Transforming mobile app development with the cloud

Bikram S Bedi        Last Updated: April 3, 2015  | 10:02 IST

Bikram S Bedi, head - India, Amazon Web Services
Bikram S Bedi, head - India, Amazon Web Services
India's telecom market is one of the fastest growing worldwide thanks to the availability of competitive voice and data plans and proliferation of an assortment of low-cost basic mobile devices to high-end smartphones. With access to affordable 3G plans and the introduction of the 4G network, Indians are increasingly using smartphones and data services on these phones to access the web and other mobile apps.

Mobile apps have been gaining popularity worldwide, contributing to the increase in data usage. There has been an exponential increase in the consumption and diversity of mobile apps, with hundreds of thousands of mobile apps already available, and many more being released every day. However, it is interesting to note that of the thousands of new mobile apps released, only the top few account for the bulk of the downloads.

Therefore, it is imperative for mobile app developers to differentiate their apps and constantly innovate to add newer features to attract new users and retain existing ones, and at the same time cater to different mobile devices and mobile platforms. Adding to this, as the app market intensifies, developers need to ensure that they go to market faster and create increasingly rich user experiences, while keeping their costs of experimentation low.

How can the cloud enable mobile app developers?

As mobile devices become increasingly ubiquitous, the cloud is fast becoming a significant resource. The greater availability of affordable smartphones and data plans in India is reducing the barriers for consumers to download a mobile app. Simultaneously, consumers are also demanding an enriched experience from their apps on the mobile. This coupled with the consumer's unlimited access to multiple applications and limited attention spans, means that developers need to innovate constantly and move quickly - from concept to experimentation to prototype to delivery - in multiple iterations for their apps to stay relevant to consumers.

Cloud computing plays an integral role in enabling mobile app developers to do this. The cloud offers mobile app developers a flexible, highly scalable, rapidly deployable, and low-cost way to build and deliver their applications, giving users a rich experience irrespective of the devices they use. It reduces the cost of failure, allowing mobile app developers to experiment more often. Additionally, the cloud reduces any downtime, enabling developers to make changes and tweaks to their app features in real time. By using the cloud, developers can understand their customer's preferences in real time by processing information such as web site click-streams, transactional information, social media, operational logs and metering data.

Additionally, to support the growing demand for rich applications with increasing number of features, developers can leverage the cloud for the following:

>> OFFER A SEAMLESS EXPERIENCE ACROSS MOBILE DEVICES AND PLATFORMS: Today, even with the variety of mobile devices available, most of them are resource-constrained with limited computation power, memory and storage. Adding to this, developers need to also cater to consumers using different mobile platforms. However, by simply running their app in the cloud, developers no longer have to worry about which hardware devices their customers use. Using the cloud, mobile app developers can stream their compute-intensive applications and games from the cloud, use the readily available APIs (application programming interface) to reduce complexities while building the apps for device platforms. Developers can also scale to handle vast computational and storage needs and choose to stream either all or parts of their application from the cloud. They can now offer a uniform experience to all users irrespective of the device or platform that their consumers are using. They can further sync data across their users' devices so they have a consistent experience regardless of which device they use.

A great example is Spuul, a popular ad-supported subscription service that streams Indian movies and television shows to viewers around the world over the web and mobile. By developing and deploying the app on the cloud, Spuul allows users to seamlessly watch the same content anywhere on any device. If they are interrupted or move to another device, they can simply pick up from where they left off.

>> ADD A SOCIAL FUNCTIONALITY TO THEIR APPS: India is already among the leading users of popular social media platforms in the world. Consumers are demanding to be more connected and for greater interactions with their friends or colleagues. Thus it is critical that any mobile app must have a social media log-in. By using the cloud, developers can easily introduce a social media log-in in their mobile apps and effectively integrate it with social networking websites.

For example, PlayBlazer, a provider of cloud hosted services to game developers, enables the developers to integrate social media features into their apps. Through the use of the cloud, PlayBlazer provides configurable APIs (application programming interface) to developers allowing them instant access to services such as social graphs for Facebook, social publishing - posting activities or messages on behalf of the user, or even enabling sending token "gift" items within the game through the use of social media. Developers can easily integrate these features into their games, re-directing their resources on continuous innovation for the apps.

>> EFFECTIVE MOBILE PUSH: Historically, supporting mobile push notifications at a mass level has been very difficult. Today, by using a simple API on the cloud, mobile app developers can easily send push notifications to multiple devices across platforms reaching their customers quickly and effectively.

>> STORE AND ANALYSE USER DATA: Mobile app developers can cost effectively and securely store their app's user data and retrieve it instantaneously by using the cloud. It also allows for efficient and effective analysis of the data, thus allowing developers to deliver a more compelling experience to their users. For example,, an entertainment ticketing company in India, uses a cloud-based data warehousing solution to analyse and store its user data collected from their mobile application and website. By moving the data and its analytics to the cloud, Bookmyshow is able to cost effectively and quickly process and analyse the results, allowing them to understand their customers at a transactional level and identify and understand underlying trends. Thus, they are able to customise their marketing efforts for individual customers, providing more meaningful user experience. Using the cloud has also enabled them to make faster decisions, focus on building the business with innovative ideas and reduce their overall time to market for services.

>> IMPLEMENT GEO-LOCATION: Today, users access their mobile apps everywhere - whether they are at home, at work or even travelling within and out of the country. With the cloud, developers can now create a more contextual experience for users by adding location awareness to their mobile apps. This allows developers to understand their user activities and locations, thus being able to adapt the app experience accordingly. With the cloud, developers can store this data and then simply retrieve it with proximity queries.

A great example is The Weather Company, a massive information enterprise from which hundreds of millions of mobile devices around the world derive their weather forecast information. Using the cloud, the company monitors 2.3 billion forecast points to power nearly 900 million Android and 200 million iOS devices worldwide with location-based real-time weather forecast information. The company's cloud-based weather forecast engine analyses over 20TB of meteorological information every day to provide prompt and more accurate forecasts. Using the cloud, each set of forecast information can be calculated in 11 milliseconds and made available not just to mobile phone suppliers but also to hundreds of millions of users who have downloaded the weather application.

>> FASTER INNOVATION: The cloud unleashes innovation as the cost of failure is so low that it spurs more experimentation and development among the developers, engineers and research community without any worry about wasted capital expense or any failed collateral.

A great example is Hike messenger, a global internet messenger (IM) app, with over 35 million users, is an Indian start-up that leverages the cloud for their backend infrastructure. By deploying a cloud platform, Hike has been able to serve over 35 million of its users in a short span of time with maximum reliability. This is because the cloud offers Hike more flexibility to experiment with multiple stacks and scale up their infrastructure to meet user demands. More importantly it allows their team to focus on innovating, experimenting and building additional features to their mobile application at a low cost, rather than spending time on hardware infrastructures and worrying about capacity planning.

Another company that has moved fast with the cloud is, a mobile marketing platform that provides services in Southeast Asia, India, Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. By developing and iterating new features of its service on a cloud platform, the company is able to stay relevant and ahead for its customers. Additionally, using the cloud provides Vserv the flexibility to use APIs programmatically to manage its infrastructure with just a four-person IT team, on-board new publishers and developers without human intervention, and scale to reach over 500 million unique users.

>> GO GLOBAL IN MINUTES: The cloud enables companies to easily deploy their applications in multiple regions around the world with just a few clicks. This means that they can provide a lower latency and much better user experience for their customers simply and at a minimal cost.

A great example is Xiaomi, the highly popular Chinese smartphone company established in 2010 that needed to differentiate itself in two ways: by providing content services for its users and building a sustainable, global business. Xiaomi wanted to deliver fast download speeds and build a reliable infrastructure that would allow the company to scale up quickly as it grew. To run its app store, Xiaomi chose to deploy on a cloud platform. Five months after the app store was launched, Xiaomi exceeded 100 million user downloads, satisfied the download speed that global users require which is 30 per cent faster on the cloud, and had launched a new global online business - all without any upfront capital expenditure on IT infrastructure.

Another great example is HTC Corporation, the creator of many award-winning mobile devices and industry firsts. HTC uses the cloud to develop and run its services in multiple regions around the world to reduce latency for their customers, including the user authentication service, and manages configuration for more than 30 million HTC devices worldwide. Using cloud has also freed HTC from having to do infrastructure planning every six months, releasing more time to innovate.

The cloud has already become a game changer for app developers and customers globally, particularly in emerging markets such as India where the dynamics of mobile and data usage vary greatly, influenced by price and consumption. By enabling developers to offer rich applications across all kind of low cost devices and beyond the new breed of high-end smartphones, the cloud allows them to penetrate a large cross-section of users and in-turn offer compelling monetisation and revenue opportunities.

(The author is Head of India - Amazon Web Services India)

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