Mobile application development platforms offer businesses a level of consistency when adopting different mobile technologies.

Sean McGrath, Freelance IT Writer

June 15, 2015

5 Min Read

While the benefits of mobile computing are obvious, the majority of businesses are still working hard to understand exactly where mobile fits into their overall strategy.

One thing is clear: The ecosystem of mobile devices is growing by the day, and, with that, applications are playing an ever more crucial role in the enterprise. Whether they’re considering line-of-business apps or consumer-facing ones, businesses are finding new and exciting ways to utilise mobile software for the betterment of the company.

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However, the same diverse ecosystem that is making applications such a tantalising prospect for the business community also happens to be one of its biggest drawbacks. The range of devices available makes the task of developing applications a challenging undertaking.

OpenSignal estimated that there were 18,796 distinct Android devices put into production in 2014 -- each device with unique specifications and screen size. And that comprises just one operating system.

In an ideal world, businesses would have the resources to develop native applications that take into account all of these variables, but for most, this is simply not feasible.

For a while now, the go-to development platform has been HTML5. By utilising the Web-based markup language, developers can create cross-platform applications that perform much the same way on any given device.

“A lot of companies say, ‘Well I’m going to do an HTML5, Web-oriented mobile experience,’ where someone might click on something that looks like an app, but is actually taking me to a mashup of Web technology,” explains Theresa Regli, principal analyst of the Real Story Group. “That remains the default approach in a lot of cases, because there is still this mobile mindset from Website development, and they are simply carrying that through to mobile application development for transactions.”

While HTML5 has proven itself as an incredibly effective tool in cross-platform app development, it’s not without its faults. The primary drawback of HTML5 is its inability to exploit the devices’ native features, such as the camera and GPS. For organisations looking to take full advantage of a device’s inherent features, HTML5 falls short of the mark.

To address this gap in the market, a new assortment of tools has begun to emerge, allowing businesses to develop a unified, single-code base that can then be adapted to various platforms. Known as mobile application development platforms (MADP), or simply mobile middleware, these new platforms offer businesses a level of consistency, easing the burden when it comes to adopting different mobile technologies.

The MADP marketplace is still in its early stages, so if you’re considering going down this route, exercising due diligence is a must.

According to the Real Story Group’s Enterprise Mobile Technology report, enterprises “should pay close attention to the current capabilities of the tools, as well as keep their ears close to the ground to pick up signals about changes in vendor focus or priorities.”

Broadly speaking, there are two categories of vendors operating in the mobile middleware space:

Infrastructure Vendors

These are the large, enterprise software vendors that have offerings across different enterprise use cases such as ERP, e-business, CRM, and digital marketing.

“All the big vendors that you’ve heard of, like IBM and Oracle, they all have mobile middleware applications that they sell. Most of the time, they’ve acquired a smaller company,” explains Regli. “Most of them will sell mobile middleware platforms as part of a larger package [or] an enterprise suite of technology.”

Mobility Specialists

Mobility specialists focus on enterprise mobility above all else. This means that enterprises can expect advanced functionality not offered by the bigger vendors.

“Some of them will specialise in intranet, some in business-to-consumer apps, some will specialise in B2B, some in commerce,” says Regli. “These smaller niche specialists are really young companies, but they are getting large infusions of capital, they are growing really quickly and many of them may ultimately be acquired by the bigger vendors.”

Which type of vendor you choose will depend entirely on your business’ evolving requirements. An infrastructure vendor will likely be able to offer tighter integration with existing enterprise systems, but in return, you can expect less bespoke functionality.

Mobility specialists, on the other hand, will offer platforms that cater directly to the needs of the business, but you may find that you need to designate more internal resources when it comes to integrating applications with existing systems.

There is also a degree of risk that comes with choosing a niche player; but with that risk, comes the potential for a bigger reward.

“These companies are growing so quickly that they are very often willing to experiment with you,” Regli points out. “I always say, if you’re willing to experiment and you’re willing to work with a younger, very agile, experimental vendor, odds are they will be willing to cut a deal.” That’s because you’re going to be helping the vendors evolve their platforms. Adds Regli, “It’s more about partnership and dialogue. That’s exciting -- it’s a great thing for both sides of the equation.”

To get an overview of some of the key vendors in the MADP marketplace, click here.

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About the Author(s)

Sean McGrath

Freelance IT Writer

Sean McGrath is a freelance IT writer, researcher, and journalist. He has written for PC Pro, the BBC, and TechWeekEurope, and has produced content for a range of private organizations. Although he holds a first class degree in investigative journalism, his dreams of being a famous political reporter were dashed when he realized that he was mildly better at writing about technology than he was at anything else.

Sean lives on the south coast of England with his wife and dog. In his spare time, he can be found in his shed, where he pulls apart old PCs and attempts to make furniture.

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