Just within a few years of its existence, Facebook has achieved a cult following. From teenagers to professionals to senior citizens, everyone has an account with the world’s most powerful social media platform. For many Internet users, their connected experience starts and ends with Facebook. According to the official statistics, there are 1.39 billion monthly active users on average. However, the company is not just focused on becoming the largest social network. Mark and his team are eyeing for a slice of the Internet pie. From instant messaging to advertising to mobile payments to virtual reality to photos, Facebook wants to be synonymous with the connected world. Internet.org is an ambitious project for Facebook that aims to make the Internet available to every person on earth.
Facebook is also cognizant of the fact that mobile devices are the window to the connected world. According to Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI), global mobile data traffic grew 69 percent in 2014 generating about 2.5 exabytes of data per month. The majority of the smartphone users prefer mobile applications over the browser. Developers are building and publishing millions of mobile apps on Apple App Store and Google Play. Sensing this opportunity, Facebook acquired Parse in 2013 for a whopping $85 million. During its launch, Parse was nothing short of a revolution for mobile application development. It empowered developers to build powerful applications without ever dealing with the server and storage infrastructure. Officially known as Mobile Backend as a Service (MBaaS), the market opportunity attracted many startups. When Facebook acquired it, Parse’s customers were skeptical about the future especially after eBay killed StackMob – a key competitor of Parse. Though Facebook did not put efforts to integrate Parse with the rest of the platform, it let the team innovate. Parse has been steadily adding features making it easy for developers building consumer applications and casual games.
Parse is an important element of Facebook’s strategy. With no mobile operating system to adequately capture the consumer market, Facebook cannot build its mobile app store. Parse helps the company by becoming a bridge between Facebook and developers. With a liberal free tier, the platform allows developers to quickly get started with the application development.
At the recent F8 developer conference, Parse has announced IoT SDK targeting a set of microcontrollers and development boards. While this is perceived as yet another feature, there is more to it. Parse has made it incredibly easy to develop Internet of Things applications. It is bringing the same simplicity, intuitive interface, and APIs to developers building next-generation connected applications. While many competitors might counter this move by saying that their platform already supports these features, here are a few capabilities that make Parse a compelling IoT platform.
- Native SDKs – Parse is one of the first MBaaS players to ship native SDKs for Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and Texas Instruments CC3200 devices. Any mobile developer familiar with Parse APIs can instantly turn into an IoT developer.
- Cloud Code – This feature lets developers execute business logic and complex workflows in the cloud. IoT devices do not have enough processing power to perform the local computation. They offload the heavy lifting to Cloud Code, through which IoT devices connect to other online services such as Twilio, Twitter, and even Salesforce.
- WebHooks – This is a new feature that enables developers to write server-side logic in their favorite language. WebHooks are triggered based on specific events. For example, when the sensor data has reached a particular threshold, an event can be raised to take an action. Developers can write the logic in any language of their choice as long as it is exposed as publicly accessible REST API.
- Push Notifications – Contemporary mobile applications use push notifications as an engaging feature. However, they are very useful in IoT applications. Parse’s push notification model follows publisher / subscriber pattern making it easy to notify interested parties simultaneously. For example, an outdoor light sensor can send a push notification to switch-on the bulbs in the house.
The combination of above features makes Parse a powerful platform that connects things and objects that we use every day. Of course, there are also a few limitations to the platform. Support for MQTT, CoAP and XMPP protocols, complex event processing, and real-time ingestion are essential capabilities of a mature IoT platform. Parse should also invest in analytics and visualisation. The current form of event tracking and analytics leave a lot to be desired for serious IoT development. But going by the track record, it may not take much time for Facebook to plug the gaps.
Another interesting fact about Parse is that it runs on Amazon Web Services. Ilya Sukhar, CEO of Parse made it clear that they have no plans to move out of AWS. With Amazon actively building its IoT stack, it will find one of its largest competitor right under its nose. But that is not something new for AWS. PaaS vendors like Heroku and Engine Yard compete with Amazon while still running their infrastructure on AWS.
IoT platform market is at an early stage. There are umpteen number of startups building PaaS exclusively for devices and sensors. Existing MBaaS vendors are busy rebranding themselves for IoT. Large cloud providers like Microsoft, Amazon, and Google are on a shopping spree buying companies like 2lemetry and Nest. In this crowded market, does Facebook stand a chance to win the developer mindshare?
IoT is the cornerstone of Facebook’s strategy. After connecting people with each other, it is time for Facebook to connect the things with people. While the competition might be able to fight Facebook on multiple fronts, one factor that stands out is the subscriber base. It is well positioned to connect billions of people with billions of things. This company has the required infrastructure, scale, technology, IP and the reach to make it big in the IoT market. So, get ready to pull out your mobile phone and swipe a button within the Facebook Aoo to turn off an air-conditioner in the living room.
This article was written by Janakiram MSV from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.