The most interesting thing I heard while listening Wednesday to Salesforce.com co-founder Parker Harris is just how important smartphones are to the SaaS vendor -- getting development priority over tablets and desktop computers.
"The percentage of usage is moving more and more toward the phone," Harris said at the Wells Fargo Tech Transformation Summit in San Francisco. "So we're doing a lot of work internally at Salesforce to try to figure out how can we transfer all the IP and user experience to a phone experience. It's very challenging."
Having talked with a number of companies that have deployed tablet apps to their sales teams, I've been taken with the tablet as a tool for sales, service and other mobile, interactive tasks. Harris sees things a bit differently.
[ Sounds like a great plan -- if the battery holds up. Read Smartphone Battery Life: Back To The Future. ]
Tablets have a lot of great uses for people who need access to rich data remotely, Harris said, but as Salesforce watches the usage data, it's seeing more and more customers using smartphones to access its application services. Harris praised Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's effort to get Facebook teams thinking "mobile first" and said Salesforce is taking much the same approach. "Now we're going more into phone first then tablet then desktop," he said. Salesforce will be finalizing its own mobile transformation over the coming year, Harris said.
Salesforce is focused right now on its touch interface. Harris acknowledged that in six to 12 months, it'll face the challenge of how to translate touchscreen tasks such as swipes to a desktop.
HTLM5 vs. Native Apps
Any company doing mobile development knows you face a religious war in deciding whether to go with HTLM5 or write apps natively for a specific mobile operating system. Harris sounds like the Henry Clay of this debate inside Salesforce, advocating a blend of the two.
He acknowledged that it's a lively debate, mentioning that CEO Marc Benioff has made the case for native apps. But the argument for purely native apps, he said, sounds a lot like what he heard 14 years ago from those saying Salesforce couldn't build enterprise software for the browser. "People are saying you'll never, ever build a cloud-based solution that will work on a phone. You have to write native solutions," he said. "It's the same as saying you have to write client server code 14 years ago."
He acknowledged the need for a bit of native code, but he clearly favors HTLM5 where possible, in part because it allows easier, automated updates of new features. "You need both," he said.