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Cloud services for mobile developers: Google vs. Amazon vs. Azure vs. Parse

Peter Wayner | Jan. 23, 2014
Cloud-based back ends for mobile applications combine key services with varying degrees of complexity

The Mobile Developer Center does highlight several ways to enhance the services for mobile apps. Amazon's Geo library adds location-based queries to its NoSQL database service, DynamoDB. This saves you the trouble of hacking up the different schemes for testing proximity to latitude and longitude pairs, which can be a bit of a pain.

The docs also show how the simple notification service can be used for sending push notifications to smartphones. Amazon's Simple Notification Service is a wrapper around Google Cloud Messaging, Apple's Push Notification Services, or Amazon's own Device Messaging. You write to one place, and the text goes out to all subscribers, be they iPhones, Android phones, or Kindle Fires. It's one way for Amazon to promote its devices by supplying the glue code.

High scores for a SimpleDB-backed game app running on the Android simulator.

It's worth noting there are quite a few options in the messaging stack, including the ability to deliver notifications to Web servers and email accounts. You can even format a message in JSON and send it to an email account. Oddly enough, if you confirm your email subscription delivered in JSON, the response will be in XML, but I'm sure there's a way to sort that out.

It's almost impossible to cover all of Amazon's offerings here. While some are geared more toward servers, most have some application to the mobile world because the mobile world is filled with Unix boxes that fit in our pockets masquerading as phones.

There is one new offering, though, aimed directly at small handsets. The new AppStream service is designed to let you compute the imagery in Amazon's cloud and continuously ship the image to the handset. The Amazon cloud instance acts as the CPU and video card, while the handset is simply the display. Amazon promises to handle network lag and low bandwidth by adjusting how many bits are delivered. One of the selling points is that developers can aim high and produce a visually rich world that will look great to people with expensive handsets and fat pipes and merely OK to those with cheap handsets and slow connections. Your great graphics will be rendered on Amazon's cloud and made visible even to customers with low-end phones.

I'm sure AppStream will be compelling to developers who can't get the tiny mobile handsets to push enough triangles to create a suitably scary villain, but I have to wonder about the costs of bandwidth and CPU time. The price for AppStream alone is 83 cents per hour. To compare, a new Xbox or PlayStation costs less than a dollar per day if you amortize it over two years. Even when you add in the cost of the games, it seems cheaper to ship some hardware to the client. But maybe AppStream will end up being more competitive when the price of bandwidth drops and people demand even better games.


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