By Shivesh Vishwanathan
App stores are the mobile equivalent of desktop Web browsers in many ways. They are the predominant mechanism for delivering content and functionality in the mobile world. They provide much more control than traditional browsers and the direct ability for developers and administrators to deploy, monitor, manage and monetize apps and the content that passes through them. This, along with being end user-facing, has made them the cornerstone of the outside-in view for users and developers. Within the enterprise, they will soon be the final manifestation of application management and device management capabilities for end users and IT administrators, and become as ubiquitous as the intranet.
Let’s take a look at the outside-in view and the key characteristics of app stores so we can evaluate them for the enterprise.
User and Device Identity. One of the most important characteristics of app stores that differentiate them from regular Web browsers is the fact that app stores have identifiable users with strong identities. App stores play an integral role in the mobile ecosystem of devices, developers, publishers and end users by identifying the users they provide services to, blocking usage when required and ensuring security. In an enterprise, user identity elements span not just employees, but also partners, vendors and resellers so having the right level of access and functionality for each stakeholder is critical to its success.
App Discovery. App stores need their apps to be discoverable through various means like searching, browsing, tagging, sharing, ratings and other features. As apps proliferate, sifting through them and finding what is required is critical for the app store to be successful. In addition to the top-down discoverability features—such as cataloguing, searching, browsing and categorizing apps that enable users to understand the taxonomy, navigations, sorting and filtering through them—having “bottom-up discoverability” features that are similar to search engine and social media optimization of the Web are important as they enable users to understand app popularity and social acceptance through features such as tagging, ratings and reviews.
App Delivery. App delivery is a central feature of app stores, which enable users to browse, install and uninstall apps on their devices. The heavy fragmentation of device endpoints means that the app store has to support reliable app delivery on multiple devices with varied capabilities and device types. All these delivery features have to be well defined in order to provide rich functionality along with keeping the overall delivery logistics for the developer simple and intuitive.
Versioning. With development cycles of a few weeks at best, app developers rely heavily on the ability of app stores to seamlessly manage app versions and compatibility. Features such as version management and compatibility selection while uploading enable app stores to hide the inherent complexity from end users and provide them with a clean interface.
Monetization and Viability. App store platforms enable app developers to create viable business or service models. App stores enable service delivery, and their viability and acceptance is dependent on how they provide a sustainable ecosystem for developers, end users and partners who use them. When app stores are used in a private context, such as an enterprise or a non-profit, apps and workflows need to be prioritized in the right order to provide a clear path to being a profitable endeavor.
App Sanctity and Security. Unlike the Web browser world where putting a URL on the address bar could take you to a completely unknown territory of the Internet, app stores provide checks, reviews and approvals to ensure the security and sanctity of the apps they host. App stores are usually owned and hosted by a known entity, and one of its primary functions is to safeguard users from malicious apps, unsecured data and subpar user experience.
Getting the above outside-in view right is only a part of the story. Often overlooked in the cacophony of apps and app stores is the need for enterprises to mobile-enable their workflows and processes. This inside-out view consists of readying the enterprise backend systems, deploying mobility middleware, managing user identities, and exposing and managing Web service APIs. As an IT leader, it’s critical to get the inside-out view right, because being behind on it could mean the difference between a highly successful mobility initiative and one that is dead on arrival.