Amazon sets sights on snagging mobile developers

The newly unveiled Cognito and Mobile Analytics services assist mobile developers with identity management and analytics

Introducing the new mission for Amazon Web Services: mobile dominance.

Amazon has added new services designed to take the pain out of building the back ends for mobile apps. Some of the offerings already exist in other incarnations from other vendors, but by pulling them together under one roof, Amazon's set to have an advantage largely out of reach by competitors.

One of the new services, Cognito, is meant to take the pain out of handling user identity and sessions with mobile apps. Instead of having to build your own identity management infrastructure, Cognito allows you to integrate with Amazon's own identity services along with two others (Facebook and Google). Identities established through those services can then be associated with key/value data sets for a given application, which are then synchronized using Cognito between all instances of an app.

Most mobile SDK platforms have some library for working with third-party authentication, but linking that with a given set of data (preferences, documents, and so on) is left to the developer. Likewise, toolkits already exist for synchronizing data between clients and servers ina lightweight fashion: Couchbase now provides a NoSQL-based syncing solution for mobile clients, for example.

The Mobile Analytics service, as the name implies, works with Cognito to mine insights out of user behaviors within apps. Amazon's clearly interested in helping app developers leverage those insights for the sake of revenue. An entire event type within Mobile Analytics, for example, is dedicated to analyzing in-app purchases.

As mobile has grown, so has MBaaS (mobile back end as a service), where all the features a mobile app developer would need to build on the back end -- storage, syncing, credentials, analytics -- are available through a provider. Amazon wants to become a provider and a platform for as many of those items as possible.

Jeffrey Hammond, principal analyst at Forrester Research, believes that while this make Amazon "a serious player" for mobile infrastructure services. "It's actually a bit overdue," he said, "given the initial mobile service launches by Microsoft on Azure and Google on the GCP." He also noted that it made sense in the wake of the Fire Phone announcement and "is a proof point for how Amazon is starting to connect developers into the breadth of its digital platform."

Sravish Sridhar, CEO of MBaaS solutions provider Kinvey (itself built using AWS) said, "This move really does illustrate the speed at which the MBaaS market is growing .... [Amazon has] likely learned a lot from us. Now, they are attempting to take these learnings and capitalize on them to expand their business into a market that is clearly growing."

That said, it's hard to ignore how the convenience of depending on a single third party for a function is fraught with risk. MBaaS provider StackMob was bought out by PayPal in 2013 and ended up shutting down the following May, with customers forced to export all their data and move to another provider. At least Cognito and Mobile Analytics, by dint of being Amazon products tapping into an existing developer base, are far less likely to die off or be shut down.

415 Research analyst Raul Castañon-Martinez concurs: "AWS already has a large customer base using its mobile services; this will reposition the company as a top player in the mobile space." He noted that Amazon is right now deploying Mobile Services in only the U.S. East region, and "we have yet to see how they will tackle the issue of customer support for services that have a steep learning curve."

Correction: This blog as originally posted incorrectly stated that Couchbase lacks user authentication. The article has been amended.

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