The Future of Salesforce Mobile

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Last month, Naveen Hiremath wrote an excellent article on the state of salesforce.com’s mobile landscape. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. In the article, Naveen eloquently summarized the various approaches to mobile applications currently available, including a high-level description of the capabilities, the benefits, and the drawbacks associated with each approach.

There is one approach, however, that Naveen omitted: touch.salesforce.com. Touch is the latest mobile offering from salesforce.com and is their vision of the future of mobile consumption of their platform. Technologically speaking, Touch is a mobile web offering leveraging HTML5, JavaScript, and CSS. With these technologies, salesforce.com has built the framework for a mobile optimized presentation of their functionality. In the same way in which a new custom object is made available in the standard web browser interface, that same object now will be available immediately on your tablet or smartphone. Regardless of OS or form factor, Touch will enable mobile access to data and functionality.

For salesforce.com, this is a tremendous step, signifying a commitment to mobile computing and recognizing the need to provide a mobile experience on par with the standard web interface. This goes beyond providing a SDK or 'devkit'this is their end game solution. With this tool, an organization could potentially equip both traditional office teams and entire mobile workforces with clicks, not code, AT THE SAME TIME. While this is certainly a fringe case, the appeal will captivate the minds of business executives everywhere.

There is huge potential for the next generation of VisualForce as well. Starting with the Mobile SDK and then Mobile Components for VisualForce, Salesforce has been preparing the developer community for the evolution of VisualForce. VisualForce has allowed developers on the Force.com platform to focus on the truly unique and interesting elements of a solution. Now, they have a comparable tool for mobile. VisualForce optimized for a mobile presentation and platform will explode as a result of Touch.

All of this begs the question: Why consider any other solution? In the end, Touch is still a mobile web site, given to all the technological constraints that Naveen mentioned in his article. Issues related to graphics, offline functionality, limited hardware access and others remain. More importantly, Touch is a ‘shotgun blast’a wide net designed to appeal to the largest audience possible. For focused and targeted mobile applications, especially those with extensive offline and/or graphical requirements, there are better approaches. Concerns related to functionality and design, however, are not the greatest detriment to Touch.

The single greatest drawback to Touch at this time is that it’s not really ready. At present, it only works on second and third generation iPads, a far cry from the promise of “any mobile device.” Even on the iPad, the tabs you can access are limited to Accounts, Contacts, Opportunities, & Tasks, and only if they are part of the Sales app. The data from other objects is accessible, but only if related to one of the objects mentioned. For other objects, users are forced to use the standard interface, which is hardly mobile-optimized, and creates an inconsistent user experience. In addition to this, there is currently no support for Visualforcemobile-optimized or otherwise.

At the recent Cloudforce event in New York City, Eugene Oksman, product manager for mobile at Salesforce, discussed some of these limitations and the road map. According to Oksman, Touch will be available on the iPhone in the coming months. Once salesforce.com has iOS covered, they’ll move on to Android. Again, they will first target tablets, and then phones. This rollout is expected to take approximately a year. Throughout this time they will be adding support for other objects and possibly more apps. Mobile VisualForce, interspersed with Touch, is still a ways offover a year. As far as specific dates and/or releases, Oksman was unable to say.

Despite the obvious missing pieces, there is enormous promise here. People should be patient. Comparing Touch against the rest of the Salesforce platform is a bit unfair. Force.com has had years to mature, while Touch is almost brand new. In the long-term, Touch is the future. How far off that future is, remains to be seen.



Mobile Application Development