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Salesforce forces Force sales-force sales: Or tries to anyway

Bad news for non-iOS and Android biz apps

Salesforce is rebooting its mobile strategy, reportedly killing existing versions of its mobile CRM software-as-a-service in exchange for an Android and iOS love-in.

The company has announced Salesforce1, a new CRM platform that it claims will make it easier to build and customize Salesforce services for Apple and Google smartphones and tablets.

Chief executive Marc Benioff is expected to unveil Salesforce1 during the company’s annual Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, California, on Tuesday.

Ahead of that, exact details are limited to the pre-show announcement handed to the press, which gushes with plenty-o-hype.

However, it was Salesforce products exec veep, Kendall Collins, who provided more than the standard details. He is reported to have told Bloomberg that Salesforce1 would replace the existing version of its CRM app for mobile (Salesforce Touch) that is available through the browser, Apple’s App Store and Salesforce’s own AppExchange Mobile.

Also heading for the scrapheap is the mobile client of Chatter, the company’s enterprise social network. Salesforce’s CEO had in the past been reported to have described Chatter as “the primary interface” for his company.

“Salesforce1 will fundamentally replace all of our mobile applications,” Collins said. “It effectively is now our flagship mobile app.”

Salesforce1 will see a new mobile application used to unify Salesforce apps, custom-built apps and apps bought through partners on the company’s AppExchange.

The secret of the new platform's success will be new APIs and services – “10 times as many" than before, the company claimed. It seems that third parties can use these to build and integrate versions of their apps for Force.com and sell through AppExchange.

Sixteen independent software vendors are expected to announce versions of their apps for Salesforce1 - among them Dropbox, Evernote, Kenandy and LinkedIn. Salesforce reckoned customers' existing apps would continue to work, as they'd already been upgraded.

This sounds like the latest chapter in the on-going story of Salesforce to write itself out a CRM box by turning its underlying Force.com, multi-tenant platform that feeds the CRM service, into the hub of an ecosystem for app providers.

However, Salesforce is trying to ensure its sees off newer online rivals.

Past efforts to get broader buy-in outside its CRM core have included attempts to lasso millions of Java devs into the Salesforce cloud with the VMware collaboration, VMForce, which came to naught.

Salesforce then bought Heroku – the Amazon based cloud that was initially just for Ruby, the programming language that was supposed to be the next-big-thing in building apps for the web.

The result, though, has been Salesforce lumbering itself with a dual development strategy – AppExchange and Heroku.

The company also released its own take of the Apple iTunes/App Store with AppExchange. Six years on, AppExchange has just 2,000 apps versus the Salesforce-owned Heroku with more than 1½ million apps after four years. Apple’s AppStore last year hit one million after just five years.

The vast majority of apps on Force.com are those built by Salesforce's customers - it claims a population of more than 200,000 apps. It'll be these that Salesforce hopes customers and devs will now integrate and use with apps like Evernote and Dropbox, which are proving popular in the workplace.

Meanwhile, there's a new generation of cloud start-ups in business.

In September 2012 Salesforce announced Chatterbox, for companies to share files. But a year later Chatterbox was rebranded Salesforce Files and extended to collect and integrate files between Google Drive, Microsoft’s SharePoint and Documentum. This was based on EntrophySoftware, bought by Salesforce earlier this year. Chatterbox was supposed to be an alternative to Box, the start-up document sharing service that itself is trying to be an alternative to SharePoint.

Now, it seems, making Salesforce apps more suited to mobile is the new, big idea.

Based on the experience of VMForce, and the company’s propensity to keep heralding brand-new directions, we’ll wait to see how Salesforce1 pans out.

Salesforce1 will immediately be available for Android and iOS. ®

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