Overview of mobile backend as a service providers. Which one will be your choice?

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Mobile backend as a service has become a reasonable solution for application owners who cannot afford custom backend because of a lack expertise, time pressure or limited budget. In addition, some companies have chosen to use backend as a service as a temporary solution until their app is ready to go live with custom backend.

In our article comparing custom backend and mobile backend as a service solutions, you can find out more about the advantages and disadvantages of this approach.

Regardless of your reason for using MBaaS, this overview of the most popular service providers will help you make the right choice.

Mobile backend as a service became a real cloud computing trend in 2011. Since then, tens of startups focusing on BaaS have appeared. Big companies like Google, Microsoft and Amazon have also presented their own products. The most prominent names on the current market are Firebase, AWS Mobile, Kinvey and Backand. Parse is also a popular topic nowadays, and though it’s no longer a traditional MBaaS, it is still worth mentioning. Let’s jump into the actual overview.

Firebase

Firebase was initially founded as a real-time database that also enabled chat functionality integration for any website or application. In 2014 the company was acquired by Google, and a new era began for Firebase. After several successful merges with other services acquired by Google, Firebase was transformed into a complex platform offering varied functionality to mobile developers without the need for developing app backend from scratch.

Nowadays, Firebase is one of the top providers of backend as a service, offering the following functionality:

  • Firebase Analytics
    A tool that measures app usage and user engagement statistics for free;
  • Firebase Cloud Messaging
    A cross-platform tool that sends messages and notifications; it’s currently available for iOS, Android and web applications at no cost
  • Firebase Authentication
    A tool, that only uses client-side code for user authentication. It supports social login with Facebook, Twitter, GitHub and Google. Developers can also enable authentication with email and password, which are stored in Firebase.
  • Firebase Storage
    A tool for storing various file types, including images, video, audio and other user-generated content.

Other services provided by Firebase include Realtime Database, Firebase Hosting, Firebase Dynamic Links, Firebase Crash Reporting, and more.

Advantages of Firebase

  • No need to configure a server
    Firebase cares for everything and allows you to build a truly serverless application
  • Integration with other Google services
    You can enjoy all the benefits of Google Analytics as a part of Firebase at no extra cost. The same is true for many Google Cloud services now being connected with Firebase.
  • Strong developer community
    A year ago, Firebase had a stunning number of developers – over 450 000. While the current number hasn’t been revealed, it’s evident the number of developers has dramatically increased. The Firebase community has a Slack channel where developers discuss everything to do with the product.
  • You can use Firebase features separately
    With Firebase, you don’t have to buy the whole package. Electing to use some particular functionality offered by Firebase isn’t an issue at all. And because some of the tools are free to use, you can easily benefit from Google’s products at absolutely no cost.

Kinvey

Kinvey, a popular MBaaS service provider, was recently acquired by Progress, a corporation that focuses on enterprise integration, data interoperability, and application development. But Kinvey continues to remain a popular solution for quick development of stable and powerful app backend. And this popularity is not unfounded.

Advantages of Kinvey as an MBaaS solution

  • Short backend development time
    On its website, Kinvey claims its service enables clients to reduce development time by 86%. That saved time can be invested in developing value-added features.
  • Any OS, any platform, any framework
    Kinvey offers SDKs for the following: Android, iOS, NativeScript, Xamarin, HTML5, AngularJS, PhoneGap, Node.js, Java, Backbone.js, Titanium, .Net, REST API.
  • Data encryption
    MBaaS isn’t usually considered the safest approach, but Kinvey is trying to resolve this issue by encrypting user data.
  • Reasonable pricing
    Kinvey offers several pricing plans for clients to choose based on their current needs. Individual developers will be satisfied by their free plan, which is enough to get a simple application running. Startups and businesses can opt for other plans, which range from $200 to $2000 per month and include different infrastructure options. Pricing for enterprises is discussed individually.

Kinvey is not only about the backend. It also delivers tools for quick client-side application development. Though we focus more on its backend features, client-side features include identity and access management, push notifications, SMS and email services, location services, usage analytics, data storage and more.

Compared to Firebase, Kinvey is a complex solution that offers backend as a package. You can’t use separate tools. This is both an advantage and disadvantage of the service. How it will work for you depends on your current needs!

AWS mobile

Amazon Web Services is not exactly a mobile backend as a service provider per se. Its offerings are better described infrastructure as a service, or IaaS. Even so, AWS remains a widely used solution for building application backend more quickly and efficiently.

The AWS Mobile service allows clients to connect with other AWS tools and build a strong application backend empowered with extensive functionality:

  • Amazon Cognito Sync
    This tool allows you to sync user data across multiple devices without requiring your own backend.
  • Amazon Mobile Analytics
    The analytics tool by AWS allows you to track application usage statistics. But at the moment, this tool is only compatible with Android and Fire OS applications. Nevertheless, the possibilities of Amazon Mobile Analytics are quite impressive. It doesn’t just track user behavior, but also aggregates metrics, visualizes data and identifies meaningful patterns.
  • Amazon Pinpoint
    With Pinpoint you can increase app awareness, boost engagement and improve customer loyalty by enabling your application to send push notifications to the user.

Advantages of using AWS for server side

Amazon Web Services offers powerful infrastructure for hosting your application in the cloud. Each tool offered by AWS is a kind of a building block that allows you to construct exactly the application you initially wanted.

Working with AWS has several advantages:

  • More reliable solution
    As already mentioned, Amazon Web Services is not MBaaS, but an infrastructure provider. It doesn’t offer you ready-to-use backend, but gives you the building blocks to create backend according to your current needs. This is a definite advantage, since the application won’t depend on any single backend provider that might one day disappear.
  • Affordable functionality
    Amazon offers a free tier for each service. You pay only when you exceed this tier. That means that AWS can be used completely free when starting out, which is great for building applications with low initial budgets.
  • Great compatibility with other services of Amazon
    You’ll likely opt to use other AWS tools to build the core of your application; these include EC2, Lambda, S3, and more. When you use AWS infrastructure to build your backend, you don’t have to worry about integration – all AWS products work together perfectly.
  • Strong customer support and developer community
    Great customer communication and a willingness to solve problems have made AWS one of the top tech companies worldwide. A huge developer community is also ready to help when issues arise.

Amazon Web Services combines the advantages of a custom backend with the relative ease of integration that MBaaS providers offer. If you choose this path, you’ll get a stable application that isn’t dependent on third-party providers that completely own your backend. You use the ready infrastructure offered by AWS to build your backend, and it is run on Amazon servers. But it belongs to you.

Backendless

Backendless is a mobile backend as a service provider that focuses on scalability. It allows you to build custom business logic and empower it with ready features.

Here are some of the functionalities provided that clients appreciate:

  • Authentication
    The service provides authentication and registration APIs in SDKs including Android, iOS, plain JS, Angular, Typescript, .NET and REST. This means Backendless doesn’t limit you in the technologies you prefer for app development.
  • Social login
    A must in all modern applications, Backendless offers this feature right out of the box. The user can authenticate themselves with Facebook, Twitter or Google;
  • Your own cloud code
    Backendless enables you to add your own code in JavaScript or Java that can be triggered when the service handles the API call. As a result, even if the functionality offered by Backendless doesn’t cover all your use cases, you can extend it with your own features;
  • Open source SDKs
    All SDKs offered by Backendless are open source and are hosted on GitHub.

Backendless also offers very friendly pricing. There are 4 plans to choose from, with the most expensive one costing just $99 per month. All plans have certain limitations (described in this table), but you can buy function packs to increase these limitations without the need to upgrade your plan. For example, you run out of the 20,000 data objects in a table included in your developer plan. For $10 per month, you can receive another 200,000 without having to move to Cloud 9 plan, which costs $17 more. Generally, you can pay for the services you use while remaining at an affordable price.

Parse shutdown and available alternatives

Before the beginning of 2016, Parse was the absolute market leader of backend as a service providers. But then Facebook, the current owner of the service, decided to shut it down. Developers had exactly one year to migrate their projects to alternative services. At the time, the provider had more than 500,000 users.

Parse is still widely used, but nowadays it is open source. This means that you can use Parse backend, but you have to host your application on your own servers or use third-party services that will host for you.

One of such service is back4app, a Parse server hosting platform. When using back4app, your app is hosted on AWS servers, which means its reliable. You can also choose between shared hosting or dedicated instances depending on your budget and your current needs.

We also need to mention Microsoft Azure, which has also offered an opportunity to migrate Parse-hosted backend to its servers. The nice thing is, when you go with Azure, you get all the benefits of Microsoft products.

In reality, Parse can be hosted on any server. Hosting is completely up to you, whether to choose a service provider or to configure your own server. You’ll only need a good tutorial on how to move all you Parse stuff over. This one is very clear and extensive.

While Parse is not dead, it’s also no longer chosen by as many developers as before the announced shutdown. Still, it’s market share is important.

Conclusion

As you see, the choice of mobile backend as a service provider is huge. Each provider comes with its own advantages and disadvantages.

On one hand, you can find the best match and choose the service that focuses on your current needs. While the growing popularity of such services has inspired many new MBaaS providers, none can guarantee your data safety. Once, we believed in Parse, the market leader, but then our hearts were broken with its shutdown announcement. The moral is clear: if you choose to trust your backend to third parties, you always need to have plan B.

In this overview, we have compared the top mobile backend as a service providers. With these companies, reliability is never a problem. Consider each of their features carefully and choose a service that matches the needs of the product you are currently developing.

If you are still not sure whether an MBaaS is right for you, we are here to answer your questions! Describe your business case and we will choose the best solution based on your idea, budget and scalability potential.

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