Point-and-Click Mobile Development Added to Salesforce Platform

Salesforce.com Inc. recently announced Lightning development tools for its Salesforce1 platform with the goal of enabling enterprise staffers with varying technical skills to build mobile apps.

The move is the latest example of efforts to let business workers and other non-programmers create mobile apps without writing actual source code.

The new offering leverages Salesforce.com's Force.com mobile app development tools and the Heroku cloud application platform. The resulting Lightning Framework is the same one used by the company's internal developers, Salesforce.com said. A key component of the framework is Lightning App Builder, designed to let all employees -- regardless of technical proficiency -- build engaging apps through a point-and-click interface on one canvas, targeting any device with any screen size.

Should an organization have developers to actually write code, such "programmatic development" leverages the Force.com tools and features the object-oriented, strongly typed Apex programming language, described as being akin to Java, with similar syntax and notation, along with on-demand compilation and transactional capabilities.

"Now developers have instant access to cutting-edge frameworks, mobile APIs, offline access, customer data and geolocation, all right out of the box, so they can focus on building amazing UIs in any language instead of wasting time on infrastructure and back-end services," the company said in a video.

Besides the App Builder, the Lightning system comprises other components such as: Lightning Process Builder, Lightning Schema Builder, Lightning Community Builder and Lightning Components.

Lightning Components are prebuilt software packages coming from Salesforce.com or its partners that nonprogrammers can use in their drag-and-drop development -- or that developers can use to build more sophisticated custom components that their lesser-skilled business partners can then use in their own development efforts. Standard components include buttons, data grids, maps and so on. More customized components are available through the company's AppExchange.

Lightning Process Builder is for visually automating complex processes or building workflows, the company said. Lightning Community Builder is designed to quickly build a site to engage communities of customers, partners and employees. Lightning Schema Builder simplified the process of managing and reformatting data in large tables. Users can add customized objects and fields and codelessly map relationships among tables.

Salesforce.com said it's using Lightning to provide a common UX across all apps in its PaaS ecosystem, including the company's new Mobile App, which incorporates dashboards and reports to manage customers and sales data, collaborate with others on ideas and more. In addition to a common UX, the Mobile App incorporates a new Action Bar to help users more quickly complete tasks or take actions.

"The announcement is interesting on multiple levels," IDC analyst Al Hilwa told ADTmag in an e-mail. "It certainly takes the Salesforce app platform to a new level, upping the level of abstraction for Salesforce developers looking to build mobile apps. Model-driven application development tools, which leverage visual and abstracted development paradigms, are being invigorated with advances in mobile devices and graphics and are seeing a lot of interest from organizations looking to build mobile apps faster -- especially driven by business groups. We have seen other firms introduce mobile model-driven tools recently, like Kony, and we are seeing good traction by players like Mendix and Outsystems. So it's natural that Salesforce is adding this approach to its platform."

Salesforce1 Lightning was announced at the company's Dreamforce conference underway this week in San Francisco. Salesforce.com said the Lightning Framework and Lightning Schema Builder are now generally available as part of the Salesforce1 Platform. Various other components are either in beta or headed for beta, expected to be available in the February 2015 release of the Salesforce1 Platform. The Mobile App is available now for download from the Apple App Store or Google Play store, while the Action Bar is expected to become available next month. Pricing details can be found here.

About the Author

David Ramel is the editor of Visual Studio Magazine.