This content is part of the Essential Guide: Comprehensive mobile app development guide

What to look for in mobile app development platforms

Mobile app development platforms can make developing mobile apps simple, but these services have a few shortcomings to watch out for.

Mobile app development platforms come with some potential downsides, so organizations need to tread carefully when choosing a MADP provider.

Mobile application development platforms (MADPs) provide templates and low-code tools to make building and delivering mobile apps easier for organizations, especially those without in-house development talent. But IT is limited by what capabilities the MADP provider offers.

Even if the service supports customization, for instance, there are limits to what features developers can include when compared to apps built from the ground up. When you build your own app (or contract out), you can tailor the product to your exact business needs. With mobile app development platforms, the organization can only go as far as the platform allows, which can mean compromising user experience and business requirements.

Organizations may also run into back-end issues caused by the limitations of MADP technologies, such as limited data sources, mismatches in API granularity, cloud-integration issues, restrictions on lifecycle management capabilities, lack of integration with mobile device management (MDM) among other challenges.

Another issue is that an organization can easily get locked into a platform and find itself at the mercy of the MADP provider's performance, support capabilities and system's reliability. Even worse, the provider owns all the application source code, so pulling out of the platform is expensive. Of course, MADP providers have their own reputations to consider and want to deliver the best service possible, but problems can occur, and the subscribing organization has little recourse. If the provider goes bust, the subscriber is left with nothing.

Another key consideration is long-term costs. Simply put, subscription fees add up. So even if a MADP provider substantially reduces initial startup costs, mobile app development savings may not continue over the long haul.

What to look for in a MADP provider

Despite the challenges of mobile app development platforms, many organizations consider the benefits of quickly and cheaply developing mobile apps worth the risks. As you seek out a MADP provider, there are a number of factors to keep in mind.

An organization can easily get locked into a platform.

One of the most important considerations is the development platform itself. The MADP service should provide all the tools and components you need to build the types of apps your users want -- now and in the foreseeable future.

For example, the platform should use common development standards, provide the necessary back-end services and have access to third-party app script libraries that help provide a consistent user experience regardless of the type of app or its intended operating system. IT should also be able to manage the apps for their entire lifecycle, so they're accessible to users at various stages.

The mobile OSes the apps will run on is equally important. If your organization needs apps that can operate on Apple iOS, Google Android and Windows, it doesn't make sense to choose a MADP provider that only supports Android. Also make sure you know whether you want to build native, Web or hybrid apps before you decide on a MADP provider.

Security is another top concern when choosing a provider. Find out what types of identity management and policy services the provider supports, the kinds of encryption it uses, where the encryption keys are stored and how app security is integrated into your existing systems.

MADP apps should also integrate with an organization's data access points where appropriate. The provider should offer API support for existing enterprise apps based on industry standards. If necessary, IT should be able to integrate the platform with back-end systems including data storage, cloud services and third-party tools such as MDM and mobile application management products.

Look for a MADP service that provides management capabilities throughout the application lifecycle. That includes tools to manage the application build processes, provide app versioning, deploy the apps and monitor their behavior across all platforms and devices. Make sure the service offers real-time monitoring to track performance, troubleshoot problems and gather application usage analytics.

Mobile app development platforms can be the right route for your mobile app needs, but finding the right provider is a process that IT shouldn't take lightly.

Next Steps

The future of MADPs and codeless app development

Common features MADP providers share

What the MADP market looks like now

You should know how MADPs fit in to EMM

Dig Deeper on Mobile enterprise application development