Big software discovers little gadgets: What I learned at Oracle’s OpenWorld

I dropped in on Oracle OpenWorld earlier this month, a lonely mobile analyst in a sea of big iron and ERP. Given the balance of Oracle’s revenues, I was surprised to see how much stage time the company gave to small devices that move. A lot of what it showed was scheduled for future releases, so take that as you will, but even if it’s hype, it shows us where Oracle and its big enterprise cohorts are headed.

Here’s what I took away from the show.

Mobile app development is still a thing

Some day, when innovation slows and operating systems converge, mobile app development will cease to be its own thing. Today’s MADP, MBaaS, or other pop-an-M-on-the-front acronym will become a subset of tomorrow’s PaaS. But that day is not today. There’s a lot of life left in mobile developer tools and back-end services, but the window for entry is closing.

Two years ago, enterprise software vendors seemed willing to cede mobile development to companies like Kony and Appcelerator, with maybe a nod toward mobile-enabling existing customers’ applications. That’s all changed, and while Oracle’s Mobile Application Framework (MAF) is one of the newest arrivals, SAP, IBM, Salesforce, and others are all going head-to-head with the little guys who beat them to the punch.

While IBM, Adobe and others acquired their way into the market, Oracle built MAF in-house. As one employee told me, “This is the most un-Oracle product we’ve ever delivered.” Chats with (admittedly biased) developers at the show backed that up. While MAF has some gaps to fill (particularly on the UI front), customers claimed Oracle was being unusually responsive, and acting more like a smaller ISV with something to lose.

Oracle OpenWorld caused a portion of Howard Street in San Francisco to shut down and be converted to a mini convention center

Oracle OpenWorld caused a portion of Howard Street in San Francisco to shut down and be converted to a mini convention center

Of course, the upstarts in the space actually are smaller ISVs with something to lose, and everyone else in the market has a more mature product, so it’s still very much anyone’s game. Convincing agencies, small development shops, and independent cowboy coders to work with “The Man” is also a legitimate marketing challenge for big software. But the winners over the next two years will become part of the next generation of unified development stacks, so the mobile wars are critical, if ultimately short-lived.

For an in-depth look at the present and future of mobile development, watch for out upcoming Sector Roadmap from Gigaom Research analyst Rich Morrow in the next few weeks.

Mobile app configuration is a new(ish) thing

Oracle also previewed Mobile Application Accelerator (MAX), its entry into the Mobile Application Configuration market spearheaded by Webalo, Mobile Force (formerly Fonemine), Catavolt, Capriza, and PowWow. These platforms allow reasonably technical business users to create basic mobile apps without writing any application logic. Oracle’s investment in MAX validates the first wave of no-coding vendors, which should all feel pretty good about their valuations right now.

While the tools provide a nice end-run around IT bureaucracy, they also have a role to play as prototyping frameworks. That’s where integration with a full mobile development suite will come in handy, which is one reason the current crop of vendors will become acquisition targets.

Openness and standards will win the day, but expect some nudges from vendors

This year’s OpenWorld had more emphasis on the Open, for many reasons. SaaS killed the single-vendor lifestyle. Developers don’t like to be told what tools to use. Mobile is fragmented and getting worse, and IoT is anyone’s guess. But “open” doesn’t mean playing nice. Despite good work from groups like AllSeen and the OIC, there’s a lot more to do before we get to a stable set of open standards, and the journey might be more like a parliamentary fistfight as vendors try to push their own flavor of proprietary “better with us.” We’ll probably see more of that as we shuffle toward common ground.

For more on how IoT standards will shake out, come to Structure Connect in San Francisco October 20 and 21. I’ll be leading a Mapping Session on IoT standards and security, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Cormac Foster is a Research Director at Gigaom Research covering Mobile Technologies and Enterprise Operations. He has spent nearly 20 years in enterprise technology as a QA manager, product manager, industry analyst, and writer.

Featured photo courtesy KIMIHIRO HOSHINO/AFP/Getty Images.