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Hey Web Developers! SAP's Sybase Unwired Platform Wants YOU

Sybase Unwired Platform 2.0 is a major upgrade of SAP's enterprise app development platform, and a centerpiece of its mobile strategy.

In chess, good players fight for control of the center of the board, knowing that a positional advantage will eventually translate into a material advantage, and then checkmate. Tech vendors play the same way, battling over the ecosystem of partners and developers, knowing that it will translate to paying customers - and victory - in the endgame.

That explains the importance of Tuesday's announcement that the Sybase Unwired Platform now supports the Web.

SUP 2.0 enables two new things. First, it lets developers create regular, so-called 'native' apps running on tablets and smartphones, as well, as new 'hybrid' apps that run inside a Web browser but offer the rich UI of a native app.

Second, SUP 2.0 now lets developers use Web standard languages including HTML5, Javascript and CSS to create apps.

So why is that key? Let's break it down.

1) Reach. There may be about half a million mobile developers in the world today total. By comparison, there may be tens of millions of people who have written or at least fiddled with HTML code, judging by the number of Web sites that exist.

The number of real Web developers remains uncertain. What is certain that they outnumber the mobile developer population by a huge factor. And I have argued that the rise of Web 2.0 last decade diverted many developers from mobile, leading to a relative dearth of mobile apps, especially in the enterprise side.

While SUP 2.0 is not the first development platform to embrace the Web, it is the first enterprise-focused one. And it has the backing of SAP, which is using it to build all of the 30-some enterprise mobile apps it expects to release in the next half year.

2) Agility. You could argue that SUP already had access to a large pool of developers via its support of the popular Eclipse development platform, which supports Java and other languages. True true. But supporting HTML has other benefits. SUP was already a tool for writing apps once, running them on multiple platforms such as Android, iOS, Windows Mobile, etc. But even after porting, there was some amount of tweaking involved, especially if the UI is important.

Using an embedded Webkit runtime as a browser for hybrid apps further reduces the difference in UI and functionality across multiple devices.That means even less post-porting work for developers.

3) Speed. Because hybrid mobile apps are faster to create, they make more sense when the app you are trying to create is a relatively lightweight workflow. In fact, given the choice, enterprises will largely prefer to build hybrid apps, Sybase officials say. Because many times all you need to mobilize is an approval process (Yes or No). In those cases, there's no reason to go to the trouble of creating a native app.

While SAP has talked about its grand ambitions to become the largest maker of packaged enterprise mobile apps (just as it already leads the server application markets for ERP, CRM and BI), it is not sidestepping middleware such as SUP in the slightest.

All of SAP's packaged apps run on top of SUP, and it is encouraging its partners to do the same. The message is compelling enough that even Syclo, which has its own Mobile Enterprise Application Platform (MEAP) in competition with SUP, is moving away from middleware towards building apps - on top of SUP.

The net net for SAP's enterprise customers is that they will all likely be licensing and running SUP either directly or indirectly.

And while packaged apps will be a faster, cheaper deployment route for most enterprise customers, some will still prefer the old-fashioned control that only custom development through a tool such as SUP can provide.

Sales of MEAPs such as SUP are expected to grow to $1.5 billion this year from $1 billion last year, according to IDC.

So we're still in the opening stage of the enterprise mobile game. But with a cutting-edge platform, packaged mobile apps rushing down the pipe, combined with its long-standing dominance in server applications, SAP's pieces are poised to take control of the center of the board.