From Apps to Tools: Mobile Developer Raizlabs Gets Into the Platform Business with AppBlade

8/31/11Follow @gthuang

The world of mobile software applications has evolved so rapidly in the past couple of years, it will make your head spin. One guy whose head isn’t spinning, though, is mobile-app veteran Greg Raiz. In fact, he is probably doing the spinning for everyone else.

Raiz is the founder and CEO of (aptly named) Raizlabs, a Brookline, MA-based mobile development shop that started in 2003. The company is known for developing mobile apps and doing consulting and design work for a lot of startups and big companies, especially in the Boston area—RunKeeper (FitnessKeeper), Intuit, Rue La La, and Sermo, just to name a few.

Earlier this month, Raizlabs rolled out its first software-as-a-service offering, called AppBlade. (The name is meant to connote a Swiss army knife.) The suite of tools helps developers distribute their apps to customers and helps them keep the apps secure and updated after crashes, as well as providing insights into how people are using the apps, among other things, Raiz says. The project grew out of “gaps in the workflow” at Raizlabs, he says. The goal over the next six to 12 months is to transform it from a host of app-development tools into a “robust platform,” Raiz says.

“It’s a startup within a startup,” he adds. “We’ve been incubating this idea for the past year.”

The idea, as I see it, is that every company and its brother wants to have a mobile presence. But developing a good business app is just the beginning—getting the app into the hands of a company (and its customers) requires making connections in a half-dozen places, and that can be very challenging for developers. So Raizlabs wants AppBlade to be a hub for all things mobile development. “We’re trying to centralize the experience,” Raiz says.

To that end, the firm is looking to solidify its partnerships with many businesses, some of which are working to extend the software service further into areas like app testing, analytics, financial reporting, and advertising metrics.

In recent years Raizlabs has been doubling in size every 12 to 15 months, Raiz says. Right now it has 14 full-time employees. The company overlaps a bit with Boston-based Apperian and a number of other firms looking to provide a unified software platform for creating, deploying, and managing enterprise mobile apps.

I asked Raiz, a former Microsoft program manager, for some broader trends he’s observed over the past year, and how that bodes for the future. “Companies you would not think of as mobile, or having a mobile app, have taken a much stronger position,” he says. “We’ve seen mobile going into the mainstream of business.” (He cited some New England firms with a national presence like Kayak, TripAdvisor, Monster.com, and Fidelity.com.)

What’s more, he says, “mobile sales professionals are replacing laptops with the iPad as a key sales tool.” So companies are getting custom applications built for tablets, he says. And emerging in the next year or so, will be “synergy between mobile and Web,” he says. As Raiz puts it, the first generation of mobile apps were useful on their own, but the second generation will “tie into Web services” and push data back and forth between platforms. (This echoes some recent analysis from wireless guru Tom Huseby on how “mobile is going towards the Internet,” instead of vice versa.)

Raiz, like most observers, is also interested to see how the Google-Motorola merger plays out. “We’re seeing a clash of the titans where companies that were very large in mobile, like Nokia and RIM, are getting displaced by Android and Apple and other companies like HP,” he says. Companies are “making their move and figuring out how to position themselves.”

Bringing it all back to what AppBlade can do, Raiz says: “It’s the right beginning of a story of how we understood the mobile ecosystem. We are able to build tools to help other people build applications.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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