Earlier this year, Brightcove, a company best known for its cloud-based video delivery platform, announced a move into the mobile app space through its App Cloud product.

Alongside its video technology, App Cloud means it can offer “cloud content services that media companies and marketers use to publish and distribute professional digital content.”

App Cloud uses common web languages such as HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript to enable the creation of iOS and Android native apps, as well as touch-based HTML5 web apps.

Brightcove, which recently filed documentation for an initial public offering, said that it believes App Cloud represents “a significant opportunity for growth.”

Currently in a private beta phase, the company expects to make its first commercial App Cloud sale in the second half of 2011.

The intention is to offer the solution on an annual subscription basis, with a free version that enables developers and prospective customers to develop and test apps before upgrading to launch live apps.

Mobile Apps Briefing spoke to Ashley Streb (pictured), VP of Technology for the company.

What led Brightcove to move into the mobile apps space?
Since the early founding days of Brightcove, it’s always been the company’s mission to publish and distribute the world’s professional digital media. That mission anticipated expanding our definition of rich content beyond video to include all rich connected content.

With the rise of connected devices, it’s been more important than ever to reach new audiences and apps represent a great opportunity for achieving this. We decided to build on our history as a cloud content services company and owner of the leading online video platform – Brightcove Video Cloud – to address the changing challenges publishers and developers face today. App Cloud was our answer to helping them deliver and publish their valuable content everywhere.

Who is App Cloud targeting?
App Cloud targets the developers at media companies and brands who are struggling with the cost and complexity of delivering and managing great content experiences across the growing number of new platforms. App Cloud represents the emergence of a new kind of integrated solution designed to address these challenges.

Developers don’t necessarily have specialised skill sets based on a strong knowledge of proprietary standards, but are still tasked with creating content apps for multiple devices. App Cloud is ultimately for anyone looking to build multiplatform, content-centric apps in a simplified and time-effective way using the core building blocks of HTML5, CSS3, and Javascript.

What are the biggest issues faced by media companies looking to create mobile apps?
Behind the rise in apps designed for consuming web content is a dramatically changing ecosystem of distribution platforms and devices. This brings with it the headache of developing for different proprietary platforms while fragmentation continues to grow with each new device brought to market – each with its own unique set of user experience conventions.

Developers have to grapple with the complexity of streamlining the management of content across disparate systems and data sources whilst optimising services for the right device. On top of this, each new version or tweak means an app needs to be resubmitted and approved by the app store which makes for a heavy development cycle.

How does App Cloud help address these?
App Cloud alleviates these pain points by supporting fast, iterative design cycles that simplify and streamline the whole app development process. App Cloud was engineered under the premise that if you can build a web page, you can build an app. With App Cloud there’s no need to be an expert with iOS, Android, and other proprietary language as new devices emerge.

The SDK relies on open standards like HTML5, CSS3, and Javascript to drive front-end user interface development that hooks into the proprietary backend platforms. The software allows you to publish simultaneously across all devices and supports a consistency of development, user experience and management across disparate systems and data sources. It provides the tools to development apps that interface with anything providing data feeds and it caches content in the cloud to make mobile consumption quick and seamless.

What differentiates App Cloud from other cross-platform development tools?
We’ve seen a number of solutions out there that address pieces of the problem, but App Cloud is part of a new class of cloud software we see emerging  – the content app platform – that addresses the larger pain points of developing and maintaining apps. What differentiates App Cloud is that it hides the complexity of developing for proprietary runtimes by allowing developers and designers to build and customise their apps using common, open standards.

It offers useful tools like the Brightcove App Cloud Workshop – an app you can download that allows you to test in real-time on the device your app’s intended for to speed up iteration, feedback and time-to-market. The software doesn’t advocate cookie-cutter templates that presume the look and feel of your app. While you can choose from a number of templates, you can build and customise your own to accurately reflect your brand.

App Cloud is unique in that it allows you to make lightweight changes and upgrades to your published app on the backend without having to republish or resubmit to the app store. It also manages the whole process of getting to major app stores such as iTunes and Android Market in the first place.

What advantages can a native app give over an HTML5-based alternative?
Native apps have access to the capabilities not available through browser-based apps, including access to the local camera, microphone, and address book, push messaging, in-app purchases, and guaranteed screen real estate.  For these reasons, we think that native apps and browser-based mobile web apps will co-exist for the foreseeable future. App Cloud lets organisations enjoy the convenience and efficiency of using HTML5 without sacrificing these benefits of native apps.

Do you envisage HTML5 eventually displacing native app development?
We envision HTML5 becoming the de facto standard for building apps both in the browser and in native apps.  App Cloud lets organisations enjoy the best of both worlds rather than being forced to choose one or the other.  We think most organisations will want both mobile website for casual discoverability and awareness building and a native app for deeply engaging consumers on an ongoing basis.  It’s a continuum of consumer relationship-building, not two different worlds.

What type of apps are best suited to App Cloud, and which are not?
It’s best suited for rich, content-centric apps – the kind of apps designed for consuming regularly updated content such as a media app featuring news content. It’s not best suited for games apps that require 3D or high-resolution graphics though it’s fine for creating simple games in HTML5 such as a Sudoku or chess app.

App Cloud is geared to ‘read’ rather than ‘write’ apps so it’s not suitable for business productivity apps that are about data entry and input such as sales force automation, or for scientific data input.

What type of companies have participated in the beta?
More than 2000 of our customers have applied for beta to date and they represent some of the largest brands and global media properties with large content libraries.

What feedback have they provided so far?
Our customers really like the development model – the way they can use the same types of tools and workflows that they use for web development but for developing native apps. They’ve enjoyed not having to learn a whole new set of tech skills and the way it matches the fast-paced web development prototype.

Native mobile development has been a laborious process – you build the app, you ship it off, the client installs it onto a phone etc. but our customers like the way you use the same HTML5 and Javascript that you use for web development. The cloud-based system for data services has also gone down well as it provides a consistent model for accessing data in a format that our customers can immediately use.

We recently hosted a Developer Kitchen where 30 developers spent the day experimenting on App Cloud and their feedback showed that tools such as the ability to test in real-time on both an iPhone and Android were a real bonus.

Steve Costello