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Microsoft adds iOS support to cloudy mobile services

Data and messaging options improved, as well

New hybrid storage solutions

Microsoft has rolled out the first major update to its Windows Azure Mobile Services offering, adding support for new data storage and communications methods and making it possible to connect Mobile Services with iOS apps.

Redmond debuted Mobile Services in August as an easy way for developers to deploy backend services for their apps on Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud platform using a simple, web-based interface, without writing their own server-side code.

But it was hard to see just what made them "mobile" at the time, since the only kind of apps that could connect to Mobile Services were Windows Store apps for Windows 8. Not even Windows Phone apps were supported.

That changes with Tuesday's update to the cloudy offering, which introduces the option to connect Mobile Services with iOS apps. According to a blog post by Microsoft developer VP Scott Guthrie, it takes less than five minutes to add Mobile Services support to an iOS project using Redmond's new SDK.

Apple isn't the only competing vendor that Microsoft is supporting with the latest Mobile Services upgrade, either. The new version also allows mobile app users to authenticate with services using their Facebook, Twitter, or Google accounts, where previously only Windows Live accounts were supported.

In addition, Mobile Services now allow developers to access more types of storage on the Azure platform. When the preview launched, only basic SQL database storage was supported. With the new version, apps can also store data as key/value pairs using Azure's Tables functionality, or as large, unstructured data objects using Blobs.

The upgrade adds additional communications options, too. Developers can now have their apps send email or SMS text messages through Microsoft's partner companies, as well as offering publish/subscribe messaging using Windows Azure's Message Bus service.

All of the aforementioned additions are live beginning on Tuesday, and they're available to all participants of Microsoft's ongoing Mobile Services preview program. During the preview, developers can only create and deploy up to 10 Mobile Services for free, with an outbound data cap of 165MB/day and no service level agreement (SLA).

Redmond has said it will extend support for Mobile Services to Android and "other" platforms in the future, but it has given no timeline for when those additional SDKs might become available. ®

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