How New Software Platforms Open the Door For VARs To Become ISVs


 

SDK and Available Tools Apple provides Xcode 4.0.2 and the iOS SDK 4.3, which amounts to the complete Xcode developer toolset for Mac, iPhone and iPad. This includes an Xcode Integrated Developer Environment and Software Development for the Apple iOS platforms. The iOS Developer program runs $99 per year (when we first signed up more than a year ago, it took about two weeks for the subscription to activate.)

What do you get for your money? The developer program allows for writing, testing/debugging and distributing apps through the iTunes App Store for those wanting to hit a broader market. To develop and distribute, work needs to be done on a Mac system.

Opportunities: Compared to other platforms, this is a relatively low-cost way for VARs to step into the ISV waters. Whether it’s to extend an existing customer application to the iPhone or iPad, or create a new app to solve a business problem, this is a fairly low-risk way of taking aim at a potentially high-reward market.

Challenges: Before an app is placed in the App Store, Apple puts it through its notoriously rigorous approval system. And while joining the developer program is a relatively low-cost, hassle-free process, developing apps that extend an enterprise’s IT investment to the edge of the network will include, perhaps, more nontechnical issues than technical ones.

Differentiation: Apple’s developer program allows for software to be written across desktop, notebook, tablet and smartphone platforms -- making Apple the only technology vendor with that degree of reach in the client stack. (Hewlett-Packard is working toward that same breadth of reach as it readies its WebOS-based tablets for launch, but that hadn’t happened as of this writing.)

PLATFORM: GOOGLE ANDROID

SDK and Available Tools: The Android community now provides the Android SDK R11 for Windows, Mac and Linux development environments—a significant advantage over Apple. In addition, several revs of the Android SDK, starting with the Android 2.1 platform and up to Android 3.1 (which is also optimized for tablets) are available for download for free. There are also built-in economies on the Android OS for developers, including the Android Native Development Tools. These allow code writers to build applications using C and C++; apps also run in a virtual machine (the Dalvik Virtual Machine). This means that big components of apps can be repurposed between apps as a development shortcut.

Opportunities: Android and all the code is open source, and its developer tools and kits are free of charge. That means that with the right amount of background in programming, VARs will not need much capital investment to jump in and start writing apps for the Android platform.

In addition, Research In Motion is aiming to launch its “Android Player” for its new BlackBerry PlayBook platform this summer—meaning apps written for the Android platform can also work on BlackBerry PlayBooks.

Challenges: Android is not considered secure enough for many enterprises, although the community is working to fix that. However, VARs may find those security issues to be deal-breakers for delivering value-added solutions now.

Differentiation: As with Linux, which is also open source, VARs that write code for the Android platform can set their own price for their work and maintain more control over the developer environment and code. Though Android as a platform or community may not provide the hand-holding of other vendor platforms, VARs that want or need vendor independence should prefer Android as a software development platform.

PLATFORM: BLACKBERRY TABLET OS

SDK and Available Tools: This platform was only weeks old at press time, but Research In Motion executives have made it clear that they believe working with ISVs and VARs to build applications and solutions will be key.

For this platform, RIM has established two, separate developer environments: one with the BlackBerry Tablet OS SDK for Adobe Air, and one with the BlackBerry Tablet OS SDK for WebWorks.

Here we believe that VARs who seek to hone new development skills may find it easier and more effective to begin developing on the Adobe Air technology; in addition, apps for the BlackBerry PlayBook can be written using Adobe Flash Builder 4.5, which is included in Adobe’s Creative Suite 5.5. There are more than 3 million developers worldwide on Adobe’s technology—which could potentially give significant early momentum to this brand-new PlayBook platform. Further, apps written for PlayBook using Adobe Flash Builder could be repurposed onto other mobile platforms as well, including Android.

The BlackBerry Tablet OS was built on the QNX operating system, which is deployed in a variety of enterprise and government solutions throughout the world. Adobe technology, including Flash and Air, were baked into that.

Opportunities: RIM’s heritage is in the enterprise, and it has made it clear that the BlackBerry PlayBook—with the BlackBerry Tablet OS—will integrate with other pieces of the RIM stack, including BlackBerry Enterprise Server. Down the road, as early as this summer, RIM will also provide tools that will allow development of apps around its BBM messaging application on the BlackBerry Tablet OS -- a potentially attractive aspect to this new platform.

Challenges: RIM is late to the game in the tablet space, and its smartphone business is disappointing the market with its sales—largely blamed on the success of both the iPhone and Android devices. Investing resources in this platform, in such a competitive arena, will be fraught with risks not seen with other development platforms.

Differentiation: BlackBerry is still a brand-name technology, and its market is among the most fiercely loyal in the IT industry. VARs who build software apps to run on the BlackBerry Tablet OS for the PlayBook have the potential to tap into that loyalty and platform investment by customers even under the most competitive circumstances.

NEXT: Software Platform: WebOSPLATFORM: WebOS