Review: Appcelerator is a mobile cloud platform in progress

Appcelerator Platform 2 combines rich mobile client support with the advantages of Node.js, but lacks pre-built integrations and full sync support

Appcelerator cloud in man's hands

Appcelerator Titanium has been a player in the mobile development space for several years, with a JavaScript-based development environment that compiles to native code for iOS, Android and other targets. With the release of Appcelerator Studio 3.3 and Appcelerator Platform 2.0 in July, the company added a mobile back end as a service (MBaaS) accompanied by about 25 APIs, Node.js support, and online analytics. Also, Appcelerator has published interfaces to its MBaaS that developers can add to apps built with native SDKs, though it hasn’t yet supported native SDKs in its own Studio IDE.

“Studio” is short for any edition of Appcelerator Studio, the company’s enterprise-oriented IDE; Titanium Studio, the company’s free IDE; and Aptana Studio, the free Eclipse plug-in on which the other two products are based. Aptana was one of my favorite open source JavaScript and Rails IDEs in its day, before it was bought by Appcelerator, though my affections have since moved on to more modern IDEs and editors.

Services and APIs

The principal focus of this release of Appcelerator is its MBaaS and analytics. There are more than 25 prebuilt APIs, including most of the usual suspects such as push notifications and pair storage, and extending to users, places, photos, and social integrations. These cloud service APIs are in addition to Appcelerator’s interfaces to native device capabilities such as local storage, media services, geolocation, contacts, and accelerometer support. Furthermore, Appcelerator now includes a layer on top of Node.js, called Node.ACS, for building custom cloud services. (ACS refers to Appcelerator Cloud Services.)

Early in Appcelerator’s development, some of its Android APIs were coerced into looking like their iOS equivalents. Not surprisingly, that didn’t always work well. I’m not sure when these APIs changed, but now the Appcelerator wrappers for Android APIs seem to follow the Android model. That’s good because they actually work reliably; it’s bad because you have to include different modules for Android builds than for iOS builds. Appcelerator still supports BlackBerry, but I have lost interest in BlackBerry development over the last couple of years, as its market share has essentially disappeared.

Dashboard and analytics

Developers can see a quick overview of app installs, sessions, API calls, and crashes in the online Appcelerator dashboard overview page. Other parts of the dashboard allow for cloud management, testing, performance metrics, and analytics.

appcelerator platform overview

Appcelerator Platform's dashboard overview for the demo Field Service application. The crashes were deliberately coded into the app.

The Cloud panel shows usage, exposes data management, displays API request and push notification logs, lists custom services, and allows for cloud configuration. The testing panel uses SOASTA’s TouchTest as an integrated mobile testing solution. The performance panel allows you to monitor your apps; troubleshoot performance, crashes, and exceptions; view crash trends; integrate with bug tracking systems; and configure your monitoring.

Developers can define and view Appcelerator analytics online and optionally publish selected analytics to the Appcelerator Insights app for the iPad, typically for use by a manager. There are five categories of analytics: real time, users, sessions, events, and event funnels.

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