Do You Need Mobile Middleware? - InformationWeek

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9/27/2013
01:17 PM
Tony Byrne
Tony Byrne
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Do You Need Mobile Middleware?

Major software vendors seem to think you do -- and they might be right. Just don't expect mature platforms.

Enterprise investments in mobile technology are steadily transitioning from an intense focus on mobile device management (MDM) and mobile asset management (MAM) towards mobile experience management. (No, I'm not going make up a new acronym for that, but the concept is increasingly important nonetheless.)

Whether talking about mobile Web versus native apps, or B2C (business-to-customer) versus B2E (business-to-employee) mobile use cases, savvy enterprises are paying attention to the quality of interaction "on the glass."

Over the past five years or so, a large host of software platforms has emerged to support the surprisingly difficult effort of developing consistent experiences across a diverse set of mobile devices. Now these platforms are extending their reach to key post-deployment services via emerging middleware platforms that are tied closely to their mobile development environments.

[ Hurricane Sandy prompted New York City's Department of Transportation to prioritize a mobile strategy: How NYCDOT Put 'Mobile First' Dev To Work. ]

In general that's good news for all of us. But you can expect some serious bumps along the road. Real Story Group's just-released Enterprise Mobile Platforms Evaluation Report takes a hard look at 21 major vendors and concludes that the marketplace remains fairly immature -- despite the entrance of big players like Adobe, IBM, Oracle, and SAP.

Beyond Mobile App Dev

Most enterprise mobile platforms -- like Antenna Software, Appcelerator, appMobi, Kony, Motorola's RhoMobile, Verivo and others -- started out as mobile application development environments and then branched into middleware. Some offerings remain exclusively developer-focused today, including MoSync, Oracle's ADF, and niche player Sencha Touch.

In an appdev role, these systems help developers create near-native and/or hybrid apps, along with perhaps browsable mobile Web experiences, for deployment across multiple mobile operating systems. To be sure, the breadth of mobile environments supported, the underlying coding language, and the potential richness of the application experience can vary markedly today among these solutions. For example, FeedHenry’s JavaScript-based platform for developing hybrid apps can work effectively for certain B2E scenarios, but does not lend itself well to use-cases where you want to exploit certain native device capabilities or OS-specific displays.

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In many cases, however, vendors like FeedHenry are adding server-based facilities to their otherwise client-focused solutions. Categorized roughly as "mobile middleware," these services support and enhance mobile experiences after those native apps have been deployed out to app stores, or once you have created an initial mobile Web experience.

Vendors are really excited about middleware -- especially when they offer those services via their own cloud-based infrastructures -- because it brings them the ever-beloved recurring revenue stream.

What Mobile Middleware Can Offer

There are some reasons for you, the customer, to get enthusiastic about mobile middleware too. Here's a short list of potentially useful services, though to be sure, most enterprise mobile platform vendors support only a subset of them:

-- Application updates -- in conjunction with an app store or sometimes not

-- Messaging and notification services -- including potentially SMS, handy in many use cases

-- Integration brokering -- connecting mobile applications to back-end systems

-- Device detection and experience adaptation -- enabling savvy enterprises to try things like promoting higher-end products to iPhone customers or richer background information to tablet-based visitors

-- Location APIs -- to support location-based apps

-- Asset transcoding -- converting source image, sound or video assets into the right mobile format, sometimes on the fly

-- Mobile-specific analytics -- for basic traffic metrics, but also more advanced reporting on things like app crashes

-- Capacity offload -- as a kind of hosted caching layer for spikes in mobile interactions

-- Application-level security -- many important services here, not the least of which are application-specific data wipes, variable application access, and selective encryption; also overlaps with MAM.

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
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