Salesforce.com is placing HTML5 at the forefront of its mobile strategy with an upcoming product, Touch.Salesforce.com, that will automatically render its applications on touch-enabled devices like Apple's iPad, the company announced Wednesday during its annual Dreamforce conference in San Francisco.
"They can access all the data, and all the customizations they've done in Salesforce.com come through," said Al Falcione, vice president of product marketing. The applications will provide both read and write access for customers, according to Salesforce.com. Its own core applications as well as any custom applications built natively on the Force.com platform will work with the new service.
Salesforce.com isn't giving up on developing dedicated native applications for mobile OSes, as it has in the past, but believes that HTML5's cross-platform adaptability makes sense for its core applications, since customers make frequent tweaks to the software and don't want to have to constantly download new versions, Falcione said.
The company considers native mobile development better for "single-purpose, quick-access" types of applications, he added.
Salesforce.com's plans also speak to the red-hot popularity of touch-enabled devices, noted analyst Ray Wang, CEO of Constellation Research. "The shift is happening," he said. "Tablets will outstrip PCs as the devices of choice in business. Moving to touch delivers what users will want."
The company is indeed betting big on HTML5. "It's the future of our user experience," Salesforce.com co-founder Parker Harris said during a keynote address Wednesday.
Touch.Salesforce.com will be available early next year. Pricing hasn't been determined, Falcione said.
Also Wednesday, Salesforce discussed improvements to its Chatter collaboration and social networking platform.
Some 100,000 companies are using Chatter "actively" today, according to Falcione. However, he couldn't provide specific numbers on the actual percentage of employees within companies using Chatter regularly.
A set of new capabilities called Chatter Now will include user presence, chat and screen sharing. The technology was gained through Salesforce.com's acquisition of collaboration vendor DimDim.
Chatter users will also be able to invite people outside their companies to collaborate with them by setting up private groups. External users can only view materials related to the Chatter groups they belong to, and are "clearly labeled as someone external," Falcione said.
A third Chatter announcement focuses on integration. Customers will be able to take advantage of a set of REST (representational state transfer) programming interfaces for tying Chatter to other Web services. Salesforce.com has also built a Chatter connector for Microsoft SharePoint, but for the most part, such offerings will be left for partners to build, Falcione said. "[SharePoint] was a big enough opportunity for us," he said.
The presence and group features will be available later this year, with screen sharing expected for release in early 2012.
The Chatter news will be delivered under Salesforce.com's overall marketing theme for the conference, "the social enterprise," which CEO Marc Benioff honed during a series of smaller events held earlier this year and revisited during a keynote address Wednesday.
Benioff referred to the recent wave of revolutionary movements in the Middle East, also known as the Arab Spring, which gained momentum through the use of social media.
"It's not so long from now that we'll start to hear about a corporate spring," Benioff said as he strode through the crowd. "When will the first CEO fall because they stopped listening to their customers? It's more important to listen than ever before."
One component of Salesforce.com's vision involves the notion of "social customer" profiles. Traditionally, companies have gathered data points such as a customer's name and e-mail address, but social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter provide much more fodder for rounding out the picture, in Benioff's view.
"At the end of the day, its all about your [customer] database," he said. "Are you keeping track of their handles on various social networks? Are you keeping track of their tweets?"
Benioff also discussed how customers can develop internal social networks, as well as ones for their customers and even individual products.
And he managed to produce one high-profile customer, Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts, who seemed to have completely bought into the social enterprise vision.
The luxury clothier wants badly to connect with every customer as deeply as possible and across all platforms, as should every company, she said. "For any CEO who is skeptical: You have to create a social enterprise. Otherwise, I don't know what your business model is in five years."
"The biggest fear is we've made heavy investments on the back end of our business," she added. "That infrastructure doesn't go away." The key for Burberry will be to work with trusted partners to layer Salesforce.com's technology on top, she said.
While such talk will no doubt eat up a fair chunk of Dreamforce's running time this week, it fails to relay the breadth of Salesforce.com's business goals.
In recent times the company has made deeper forays into Web application development, with the acquisition of companies such as Heroku. The platform, known for its use in building Ruby on Rails applications, now supports the Java programming language, Salesforce.com said Wednesday.
It is also hoping to find success selling database processing as a service through its Database.com product, which will enter general availability this week.
In addition, the company is now offering a Social Enterprise license agreement that includes "enterprise-wide access to Salesforce Sales Cloud, Salesforce Service Cloud, Salesforce Chatter, Salesforce Radian6, Force.com, Heroku and Database.com," according to a statement. Pricing will depend on the company.
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