Some companies are known for making the right tools for the job. Think John Deere for tractors, Singer for sewing machines or Black & Decker for power drills.
Lancaster software company appMobi aims to be that trusted, one-stop shop for the people who write software for smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices.
The company this year unleashed a slew of products and services for the mobile app development community. Last month, it unveiled MobiUs, billed as the first mobile browser developed specifically for HTML 5, the latest version of the protocol used to write Web page code.
"This has been a concerted effort to take advantage of what we see as a unique moment" to serve an emerging technology, CEO David Kennedy said.
The effort seems to be working. The number of developers using appMobi products doubled over the past three months, and the company has grown this year from 18 employees to 28, Kennedy said.
"The market is still pretty wide open, and they have a fresh, comprehensive approach," Lancaster entrepreneur and tech guru Charlie Crystle said.
Generally, appMobi's competitors focus on a single product or service, so offering a suite "has really proven to be an advantage for us," Kennedy said.
Mobile Web usage — people using handheld devices to access the Internet — is growing exponentially. IT powerhouse Cisco predicts worldwide mobile Web traffic will increase 26-fold from 2010 to 2015.
In the U.S., 87.4 million people now have smartphones, and 40 percent use them to browse the Web and download apps, according to ComScore, an industry analytics firm based in Reston, Va. Yet mobile Web traffic still accounts for just 7 percent of total U.S. Web traffic, according to Dublin, Ireland-based analytics firm StatCounter, indicating vast potential for more expansion.
AppMobi doesn't create apps or mobile Web sites. Rather, it creates the tools to do so. Its customers are those writing the programs found in online "app stores," helping smartphone users catch up on the news, track their finances or exercise regimens, gossip on Twitter and Facebook, play games and so on.
AppMobi's core offering is XDK, which stands for "cross-platform development kit." The product "allows you to use existing Web development tools to create mobile apps," according to appMobi's promotional materials. The resulting products work on Apple iPhones and iPads, as well as devices running Google's Android operating system.
Being able to publish the same app to multiple platforms rather than having to write code for each one is a huge cost saver, said Chuck Durham, chief technical officer of Seisan, a local software developer.
Seisan designs software and Web portals for business clients, with particular expertise on projects that involve mapping and GPS technology. AppMobi's tools have helped Seisan make a major push into mobile development, Durham said.
Supplementing XDK is appMobi's suite of cloud-based services, designed to make it easy for developers to monetize, monitor and service their products:
- 1Touch: This secure, cloud-based payment system provides an easy way for users to purchase content, subscriptions or merchandise, giving developers a revenue stream, appMobi says.
- PushMobi: Allows developers to send messages to app users that incorporate text, images, audio, video or animation.
- StatMobi: Lets developers track their analytics, the statistics that reflect app usage. It can track standard data plus "custom events of any kind from button presses to purchases," appMobi says.
- HostMobi: Lets developers update users' apps automatically. Formerly known as Live Update.
AppMobi's business is based on the "freemium" model, Kennedy said. The company lets developers download XDK for free, but it charges for the back-end business support services.
In other words, appMobi gives away the tools to build apps, then charges fees to help manage the customer activity that results. That creates much more opportunity for revenue growth than if appMobi charged developers for the tools, Kennedy said.
"When their apps are deployed and adopted by consumers, that's a revenue stream for us," he said.
Seisan's Durham praised the back-end services, calling them "a huge bonus" for developers.
AppMobi's latest offering, MobiUs, is "a technology that has the potential to reshape the industry," Kennedy said.
Often, content displayed in a mobile browser has less functionality than a native app running directly on a phone. Processes might run more slowly, and features might be limited by the browser's capability.
MobiUs, however, provides full, native-level access to a device's components, such as an onboard camera or GPS, Kennedy said.
HTML5-based apps in MobiUs "look and feel exactly the same as native apps," appMobi says.
That means developers can bypass app stores, which demand a large cut of the sale price, and offer apps directly to consumers from their websites, Kennedy said.
"This changes the game" in terms of a developer's ability to deploy and sell an app, he said.
AppMobi is an early-stage company. It began as a company called BroadClip, founded in 2006 by entrepreneur Sam Abadir. BroadClip evolved into FlyTunes, FlyTunes became FlyCast, and FlyCast rebranded as appMobi this February in conjunction with a $6 million angel investment. Abadir is chairman and chief technical officer.
Companies that succeed in the IT world create spillover effects locally, and appMobi could be one of them, Crystle said.
"If they take off and end up hiring a lot of people, it will be a huge boost to the local startup ecosystem," he said. "I really hope they knock it out of the park because it could transform the Lancaster startup scene."
Abadir, a New Yorker, settled in Lancaster because his wife is from the area. The local quality of life has been an attractive incentive in recruitment, Kennedy said.
AppMobi will seek additional funding within the next 12 months, but he isn't contemplating an initial public offering, Kennedy said.
Rather, possibilities include additional venture funding or partnering with another company, he said.
AppMobi has put great effort into its tools so developers can create content that appeals to consumers, Kennedy said. That's what will drive the mobile Web forward, he said.
"Ultimately," he said, "great apps are the objective here."