Savvy developers looking for the next big thing in mobile business apps may actually have two big things to set their sights on: web-based cloud computing and related appliance-like devices. That's the collective opinion of analysts from ABI Research and the Enderle Group.
The dominant force in mobile apps is likely to be cloud computing, according to ABI Research in its recent study "Mobile Cloud Computing." ABI Research forecasts that the number of mobile cloud computing subscribers worldwide will rise from 42.8 million in 2008, (approximately 1.1 percent of all mobile subscribers) to more than 998 million in 2014 (nearly 19 percent).
Mobile cloud applications move the computing power and data storage away from mobile phones and into the cloud, bringing apps and mobile computing not just to smartphone users but a wide spectrum of mobile subscribers.
Some innovative applications are already commercially available. Lock manufacturer Schlage, for example, has launched LiNK - a keyless lock system for the home that enables subscribers to remotely control not only the door lock, but heating/cooling, security cameras and light monitors, all via PC or mobile device.
"By 2014, mobile cloud computing will become the leading mobile application development and deployment strategy, displacing today's native and downloadable mobile applications," says Mark Beccue, a senior analyst at ABI Research.
Rob Enderle, lead analyst with the Enderle Group, believes the next decade will be defined by appliance-like devices and the cloud services that support them.
Seeding the Cloud
"PCs are off the bubble -- while smart phones, slates, smartbooks, and eBooks are climbing up to take their place," says Enderle, noting the cloud will become a central repository for data and applications.
The main appeal of web-based applications is they will increase the amount and variety of mobile applications.
Beccue says the web gives developers an OS-agnostic platform that enables them to write an app once and have it work across multiple mobile platforms.
Web-based apps, with evolved mobile browsers, will democratize the market for mobile apps, bringing apps to both users of common-feature phones and smartphones, as well as other mobile devices. He says users won't have to worry about having a device with limited processing power and data storage capacity as the powerful remote servers will handle processing and storage.
Beccue predicts that business productivity applications will soon dominate the mix of mobile cloud applications, particularly collaborative document sharing, scheduling, and sales force management apps.
Companies driving this brave new world are Amazon, Google, and SalesForce.com, all of which have offerings in the platform as a service (PaaS) space.
The major appeal of these platforms for developers is they are built around one development language or methodology. The platforms offer highly efficient coding, enabling developers to automate tasks such as setting up a new app as a web service. Most of these platforms also provide a cloud infrastructure service that allows developers to launch an app in an environment that can grow with demand for it.
Finally, PaaS give developers a common set of standards and technologies to create, test, debug and run an application - thereby eliminating lots of wasted time involved in creating an app in one environment and migrating to another.
Beccue adds that the growth of the mobile cloud market over the next year or so will be driven by location-enabled services such as navigation and map applications.
"Sixty percent of subscribers worldwide will soon use an application enabled by location," says Beccue.