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PowWow buys StarMobile as app refactoring market looks up

One of the last app refactoring vendors in a shrinking market, PowWow Mobile will acquire StarMobile. IT shops looking to modernize legacy apps can benefit from the combined platforms.

As the app refactoring market continues to churn, one of the vendors that closed its doors earlier this year will soon see new life.

PowWow Mobile today said it plans to acquire StarMobile Inc., an Atlanta-based mobile app development competitor that ceased doing business this summer. PowWow will integrate the technology into its SmartUX platform, the company said. The combination of the two technologies could provide improved rapid app development capabilities for IT shops in one platform, and signals an upturn in the overall market, experts said.

"They have a lot of good capabilities together," said Eric Klein, director of mobile software at VDC Research Group Inc., in Natick, Mass.

For instance, StarMobile has unique IP around connecting with legacy back-end systems -- even mainframe data -- and matches up well with PowWow's strength in UI, Klein said.

Another capability unique to StarMobile is its analytics dashboard through which IT can track when users log into apps, from where and with what device and mobile OS, as well as how devices perform, including the network connection and how integrations with back-end systems are functioning.

"StarMobile had done an amazing job ... with a rich set of analytics," said Kia Behnia, CEO at PowWow Mobile. "And that was one thing on our roadmap."

PowWow's SmartUX, launched at VMworld in August, allows organizations to reformat legacy Windows and web apps into mobile applications that run natively on any OS, including Windows 10, Apple iOS and Google Android, as well as on the web with HTML5. Organizations can create apps with drag-and-drop capabilities, preserving the business logic from a source application so customers don't need to do manual coding.

Going forward, PowWow won't force existing StarMobile customers off their software but will combine StarMobile's capabilities with its SmartUX platform and eventually move those customers over to PowWow, Behnia said.

"We're hearing that customers want more functionality from fewer sets of solutions," he said. "It makes a lot of sense for us to combine our efforts, so we can do more use cases and deploy to those use cases much faster."

Rapid app dev market in flux

The app refactoring market has been ripe for consolidation. Founded in 2012, StarMobile was recently involved in a potential buy from VMware that fell through, an anonymous source with direct knowledge of the situation told SearchMobileComputing in July. Another player in the market, Reddo Mobility, shut down this summer after a possible sale didn't go through.

"I'm surprised VMware and Citrix haven't made an acquisition here yet, and it makes me think that while they talk a lot about mobile, they aren't really mobile-first companies themselves," said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research, an IT advisory firm based in Westminster, Mass. "Customers that have used StarMobile ... say it's like magic. The quality of the product seems to be very high."

PowWow Mobile, which hired new CEO Behnia from BMC Software in May, is one of the last remaining app refactoring vendors. Others include hopTo, which has a close relationship with Citrix, and Capriza. The latter company just this week added new pre-built mobile apps for businesses with common request-and-approval workflows to its portfolio.

"[App refactoring] is a little bit ahead of the curve in terms of enterprise adoption," Klein said. "A lot of companies weren't ready to take advantage of what the visual development tools offer."

Still, the PowWow-StarMobile deal and introduction of app templates from companies such as Capriza could help the technology catch on.

"Companies don't have the ability to hire the mobile specialists they need to develop the applications they want, and they're going to look to companies like PowWow," Klein said.

The PowWow-StarMobile deal is expected to close within the next 30 days, and the two companies did not disclose terms of the acquisition.

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