In case you weren’t aware of it, IBM’s expansive mobile group has recently formally aligned itself in a partnership with Xamarin, a very sharp company that will now provide IBM with a mobile development platform that allows C# developers to easily build native mobile apps in C# for iOS, Android and Windows Phone. The Xamarin platform includes a number of developer tools as well as a cloud-based app testing ecosystem. On the IBM side IBM’s MobileFirst platform – which includes IBM’s own Worklight mobile app development platform – will provide Xamarin-built apps with cloud and backend enterprise connectivity and data services.
The Xamarin and IBM partnership drives home for me that mobile app development in the enterprise is becoming extremely “frothy.” Though I believe that we’ve been riding the enterprise mobile app wave for several years now, mobile app and MBaaS vendors alike are making a lot of noise about 2014 and 2015 proving to be the true “tipping point” years. For argument’s sake I will grant them this point. That leaves me wondering, however, if we now entering a true golden age for enterprise mobile app development, or if we are instead in the process of watching a bubble emerge that may be nearing its bursting point.
I will come back to Xamarin, IBM, and the question of an enterprise app development platform bubble. But first, a few more words on MBaaS platforms, which are important to Xamarin’s future success, are in order.
MBaaS Matters a Great Deal
Last week, I spent some time thinking on MBaaS (Mobile Backend as a Service) becoming the new enterprise mobile architecture of choice. There is one very interesting and key underlying notion about MBaaS: that its major goal is to give enterprises a great deal of freedom (or a liberation from the shackles of enterprise IT infrastructure, to put a bit of a literary feel to it) to focus their time and efforts on developing rich mobile solutions that meet “business needs.”
Cloud computing and platform as a service (PaaS) capabilities that easily replace old school infrastructure are two of the critical markers that define MBaaS. There are two other markers. The first is the ability to “easily” connect with the myriad backend app and data servers and other enterprise sources (that can include occasionally looney legacy systems such as an old early 1990s VAX system) that a business may need to tap. Extensive yet also simplified backend connectivity capability truly defines MBaaS – at least that’s what I think.
I can also add to the mix here DBaaS – the emerging Database as a Service “next wave” – which startups such as Orchestrate are moving to deliver on. From the 20,000 foot POV DBaaS provides a simple set of APIs that a company can utilize to connect to numerous and diverse backend database systems. I’m going to leave DBaaS for another day, but keep it in mind nonetheless.
The final marker is the very open-ended nature of MBaaS on the mobile app development platform side of things. As important as the cloud and backend services of MBaaS are to its immediate and long-term success, it will likely be the flexibility enterprises gain relative to the development tools they can use (such as Xamarin) to actually build their mobile apps that may prove the most significant marker overall in terms of what will ultimately be the greatest driver of MBaaS mass deployments.
From here, it is just a very short leap to extending the enterprise mobile app possibilities out to both the Internet of Things and to enterprise wearable tech. 2015 will indeed be a very interesting year for enterprise mobility!
Lots of Flexibility and Choice
Before I go on, I want to make absolutely clear that there is an enormous amount of complexity that underlies MBaaS. It has been an extraordinary technical challenge that the MBaaS vendors have taken on. Making cloud-based services and complex backend access and implementation appear “easy” to the enterprise – such that enterprise IT teams can almost think of an MBaaS as a nifty mobile development black box – is an unparalleled technical achievement. By this, I mean to equate MBaaS to the emergence and total integration of LAN/WAN in the 1990s, and the Internet/Web since the late 1990s, into the very DNA and fabric of all businesses large or small.
In a few years, all enterprises will have fully integrated MBaaS into their DNA as well. I will go so far as to say that I’m highly confident the security that is part and parcel of successful MBaaS platforms will be such that even today’s on-premise bound verticals – healthcare in particular – will all eventually find themselves MBaaS-based. The demise of on-premise computing is close at hand!
What the MBaaS vendors have achieved is a pure cloud and backend technical accomplishment. But in the grand continuum of enterprise mobility we arrive now at the ultimate judge or arbiter of any mobile application and development effort – the end user (whoever that may be – workforce, partners, customers, or large scale collections of consumers).
One thing MBaaS platforms won’t be able to ensure is the final outcome on how delighted end users will be with the mobile applications that are ultimately delivered through any MBaaS platform. The technical wizardry (and occasional black magic) employed by the MBaaS vendors can only go so far…they can and will free up enterprises to focus on their business needs, but they cannot help businesses actually develop their mobile-based business solutions and apps. Of course.
What MBaaS does do is create a great deal of freedom for enterprises to pick and choose the actual app development platforms that are preferred within an organization or that an organization’s development team may have expertise in. This approach maximizes developer flexibility, and minimizes the need for developers to have to use specific and likely unfamiliar tools required by a given platform.
The reason that the MBaaS vendors focus a great deal of marketing effort on the ability to create “agile” mobile app development environments for their customers is due to this developer tool flexibility. This flexibility in turn gives organizations a great deal of opportunity to focus specifically on business needs as the basis to quickly deliver finely-tuned mobile apps. This is something I will be exploring in detail over the coming weeks and won’t take any further here. It is worth mentioning, however, that the Xamarin-IBM partnership now exists at least in good part for this very reason.
Are Xamarin and IBM a Good Match?
As a front-end development platform and framework, Xamarin has gained a lot of ground in a relatively short period of time. It claims that its platform – which focuses entirely on C# developers – is now used by more than 750,000 developers, some of whom come from over 100 of the Fortune 500 (including Dow Jones, Bosch, McKesson, Halliburton, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Cognizant). That is a heady number of developers, and represents more than 10 percent of the total estimated population of just over 6 million C# programmers.
The partnership with IBM gives Xamarin’s developers integrated access to IBM MobileFirst – and IBM Worklight, which provides Xamarin-built mobile apps with an entirely new suite of secure cloud-based data services (sounds like MBaaS, doesn’t it?). Xamarin and IBM now provide an SDK for Xamarin developers that can simply be embedded in their mobile apps to integrate, secure and manage apps with the IBM MobileFirst platform.
There is much more to what the two companies actually put on the table, but the implementation details aren’t important here. What is important is that Xamarin is now able to provide IBM-sourced cloud and data services capabilities for those Xamarin developers that can benefit from it.
IBM, meanwhile, adds yet another arrow to its already full mobile quiver. Xamarin integration simply provides IBM with the ability to offer its enormous collection of mobile customers additional mobile app developer flexibility, and choice in how they want to – or prefer to – build their apps. Xamarin obviously also gains IBM’s mobile endorsement through the partnership; that will clearly open many new doors for Xamarin.
So yes, it is definitely a good match.
A Bubble or a Golden Age?
The answer to the question I’ve posed depends entirely on whether or not I’m right about how MBaaS is going to play out. If MBaaS does indeed emerge as technology that becomes part of overall business DNA (again, as LAN/WAN and the Internet/Web have become), then it makes a great deal of sense to have substantial app development flexibility and development platform and framework choice.
If MBaaS deployment runs into roadblocks, and if other cloud service options that limit developer choice emerge and become dominant instead, then the current proliferation of MBaaS and app development platforms (along with all the startups in the space) will indeed look like an unsustainable bubble.
That won’t happen, though – I like to think I’m right about MBaaS.
Enterprises really do face a tremendous need to get great mobile apps out the door – there is enormous enterprise demand now being generated for MBaaS and developer flexibility and choice because of this. Assuming that businesses take their strictly business-side mobile homework seriously, the infrastructure and development tools will be there to get high quality mobile apps out the door.
Red Hat/FeedHenry, Kinvey, Pivotal/Xtreme, Appcelerator, AnyPresence, Kidozen, Cloudmine, Sencha, Xamarin, Orchestrate and many other startup and established vendors (among them the usual suspects amid the giant tech companies) all stand to make a mark here. Enterprise mobility is ready to pay out on the bet.
For those of us who have been waiting since the early 2000s for such a mobile moment to become real, it is indeed looking like a golden age is finally here.