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

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Data import and offline/online synchronization

Appcelerator can call REST and even SOAP services using HTTPClient and its built-in parsing routines. If you’ve set up a REST wrapper for a database query, you can get the JSON data into your app fairly easily. That wrapper might be implemented on Node.js or on another server, as in the case of a Web service extension to the database server.

According to Appcelerator, from the MBaaS side, the most common scenario is writing REST services on Node.ACS that talk to the customer's data sources. Depending on the scenario, Appcelerator sometimes discourages customers from accessing their databases directly from a mobile middle tier. (Usually those types of customers immediately agree and recognize their security team would shut down the idea.)

appcelerator custom objects

Examining the custom objects in the MongoDB database for the Field Service demo app.

That begs the question of enterprise integrations, however. A more serious MBaaS would already have tested, integrated modules set up to easily map the major databases to a form consumable by its apps, certainly for Oracle, SQL Server, MySQL, and Postgres. I view leaving this as an exercise for the developer as a cop-out, though writing RESTful database wrappers isn’t rocket science, especially on Node.js.

Appcelerator says it has a few enterprise connectors it sells on the MBaaS layer, such as for SAP and Salesforce.com. And one of the advantages of Node is the supply of community-developed modules for many other sources such as MySQL, SQL Server (which works on a Windows server with Node.js), Postgres, and several NoSQL databases.

Similarly, Appcelerator can use a local SQLite database on a device, use pair storage, cache in-memory, and detect when the device is online. However, it has no complete framework in place for handling intermittently connected apps, especially not conflict resolution. According to the company, most of its customers use Alloy models to handle some of these duties.

Synchronization is admittedly a difficult problem, but it’s one area where most mobile developers need help from the vendor, and it’s important in the real world. A more serious MBaaS would at least provide hooks for code that handles data entry conflict resolution, but Appcelerator hasn’t done that yet.

Appcelerator notes that it has a commercial sync server available with a Microsoft Dynamics connector attached, and it will expand this to all supported data sources later this year. At least the company is working on the problem.

Overall, I see Appcelerator as a mobile app development tool company just beginning to pivot into the MBaaS space. Most of the basic pieces are in place, but Appcelerator hasn't quite finished the hard parts. Keep watching ...

This story, "Review: Appcelerator is a mobile cloud platform in progress" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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