This content is part of the Essential Guide: MBaaS platforms: Making a seamless transition for developers

MBaaS and refactoring tools ease app development

Once developers know what type of mobile apps they need to build, they can focus on finding the right MBaaS or application refactoring tools to streamline their efforts.

There's no shortage of tools available for simplifying mobile application development. The right mobile backend as a service (MBaaS) or application refactoring product can help free up developers and administrators so they can focus their attention on projects that take priority.

Benefits of MBaaS

The back-end systems that support mobile apps are just as important as the app's usability and performance. The back-end infrastructure keeps apps running, makes data available and ensures that it is properly safeguarded. Building back-end systems to support mobile applications can be a complex and resource-intensive undertaking, however.

For this reason, many organizations turn to MBaaS tools, which use cloud computing to give mobile apps access to resources such as storage, databases or servers. This can save months of development and lets developers focus on the application front end which helps ensure a better user experience, and deliver applications faster.

Such services rely on application program interfaces and software developer's kits to connect the apps to the back-end services they need, which can help simplify and unify development efforts across multiple platforms. In addition, developers don't have to repeat boilerplate code for each app or set up redundant application stacks. Subscribers also get a core set of services such as geolocation, push notifications and user authentication.

One popular MBaaS product is Parse, a free service known for being easy to work with. Not only does the service offer API references for iOS and Android, but also for languages and systems such as OS X, JavaScript, PHP, Unity and .NET with Xamarin.

Unfortunately, the Parse service will shut down on January 28, 2017, so any organization that has invested in Parse integration will have to go back to the drawing board to keep their apps up and running. Other MBaaS tools include Kinvey, Kumulos, Appcelerator Cloud, StackMob, Applicasa and many more that offer a wide range of back-end services to organizations large and small.

The right mobile app dev tools make a difference

Build mobile apps with MADFs and MADPs

App refactoring tools to try

Organizations can also look to application refactoring to deliver mobile apps. Refactoring uses virtualization, remote desktop protocols, web technologies and other techniques to deliver legacy apps in a mobile format that is more suitable for small, touchscreen devices.

Refactoring requires no access to the source code, nor does it take development expertise. It just requires a bit of discretionary pointing and clicking. Although refactored apps can't compare to native apps when it comes to the user experience, they can be credible alternatives in situations where companies cannot justify the costs and resources required to deliver more traditional mobile apps.

Refactoring can be useful for just about any legacy application that might require a mobile spin. It can also come in handy for newer applications that do not deliver the mobile features workers need.

There's no consensus on whether one of these methods is the right way to go.

One possible refactoring use case is as an interim solution, such as when a company plans to implement new tools and systems at some point in the future, but must temporarily provide mobility for legacy systems. Or consider refactoring for business apps that support a few users who perform noncritical operations.

Refactoring tools are available as on-premises products or cloud-based services. One of the most notable on-premises products is from PowWow. PowWow uses a Remote Desktop Protocol session to capture the application, stream and dissect its components. It uses HTML5 to deliver the application to any iOS, Android or HTML5-compatible device. It also provides the mechanisms necessary to fine-tune the application.

Reddo has taken a different approach. It inserts itself between the Windows operating system and presentation layers to capture the screen rendering instructions that the application sends to Windows. It uses this information to repackage the application and deliver it to any Android, iOS or Windows mobile device via HTML5. It also provides fine-turning capabilities.

Cloud-based refactoring services include Capriza and StarMobile. Capriza was one of the first vendors to get into the refactoring game, however the service has a narrower focus than other products. It only works with web-based applications. Capriza uses a virtual browser to capture and transform the original web application and deliver it to the Capriza cloud, where it is rendered and delivered via HTML5 to iOS and Android devices.

StarMobile can transform Windows, cloud, custom-built or web-based apps. The service uses its own protocol to abstract the application interface and make it fit for mobile use, without making changes to the underlying program. According to StarMobile, the refactored applications can be delivered to all leading mobile device operating systems. However, both Reddo and StarMobile are set to close.

There's no consensus on whether one of these methods is the right way to go about refactoring applications. Organizations must determine whether refactoring is the right fit. It's not the answer for all mobile applications, but it works for some. Refactoring can be a good option for getting less important apps off developers' plates so they can focus on more critical projects.

Next Steps

When IT should refactor apps

How refactoring mobilizes legacy apps

App refactoring products to peruse

Dig Deeper on Mobile enterprise application development