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AWS Mobile Hub curates a collection of services for developers

The general availability of Amazon's mobile backend as a service this week comes at an opportune time in the mobile app dev market, as orphaned Parse users seek a viable alternative.

In a bid to extend its cloud into mobile application development, Amazon has integrated several of its services under an umbrella called AWS Mobile Hub, which was made generally available this week after four months in beta.

The product stitches together a number of Amazon offerings, including the Amazon Cognito identity management service to Amazon Mobile Analytics, Amazon Simple Notification Service (SNS) Mobile Push, AWS Lambda, Simple Storage Service, CloudFront, the AWS Mobile Software Development Kit (SDK), and more. Mobile app developers can utilize these services to support their application without needing to provision the infrastructure themselves, and generate sample application code for iOS and Android mobile apps based on the developer's input.

"Mobile is different in a lot of ways from desktop compute because you have so many different screen sizes, and … it's really hard for developers to keep up," said James Young, CTO at VidRoll LLC, an advertising technology firm in Santa Monica which plans to use Mobile Hub for its SDK to be released in the coming months.

"A service like Mobile Hub really helps allow a developer to build for, to test, and to monitor mobile apps in a diverse ecosystem," he added.

The AWS Mobile Hub release follows calls from users and analysts for Amazon to simplify and curate its product offerings, as it has branched out into new service areas in the last year, though the specific features of its mobile app dev services are still being developed.

"I do appreciate that Amazon is trying to make using multiple services easier by centralizing them," said Joe Emison, CTO and founder of Asheville, N.C.-based BuildFax Inc., which provides real estate property data to other businesses such as insurance companies.  Emison does not plan on using Mobile Hub. "But they're going to need to catch up to what competitors are offering for backends as a service."

As he has in the past, Emison compared Mobile Hub with Parse, which was first to offer developers a mobile backend as a service (MBaaS) without requiring them to manage any server infrastructure, for example. AWS Moble Hub, in conjunction with the AWS Lambda serverless computing service, helps Amazon catch up with the field.

Still, compared with Parse and others such as Auth0, AWS could still use more finesse, Emison said. For example, login service support beyond Facebook and Google+, which is currently done through the Amazon Mobile SDK rather than the AWS Mobile Hub console, isn't up to par with what other MBaaS platforms can offer, Emison said.

"Most people want Twitter and LinkedIn at least, so I can't imagine picking a solution that just offers Facebook and Google+," he said.

AWS Mobile Hub picks up the pieces of Parse

Though it still needs some polishing in future releases, Mobile Hub's general availability this week comes at a perfect time for developers who had relied on Parse, which was shut down last week by its owner, Facebook, an unwelcome surprise to many.

When Jobvite, a talent acquisition software maker based in San Mateo, started developing a mobile app last year, it first considered Amazon SNS because it had already standardized its infrastructure on AWS for other parts of its SaaS application. However, after an initial evaluation, the company decided to go with Parse.

"Strategically, it would've been nice to go with SNS, but the documentation really wasn't that great, and it just seemed like it was going to be a much faster path to go with Parse," said Daniel Lipkin, director of engineering at Jobvite.

With Parse shutting down, Jobvite has smoothly transitioned to Mobile Hub, which allowed Lipkin to generate snippets of code that invoked SNS and then copy them into the company's mobile app for notification support.

While other push notification services, such as Pusher and OneSignal, allow notifications to be handled in-app rather than calling back to a cloud service such as SNS, Lipkin said Mobile Hub's ease of use made it worthwhile.

"With the SNS integration you still have to do that yourself," he said. "It's by no means a showstopper -- just a convenience."

Other features Lipkin hopes to see developed in future releases of Mobile Hub include: support for iOS certificate chains so that multiple iOS certificates can be used in the same application; a richer monitoring dashboard than the currently integrated CloudWatch stats, which tend to be summary data and don't allow drill-down at the individual message level; and improved documentation.

"When you create an iOS app you can create either an enterprise app or a sandbox app, but there's really no discussion of what those distinctions are -- you're kind of left guessing," Lipkin said.

AWS Mobile Hub still needs "a little polish [with] things like that, which will come with a little more maturity," he said.

In the meantime, AWS is also offering guidance on migration to Mobile Hub for Parse users in its documentation.

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for SearchAWS. Write to her at [email protected] or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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