Kicking off its annual Dreamforce event in San Francisco Wednesday, Saleforce.com announced that it's embracing HTML5 to better support tablets and other mobile devices. It also announced it will open up its Chatter app to external collaborators and third-party apps.
Following in the footsteps of Facebook and other consumer sites that have developed touch-optimized versions of their websites, Salesforce announced that touch.salesforce.com will deliver an HTML5-based version of the vendor's core applications, and eventually the extended library of applications build on the Force.com development platform.
The promise of HTML5 is to be able to write Web-based applications once and deliver them across a variety of mobile platforms and devices without native development work--it doesn't quite live up to that billing just yet, but more on limitations in a moment.
HTML5 is now supported by most late-model smartphones and tablets. Web apps written in HTML5 generally lose desktop-and-mouse-oriented scroll bars and gain mobile device-native pinch, flip, swipe, and other gesture-based navigation capabilities.
Touch.salesforce.com is little more than a landing page today, but by early next year it will deliver an HTML5-based version of the Salesforce.com Sales Cloud application, Clarence So, the company's senior vice president of strategy, told InformationWeek. The HTML5 app will also support customer and partner customizations of the Sales Cloud.
Salesforce was not ready to release a roadmap detailing when its Service Cloud app and Force.com will be rewritten in HTML5, according to So, but the company made it clear that's the plan.
"Our customers have built over 240,000 custom apps with Force.com, and with touch.salesforce.com they'll become instantly mobile so you can access them through mobile devices," said Al Falcione, Saleforce.com's VP of product marketing.
The embrace of HTML5 does not mean that Salesforce will abandon device-native mobile apps, So said. The vendor currently supports Apple iOS and BlackBerry RIM devices with native apps, and it's expected to support Android with a native app by year end.
Nonetheless, HTML5 is viewed by many as the future of mobile development. Many Web app developers are supporting both paths for the time being.
"This is a smart way for Salesforce to be adaptable in the mobile space, and they were proactive in stating that they don't feel the choice of tablets and smartphones has settled out just yet," said Altimeter analyst Chris Silva.
There are currently limits to the device-native capabilities supported by HTML5. For example, access to the camera functionality on various mobile devices is usually lacking. To ensure adequate functionality, Salesforce.com will be releasing supplemental HTML5-based containers for popular devices that will fill any gaps in functionality, So said. Writing containers will undoubtedly be far less onerous for developers than creating complete native applications for multiple devices and platforms.
Salesforce's plans for Chatter include Chatter Now real-time capabilities, Chatter Connect integration, and an opening up of the app to collaborators outside of a Salesforce.com customer Chatter network. All three upgrades are set for the Salesforce.com Winter '12 release in October 2011.
Chatter Now will give the applications presence-awareness and screen-sharing capabilities--most likely from the company's January 2011 Dimdim acquisition--so users can see when colleagues are online and instantly chat without leaving the collaborative feed.
Chatter Connect will use the application's REST-based API to extend the social feed into custom and third-party apps. Leading with what's likely to be a popular integration option, the company will introduce Chatter for SharePoint, which will enable customers to embed Chatter feeds into Microsoft SharePoint MySites and TeamSites. The Connect option will also enable users to share documents from SharePoint to Chatter.
The planned Chatter Customer Groups option will enable users to invite people from outside their organization into their Chatter network. It's an obvious idea, given that Salesforce has a public-facing Chatter.com website. But opening up Chatter to people outside a company is also fraught with security implications: Will customers be able to see internal content and discussions?
Salesforce has taken a number of security precautions, according to Falcione. First, customers and partners have to be specifically invited to join a group and they must set up a user ID and password login when they join the group. Second, the group organizer has complete control over what files, feeds, and status updates are shared within that group. Finally, to avoid confusion about internal verses external collaboration, external collaborator profiles will be color coded with large orange bars over the profile pictures; internal groups and collaborators are color coded blue.
Salesforce.com claims Chatter is being used by more than 100,000 customers, but it does not break out how many are using the free app, which is built into Salesforce.com, and how many are paying $15 per user, per month extra for the Chatter Plus version of the application.
Salesforce is clearly banking on Chatter as important extension of its software-as-a-service application portfolio, adding new functionality, access, and integration options to try to make the app as useful and connected as possible. The pressure to upgrade to the paid version of the app can wait until it has a sticky place within--and soon extending outside of--the enterprise.
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