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Mobile HTML5 developer framework Sencha wants to be more than just a tool to develop hybrid mobile applications. The company’s roadmap for 2012 is to become an end-to-end solution for designing, developing and deploying HTML5 applications and is taking its first steps toward that goal today by releasing Sencha Touch 2 out of beta. Sencha Touch 2 gives developers a better user interface for developing HTML5 that will give consumers a more robust user experience.
Sencha also wants to play nice with the mobile development ecosystem. Touch 2 is the first framework that will allow developers to write Android and iOS apps from either a Windows PC or a Mac. That means that iOS developers are no longer tied to XCode on the Mac for building iOS apps. Presenting that freedom to developers should help Sencha win the hearts of many mobile publishers.
Sencha is focusing on three core areas for the public release of Touch 2: better consumer user experience, better developer support and development experience as well as working to improve the development ecosystem.
“We’ve updated and refreshed the API for Sencha Touch to make it even easier to build applications as well as out of the box we are shipping a set of full fledged built applications that developers can modify or use as their own references for locations. These are apps that use the Facebook API, apps that take advantage of custom themes,” said Aditya Bansod, senior director of product management at Sencha.
The core uses of Sencha HTML5 platform are to prototype, design, develop, package and deploy HTML5 apps. The company wants to make using the platform as painless as possible for developers and was one of the core goals for the team in updating Touch. The framework itself has been updated with a more streamlined UI for developers that Bansod describes as more “visceral.” Sencha worked to create better performance for hybrid HTML5 apps for iOS and Android and has updated many of its native API containers to take advantage of camera, push messaging, device orientation and scrolling.
Sencha spent the most time with Touch 2 working to improve Android performance. It is well known in the mobile ecosystem that the native Android browser lacks well behind iOS and one of Sencha’s primary goals was to improve that performance.
“We have spent endless amount of time working and tuning for Android. Like list performance, for example. It might seem mundane but for user experience it is so important,” Bansod said. “I throw a list and it actually flies as far as I want it to as well as animations feel as well as they should for the platform. So, we spent time with device manufacturers understanding their implementations of WebKit and what we ended up doing is building specific implementations of our core performance APIs for each specific platform. The developer does not see this, thankfully, the developer sees one common API and we use different parts of HTML and CSS to actually do the performance work under the hood on the developers’ behalf.”
One of the key shifts for Sencha in releasing Touch 2 is a focus on the mobile ecosystem. While competitor appMobi is almost always focused on the ecosystem, Sencha has always been about the HTML5 spec and creating better tools.
“The native packaging kit that allows you to build on Mac and Windows is totally novel in the mobile ecosystem,” Bansod said. “We have some new UI controls in the updated APIs and that will help while building your applications as well as building apps that have much more of a look and a feel that look native-like.”
Out of the box, Sencha Touch 2 comes with several applications that can be used as guides for building with the platform. The company sent ReadWriteMobile several test devices to show this off. For iOS that includes an app called “The Watch List” (pictured above) that shares what movies you want to seen or have seen with friends. “TouchStyle” is an app for purchasing home and fashion items. On Android applications include Sencha Radio and Sencha Jog.
It is one thing to give developers a couple sample apps but Sencha takes it a step further with its Kitchen Sink application that shows off exactly what can be done within the framework and gives source code examples. This feature is beneficial to both new programmers looking for ways to create rounded buttons or experienced developers having trouble with HTML5 audio or video integration.
Sencha wants to differentiate itself from other framework and container providers such as appMobi, PhoneGap, Conduit and Brightcove. The ability to write code from any computer available is a good start.
“PhoneGap requires that you develop in XCode on the Mac and if you are a PC developer, that is what you are stuck with. In the other rounds, appMobi has a build service and we have heard from a lot of developers that they do not want to give a third party that they do not know their private keys because that is what it requires, you have to give your sign in keys to the third party to build it for you. We want to give developers that capability locally so they do not have to trust someone else with their keys,” Bansod said.
The entire Sencha HTML5 platform will be released and updated this year. The next step is called Sencha Designer that will be used to help accelerate design aspects of building apps. Deployment will be handled through Sencha.io that will also have an update sometime in 2012. Touch 2 remains a free service as the company plans on monetizing around other aspects of the platform. Touch 2 will be issued on the GPL3 and Sencha Commercial License.
Sencha Touch 2 was released to beta in Sept. 2011 but the company is now ready to release the full version. For those that have been using the beta, much will remain the same with a few developer UI improvements.
“Sencha Touch 2 is the cornerstone behind what we are going to be doing in the next couple months around the Sencha HTML5 platform. Using Sencha Touch and the new capabilities in Touch 2 to form the cornerstone of the developer experience from designing, developing and deploying their HTML5 applications,” Bansod said.
What are your impressions of Sencha Touch 2? How does it compare to other build services like appMobi, Brightcove or Conduit? As a wrapper, does it beat PhoneGap? Let us know in the comments.
The groundwork for a robust mobile Web app ecosystem was laid in 2011. The HTML5 spec evolved and major players began taking note that, hey, there might be some potential with the mobile Web … if only it could be monetized. Mobile developers are certainly testing out HTML5 apps and where the developers go, the tools providers will follow.
For mobile developers, there are more tools to choose from than what IDE and framework to write code in. Developers also need to make money. In recent weeks we have seen several companies come out with payment models for HTML5 mobile Web apps looking to get an early slice of the pie that forecasters expect to grow exponentially in the next few years.
The latest entrant into HTML5 mobile Web payments is PaymentOne, an international direct to carrier billing service. PaymentOne released an HTML5 API today for mobile Web app and game developers to create easy integration of carrier billing for in-app purchases. PaymentOne is focused on micro-payments through the carriers and broadband providers to bring mobile payments to merchants, media and mobile developers.
There are several other players looking to create payments for HTML5 apps. AT&T released a suit of HTML5 APIs during the Consumer Electronics Show in January. Facebook will eventually look to monetize mobile Web apps through its Facebook Credits vertical. HTML5 development studio announced playMobi last week that is a set of tools for payments and analytics for the mobile Web. PayPal believes that it can become the de facto payments service for anything mobile, HTML5 or otherwise. PaymentOne fits in this ecosystem with its HTML5 API as one of the only options for direct carrier billing.
The goal for all of these companies is to create an ecosystem that benefits the developer. This has less to do with the actual technical implementation of payments in mobile Web apps than making development of mobile Web apps a viable option for publishers. We have talked about how HTML5 will be the “third platform” for developers in 2012 (after iOS and Android) but the only way that will be an option is if developers can find a way to make money. PaymentOne’s entrance into the vertical is an example of how the mobile ecosystem at large is creating tools to tackle this problem.
Developers: how do you plan to monetize your mobile Web apps? What are the best solutions available and what are you still looking for from the ecosystem to make your life simpler? Let us know in the comments.
If there was any uncertainty that Google’s acquisition of Motorola would be approved by regulatory agencies across the world, one only has to look at the fourth quarter of 2011 to find why it never was in danger. The last quarter of 2011 showed us what companies really control the smartphone market and Motorola was certainly not one of them. Between Apple and Samsung, the two behemoths controlled 95% of mobile phone profits worldwide, according to Canaccord Genuity analyst Michael Walkley.
The pincer formation at the top of the ecosystem means that no regulatory agency can deny Google its $12.5 billion purchase. Life has also become extremely difficult for all the other OEMs and mobile platforms trying to make a dent in the ecosystem. If you are not making an iDevice or some type of Galaxy product, Apple and Samsung are squeezing you out of the market. The clock is ticking.
By the Numbers
According to Walkley, HTC had 3% of fourth quarter profits, Nokia and Research In Motion each had 2% while Motorola and LG both were flat on the quarter. Sony Ericsson showed a 2% loss. Apple had 80% while Samsung had 15%.
Do not expect Apple to maintain 80% of profits in the mobile ecosystem on a quarter-by-quarter basis. The blowout by Apple may never be seen again (or, perhaps one quarter a year when a new iPhone is released). The third quarter of 2011 may be more indicative of Apple’s place in the ecosystem at 56% of profits. That is dominant but not quite as mind numbing.
Samsung takes up about 40% of the Android ecosystem. HTC is a solid second and Motorola third with LG and Sony Ericsson bringing up the long tail. Samsung also sells Windows Phones (with HTC and Nokia) and its own Bada system (which competes with Nokia’s S Series across the world).
The world needs a strong No. 3 in the mobile ecosystem. Ostensibly, that is Nokia with its dominance in emerging markets. Profits do not necessarily come from emerging markets though and Nokia’s push to reclaim territory in North America goes to show how important the high-end smartphone market is to the OEMs. Apple has 8.1% of the global mobile market but its profits are 10-times that number.
The statements made by European Commission VP Joaquin Almunia in regards to the Motorola acquisition by Google are very telling of the state of the mobile ecosystem: “We have approved the acquisition of Motorola Mobility by Google because, upon careful examination, this transaction does not itself raise competition issues. Of course, the Commission will continue to keep a close eye on the behaviour of all market players in the sector, particularly the increasingly strategic use of patents.”
Key phrase; “this transaction does not itself raise competition issues.” Well, of course it does not. Motorola would have to have major market share to be considered a competitor to the likes of Samsung and Apple. For the past several years, that has just not been the case. Any notion that Google would favor Motorola over other Android ecosystem players has become laughable.
If Google favors anybody at this point, it is its largest partner in crime, Samsung. The Korean cellphone maker is Google’s biggest hedge against the absolute domination by Apple and the best Android evangelist on the planet. It is no mistake that Samsung has been awarded the last two Nexus devices, Android’s flagship handset.
The Carriers’ Conundrum
Mobility is exploding. We hear about it every day from a variety of industry segments. Advertising, analytics, publishers, frameworks and tools makers, cloud services, “as a service” providers, social networking, payments, games and gamification, e-commerce, deals, offers, retail, local news (retail, advertising etc.), transportation, healthcare … to name a few. Yet, the companies that provide the mobile infrastructure are actually shrinking. Android and iOS are locking just about everybody out. The figureheads behind those platforms – Samsung and Apple – are vacuuming all the profit (and much of the incentive) out of the industry.
In its last quarterly earnings call, AT&T promised that it would have to institute harsh data rate penalties because of its so-called spectrum paucity. Users with grandfathered “unlimited” plans are now seeing their data speeds throttled after about 2.3 GB of usage (depending on the “top 5%” in a given area). AT&T sells a 3GB plan for $30, the same as the unlimited plan. Verizon has also instituted similar data throttling. The carriers have to squeeze more average revenue per user out of the ecosystem because their profits are being cut into by the OEMs that force them to subsidize devices like the iPhone and Galaxy. Since Apple and Samsung drive sales, the companies can dictate terms to the carriers and the end result usually is not good for consumers.
One of the reasons that the carriers are so interested in developing their own personal clouds, apps stores, enterprise solutions, payment processors, content delivery and other variety of value-added services is because they fear being turned into dumb pipes for the ecosystem created by the OEMs and software developers. Users often balk against this kind of pre-loaded carrier “bloatware” but it is an action to affect control of an ecosystem that it otherwise has little control over.
For OEMs, Time Is Running Out
Other OEMs are feeling the pain of Apple and Samsung’s dominance. Research In Motion (while mostly responsible for its own fate) has fallen off the grid with BlackBerry. Hewlett-Packard’s webOS was open sourced after HP bungled its first series of devices and cut the cord on the project. Nokia’s MeeGo was doomed when it thought it would rely on x86 chips from Intel and Symbian is nearing its own end of life. These are all examples of companies making mistakes and getting buried by the top performers.
Microsoft made the strategic decision to dump its aging Windows Mobile CE line and rebuild with Windows Phone. It was a necessary but ill-timed switch coming in the middle of Apple and Android’s explosion. Samsung, HTC and Nokia are on board to create Windows Phone devices either as a hedge to Android reliance or through some type of deal with Microsoft. Windows Phone is not just some side project for Microsoft and it has committed billions of dollars to the project. While Microsoft does feel the squeeze coming from Apple and Samsung’s Android division, it has the money to ride out see its plan to fruition. It is the perfect counter-example to the rest of the mobile ecosystem that does not have the money to survive in an environment where two giant companies eat all of the profits.
That is why time is running out for many of these companies (RIM is especially put on notice). There is only so long a company can float along without making serious profits in the mobile ecosystem. Motorola and Google will have some time if the two stick together and Google will be fine by itself as the purveyor of Android to the masses. Yet, if Google spins off the Motorola handset division, the OEM likely will not last more than a couple of years against Apple and Samsung at the rate the two companies are gobbling up available customers and cash.
When it comes down to it, the European Commission and U.S. Department of Justice could find no real reason to turn down the MotoGoo merger. All of the major players are now well stocked with patents (which is a separate but important story here) and the economics of competition show that MotoGoo can only make a nominal dent, if Google retains the handset division.
While many consumers and pundits may praise Apple and Samsung for building strong business practices and dominating market share in mobile, the top-heavy structure of the market will not be good for the long term viability of many other players in the ecosystem.
Top image courtesy Shutterstock
The mobile development ecosystem is a large, complicated space. There are innovative startups making tools for native and mobile Web apps along with large enterprise-grade companies that offer solutions from cloud support to frameworks and developer environments. For a mobile developer, it can be confusing to know where to turn and what to use to make the best app possible.
Mobile “backend-as-a-service” startup Kinvey created a map for ReadWriteMobile to help developers understand the ecosystem. Kinvey brackets the mobile ecosystem between two primary pillars: the service providers and the original equipment manufacturers. In between lay the meet of the environment from the “as-a-service” providers (platform, infrastructure and backend) to mobile software developer kit and application programming interface sources. Who has acquired what? What partnerships dominate the ecosystem? Use the map below as a resource when developing your next mobile app.
Mapping the Complicated Ecosystem
The original players in the mobility space were the OEMs and carriers. In 1998, there would have been next to nothing in between those two pillars on the map below. With the rise of the application ecosystem, the service structure for developers has grown rapidly as enterprises and entrepreneurs rush to meet the needs of developers.
“In the mobile world, the service providers and the handset OEMs were the original two players. With the transition to apps and services, all the other new layers have inserted themselves in between the original two players of the ecosystem,” said Kinvey CEO and co-founder Sravish Sridhar.
Kinvey places itself in the middle of the ecosystem. To its right are the PaaS and IaaS companies such as IBM, Rackspace, that are closer to the carriers than the OEMs. To its right are the mobile SDK and API providers, which have more in common with the OEMs.
“Slowly, major players have come into the space, and are now tunneling their way across the ecosystem through acquisitions or by launching new services themselves. For example, Google has been most proficient with an acquisition-led strategy,” Sridhar said. “Companies that are not acquiring are launching new services on their own. For example, Amazon Web Services started with IaaS and now have PaaS, and are growing out other mobile-specific services. Apart from developing Windows Phone, Microsoft is now improving Azure IaaS, and will soon have a robust PaaS platform.”
The goal of the BaaS providers is to bridge these worlds by bringing cloud infrastructure to developers and make it easy to integrate SDKs and APIs. It is not an easy task as it requires a knowledge of robust technical networks as well as the needs of front-end developers.
“As a leading Backend as a Service provider, we tie in IaaS, PaaS and Mobile APIs, and connect them right down to the Mobile SDK, so that millions of dynamic and rich apps can be easily built on any platform, bringing value to billions of users all over the world,” Sridhar said.
There is a lot of movement n the ecosystem, as the map shows. Appcelerator’s acquisition of Cocoafish is the latest example of one pillar moving to another. Kinvey has partnered with Urban Airship and talks with a variety of companies in other pillars, including appMobi. The company’s platform ties into a variety of cloud providers including Amazon Web Services, Rackspace and Microsoft Azure.
Kinvey, Competition and Consolidation
Boston-based Kinvey (a recent TechStars alum) is a unique startup in the mobile development world. Sridhar is very supportive of the ecosystem at large, including his primary competitors like Parse and StackMob. The idea is to see every company grow to the fullest of potential.
Sridhar often writes about startup and entrepreneur relationships. Kinvey does not attack its competitors or make edgy comments about how Kinvey may or may not be better than its rivals.
The first startup that Sridhar worked at was Austin-based United Devices, a company that focused on grid computing to manage high performance computing (HPC) infrastructures. From 2000 to 2005, grid computing was a hot vertical in the technology community with a variety of large and small companies entering the space. Sridhar noticed the ill affects of how sniping and holding negative opinions of the competition had on the ecosystem at large.
“A lot of this perspective came from my last startup. I was part of the founding team at United Devices and we were building grid computing software and a very similar thing happened at that company that is happening right now at Kinvey is that we thought we doing something cool and unique and low and behold, within about six to eight months, there were about 20 competitors,” Sridhar said.
“We got really paranoid about them and started talking about each other in the press in a negative fashion and started talking negatively about each other with customers and what happened is that I found that was doing more harm than good and the space took a while to develop. One of the reasons that grid computing, which was all the buzz between about 2001 and 2005, didn’t take off is that the whole ecosystem didn’t push it forward. We were waiting for the bigger companies to adopt it. My theory about creating this ecosystem called backend-as-a-service is that we should all work to collectively define it and make it successful.”
We wrote about the consolidation in the mobile services last summer when Urban Airship bought SimpleGeo much to the surprise of the mobile developer community. When it comes to the BaaS players, some of the first startups are beginning to be acquired, representative by Cocoafish and Appcelerator. When it comes to Kinvey, StackMob and Parse, each has a tie to a major company that may be interested in acquiring it within the next few years. Of those three, each has created a niche for itself to the point where it could grow to be fairly large and stave off acquisition as well. It behooves the companies in the space to help each other grow at this point.
That is in stark contrast to another emerging segment of the developer ecosystem that has emerged with the app economy. Mobile analytics is a high-growth area with companies large and small growing rapidly and looking for developer and media attention. Whereas there is very little bad blood between Kinvey, Parse and StackMob, mobile analytics startups like Kontagent, Apasalar, Flurry, Localytics and others hate to see one company mentioned and not their own (this plays out in my inbox on a daily basis).
Developers: What services are you using to create a backend infrastructure for your app? What do you think about the startup competition in the space vis-a-vis larger cloud providers or in juxtaposition with the mobile analytics space? Let us know in the comments.
Top Image Courtesy Shutterstock
When StumbleUpon did its big rebranding, reorganizing and redesign late last year, we figured that the 20-million-plus discovering engine was done making big changes. At least, for a little while. Boy were we wrong.
The newest SU update removes all direct links. Previously, once you were inside StumbleUpon, you could “X” out the page and go straight to the original site. Now if you’re logged in, you have to say in the iframed version of the site. There is one way to get out, but it’s super clunky.
As you can see, there’s no “X” option. If you want to go to the direct link, you’ll have to copy and paste out the link above and delete the StumbleUpon URL. Here’s what one of those clunky SU link looks like:
Would you really take the time to copy and paste the tail of that link into another tab or browser? That’s what it’ll take to get the direct URL.
StumbleUpon is trying to build up its ecosystem, keeping users inside rather than sending them out to the Web and other social sites. By keeping everyone inside, StumbleUpon will no longer offer prized SEO value that it once did. This will negatively impact referral traffic, especially for sites that rely on StumbleUpon for that nice traffic jolt.
Remember when this happened at Digg? Users revolted, and then-CEO Kevin Rose decided to make the DiggBar optional. Rose even said that framing content “is bad for the Internet.”