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Mobile Apps: Beyond Shrinkwrap

Pushing mobile enterprise applications beyond shrinkwrapped versions of pre-fab software, Salesforce.com today said it has acquired developer Sendia and is launching AppExchange Mobile, a service that allows mobile workers to tap into customized enterprise applications over a range of mobile devices.

Extending Salesforce.com's AppExchange service onto mobile devices, claims CEO Marc Benioff, marks a new era for enterprises wishing to deploy critical applications beyond desktops and laptops.

"We've seen all these exciting consumer applications being rolled out to mobile phones," Benioff explained at a press conference today. "Why is it we don’t see these same kind of things happening on the business side too? Why is there not a business Web platform that lets you create and publish business applications and deliver them globally?" (See The Small-Screen Blues.)

Priced at $50 per user, the AppExchange Mobile, says Benioff, will enable companies to deploy "not just prepackaged equivalents of legacy enterprise applications shrunk down for mobiles, but totally custom apps created exactly for your business needs."

The new service has allowed Remend Inc., a provider of software and collaboration services for the real estate industry, to deploy a new application for real estate agents with a minimum of development, according to Remend CFO Richard Lucien.

"We began developing this application in December, and really didn't even look at mobile devices," Lucien said at the Salesforce.com presentation today. "Today [a Salesforce.com representative] handed me a BlackBerry with my application running on it. We did absolutely nothing to make it go mobile."

In his press conference Benioff contrasted the new Salesforce.com service to applications written for Windows Mobile, saying that AppExchange Mobile offers a "write once, run everywhere" infrastructure that will be far more conducive for enterprise IT managers as well as third-party developers of mobile applications. The new service, the former Oracle executive claims, extends Salesforce.com's model of Web-based, "on-demand" services to mobile devices.

"This is on-demand, this is not just software," Benioff added. "It happens automatically, there's no re-writing necessary to make this happen for customers. We're bringing on-demand to mobility and wireless."

AppExchange Mobile will help transform mobile devices from glorified voice and email transmitters to full-fledged handheld computers, says Chris Thomas, chief strategy officer of Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC).

"Everything thing we see in the PC environment will run right here on your mobile," says Thomas. "The reality is it's a real PC now. How do we get these [applications] out there? Stop repurposing [existing applications] and start developing."

Brian Moody, regional vice president for sales for Bethesda, Md.-based Hanger Orthopedic Group, says the Salesforce.com service has already freed his salespeople from the tedium of transferring sales-call notes to their PCs and laptops; the new AppExchange Mobile service, he says, will offer new benefits that he hasn't yet envisioned.

"As a company we're in the middle of defining exactly what is we want to see from a management perspective," says Moody, who has about 40 salespeople using Salesforce.com's service on Treo 650 devices. "There are applications out there that we're not even aware of, and once we're ready for the next phase of how Salesforce can better our lives we'll take a look at that in terms of the next generation of custom apps for our business."

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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