Xamarin's goal: To be the leading development platform in the world

xamarin team
Credit: Xamarin

Nat Friedman, the CEO and cofounder of cross-platform mobile development tool vendor Xamarin, certainly has plenty of ambition. "What we are playing for is the application development space, an enormous opportunity."

That's possibly an understatement, with Kevin Turner's remarks that Microsoft's recent Worldwide Partner conference setting a scene where the traditional desktop PC is only 14% of the market. As Friedman says, "Mobile is not the only category. The opportunity for us is to be one of the, if not the, leading application development platforms in the world."

This morning, the company announced a new round of funding -- $54 million, the largest amount ever raised by any similar company -- to help it reach these ambitious goals. Thanks to its rapid growth, with more than 700,000 developers using its tools, and the expected size of the mobile development market over the next five years, the company has kept all its existing investors, adding Insight Venture Partners as a new investor.

Better tools, international expansion

So how does Xamarin intend to use this latest funding?

Previous rounds focused on expanding the company's training and tooling. Tooling is a big part of Friedman's plans. "We are a product company at heart, we're all developers -- even in our sales and marketing where we're 70 or 80% coders."

While Friedman didn't want to make specific promises about new functionality, he did suggest a couple of areas where Xamarin might be able to make a difference. Suggesting that devops was an area that could be important, he said, "Developers are happiest when they can rapidly iterate, when we make code/build/test cycles as quick as possible." Echoing Tim Cook's remarks at Apple's WWDC, Friedman also talked about what he called "the daily struggles of the Android developer," noting, "We can contribute a lot there."

Another key aim for the new funding is to spearhead Xamarin's international plans.

"We want to expand our market presence," Friedman told us, "Becoming less US-centric." That expansion will begin with the opening of a London office, with other European satellite offices under consideration. Xamarin already has an engineering team in London, so adding a central London office will let the company bring engineering, sales, and support under one roof. "It will be new having a field office," Friedman said, "As it will be the first step, we're going to do things deliberately, building it out in steps."

Friedman didn't rule out acquisitions to bring new technologies to Xamarin's platform. "While we're looking at organically improving the products, we're also looking at acquisitions. We've had two successful acquisitions so far, maybe we'll find more." He also noted just how Xamarin was adding support for new development technologies and new platforms, "We make a habit of quickly supporting mobile technologies."

That rapid support has included tooling for Amazon's FireOS, Android Wear, and Google Glass, as well as integration with Apple's new Swift programming language. "We're mostly focused on user interfaces, as they can take a lot of forms. In all cases supporting the native UI metaphors is an advantage for Xamarin." Friedman anticipates many more form factors in the future, beyond the familiar phone, tablet and watch.

Certainly many of Xamarin's new features have gone down well. Friedman is very happy with Xamarin 3's reception, especially with its new Forms tools. Talking about user acceptance, he noted, "We were extremely surprised, it's been much more than we expected. The Xamarin Forms forums are now our busiest, and there's been substantial interest. We thought it would be a useful tool for a few screens in an app, but customers want to do more."

That's led to the recent hire of author Charles Petzold, who's writing a book on Xamarin Forms for the company. Friedman expects more developments there in the near future.

"We built a user extensible way of working, and recently added a community effort to explore it in Xamarin Forms Labs." That community has added more than 20 new controls for all three supported platforms. "We want to see more of that," Friedman says, "We want to see controls and components from the major vendors. We're talking to the right people."

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