One of many big announcements crammed into Apple's marathon two-hour Worldwide Developer Conference keynote session today was CloudKit, which provides backend processing services for iOS 8 apps in the cloud in a way that sounds very similar to Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure. And Apple software chief Craig Federighi promised that it will be "free, with limits."
It's potentially huge -- AWS and Azure are both major businesses, due in no small part to the mobile revolution. But there's a lot we don't know.
Recently, the mobile backend-as-a-service (MBaaS) market has seen a resurgence as developers look for easier ways to build and deploy apps to the smartphones and tablets that have been infiltrating the enterprise.
To that end, Microsoft Azure especially has found a sweet spot with its Azure Mobile Services, which makes it possible to build apps that work across every mobile platform, with Azure intermediating services like push notifications and identity while also providing cloud capacity for processing and storage.
The emphasis there, though, is "every mobile platform." Apps with Azure or AWS on the backend are very specifically platform agnostic. You probably have an app on your smartphone right now that uses one of the two in some capacity without even realizing it.
But it's hard to imagine that Apple would be so gracious. More likely than not, this is a play for Apple iOS developers and iOS developers only. For the extremely slim slice of the developer market that's exclusively working on iPhone and iPad apps with no plans to extend, it may be an attractive option, but otherwise, a third party is probably the right call.
Even then, it depends on the pricing scheme and whatever else Apple has cooked up to attract developers. If Apple offers some kind of sweetheart deal for its biggest platform partners, it could be attractive. Or, if Apple has something else up its sleeve -- deeper iOS hooks, fast-lane to App Store approval, something -- to bait the trap, developers may find it's worth the effort to ignore the usual MBaaS sales pitch and code a different version for non-Apple platforms.
In short, there's still a lot we don't know, but CloudKit has to demonstrate a lot of value if Apple wants to get developers to move away from platform-agnostic cloud providers and deeper into their ecosystem. Hopefully, more details will emerge during this WWDC week.