Realm explains the benefits of real-time collaboration for mobile apps
Monday, October 24, 2016
Realm is a mobile platform company, with a focus on helping developers build better mobile apps, faster. Launched in 2014, the Realm Mobile Database is the most popular third- party database in the world, and the mobile database enabling high-performance, highly engaging end-user experiences for more than a billion users of mobile apps. The Realm Mobile Platform, which combines the Realm Mobile Database and the new Realm Object Server, is the ideal solution for any company that wants to deliver great and collaborative user experiences through live data synchronization between users and offline app availability.
We recently visited with Realm co-founders, CEO Alexander Stigsen and COO Bjarne Christiansen, to discuss the company’s new Mobile Platform that extends its 1B+ user mobile database with a real-time server, and how it enables organizations that rely on mobile apps the ability to reach their customers an easy way, and to add must have features like live messaging, collaboration and offline access.
ADM: What is the background of the founders?
Stigsen: COO Bjarne Christiansen and I were childhood friends from Denmark, and we later worked together at Nokia before founding Realm. We were mobile database engineers during Nokia's feature phone era, when on device storage was very minimal - so had a lot of experience making very efficient, small footprint databases. In fact, when when went out on our own as a Y Combinator startup, we incorporated under the name TightDB, but later changed the name to Realm after realizing the potential of the technology as a platform.
ADM: What inspired you to start Realm?
Stigsen: We saw the importance of mobile apps growing ever faster as the smartphone market grew. And we also as saw mobile computing on its way to becoming ubiquitous computing, as things like wearable computers (e.g., the Apple Watch), smart cars, and the internet of things became bigger.
But what we didn't see was any innovation at the mobile data layer, virtually every mobile app was using some version of SQLite as the database. SQLite was originally created in 2000 for the US Navy for use in missile destroyers, but was now the default database for cutting-edge Android and iOS devices. We challenged ourselves to build something better, something that was expressly designed for mobile, and that would be really easy and elegant for developers to use.
ADM: What is the problem that Realm is addressing for developers?
Stigsen: As people rapidly move from mobile first to mobile only to access personal and business information and applications, organizations must make a great mobile app experience a top, if not the number one business priority. But for most organizations, it is extremely difficult and cost-prohibitive to develop and maintain apps that are highly engaging and responsive, support live collaboration across users and devices and work equally well on or offline. Until now, only the small handful of companies with virtually limitless budgets and the best developers could deliver these types of apps.
ADM: Who are your competitors and what is different about Realm versus other mobile database and / or database platforms?
Stigsen: There’s not really a direct commercial competitor – most teams that need a real-time platform try to build their own custom solutions. The problem with this approach is that, to get it right, there are some very difficult computer science problems around real-time two-way synchronization and event handling that need to be addressed. Most companies have neither the IT budget nor enough developers with the right expertise and experience to build solutions that deliver a consistent and great user experience. They spend months to years trying to cobble a solution together that never meets their or their user’s expectations.
The closest thing to a commercial option is Firebase, Google's mobile platform. But where Realm uses an embedded live object database that is expressly designed for native mobile apps, Firebase relies on JSON and caching, a strategy better suited for web sites and web apps. These are the key reasons, for example, that you can easily build great “offline first” experiences on Realm – where the app has a seamless user experience despite intermittent or lost connectivity that would be very hard to do on Firebase. Realm is also a stronger choice for enterprises because it has an event handling framework and can run on premises – thus it’s easily integrated into existing enterprise systems as a mobility layer, with no firewall or latency issues. Firebase is a public cloud service, so to connect it to existing systems requires traffic crossing the corporate firewall.
The Realm Mobile Platform shatters the barriers that developers have faced by combining the ubiquity and capabilities of the Realm Mobile Database with a breakthrough in object server technology. The Realm Object Server is an object synchronization and event handling server that works with Realm's mobile database to keep data in sync across devices seamlessly and automatically, with minimal changes to data models or controllers. It uses live objects across the Realm Mobile Database and the Realm Object Server, which update automatically and immediately in response to changes at either source, and seamlessly integrate objects from database to server –with comprehensive data encryption throughout.
ADM: What are the benefits of real-time collaboration for developers and users?
Stigsen: By keeping data in sync across devices seamlessly and automatically, Realm empowers developers to easily add compelling and sticky features to their mobile apps that users have come to expect from the most popular apps like Uber, DropBox and Facebook. This includes features such as messaging and chat, live collaboration, two-way data syncing, “offline first” capability, endpoint computing and a host of other features that until now were extremely complicated, expensive and difficult to develop, deploy and maintain.
ADM: Are you targeting business or consumer mobile apps?
Stigsen: The Realm Mobile Platform is ideal for any company that uses mobile apps to connect to its customers, but to start we are targeting companies that are going after a broad consumer market, and for whom their app is increasingly becoming the primary, if not the only way in which they engage with consumers. This can include companies in markets ranging from retail and ecommerce to healthcare to travel to media and entertainment.
ADM: Who are some of Realm’s customers?
Stigsen: Tens of thousands of companies use Realm in their mobile app to drive great customer experiences including Walmart, Zappos, McDonalds, AARP and Hyundai.
ADM: What is your vision for mobile application development and how will you help support it?
Alexander Stigsen is CEO & co-founder of Realm
We see mobile computing evolving into ubiquitous computing, expanding from smartphones and tablets to include watches and other wearables, smart cars, smart homes, and other internet of things devices. As this change happens, the app is still the lynchpin to the user experience -which means the application development team only gets more important. But at the same time, user expectations for the app will only go higher, as they are set by the most popular, best-of-breed apps built by large dev teams at places like Facebook. So the key challenge now and for the foreseeable future is how to build better and better apps, but without an app dev team the size of Facebook.
At Realm, our mission is to make it much easier for every mobile app developer to be able to build rich, real-time features and experiences into their apps easily. We built the Realm Mobile Platform to help solve some of the hardest problems behind the best apps -things like automated two-way data sync; event handling; conflict resolution; offline experiences; and integration into existing infrastructure -so developers can stay focused on the apps themselves.
Editors note: Formerly a Nokia systems engineer, Alexander Stigsen is CEO & co-founder of Realm, a mobile database for iOS and Android, designed to help app developers build fast apps, faster. Realm is a YCombinator startup based in San Francisco with funding from investors including Khosla Ventures, Scale VP, Andreessen Horowitz and Greylock.
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