The Role of Backend Services (BaaS and MBaaS) in a Post-App World


As of July 2015, there were more than 4 million apps available in the most popular app stores. It is estimated that nearly 180 million of these apps will be downloaded in 2015.In all likelihood, the number of apps published and downloaded will continue to grow, so claiming that a post-app world is around the corner would admittedly be premature. That said, it is interesting to contemplate how apps are becoming more intelligent, and the possibility of needing to access apps less often, if at all. Gartner recently proclaimed that the “Nexus of Forces” (cloud, mobile, social, and big data) are ushering what they call the “post app era”.

Image via Shutterstock

So what does this mean for the corresponding evolution of MBaaS or BaaS technology? Let’s start by looking at what created the demand for BaaS in the first place, and hypothesize where we are likely to go from there as the post-app world emerges.

Mobile App Silos

We are currently in the peak of the first mobile age. Apps are being created and consumed at a frenzied pace, for both long-lived and transient purposes, across consumer and enterprise use cases. One characteristic of this initial wave of mobile apps is that they are inherently siloed. We use one app to read email, another to view appointments, a third to take notes, and so on. In some cases, these apps serve as companions to a more sophisticated web site, much like how smartwatch apps are mostly accessories to their smartphone counterparts. Another characteristic of current apps is that they are largely driven by human input – someone launches an app, performs and action, and the app obeys the command.

Some of these mostly independent apps do employ a means of bridging the communication gap: via server-side data exchange using backend servers, sometimes known as mobile backend services (MBaaS or BaaS). In this role, BaaS provides a centralized, typically cloud-based, mechanism primarily for persisting data and integrating to other backend systems. Through this channel apps are able to share data and enable users to access relevant information. In addition, BaaS also provides a mechanism to alert users when the app is not running, via push notifications. While we love these apps, one can’t help but think they could do more.

Intelligent Agents

Elements of the post-app world are already starting to appear in several forms…

  • iOS notification center provides a cross-app view of relevant information, and widgets that allow for control over app functions without leaving the center. It also allows for search across apps.
  • Siri and Google Now on Tap provide highly contextual information with more proactive suggestions and recommendations based on data from multiple sources, for example, highlighting gas stations to fill up as you return your rental car to the airport.
  • Amazon Echo enables anyone within (far-field) earshot to add items to a To Do list, which is then accessible on a mobile device, order something from Amazon, or control lights around the house. The Echo is not as smart as Siri and Google Now (yet), but showcases how intelligent assistants will move beyond phone-based form factors to become ubiquitous.

These smart assistants give us a taste of what a future with less app interaction will look like. So, what role do backend services play here? Interestingly, there is even more need for BaaS infrastructure to support this type of solution. The foundation for these intelligent agents is the ability to consume APIs easily, run background tasks to synthesize data across multiple sources, and then provide APIs that any client or device can consume. 

Autonomous Algorithms

The true post-app era will arrive once we have relinquished mundane tasks to autonomous algorithms that efficiently take care of them in the background. These solutions will take in continuous input from a variety of contextual sources, perform analysis against a wide variety of data elements, take preemptive actions, and learn from the results to become even more efficient. Think of these are robots for non-physical tasks.

Imagine a combination of Siri or Google Now, married with the analytical prowess of IBM Watson, running continuously to monitor your digital and physical activities and performing actions to make your work or home life more productive. In some cases, these algorithms may reduce the need for human labor in certain professions, such as equity trading or similar analytical jobs.

Many of these algorithms will ultimately be implemented as microservices that consume or expose APIs, an ideal fit for BaaS infrastructure. Several BaaS tenants such as reusability, scalability, and security make it a fertile ground for planting the seeds of autonomous algorithms. They will be able to leverage the aforementioned BaaS functions such as notifications and integration, further augmenting the reach and potency of the algorithms.

Rich Mendis, AnyPresence Co-founder

BaaS is dead, long live BaaS

In conclusion, BaaS becomes increasingly important in the post-app era. This should not be surprising, since intelligent agents and autonomous algorithms primarily rely on scalable, server-side functionality, including integration and notification capabilities.

We are currently living in the post-PC era of smartphones, tablets, and an increasing array of web-connected devices. Employing BaaS technology when developing apps for these devices enables you to follow an API-first approach and establish a foundation for the post-app world, whenever it may arrive.

Edited by Kyle Piscioniere

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