile Banking: Revolutionizing Cash Management,” authored by Jacob Jegher, also raises red flags about security.

ABA Banking Journal Tech Topics recently spoke with Jegher about the report’s finding, particularly emerging security issues.

Tech Topics: What’s the difference between corporate and retail mobile banking?

Jacob Jegher: Corporate mobile banking isn’t for everyone. It’s meant for a specific profile of user. Retail banking services, what you and I would use, is meant for the masses. Anybody can pick it up and benefit. For example, if you spend your day working in accounts receivable or accounts payable, sitting in front of a computer, you have no use for corporate mobile banking.

But if you’re a senior executive who has decision-making capabilities for the business and you need to act on things on the move, corporate mobile banking is for you. The types of positions that would apply would be CFOs and treasurers, senior vice presidents, and vice presidents who would be in charge of finance or money movement. That would be the key difference.

Following along those same lines, the functionality in the corporate space, whether it’s online or mobile, the bank has to have an entitlements structure hierarchy, or things that require separation of user tasks. If you are an employee in operations, you may have authority to send a wire payment up to $1,000, for example. The moment you cross $1,000, you’re required to get approval by someone else up the chain. The work flow to follow these payment approvals have to be built in. Anything involved in decision-making is key. Payment approvals, positive pay, exception items, those types of things would be really critical to corporate mobile.

TT: Your report warns against an upcoming explosion of fraud attempts as corporate mobile takes hold. What would cause such an explosion?

Jegher: Right now there’s little or no fraud in corporate mobile banking, but there are a few things that would cause it to explode.

The first would be prevalence. If this starts to be adopted by the large financial institutions, there’s a lean towards high-value payments by fraudsters. Folks like you and me, we tend to send low-value payments as consumers. But [corporate mobile may involve] very large high-value payments, [and] access to wire transfer capability. Of course, separation of duties will prevent security challenges. But anything that has high value payments attached to it is attractive to a fraudster. It’s quite dangerous.

Also, just the relative freshness of the mobile channel is something that’s really uncharted as far as fraud goes. There have been some instances in the consumer space, but very little. It’s simply only a matter of time before we see rampant, rampant attempts at fraud as mobile becomes more prevalent, whether it’s consumer or corporate.

TT: What new forms of authentication are more appropriate for corporate mobile banking, and would business customers accept them?

Jegher: The first point I want to make is that authentication alone is pretty much useless. The key for any infrastructure is to have a layered environment with different bits of security, so that in the event that piece A fails or is broken, piece B is a safety net. Authentication alone is not good enough.

As far as authentication itself goes, hard tokens will eventually be a thing of the past. You won’t have the token necklaces some people now wear when they have multiple relationships with different clients. You can have something called a soft token, where you may have an app that runs on a mobile device that provides that one-time pass.

The other option is to forego the whole one-time issue and look at other things. An examples I give in the report is a gesture-based authentication, where in order to authenticate yourself you draw a pattern on the screen by connecting different dots. You can force a user to use a strong pattern by connecting the dots, and that strong pattern is a method of authentication.

Eventually we may get to things like voice authentication, as the use of voice becomes more prevalent in the market.

The question about balancing the burden on the customer versus the security of the solution, those two examples are very nonburdensome. [Customers] are not required to carry any hardware.

http://www.celent.com/reports/corporate-mobile-banking-revolutionizing-cash-management

via Why corporate mobile banking is scary.

NFC vs. cloud-based payments: Which will reach scale first?

NFC vs. cloud-based payments: Which will reach scale first?

By 


February 14, 2012

Google has suspended new prepaid cards for Google Wallet

Following a flurry of announcements around NFC-enabled mobile payments last year from Google and Isis, there has been very little news on the NFC front so far this year while cloud-based payments such as is offered by PayPal appear to be picking up some steam.

Google’s NFC-enabled mobile wallet took a hit this week when the company said it would suspend new prepaid cards for Google Wallet after security flaws were detected in the app that make users’ information vulnerable. At the same, there is growing interest in cloud-based solutions that address some of the issues with NFC but have their own issues as well but, will it last?

“There is momentum behind cloud-based solutions,” said Lara Albert, senior director of global marketing at Globys, Seattle. “But I wouldn’t count NFC out yet – you have some of the biggest players in mobile behind these services,” she said.

“I think people are realizing that there are alternatives to waiting for NFC and Secure Element chips to be embedded in all of the mobile phones,” she said. “Solutions that do not require large infrastructure investments such as merchants having POS terminals capable of communicating with an NFC enabled mobile handset to carry out purchase transactions have their advantages.

 

“Then again, let’s face it, if or when Apple’s next iPhone contains an NFC chip in it, the whole game changes.”

Ecosystem issues
Companies are beginning to take a closer look at cloud-based solutions because they want to hurry along the potential in mobile payments and NFC may be moving too slowly for their taste.

Google Wallet and Isis – a joint venture of Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile USA and AT&T – were both introduced with a lot of fanfare. However, nothing is likely to happen on the Isis front until April, when its two test markets in Austin, TX, and Salt Lake City, UT, go live.

Google is dealing with limited availability.

Currently, Google Wallet is only available on Samsung Galaxy Nexus phones from Sprint. However, once the Google deal to acquire Motorola goes through, new phones with Google Wallet could be out by the end of the year.

“Everybody is out there thinking about how to leverage mobile and most of it has ecosystem issues,” said Mark Beccue, senior analyst at ABI Research, New York.

“Making purchases on a smartphone through a Web site or an app – that is rolling along and growing pretty well,” he said.

“Proximity payments, whether software based or online – these are moving slowly. What we really need to see this year for the momentum to carry on is handsets that have the wallets loaded.

Part of the problem around NFC is the complexity associate with it as a payments option.

There are a lack of standards and a complex ecosystem of stakeholders, which makes NFC a more expensive proposition.

As a result, cloud-based solutions make look more appealing.

“I think that more companies are looking at cloud-based payment options,” Globys’ Ms. Albert said. “In a way they have been forced to look at alternative enablers that have the potential to accelerate adoption of mobile payment systems.

“The cloud-based payment solutions that require only downloadable applications for both consumers and retailers may make things easier,” she said. “I suspect there may be more openness toward security and payment card credentials being stored in the cloud rather than having to store and manage the credentials in the consumer’s mobile device.”

Retail strategy
Still, Google is a formidable player and has built up a strong retail strategy.

Google Wallet is available at a number of retailers in five markets – including Subway, CVS and Walgreens. Together, these retailers have a significant number of retail outlets.

“Google knew they could not control too much of the handset stuff right now but they could be smart about getting the right retail partners, which they have done,” ABI’s Mr. Beccue said.

“They went out and got Subway, CVS and Walgreens,” he said. “Most consumers are going to run across a CVS, Walgreens or Subway as they go about their day – that was a good strategy.

While is also looking to create a strong retail strategy, it faces its own challenges as well.

“PayPal is totally dependent on the quality of the mobile network in those places,” Mr. Beccue said. “In a very busy cell, or somewhere rural, the speed of getting things done is going to be dependent on the network.

“PayPal has some momentum,” he said. “What will be interesting is if, over a 6 month period, to see what the market acceptance is. If it does not work fast, that will be the determining factor.

The challenge both solutions face is getting enough consumers to adopt them for a meaningful reach.

To reach scale, these experiences have to be convenient, easy, and worthwhile from the standpoint of having enough participating merchants.

The key will be delivering personalized, relevant communications based on knowing, for example, that a user has registered in the last 14 days but has yet to make a purchase.

“Enabling mobile wallet providers to identify the contexts associated with certain behaviors, access real-time contextual profiles of customers, take action when a customer enters a context, predict the likelihood a customer will enter a context, and recommend the right tip, information, alert, incentive, etc. given a customer’s context is what is needed to minimize the fall out and get more people using a mobile payment option,” Ms. Albert said.

Running Toward Mobile Payments | Backbase Blog

Running Toward Mobile Payments

Posted on February 14, 2012 by Sara Palmbush

The idea of being able to send and receive payments with mobile phones has been around for many, many years. Except it’s not an idea anymore. Cash, checks, and finally, cards are going by the wayside. Still, most researchers estimate that mobile payments won’t catch fire for at least a few more years. Huh? The past dictates that it’s customer behavior and not research, which serves as the best indicator of technology adoption.

In this case, customers are running toward every chance they get to use their mobile devices for payment. PayPal, for example, is projecting that it will process $7 billion in mobile payments in 2012, almost double the $4 billion mark recorded in 2011. Tap-based payments facilitated by Near Field Communications (NFC) chips that are being built into mobile devices are the next phase. (Think tapping movie posters for tickets, your home speaker system for music, etc.) Square, a forerunner of such payments (using a card reader) is being used by US Presidential candidates for campaign contributions. And there are plenty of other examples of successful experiments from retailers. All of this speaks volumes about when customers will adopt full-on mobile payment technologies. It also says a lot about the lag that exists between those who currently offer mobile payment capabilities and those who don’t.

As Brett King writes on a recent Finextra blog post ‘Forget the NFC argument – look at payments behavior’: “If Visa and Mastercard don’t convert their networks to phone-capable in the next 24 months, I fear Square, PayPal, iTunes and a myriad of others are just waiting in the wings to circumvent their rails. Argue all you like about NFC adoption, that’s not what you should be watching. The tipping point is the behavioral shift on the mobile phone – that is what will kill plastic, and it has already happened.”

The moral of the story then for banks: Stop waiting around for someone to tell you when mobile payments are going to happen. Evidently, they are happening now.

via Running Toward Mobile Payments | Backbase Blog.

Mobile Sites vs. Apps: The Coming Strategy Shift

Mobile Sites vs. Apps: The Coming Strategy Shift

Summary:
Mobile apps currently have better usability than mobile sites, but forthcoming changes will eventually make a mobile site the superior strategy.

The most important question in a company’s mobile strategy is whether to do anything specialfor mobile in the first place. Some companies will never get substantial mobile use and should stick to making their desktop sites less insufferable on small screens.

But if your site happens to have decent appeal to mobile users, then the second strategy question is: Should you produce a mobile website or develop special mobile apps? The answer to this question today is quite different from what it will likely be in the future.

Current Mobile Strategy: Apps Best

As of this writing, there’s no contest: ship mobile apps if you can afford it. Our usability studies with mobile devices clearly show that users perform better with apps than with mobile sites. (Mobile sites have higher measured usability than desktop sites when used on a phone, but mobile apps score even higher.)

The empirical data is really all you need to know. It’s a fact that apps beat mobile sites in testing. To plan a mobile strategy, you don’t need to know why the winner is best, but I’ll try to explain it anyway.

Mobile applications are more usable than mobile-optimized websites because only limited optimization is possible during website design. An app can target the specific limitations and abilities of each individual device much better than a website can while running inside a browser.

Native application superiority holds for any platform, including desktop computers. However, desktop computers are so powerful that web-based applications suffice for many tasks.

In contrast, mobile devices provide an impoverished user experience: tiny screens, slow connectivity, higher interaction cost (especially when typing, but also due to users’ inability to double-click or hover), and less precision in pointing due to the fat-finger problem. The weaker the device, the more important it is to optimize for its characteristics.

Apps can also provide a superior business case for content providers because the various app stores offer a pseudo-micropayment ability that lets you collect money from users, which is harder to achieve over the public Internet.

Finally, let’s consider the differences between Nielsen’s Law for Internet bandwidth and Moore’s Law for computer power. Over the next decade, Internet bandwidth will likely become 57 times faster, while computers will become 100 times more powerful. (Future computers will be monsters compared to the puny hardware we’re using now.)

In other words, the relative advantage of running native code instead of downloading stuff over the Internet will be twice as big in 10 years. One more point in favor of mobile apps.

Future Mobile Strategy: Sites Best

In the future, the cost-benefit tradeoff for apps vs. mobile sites will change.

Although I just said that computers will become 100 times more powerful, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the iPhone 14 will be 100 times faster than the iPhone 4S. It’s more likely that hardware advances will be split between speed and other mobile priorities, especially battery lifetime. So, a future phone might be only 10 times faster (but will be thinner, lighter, and able to run much longer between charges), whereas download times will be cut by a factor 57.

The expense of mobile apps will increase because there will be more platforms to develop for. At a minimum, you’ll have to support Android, iOS, and Windows Phone. Furthermore, many of these platforms will likely fork into multiple subplatforms that require different apps for a decent user experience.

For user experience purposes, iOS has already forked into iPad vs. iPhone. Although they officially have the same OS software, the two devices need two very different user interface (UI) designs. (See our free report on iPad usability for tablet usability considerations.)

Amazon.com’s recent introduction of the Kindle Fire effectively forked the Android user experience with a fairly different platform. And, as our Kindle Fire usability study concluded, you need a separate app with a separate UI to deliver decent usability on this nonstandard device that’s selling like hotcakes.

It’s only realistic to expect even further UI diversity in the future. This will make it extremely expensive to ship mobile apps.

In contrast, mobile sites will retain some cross-platform capabilities, so you won’t need as many different designs. High-end sites will need 3 mobile designs to target phones, mid-sized tablets (like Kindle Fire), and big tablets. Using ideas like responsive design will let you adapt each of these site versions to a range of screen sizes and capabilities. The same basic UI design will work for both a 6.8-inch tablet and a 7.5-inch tablet if you simply shrink or stretch things a bit. (A 5-inch phone would require a different design, with fewer features andabbreviated content.)

Most important, new web technologies such as HTML 5 will substantially improve mobile site capabilities. We’re already seeing mobile sites from publishers such as the Financial Times andPlayboy with UIs that are very similar to applications offered by equivalent newspapers and magazines.

Today, FT and Playboy use sites instead of apps for business reasons, not UI reasons. Publishers are tired of having a huge share of subscription revenues confiscated by app store owners, and Playboy wants to publish more titillating content than Apple’s prudish censors allow.

Freedom from censorship and freedom to keep your own money are good reasons to stay with the free Internet instead of the walled garden of proprietary app stores. In the future, better UIs and more adaptive implementations will be additional reasons to go with mobile apps.

A last benefit of a mobile-site strategy is better integration with the full web. It’s much easier for others to link to a site than to integrate with a 3rd-party application. In the long run, theInternet will defeat smaller, closed environments.

(Apps may remain better for tasks that are intensely feature-rich applications, such as photo editing — whereas mobile sites will be better for design problems like e-commerce/m-commerce, corporate websites, news, medical info, social networking, etc. that are rich in content but don’t require intense data manipulation.)

When Will the Strategy Shift Happen?

Now for the $64,000 question — or, more accurately for most companies, the million-dollar question: When will the recommended strategy change? In other words, when will the changeover in favor of mobile sites be strong enough for you to abandon mobile apps?

Sadly, I don’t know. Usability insights can tell us what’s best for users under various circumstances, but they can’t predict how fast these circumstances will change in the real world. In my experience, things change much more slowly than one might expect.

For example, in September 2000, I said that mobile usability required a device with a deck-of-cards form factor that would “get rid of the keys and spend every available square millimeter on pixels.” A few months later, I predicted that European vendors’ infatuation with non-web mobile phones would lead to the demise of that continent’s lead in mobile technology.

Both predictions came true, but not until 7 years later when the iPhone was finally launched as (a) a device with almost the entire surface used for data, and (b) a product from a computer company rather than a phone company.

Even worse, in 2001, I thought that “Mobile Devices Will Soon Be Useful.” Sure, if by “soon” you mean 6 years 😦

Good mobile design was so close I could taste it. I knew what was needed, and I didn’t think it was so hard to do. But, as the famous saying goes, don’t confuse a clear view with a short distance. As I admitted in my retrospective on my first 10 years writing the Alertbox, when I was wrong about the timing it “was often because I was too enthusiastic about a new technology’s potential. When I was right, it was often because I was conservative.”

To conclude: I do believe mobile sites will win over mobile apps in the long term. But when that will happen is less certain. Today, if you are serious about creating the best possible mobile user experience, my advice is to develop apps.

Learn More

293-page report on Usability of Mobile Websites and Applications with 210 design guidelines and 479 screenshots is available for download.

Mobile internet usage is doubling year on year | StatCounter Global Stats

Mobile internet usage is doubling year on year

Nokia global leader

Apple king in US and UK

Boston, USA and Dublin, Ireland; Monday, 6th February, 2012: Global internet usage through mobile devices, not including tablets*, has almost doubled to 8.5% in January 2012 from 4.3% last year according to free web analytics company StatCounter. The firm’s research arm StatCounter Global Stats highlights the increasing use of mobile devices to access the internet with market share doubling year on year since 2009 (Table A below).

“While global internet usage through mobiles is still under 10%, the pace of growth is remarkable,” commented Aodhan Cullen, CEO, StatCounter.

StatCounter has also announced that new stats regarding mobile vendors are now available on its Global Stats website. The firm has been compiling and refining these stats for some time and has now made the beta project public. Based on initial research covering all traffic to the StatCounter network, Nokia leads worldwide, most probably driven by its dominance in India. Apple is second globally but leads the US and UK markets. In the UK RIM is second only to Apple.

“Following repeated requests, we’ve decided to make our new mobile vendor stats publicly available,” commented Aodhan Cullen, StatCounter. “As the mobile space is constantly evolving, we keep our detection under constant review.” Anyone wishing to contribute to the detection project can submit feedback using the detect tool: http://gs.statcounter.com/detect

StatCounter (http://statcounter.com/) provides free website traffic analysis. This allows website owners, developers and bloggers to capture website intelligence in real time e.g. number of visitors, visitors by country/region, search terms, popular pages, download stats, exit links and other data.

————————————————–

Table A:

Global use of mobile devices to access internet

(excludes tablets*)

Jan 2009: 0.7%

Jan 2010: 1.6%

Jan 2011: 4.3%

Jan 2012: 8.5%

Source: StatCounter Global Stats

—————————————————–

* StatCounter defines mobile device as a pocket-sized computing device, typically having a display screen with touch input or a miniature keyboard.

For individual country analysis go to:

http://gs.statcounter.com/#mobile_vs_desktop-ww-monthly-201101-201201

http://gs.statcounter.com/#mobile_vendor-ww-monthly-201101-201201

Further information on our analysis is available at:

http://gs.statcounter.com/faq

via Mobile internet usage is doubling year on year | StatCounter Global Stats.

Tomi Ahonen: Average users looks at their phone 150 times a day!

Tomi Ahonen: Average users looks at their phone 150 times a day!

CATEGORIES: GENERAL

BY: DUSAN BELIC, INTOMOBILE

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 9TH, 2012 AT 12:50 AM

During the recent Mobile Web Africa conference in Johannesburg, 3G strategy consultant Tomi Ahonen took the stage to talk about the prospect of mobile technology and how it changes the world. Here are the highlights from his keynote:

Mobile is the fastest way to reach consumers. According to a study conducted in New Zealand, e-mail is read 48 hours after it is sent, while the average SMS is read in four minutes. In other words, SMS is 720 times faster than e-mail in message-opening throughput.

Nokia reported that the average person looks at their phone 150 times a day, or once every six-and-a-half minutes of every waking hour. In Africa, it’s 82 times a day, or every 12 minutes.

After optimizing its website for mobile devices, Tiffany’s sales grew 125%, prompting Ahonen to conclude that there isn’t going to be “one Internet.”

In China, mobile newspapers have converted 39% of their readers to pay for MMS news headlines. The country’s leading mobile operator, China Mobile, has 40 million paying users on SMS- and MMS-based twice-daily headline services of branded newspapers’ headlines.

Finally, Ahonen concluded that mobile is the fastest growing industry ever, going “from naught to $1 trillion in 2010, and is set to double by 2020.”

[Via: textually]

via Tomi Ahonen: Average users looks at their phone 150 times a day!.

[Infographic] Mapping the Tools in the Mobile Development Ecosystem

This post is part of our ReadWriteMobile channel, which is dedicated to helping its community understand the strategic business and technical implications of developing mobile applications. This channel is sponsored by Alcatel-Lucent. As you’re exploring these resources, check out this helpful resource from our sponsors: Cultivating a Developer Ecosystem: Understanding Their Needs

shutterstock_killer_apps_150.jpgThe mobile development ecosystem is a large, complicated space. There are innovative startups making tools for native and mobile Web apps along with large enterprise-grade companies that offer solutions from cloud support to frameworks and developer environments. For a mobile developer, it can be confusing to know where to turn and what to use to make the best app possible.

Mobile “backend-as-a-service” startup Kinvey created a map for ReadWriteMobile to help developers understand the ecosystem. Kinvey brackets the mobile ecosystem between two primary pillars: the service providers and the original equipment manufacturers. In between lies the meat of the environment from the “as-a-service” providers (platform, infrastructure and backend) to mobile software developer kit and application programming interface sources. Who has acquired what? What partnerships dominate the ecosystem? Use the map below as a resource when developing your next mobile app.

Mapping the Complicated Ecosystem

The original players in the mobility space were the OEMs and carriers. In 1998, there would have been next to nothing in between those two pillars on the map below. With the rise of the application ecosystem, the service structure for developers has grown rapidly as enterprises and entrepreneurs rush to meet the needs of developers.

“In the mobile world, the service providers and the handset OEMs were the original two players. With the transition to apps and services, all the other new layers have inserted themselves in between the original two players of the ecosystem,” said Kinvey CEO and co-founder Sravish Sridhar.

Kinvey places itself in the middle of the ecosystem. To its right are the PaaS and IaaS companies such as IBM and Rackspace, which are closer to the carriers than the OEMs. To its right are the mobile SDK and API providers, which have more in common with the OEMs.

“Slowly, major players have come into the space, and are now tunneling their way across the ecosystem through acquisitions or by launching new services themselves. For example, Google has been most proficient with an acquisition-led strategy,” Sridhar said. “Companies that are not acquiring are launching new services on their own. For example, Amazon Web Services started with IaaS and now have PaaS, and are growing out other mobile-specific services. Apart from developing Windows Phone, Microsoft is now improving Azure IaaS, and will soon have a robust PaaS platform.”

The goal of the BaaS providers is to bridge these worlds by bringing cloud infrastructure to developers and make it easy to integrate SDKs and APIs. It is not an easy task as it requires a knowledge of robust technical networks as well as the needs of front-end developers.

“As a leading Backend as a Service provider, we tie in IaaS, PaaS and Mobile APIs, and connect them right down to the Mobile SDK, so that millions of dynamic and rich apps can be easily built on any platform, bringing value to billions of users all over the world,” Sridhar said.

There is a lot of movement n the ecosystem, as the map shows. Appcelerator’s acquisition of Cocoafish is the latest example of one pillar moving to another. Kinvey has partnered with Urban Airship and talks with a variety of companies in other pillars, including appMobi. The company’s platform ties into a variety of cloud providers including Amazon Web Services, Rackspace and Microsoft Azure.

Click here for a larger map, hosted by Kinvey.

kinvey_map_ecosystem_610.jpg

Kinvey, Competition and Consolidation

kinvey_real_150x150.jpgBoston-based Kinvey (a recent TechStars alum) is a unique startup in the mobile development world. Sridhar is very supportive of the ecosystem at large, including his primary competitors like Parse and StackMob. The idea is to see every company grow to the fullest of potential.

Sridhar often writes about startup and entrepreneur relationships. Kinvey does not attack its competitors or make edgy comments about how Kinvey may or may not be better than its rivals.

The first startup that Sridhar worked at was Austin-based United Devices, a company that focused on grid computing to manage high performance computing (HPC) infrastructures. From 2000 to 2005, grid computing was a hot vertical in the technology community with a variety of large and small companies entering the space. Sridhar noticed the ill affects of how sniping and holding negative opinions of the competition had on the ecosystem at large.

“A lot of this perspective came from my last startup. I was part of the founding team at United Devices and we were building grid computing software and a very similar thing happened at that company that is happening right now at Kinvey is that we thought we were doing something cool and unique and lo and behold, within about six to eight months, there were about 20 competitors,” Sridhar said.”We got really paranoid about them and started talking about each other in the press in a negative fashion and started talking negatively about each other with customers and what happened is that I found that was doing more harm than good and the space took a while to develop. One of the reasons that grid computing, which was all the buzz between about 2001 and 2005, didn’t take off is that the whole ecosystem didn’t push it forward. We were waiting for the bigger companies to adopt it. My theory about creating this ecosystem called backend-as-a-service is that we should all work to collectively define it and make it successful.”

 

We wrote about the consolidation in the mobile services last summer when Urban Airship bought SimpleGeo, much to the surprise of the mobile developer community. When it comes to the BaaS players, some of the first startups are starting to get acquired, like Cocoafish by Appcelerator. When it comes to Kinvey, StackMob and Parse, each has a tie to a major company that may be interested in acquiring it within the next few years. Of those three, each has created a niche for itself to the point where it could grow to be fairly large and stave off acquisition as well. It behooves the companies in the space to help each other grow at this point.

That is in stark contrast to another emerging segment of the developer ecosystem that has emerged with the app economy. Mobile analytics is a high-growth area with companies large and small growing rapidly and looking for developer and media attention. Whereas there is very little bad blood between Kinvey, Parse and StackMob, mobile analytics startups like Kontagent, Apasalar, Flurry, Localytics and others hate to see one company mentioned and not their own (this plays out in my inbox on a daily basis).

Developers: What services are you using to create a backend infrastructure for your app? What do you think about the startup competition in the space vis-a-vis larger cloud providers or in juxtaposition with the mobile analytics space? Let us know in the comments.

Top Image Courtesy Shutterstock

Aite Group Warns of Mobile Fraud Risks

Aite Group Warns of Mobile Fraud Risks

February 9, 2012 | AnalystsResearch and Security-Fraud | 0 Comments

A recent Aite Group report, “Mobile Fraud: The Next Frontier”, advises financial institutions (FIs) to prepare themselves to fight mobile fraud. The Aite report, based on a survey of 24 global risk executives, states that while fraud has yet to become common through mobile banking channels, cyber criminals likely have mobile banking and mobile payments on their radar, and many FIs lack fraud protection that equally covers both mobile and online banking programs.

“The most surprising thing in compiling this report was that two-thirds of the respondents said they did not have integrated fraud protection between mobile and online channels at their financial institutions,” said Julie Conroy McNelley, senior analyst and fraud expert with Aite Group.

FIs have not yet built multiple layers of fraud protection for their mobile banking programs, because so far they have not noticed a lot of breaches in that arena – but stiffer fraud measures may soon become essential, if history is any guide McNelley says.

FIs experienced a similar situation five years ago when deploying fraud protection measures with online banking programs. Initially, FIs saw relatively low levels of online fraud, but when organized crime threw its weight behind online banking attacks, fraud prevention became a higher priority.

Additional key data from the Aite report:

  • 75% of respondents agreed that mobile banking creates exposure to risks that are not yet completely understood because cyber criminals are always developing new attack methods.
  • 57% of respondents fear mobile banking service innovations may outpace the ability of risk management and fraud protection tools to protect them.
  • Only 37% of respondents have the same fraud protection measures in place for mobile and online banking programs, which is troubling inasmuch as fraudsters typically create attacks that capitalize on the lack of similar protection measures in place when monetary transactions cross channels at the bank.
  • 67% of respondents said they are already working on deploying increased fraud prevention technology over the next two years to protect the mobile channel and 25% are waiting to see what kinds of threats emerge; only 8% have no plans to increase mobile fraud prevention technology.

With its real-time mobile alerting capabilities, Clairmail empowers FIs to enlist the customer in the fight against fraud and to fully leverage the mobile channel for fraud prevention, detection and resolution.

Learn more by downloading the Clairmail white paper, Fraud Solution: Leveraging Mobile to Combat Fraud.

2012 Mobile Trends: What’s On Your Strategic Roadmap? | Forrester Blogs

2012 Mobile Trends: What’s On Your Strategic Roadmap?

Posted by Julie Ask on February 9, 2012

Let’s take a step back, first. You started as the “mobile person” two to three years ago. You siphoned a hundred thousand dollars or so from the eBusiness team budget and got a mobile optimized web site and maybe an application or two built. You measured your success by engagement – web traffic and application downloads. Maybe you measured direct revenue. Life was easy.

Two to three years later, as eBusiness professionals, you’ve got some experience with building, deploying and maintaining mobile services. You’ve added tablets to your portfolio. Hopefully you’ve convinced your organization that you need at least a 7-figure budget. Most industries have seen clear financial returns on these investments so that hasn’t been too hard. As eBusiness professionals working on mobile, you were feeling a lot of love.

In 2011, you benchmarked yourselves versus your competition. You looked at native applications by platform and key functionality on mobile web and applications. You took a deep breath and said, “ok, we’ve done it. We have mobile services. We’ve checked the box. Mobile web traffic and sales are growing. We’re good.” Perhaps others with fewer services are thinking, “I can see what we need to do. I think we can catch up if I can get some budget.”

The thing you are seeing though is – the finish line is out of sight. Mobile has only gotten more complicated – not less. No one feels comfortable. No one feels they can slow down, stop spending, or rest. Anxiety levels are high.

Every other person in your organization is coming to you wanting to do “something in mobile,” and you can’t handle all of the requests. Those with budgets are threatening to go do their own thing – which would threaten your work to date. And, for most of you, you know you’ve done too many “projects” without involving your IT group. You haven’t planned enough with them or put infrastructure in place to support what mobile services need to be in 3-5 years. And rightly so – too often their pace is too slow. Now, as an eBusiness professional focused on mobile, you’re viewed as a “bottleneck” for some new to mobile because you are coaching them on best practices that slow their projects down. Mostly, you are probably feeling like it is hard to keep up – the more you know, the more difficult success in mobile seems.

There is no year of mobile. However, if 2012 isn’t the year you start doing more enterprise-wide planning with your counterparts in IT and other business functions (e.g., marketing, customer service) to build out the vision, skill sets and backend functionality to support mobile services in a few years time, you will find yourself in a position of not being able to catch up by throwing a few hundred thousand dollars to a vendor or agency.

2012 is less about what you offer in mobile than about how you go about doing it. You need a long term mobile technology roadmap. You need to know when and how and if you want to incorporate new technologies (e.g., NFC) into your mix. You need a mobile services development plan that fits your budget. You need to take mobile into account when you are making decisions about your web site, data architecture and infrastructure. You need a plan for collecting and utilizing customer data without jeopardizing their privacy or seeming creepy. You need to understand how other technologies like HTML5 and cloud services will impact what you can offer. You need to think about forging relationships with the new powerhouses in mobile. Your list is long and only a portion of it is tied to actual mobile technology trends.

Forrester’s 2012 mobile trends focus as much on key technology, ecosystem, and evolving consumer expectations that are impacting the evolution of mobile services as we do on the mobile technologies directly. For more information on the key mobile trends in 2012 and what they mean to eBusiness professionals, please see our 2012 Mobile Trends report. For those building products, please see this version co-authored by my colleague, Thomas Husson.

via 2012 Mobile Trends: What’s On Your Strategic Roadmap? | Forrester Blogs.