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Amazon's AppStream: Solving the high-definition media delivery problem for mobile apps

By Cameron McKenzie

TheServerSide.com

Today's end users have a very different set of expectations than those of the previous generation. Smartphones, embedded devices and tablet computers are ubiquitous, as are hyper-realistic graphics and high speed Internet connections, things that were only dreamed of even a decade before. And the reasons these new devices and new technologies are so popular is attributable to the obvious fact that these technologies work. They work, they work together, and they work seamlessly, or at least they should. And so long as they do, users will continue to buy and they will continue to use. But getting all of these technologies to work, and to work together simply isn't easy, especially when the need for incredibly high resolution media in real-time is thrown on top of all of the other complex software development challenges. 

Users are uncompromising in their demands to have applications delivered in high definition and at lightning speed, yet making that happen isn't particularly easy. But Amazon wants to simplify development in this high-bandwidth space, and that's exactly why they developed AppStream. Having trouble responding to emerging trends as high definition consumerization runs wild? Amazon's AppStream may be the solution for which your organization is looking.

With the explosion of mobile devices and mobile usage, a lot of developers were left with an uncomfortable and unhappy decision.

AWS Senior VP
Andy Jassy

"With the explosion of mobile devices and mobile usage, a lot of developers were left with an uncomfortable and unhappy decision. If they had graphically intense apps or experiences, they had to either send them verbatim to the small number of users with compatible devices, or water down the experience to encourage wider adoption," says Amazon Web Services (AWS) Senior Vice President Andy Jassy. So how did Amazon respond to this conundrum? AWS built their own protocol for streaming applications to mobile devices that is capable of adjusting on the fly for changing network conditions and client device type.

And AppStream has been proven to deliver. TruGolf, a golf simulation app, was previously only compatible with a $10,000 swing simulator. With such a costly peripheral required, customers had to go to a golf store to use the application. With AppStream, customers can now buy an inexpensive swing sensor and run the accompanying simulator app on their tablet. It's a simple example, but it's an example that demonstrates how AppStream can be used to deliver real-world applications to more users at a greatly reduced cost, opening up more markets for the business, and delivering value to a greater number of end users.

Of course, this isn't a typical case. Most organizations just need to make browser-based apps faster and more accessible. One way AppStream is doing this is by simplifying the software updating process. Updates can easily be rolled out to users without any action required on their part. Because the app stays in the cloud, there are no downloads to the device that are needed, security can be managed more closely and apps are safeguarded against reverse engineering. Furthermore, the network detection functionality that is inherent in Amazon's platform can dramatically increase performance.

Mobilization with AppStream engages clients in deeper relationship with AWS

The idea of helping businesses mobilize their apps by offering easy optimization for multiple devices isn't new. However, until now the niche has been filled by tooling and platform vendors. Such solutions will no doubt still benefit development teams in the design of native and hybrid apps that will be delivered through AWS EC2. However, AppStream may serve to further simplify design, deployment, and maintenance for apps that will be mostly or entirely browser based. While this technology is currently aimed at assisting enterprises in following a mobile second strategy, it will no doubt become part of the escalating mobile first strategy as well.

Of course, there are some caveats of which AppStream adopters should be aware. Cross operating system, multi-device capability and delivery optimization is not actually built into the app, but is instead a function of the AWS platform. This is an example of the type of entanglement that may increase vendor lock in from a practical standpoint. Any move to a competing platform such as IBM's cloud or Microsoft Azure will require a revision of the applications to retain the desired mobile capabilities. However, for organizations that are already deeply dependent on Amazon for the rest of their infrastructure, the benefits are likely to outweigh the risks.

Delivering high resolution media to micro-device applications that are already testing the limits of the memory and processor speeds has always been a challenge, but with Amazon's AppStream, organizations can leverage Amazon's knowledge and experience in this space, and worry less about content delivery, and spend more time perfecting the core logic and key features that will keep end users happy and coming back for more.

How are you using AWS AppStream to simplify design? Let us know.

02 May 2014

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