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Seven buying factors to compare mobile app dev platforms

A number of vendors offer MADP software, so buyers must carefully assess and compare the options to see which tool can most effectively build and deploy their enterprise apps.

Many vendors now offer mobile app development platforms to streamline app building and deployment across multiple device types. Since there are so many mobile app dev platforms, it's not always clear how products differ and which products might be the best fit for an organization.

This article explores seven important criteria to consider when reviewing MADPs and how these leading products compare against one another in each category.

Criteria #1: App types

One of the first steps buyers must take is to determine which device types each MADP supports. All seven vendors profiled here let users build native or hybrid apps (or both) that target Android and iOS devices, including smartphones and tablets.

Platforms start to diverge when it comes to the additional devices they can support. For example, the Kony platform also supports the Windows and BlackBerry OSes, as well as wearable device types. Plus, the platform lets users build native, hybrid and web apps. On the other hand, the Microsoft and Oracle platforms add only the Windows OS to the list and support only native and hybrid apps.

The Progress MADP takes a similar approach to Microsoft and Oracle but also adds web apps, whereas Mendix supports only the basic OSes and device types but lets users build both hybrid and web apps. The Salesforce MADP supports native, hybrid and web apps, in addition to the Windows Phone OS and wearable devices.

When comparing mobile app dev platforms, buyers should keep in mind that vendors can change which device types they support. For example, more vendors will likely start adding wearables to their lists.

Criteria #2: Deployment options

Although vendors differ when it comes to app deployment options, they each provide a cloud infrastructure as the default approach. In some cases, such as Microsoft, Oracle and Salesforce, the vendor's cloud service is the only deployment option.

However, Kony, Mendix, OutSystems and Progress let users deploy to private clouds, with OutSystems also supporting public clouds, such as Azure, Rackspace and VMware. Only Kony, Mendix and Progress offer MADP tools that enable on-premises deployments.

Criteria #3: Development environment

When evaluating mobile app dev platforms, buyers should look carefully at the development options available, bringing the development team into the discussion, while taking into account the types of apps they plan to build and the available development resources that are on hand. They should also try to estimate future app needs, if only to articulate that those needs are varied and likely to change.

Mobile app dev platforms differ significantly when it comes to the development features they offer. Some provide sophisticated integrated development environments (IDEs) that users can download to their desktops. Others offer plug-ins that users can install into third-party IDEs, as well as web-based tools for building mobile apps. Many offer a mix of options.

Mendix provides two development tools: Desktop Modeler and Web Modeler. Desktop Modeler is a desktop IDE that includes templates, widgets and other components for building apps. It also lets users access the JavaScript source code to customize features. Web Modeler is a web-based application that focuses on high productivity and model-driven development, catering to nondevelopers that need to build simple apps quickly, using a point-and-click (or drag-and-drop) approach.

Although many vendors offer multiple options for building apps, buyers will likely have other considerations to take into account. For example, if they're already using Visual Studio and Xamarin to build mobile apps, they might want to stick with the Microsoft platform or go with a vendor such as Progress; its MADP provides a Xamarin UI component.

On the other hand, if rapid mobile application development is a higher priority, buyers might consider Oracle's Mobile Application Accelerator, OutSystems' Service Studio or Salesforce's Salesforce1, in addition to Web Modeler. But if they want a more sophisticated development environment, Kony's Visualizer or Telerik's AppBuilder, along with Desktop Modeler, would be more fitting options.

Criteria #4: Back-end services

All the MADP leaders offer scalable back-end services to support app development and management. Although these services differ in their implementations, they still have a number of features in common.

For example, most vendors decouple the front-end development environment from the back-end services in such a way that users can use one without the other. Some offer the back-end services as a separate product, such as Kony Fabric, Progress Kinvey and Salesforce Heroku. In addition, Oracle sometimes refers to its Mobile Cloud Service (MCS) as simply a mobile backend-as-a-service, and Microsoft appears to be moving in the same direction with Visual Studio Mobile Center.

Vendors such as Mendix and OutSystems don't delineate their back-end services so distinctively and instead treat all components as one unified platform. Yet, even when vendors treat them separately, the development tools are still well-integrated with the back-end components, making it possible to support deployment workflows and continuous integration.

Regardless of the approach, the MADP's back-end services should support the entire app lifecycle, which includes such tasks as building, testing, distributing and monitoring the apps.

Criteria #5: Integration

The ability to integrate with other systems and technologies is integral to an effective MAPD.

For example, Kony's Fabric uses open standards, such as Representational State Transfer (REST), Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), extensible markup language (XML) and JavaScript Object Notation (JSON), to support connectivity with such systems as Active Directory (AD), Salesforce and SAP. On the other hand, the OutSystems platform includes prebuilt connectors to services such as Salesforce and SAP, as well as to database systems, such as SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL and Db2.

Mendix takes a slightly different approach from other vendors by basing its platform on Cloud Foundry, an open source platform-as-a-service standard. The result is a fully open, pluggable platform architecture that supports broad interoperability and extensibility.

Vendors such as Microsoft and Oracle provide deep integration with their many other offerings. For example, Microsoft's Visual Studio Mobile Center provides tight integration with Azure services, such as Azure AD, and Oracle's MCS offers inherent integration with Oracle Applications.

Criteria #6: Security

When reviewing a MADP's security capabilities, buyers should take into account such factors as compliance with industry standards, data encryption techniques and system monitoring capabilities. 

For example, Kony offers binary protection within its native framework library and adheres to standards set by the Payment Card Industry, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and Federal Information Processing Standards. Kony also supports the keyed-hash message authentication code for cryptographic messaging, the Triple Data Encryption Algorithm for encrypting data and the Password-Based Key Derivation Function 2 for protecting encrypted keys.

All the leading vendors, including Microsoft, Oracle and Salesforce, adhere to industry standards and provide multiple levels of security.

The OutSystems platform provides security within the application code and performs app security checks. In addition, the platform includes built-in identity management and authentication, role-based access control and single sign-on, data encryption mechanisms and auditing features for system and user access monitoring.

Organizations should do a thorough review of any prospective MADP to ensure it meets security and compliance requirements. As part of this process, buyers must try to determine what issues they might run into if they plan to integrate the platform with third-party security and management systems.

Criteria #7: Lifecycle management

All leading mobile app dev platforms promise some form of lifecycle management to unify the process of building, testing, deploying, managing and monitoring mobile apps. However, some customers might find it more difficult to negotiate a platform offered by a vendor that supports numerous other products and services, especially if the vendor is playing catch-up in the MADP area.

For example, Oracle and Microsoft were both slow to jump on the MADP train, and their MADP services are merely one piece of much bigger puzzles, with their focus in many different areas. At the same time, both vendors arrived in the MADP market with a significant cloud infrastructure in place and lots of resources to throw at their MADP tools.

On the flip side, vendors such as Mendix and OutSystems are primarily focused on mobile app development and deployment, potentially resulting in a more unified and simpler experience.

In the end, buyers will have to examine the mobile app dev platforms individually to see how they score when it comes to lifecycle management. The best way to do that is to test the environment themselves, carrying out all the steps necessary to build, deploy and manage an app. Only then can they be sure that the lifecycle tasks are integrated and that the environment provides the type of unified experience required for app deployment.

Editor's note

Using extensive research into MADP, TechTarget editors focused on vendors that develop native apps, provide a single integrated development environment and connect all major back-end data systems. Vendors should also provide full-featured apps and in-house development and be scalable with transparent pricing models. Our research included Gartner, Forrester and TechTarget surveys.

Next Steps

Develop, deploy and manage apps with an MADP

Read why modern enterprises would benefit from a mobile app dev platform

How to choose the right mobile app development platform for your company

This was last published in September 2017

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