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New SDK helps iOS developers get to the meat of SAP mobile apps

Following the announcement of their partnership six months ago, Apple and SAP roll out preview versions of their SDK and tools to teach developers to build SAP apps for iOS.

The first results of the Apple-SAP partnership will benefit SAP shops that find their mobile apps too clunky.

Apple and SAP have released preview versions of their software development kit (SDK) for iOS app development on SAP's HANA Cloud Platform and SAP Academy for iOS, a set of tools to help developers learn how to build SAP mobile apps for iOS using the Swift programming language. Organizations have criticized SAP apps in the past for being too complex and not suitable for mobile devices, but these offerings will make the applications easier to build and more ideal for mobile users.

"SAP apps historically have been portable versions of their desktop applications, and that's not ideal," said Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst at ZK Research in Westminster, Mass. "Mobile apps should be lightweight apps that do one or two things, and not the full-bore application on your desktop."

The typical SAP mobile app approach can bog down the development process and end-user experience, Kerravala said. With the new SDK, designing iOS apps from the ground up with Swift and SAP on the back end allows for a more refined approach to mobile app development by making apps single-purpose, he added.

"If you work on a larger number of smaller lightweight apps instead of fewer larger apps, you can continuously develop and continuously improve them," he said.

Building better SAP mobile apps

Select SAP customers and partners have access to the new SDK for HANA, the company's database management system. Additionally, developers can use Fiori, SAP's app interface design tool, to build a consistent app experience across operating systems and device types. The idea is to allow developers to build easy-to-use apps that also have advanced data processing functionality through SAP services.

To teach developers how to use this SDK and build iOS apps with Swift, SAP Academy for iOS includes guidelines and training programs. SAP has also offered a preview of this tool to the same select customers and partners.  

With Swift, developers can build apps faster and support complex SAP back-end systems, said Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy, a research firm in Austin, Texas.

"The benefit with Swift is it's so much faster in terms of performance," Moorhead said. "Swift demands less out of your processor, memory and graphics."

Apple-SAP partnership puts iOS in the driver's seat

The Apple-SAP partnership will help SAP have a bigger mobile presence, but one small risk is it's betting on iOS to gain traction in the enterprise, Moorhead said.

"SAP wants to draft off the Apple brand," he said. "You'll have BYOD iPhones, but outside the U.S., Android is big. Windows 10 2-in-1s are definitely gaining traction in the enterprise as well."

For Apple, there is almost no downside to this deal, which requires a long-term commitment from SAP, Moorhead added. Apple gains appeal to a new customer base through a strong and widely used back-end system with SAP, and it also expands the usage of Swift, said Michael Oh, CTO and founder at TSP LLC, an Apple reseller based in Boston.

SAP wants to draft off the Apple brand.
Patrick Moorheadpresident and principal analyst, Moor Insights and Strategy

SAP is one of three major enterprise partnerships Apple inked in a little over two years. In 2014, Apple and IBM agreed to build 100 custom iOS apps for businesses. In August 2015, Apple and Cisco agreed to a deal where Cisco prioritizes iOS devices on corporate networks for better performance.

"The more that Apple is playing with the big boys, the more they are relevant in business environments," Oh said. "That's a strong message to say SAP is behind Apple, as well as Cisco and IBM."

SAP and Apple have not yet disclosed the general availability of the iOS SDK. Academy for iOS will be generally available in the spring, SAP said. 

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