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Lyft helps drive new foundation for mobile developers

The Linux Foundation, along with Lyft, wants mobile developers to ride together and help eliminate obstacles in building large-scale, enterprise Android and iOS apps.

The Linux Foundation has launched an effort to foster developer collaboration on mobile technology with a new group known as the Mobile Native Foundation.

The MNF will serve as an organization where mobile developers can collaborate, share ideas, code and introduce and host projects. The effort is aimed at improving processes of building large-scale Android and iOS applications, said Keith Smiley, a staff engineer specializing in iOS apps at Lyft and a key organizer of the MNF organization. Lyft has contributed projects to MNF.

"My background is in the iOS tooling community, where we have this big community here in the Silicon Valley area and we have a lot of folks who work at similar size companies or bigger than Lyft," Smiley said. We're all kind of like, solving the same problem," Smiley said.

In addition to Lyft, other organizations contributing to the MNF include Capital One, Elotl, Flare.build, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Robinhood, Screenplay.dev, Slack and Spotify.

If these top-tier mobile development teams are struggling to build apps at scale, just imagine how the rest of the industry is feeling.
Max LynchCEO, Ionic

Mobile teams are struggling

Seeing this kind of collaboration around app development in large companies is really positive, said Max Lynch, co-founder and CEO of Ionic, a maker of tools for mobile app developers, based in Madison, Wisc. The hope is that the MNF will help to build consensus and drive standards around user experience, performance, security and reliability that other teams can benefit and learn from.

"At the same time, I think it's a signal that enterprises are grappling with the complexities of mobile app development," Lynch said. "Scarce developer talent, a fragmented ecosystem and platform limitations all contribute to that complexity. And if these top-tier mobile development teams are struggling to build apps at scale, just imagine how the rest of the industry is feeling?"

Helping mobile developers address these challenges helped Ionic log record revenues in 2020, despite the macroeconomic conditions from the pandemic, Lynch said. "Teams are struggling and they need help," he said.

Working independently

Indeed, part of the problem has been that each company has been working independently on their own versions of how to solve these problems. The MNF will help them bring all those ideas together.

Keith Smiley, a staff engineer specializing in iOS apps at LyftKeith Smiley

"We weren't really aligning on anything from an open source project perspective," Smiley said of the individual companies. "So, we'd all be working on similar solutions, but then we would never open source them. Or even if we did, they wouldn't really work for other companies, because they weren't really designed with other companies in mind; it was just kind of whatever works for us."

Smiley hopes that the foundation can be a place where companies can align on some of those efforts ahead of time.

"This could stop people from having to kind of build the same things that we've all already built internally, like ever again," he said.

Overall, the MNF is a forum for collaboration on open source software, standards and best practices that can help developers to create common user interface frameworks, architectural patterns, build systems and networking stacks that can accelerate time to market and reduce duplicative work across companies.

Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) for mobile

"You can think of the Mobile Native Foundation as something like the CNCF for mobile," Smiley said.

Like the CNCF, the Mobile Native Foundation is a Linux Foundation project to advance developer collaboration around technologies that require complex solutions.

Lyft is making early project contributions to the MNF that includes Kronos, index-import and set-simulator-location. Matthew Edwards, an Android developer at Robinhood, also is contributing his Flank project. Flank is a distributed test runner project that's used a lot in parallel testing environments.

"Lyft is donating a few mobile infrastructure projects and some other folks are donating a distributed test runner project, but we're hoping to get more interest in this space after we launch," Smiley said. "We haven't spent a lot of time trying to convince folks to transfer or donate projects just yet."

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