Want to target all mobile devices? Stream your app from Amazon

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Amazon Web Services is hoping to solve a problem facing developers who want to deliver computationally intensive applications to mobile devices but find that most devices just can’t handle them.

AppStream is a service that lets developers stream applications from AWS to devices that could include phones, tablets, or computers. Developers can choose to stream all or just parts of their app. It’s the kind of solution that’s been talked about for years in the mobile industry and it’s not clear yet if AWS has solved the problems that have prevented it in the past.

The target is very computationally intensive apps. “Mobile developers who build these things are left with a difficult decision,” said Andy Jassy, senior vice president of AWS, speaking during the AWS Re:Invent conference today in Las Vegas. His keynote was webcast.

Developers can either build their apps for the most capable devices, which makes up only a small part of the market. Or water down the experience for lesser devices. “That’s an unhappy choice,” Jassy said.

The AWS AppStream service aims to let developers write their application and run it from AppStream. The application must run in Windows Server 2008 R2 and can be used by Android, iOS, Windows, and FireOS. Amazon is working on support for Mac OS X and expects it to roll out next year.

The service detects which device a user has as well as their network capacity, making adjustments in the stream to suit the environment, Jassy said.

For now, AWS is accepting sign ups for a limited preview.

Curiously, another company is also unveiling a similar capability during the AWS conference. Mainframe2’s service lets developers stream apps to any device with a browser, so it’s broader than AppStream. As a beta service, it’s been used by “thousands” of customers, the company said. It will launch to general availability later this year.

While Amazon focuses on gaming and other entertainment apps, there are surely business apps that could benefit from this capability. Data visualization apps or others that crunch lots of data might benefit from this technology.

However, the user experience will be key. The major limitation is that streamed apps require a solid data connection. The mobile industry has long talked about ways to process apps remotely as a way to compensate for capabilities on mobile phones. But the gating factor has always been the speed and ubiquity of high bandwidth connections.

Latency is also a problem for any app that doesn’t run locally. AWS says it addresses this problem by adapting the stream to fit the network and deliver a low-latency stream.

Until developers have rolled out services on either offering, we won’t know whether apps streamed from AWs will be quality enough for users.

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