DreamForce's Big Idea: Smartphones as an Enterprise App Platform

At a conference as big and boisterous as Dreamforce, you hear a relentless stream of ideas. Some are good, but most are bad. At Dreamforce 2013, there was only one idea that really mattered: Whether smartphones are the future client for enterprise apps.

By David Taber
Thu, December 05, 2013

CIO — Although I'm a 20-year marketing veteran, I'm generally allergic to marketing messages and naked sales pitches. Call it an autoimmune disorder. I therefore tend to discount most of the pitches I hear at tech conferences.

Every once in a while, though, I see an idea presented that's important but not yet true. These kind of visionary or revolutionary ideas essentially represent a big decision that the industry has to make; you have to decide which side of the bet you want to be on. These bets are rare but important.

After the fact, of course, we all say we knew which side of the bet to take and claim that we chose right (even if we didn't). The iPad is a recent example of this kind of bet. Of course everybody knows now how important the iPad is — 250 million of anything is important, and tablet sales are killing the PC — but think back to the days before the iPad announcement. Doubters questioned the value of this not-phone, not-computer. Even Steve Jobs said at the time, "We think there's a market &hellip"

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So it is now with the big idea from Dreamforce 2013: Smartphones as the primary target for new apps. It's not entirely obvious which side of the bet you should be on.

What If the Smartphone Becomes the Business Device of Choice?

For games, ecommerce and social networking, that's a serious "Duh." The battle is over. But for B2B and B2C products and services, that idea is a brave new world.

The notion of desktop PCs as secondary, legacy clients for business apps, with smartphones in the driver's seat, sure doesn't seem to be true yet. If the smartphone is to become the primary client any time soon, though, that means the browser-based cloud app will be relegated to admins and other desk-bound dullards.

What happens, then, if high-value users pull the smartphone into the role of primary target for business apps? It would certainly require a huge retooling of application development, infrastructure, deployment and support. It will demand skills in SSO, mobile security, mashups, UI and usability. Any new app you build will need to be seen as a series of Web services chained together in the smartphone.

This will mean a lot more vendor focus on APIs that are deep and complete enough for integration and extension on an iOS or Android device. I see two particular areas of focus. First, vendors must make moving information from a smartphone app to paper, PDF or DocuSign output much easier than it is today.

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