Salesforce.com gives mobile app development a 'Lightning' strike

The next generation of the Salesforce1 platform is announced at Dreamforce

Salesforce.com's development platform is known for its ability to create new apps quickly and easily, but with the launch of Lightning, both business users and programmers can get in on the fun.

Lightning is the next generation of Salesforce1, the successor to Salesforce's original Force.com platform, and was unveiled Tuesday during the company's Dreamforce conference in San Francisco.

"Apps equal innovation," said Mike Rosenbaum, executive vice president of platform, before the conference. "And for me, and I think most companies, it's all about speed."

More than just offering faster app creation, Lightning means more rapid iteration of an app is possible, Rosenbaum said.

A key component is Lightning App Builder, which provides a drag-and-drop interface where users can quickly assemble apps from prebuilt components, both from Salesforce.com and partners. Templates make the creation process even faster, Rosenbaum said.

The HTML5-based platform means that once an app is created it can run on all device types. Salesforce.com had already been using Lightning to run the Salesforce1 mobile app announced last year. "Now we're exposing it to customers and partners," he said.

Lightning apps can "take advantage of everything you've ever done with Salesforce" to date, Rosenbaum said. It runs on top of Salesforce.com's workflow engine, meaning Lightning apps can range from simple ones providing analytics and dashboards to much more complicated ones involving business processes.

The heavier lifting needed for the latter types is where Salesforce.com developers come in, according to Rosenbaum.

"We believe there's a continuum between end-user app development or customization and developer-centric app development," he said. "We've built something that works for both groups. When the developers need to come in and customize or do something with a more complex workflow, they're doing it on top of that same application the end-user has created."

Earlier Salesforce.com development tools, such as Visualforce, will continue to be supported and enhanced as Lightning is released to customers and partners, Rosenbaum said.

Visualforce is one of the most popular features Salesforce.com has ever released, he added: "Development organizations that have aligned themselves with that may want to continue to use it."

Salesforce.com is riding a relevant trend with Wave, according to IDC analyst Al Hilwa [cq].

"Model-driven app development is hot now as enterprises embrace mobile-first application development approaches," Hilwa said via email. "The basic ideas of RAD are coming back in new form and are now being harnessed in mobile development. Until this announcement Salesforce1 has been focused on APIs and back-end functionality. This announcement really begins to pull this platform together from a front-end perspective making it a more compelling end-to-end offering."

Some parts of Lightning are already generally available. Other aspects are in beta now, with general availability scheduled for February. Pricing information wasn't disclosed.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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