It’s time to set some standards in the mobile world.
If the web was the disruptive technology of 20 years ago, mobile is the equivalent today. But while novelty means mobile is ripe for innovation, it also means that mobile is still chaotic and looking for definition.
Take application development. Many apps require very similar or identical APIs for universal functions, such as connecting to the back-end in an organisation. But because of the lack of coordination across the industry, the same API or app feature ends up being developed again and again by different developers.
"I was recently talking to financial services executives and asked them what they did for mobile; they built it all themselves," Cathal McGloin, vice president of mobile platforms at Red Hat, former CEO of FeedHenry which Red Hat acquired last year.
"Now the top three or four banks have all built their own solution to manage the back-end. But two years down the road, they’re going to be supporting and maintaining this proprietary software.
"Because mobile crept into the enterprise, everybody just did their own thing and there were no standards. In the same way, when the web came out, there were no standard products for, say, web servers and everybody built their own."
According to McGloin, this problem can be solved by what he and Red Hat call mobile back-end-as-a-service (MBaas).
"Eventually over time, standards emerged [for the web]. We think the same will happen with mobile. There were initially no standard architectures for the enterprise because mobile came from the consumer world. So everybody was building their own solution for mobiles to connect to back-end systems.
"That was great for one or two apps, but as people got to 20 or 100 apps, they found they needed a more efficient way of managing these things and a more efficient way of sharing problems that had been solved in one app so the solutions could be used in other apps.
"That’s the role, I think, of mobile-back-end as a service. It’s a set of features that have been solved that make it easier for client-side developers to build on.
"Just as the web was like the Wild West when it started and we now have standard web architectures, mobile is a little bit like the Wild West at the moment but we will eventually have standard architectures there."
McGloin describes several areas where these standards could be applied.
"Push notifications have been solved once; people don’t need to rebuild push notifications. Data sync occurs again and again across industries; that’s a good mobile back end-as-a-service.
"The two biggest barriers we hear to app development are always data security and back-end integration. They are the two things that keep popping up and the barrier to growing from ten apps to 100 apps.