Google Acquires Firebase for Back-End Sync

Google recently announced the acquisition of Firebase, a back-end-as-a-service (BaaS) provider that supports real-time synchronization. The acquisition provides Google with an important component to support an end-to-end development platform for Web and mobile apps. The acquisition also has more strategic implications by providing the company a monetization strategy to capitalize on a new brand of collaborative real-time Web app.

Firebase’s BaaS enables individual developers to build real-time applications that rival sophisticated applications built by a crew of skilled developers. The technology built by the Firebase team is able to automatically synchronize changes made in applications built on Firebase, across any connected device. If the app is offline, the data is saved locally and synced when a connection becomes available. While not necessarily new for large-scale apps, for less-experienced developers with limited resources, to build this type of synchronization engine from scratch is much more difficult. The Firebase platform makes this capability more accessible to the everyday developer. 

Google will integrate Firebase with its Google Cloud Platform, making it easier for Google Cloud developers to build real-time apps. The service will run on the Google infrastructure, supporting better performance and scalability. Google will gain access to the 110,000 Firebase registered developers and will be able to provide an end-to-end platform that supports apps on Web and mobile. Google has also indicated that it will keep the service platform-agnostic.

Beyond the press release, there may be some more strategic and perhaps darker motivations to Google’s acquisition as the company positions itself to control the next generation of collaborative applications.

One of Firebase's most attractive features is its integration with Angular JS, an open source JavaScript framework sponsored by Google that includes MVC, or model-view-control capability. MVC supports a Web application architecture that is growing in popularity and enables more flexible designs for mobile and Web apps. The combination of these two pieces of software creates a very compelling platform for developing Web and mobile apps. The combination of Angular JS and Firebase (AngularFire) also is a great solution for multiuser applications enabled by its three-way data binding capability.

The emergence of WebRTC, another Google standard that enables real-time communications without a plug-in, combined with AngularFire multiuser capability, puts Google at the center of the future of real-time communications. Firebase’s synchronization engine is designed to listen for changes on connected devices so it can synchronize data across other devices. The ability to listen for these events allows the service to identify incoming calls. This functionality positions Firebase to operate as a signaling server that sets up a peer-to-peer connection. Some developers creating collaborative applications using WebRTC are already leveraging the capabilities of Firebase to support the signaling piece of the app. Should Google expand and grow this capability and developers adopt it, Google becomes a mobile operator.

While there are competing combinations of real-time back ends and front-end JavaScript Frameworks, with Google's acquisition of Firebase, the combination of Firebase and Angular will be controlled by one entity. This gives Google the ability to control the technical direction of the combined technology while maintaining the front end as open source. This strategy is not all that different from Google’s Android strategy where the OS was open source and anyone could fork it. But if you want to use Google’s back end, you must run a sanctioned version of the OS. With open source front end (Angular JS) tightly integrated with proprietary code (Firebase, now Google Cloud), Google has a way to monetize the growing popularity of Angular.

As integration with Firebase and Angular gets tighter, the already-popular Angular framework will become the de facto standard. Google will be better positioned to invest developer resources in the platform, improving the technology and pushing competing technologies to the margins. With limited competition and control of the back end of real-time mobile apps, Google is free to change policies around Firebase to maximize profits.

This is a familiar game plan and Google has essentially executed this strategy with its Mapping API. While it's a great API that enables developers’ access to previously unavailable mapping services over the years, Google has added fees and restricts.

Regardless of how the market plays out, with the combination of Firebase and Google, scalability and performance is increased, improving experiences. With greater developer access, more apps will feature compelling, real-time and collaborative experiences stimulating more innovation and new businesses. Just like Android and the Google Mapping API. 

Peter Crocker Peter Crocker is the founder and principal analyst at Smith’s Point Analytics. Peter has been involved in the mobile and wireless industry since 2003 as an entrepreneur, marketing professional and analyst. Prior to founding Smith’s Point Analytics, Peter was a Senior Analyst with VDC Research covering the enterprise mobility and mobile software markets. In addition to Peter’s experience following the mobile and wireless market as an analyst, Peter has been instrumental in building businesses and guiding strategy at mobile software start-ups including Pyxis Mobile and Medxforms. Peters background also includes investments, technology marketing and consulting and holds an MBA from The College of William and Mary.

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