Messaging as orchestration, and microapps as content
Cross-platform frameworks will continue to mature, meeting the needs for many enterprise mobile use cases. But another approach is to choose a pre-built mobile app platform, such as a social network, and run microapps on it.

“Look what Facebook Messenger has done with Uber integration: You can book an Uber cab from within Messenger,” said Praveen Kanyadi, CEO and cofounder of SpotCues, a Mountain View, Calif.-based startup. “That’s a hybrid approach that they’ve taken, and it’s also in some ways a microapp. Look at Kik Messenger, a very popular messaging app. They have a bunch of HTML5 apps that live in the Clay.io marketplace. Messaging apps are moving from pure chat to becoming orchestration platforms. They’re more participatory, with a highly integrated experience.”

His company’s offering is a customizable context and location-based social network that uses Wi-Fi or geofencing to connect people and apps based on a person’s present context. While the app is native, the microapps that a corporate human resources department might install within it are simpler HTML5-based fare, often built from templates provided by SpotCues. The difference between this and other location-based apps like Tinder or Foursquare is that context is layered on top of location for a more compelling user experience. “Spot owners can offer content and features customized for that location, whether it’s a stadium or a multinational corporation,” said Kanyadi.

But if context awareness is mobile magic, data is an important ingredient in the potion.

Why flexible data models make sense for mobile
The data requirements of mobile apps are different from legacy enterprise software: They must scale to millions of users, not break despite constant revamps in a competitive world, then gather and use unstructured data. NoSQL data on mobile is a relatively new development, however.

“The biggest thing we saw last year was that we spent a lot of time educating developers who were asking, ‘What is NoSQL?’” said Wayne Carter, chief architect of mobile at Couchbase, a NoSQL document store vendor. “In the client-side mobile world, they didn’t know what it was. NoSQL grew up on server-side, utilized by back-end engineers. We were explaining why data flexibility is important, why bringing data to the app tier allows you to evolve apps faster and be more iterative.”

Further, local databases can enable offline app capabilities. “Offline-first is the hottest trend in mobile-first movement,” said Carter. “That’s about removing the barriers to delivering functionality and features that were bound to the availability of the network or Internet.”

Building an app on top of a local database like Couchbase Lite, which the company claims is the first mobile NoSQL database, lets the app continue to operate offline while the database reconciles any differences that occur between lapses of network connectivity, according to Carter.

But another architectural approach is the headless app, or Data-as-a-Service. “If you take Couchbase Lite out of the picture and just use our stack as a microservices or services stack, you can configure the gateway layer to expose secure REST, stream and batch APIs to the Web,” said Carter. “It means you don’t have to build a middle tier. It’s also called layer consolidation, and it’s gaining popularity. We’re excited to start talking about it this year.”