Solving one of the most vexing issues for makers of mobile apps -- and limiting the business prospects of more than a few mobile app service startups -- Google on Monday released code that allows Android developers to easily set up their own back-end servers on the company's App Engine.
Mobile Backend Starter consists of Java code, offered under the Apache 2.0 open source license, for Google Apps engine. It provides a Google-hosted backend server that can be deployed with a single click (through the Google Cloud Console) and then customized and integrated with any Android app, for tasks like user data storage, messaging, push notifications and user authentication.
"Mobile Backend Starter gives you everything you need to rapidly set up a backend for your app, without needing to write any backend code," said Google product manager Brad Abrams in a blog post. "It includes a server that stores your data with App Engine and a client library and sample app for Android that make it easy to access that data."
Mobile developers are likely to welcome what Google is offering because backend servers can help developers retain customer data, build customer relationships and update content on mobile devices. The need for such services became apparent a few years ago, when backend app services like Parse, Stackmob, Kinvey and Roar Engine began to appear. More recently, mobile development tool makers like Corona Labs have recognized the revenue potential of a backend service offering. And in perhaps the most obvious sign that the mobile backend-as-a-service (BaaS) market matters, Facebook in April acquired Parse.
Google now is angling for portion of the revenue generated by hosting mobile services, which won't make life any easier for BaaS startups. The company should have an advantage over smaller BaaS providers because of its brand and size — one of the primary risks faced by any mobile developer integrating a backend service is service longevity, because it can be a challenge to rewire an app with a different backend on short notice.
Worse still for BaaS providers, Google's Mobile Backend Starter is likely to appeal to smaller development studios, the very entities likely to choose a backend service provider over coding a custom server from scratch.
While using App Engine to run a mobile app backend might seem like a more appealing option than betting on the continued existence and health of a BaaS startup, App Engine may not necessarily be the most affordable option. Since Google changed its App Engine pricing model several years ago, developers have cautioned that inefficient or poorly coded apps can lead to high App Engine fees.
The handholding and deployment simplicity that App Engine provides as a platform-as-a-service offering is generally cited as the reason it tends to be more costly than lower level infrastructure-as-a-service offerings like Amazon Web Services or Google Compute Engine. Over the weekend, Google engineer Dean Harding more or less validated this distinction in a blog post that described the savings he realized by moving his free Android app War Worlds from App Engine to Compute Engine.
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