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Brightcove, Application Craft aim at PhoneGap with cloud-based development tools

Adobe hasn't been developing PhoneGap fast enough, according to the two companies

Brightcove's native plug-in architecture for its App Cloud and Application Craft's launch of Mobile Build are the latest examples of how cross-platform development tools for mobile apps are becoming increasingly cloud-centric.

Just like in many other areas of IT, moving to the cloud holds the promise of simplifying things like configuration, in this case for developers.

Application Craft offers a cloud-based development environment, and the new Mobile Build product allows users to convert HTML5-based apps so that they can run natively on iOS, Android and Windows Phone with a single click, the company said on Thursday.

That's an alternative to having to set up an environment on a PC, which is "horribly complex if you are a Web developer," Freddy May, founder and CEO at Application Craft, said.

Meanwhile, Brightcove's App Cloud, which is a year old this month, is also used by Web developers to create native applications for Android as well as iOS. It was designed to be very cloud-centric from day one. In addition to compiling applications in the cloud, it also offers cloud-based features such as content optimization, real-time analytics and push notifications.

On Thursday, Brightcove announced two enhancements to App Cloud.

"One is the introduction of a plug-in architecture ... and the other is a set of new push notification APIs, which add more ways to segment users to better target the messages you are sending," said Phil Costa, product director for App Cloud at Brightcove.

To integrate with smartphone features such as camera and GPS, App Cloud includes APIs that lets developers enhance their application. New APIs are added with every new release, but Brightcove runs into developers that want to use features the company doesn't offer an interface for, according to Costa.

This is where the new plug-in architecture comes in.

"It allows developers build that particular piece of functionality themselves, and add it to their application," said Costa.

As part of this push, Brightcove is also building some partner plug-ins that can be used as part of the architecture, including one for Google Analytics.

The market for cross-platform development tools for mobile applications is getting increasingly competitive. Both Brightcove and Application Craft are favorably comparing their new offerings to Adobe Systems' pioneering PhoneGap platform.

Up until now Application Craft integrated its development environment with PhoneGap Build, which also compiles cross-platform applications in the cloud, according to May. But because Adobe "has been horrendously slow" in supporting plug-ins on Build, Application Craft felt it had to develop its own solution, he said.

"Our users were crying out for PhoneGap plug-ins," said May.

The company also didn't want to be dependent on Adobe for an important part of their offerings.

At launch, Mobile Build supports six plug-ins, including push notifications, a client-side SQLite database and QR and bar-code scanning.

Mobile Build also has an integrated certificate generator. Certificates are needed especially when targeting iOS. Simplifying the creation of them removes another pain point for many developers, according to May.

"Our goal is not to antagonize Adobe in any way; we want to protect our users and have our destiny in our own hands," said May.

Brightcove's founder and CEO Jeremy Allaire isn't as diplomatic when giving his view on how Adobe has handled PhoneGap since it acquired the platform in October last year: "While releasing the technology into open source under Apache Cordova is an important gesture, not pushing forward and innovating on the framework and associated services is a let down," he said in a blog post.

Brightcove's App Cloud comes in three editions: Core, Pro and Enterprise.

Core is free and includes development tools and the ability to compile an app in the cloud and then sell different versions in Amazon's Appstore, Google Play and Apple's App Store.

The Pro edition costs from US$99 per month and adds analytics, content services and push notifications, according to Costa. The Enterprise edition, for example, allows for much higher traffic volumes, and costs from $10,000 per year, he said.

Mobile Build will be free for the foreseeable future, according to May.

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