Salesforce Broadens its Mobile Platform Offering – Joining the Dots

A few months ago Salesforce announced a new push into mobile development, offering its existing developer base a bunch of tools to allow them to fulfill their mobile development needs with salesforce. In doing so they moved into the territory of Mobile Backend as a Service (MBaaS) an increasingly attention grabbing space. Today we’re seeing that strategy extend far beyond simply empowering existing salesforce customers to develop for mobile, with some initiative firmly aimed at enticing existing mobile developers. First to the news. Salesforce is announcing four new initiatives today:

  • The introduction of mobile development templates
  • A gallery of open source mobile applications
  • New mobile packs – for Knockout.js, Appery.io, Sencha and Xamarin
  • News offline syncing frameworks

With this launch Salesforce has gambled on a particular trait for mobile applications, that of the application experience being predominantly about enabling “micro moments” – distinct functional requirements in bite sized chunks. The theory goes that mobile requirements are not primarily about recreating an entire enterprise app on a mobile device, but more about enabling particular parts of the workflow in a mobile-appropriate way. It’s an interesting view and one that makes sense – enterprise applications are immensely complex beasts – and the reality is that much of that functionality doesn’t need to be replicated on a mobile device – but for the bits that do (approvals on the fly, customer orders etc), an elegant, attractive and clean mobile app is critical. As I said when the initial launch occurred:

Enterprises, in my experience, realize that they need to start thinking mobile and are looking for partners who can help them bridge the gap from where they are today to a more mobile-enabled model. By tying together core data alongside mobile app development tools – Salesforce makes it something of a no-brainer for enterprises to begin their mobile journey.

The disconnect however appears in the gap between developers and designers. Enterprise developers tend not to be overly design-savvy and hence the mobile applications they create have a tendency to be functional, but less than appealing. While in the desktop world a pretty UI is of minimal importance, on a mobile device users are comparing enterprise mobile apps side by side with their consumer apps and poor design is more glaring in this context. This is where the developer templates and gallery of apps come in – real world example of working code that developers can use to inform their own design decisions. Many of the examples are open source and developers can fork them straight off GitHub for their own use.

The other interesting thing about this launch is the new mobile frameworks being supported, and this speaks to a change in salesforce’s mobile strategy. While brining traditional enterprise developers into the mobile world doesn’t really need widespread support for different frameworks, by supporting all these cutting edge mobile frameworks, Salesforce is trying to bring existing mobile developers into the salesforce fold. Adam Seligman, Platform head at salesforce spoke to this fact and told me that the company is making a serious play for existing mobile agencies and helping them step into the enterprise world. While before it was the salesforce developer community learning to do mobile, now there is the additional attribute of existing mobile devs learning the enterprise world.

Finally – in an admission that there is a world outside of hyper-connected Silicon Valley, salesforce is introducing the SmartSync Data Framework, part of the Mobile SDK 2.0 release, which takes care of the heavy lifting of managing offline data and synchronizing that information when connectivity is restored.

All of these announcements add up to something pretty interesting – it will be interesting to see if the enterprise world follows this “micro moments” thesis and focuses on delivering specific bite sized application functionality to mobile devices – it makes sense to me, and salesforce is positioning itself well to deliver on the opportunity.

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