The explosion of mobile has revolutionised the way we go about our everyday lives and do business. For marketers to stay ahead of the game they must embrace this increasingly important channel. According to Gartner, large enterprises may have up to 100 mobile apps within the business by 2017 and, to meet this demand, mobile strategists need tools and techniques that will enable them to develop the apps they need without sacrificing app quality and positive ROI.
Sacrificing app quality is something that has, up until now, been an unfortunate necessity for many marketers given increasingly tight marketing budgets.
Historically, there have been three approaches to app development:
For native apps, code is developed specifically for the target hardware i.e. an app for iPhone, or an app for an Android device etc. Apps designed in this way offer best look and feel and performance, but they are slow to develop and expensive. If you need to build an app on more than one platform, you literally have to design each platform from scratch and double your costs.
These are built using web technology / languages such as Java. Developed in one language, they port to any device that has an internet connection. They scale across platforms but there are compromises in terms of performance and user experience. It is also difficult to integrate phone or tablet hardware components, such as the camera, to apps built this way.
Their software enables code that is written once to port across multiple operating systems or devices. Historically, these have often been associated with a compromise in the end product and were not appropriate when building apps deemed to be complex in nature.
In summary, to get the best end result, enterprises had to opt for a native approach but it cost more and took longer than the alternatives. This meant that for many enterprises, developing apps just wasn't an option. However, since Facebook launched React Native in 2015, the whole landscape has been turned on its head.
The emergence of React Native
React Native is an open source technical framework that was developed initially by Facebook, which faced the same technical and commercial dilemmas as other marketers. It wanted its users to have the best possible user experience but, even with the vast resources at Facebook's disposal, traditional development techniques were deemed too slow and expensive to implement.
React Native for Apple was launched in March 2015, the Android version became available in September 2015 and in April 2016 Microsoft announced it was also buying into the framework.
So what does this mean to those who recognise the value a mobile app can offer in a business context, whether that be delivering productivity, improving internal processes or supporting a marketing function?
React Native combines all of the advantages of the approaches outlined earlier in this article, but it also eradicates the disadvantages as well. In short, it enables an enterprise to deliver native apps using web technology with zero compromise in terms of end user experience.
· Native apps can now be delivered in a fraction of the time. For example, we have seen a number of instances where hundreds of lines of native code can be replaced with a single line in React Native, without any degradation in the end product
· Major code re-usage across the major platforms
· App content can be changed without approval from the app store in real-time
· The pool of developers available to code in Java Script is far greater than native
Understandably, there is some caution surrounding the readiness of React Native and, while it is clear no-one can credibly say the framework has reached a high level of maturity, what we can say is that it is gaining traction fast.
It has a vibrant open source community delivering new advancements literally everyday (freely available to use by adopters) and it is backed by Google, Apple and now Microsoft, so it certainly doesn't feel like a 'here today, gone tomorrow' innovation.
Here at RNF, we started investing in React Native 12 months ago and have now deployed a series of IPad apps to support Calor Gas's sales force. Calor field staff are able to construct complex quotations, including photographic and satellite images of the proposed site location, with relevant annotations overlaid by the salesperson or engineer. The resulting data set is then incorporated into relevant legal documentation with an electronic signature the customer is able to sign instantly.
We have also recently launched a new mobile home selling app for Park Holidays, all in React Native. We would argue, therefore, that the platform is more than ready to take advantage of.
So for marketers wanting to meet their businesses' growing demand for apps, there is now a clear way of doing this without sacrificing app quality or positive ROI. Facebook has once again disrupted the norms and changed the way we do things forever.
By Rob Mannion, Managing Director, RNF Digital Innovations
RNF Digital Innovations is a fast growing specialist app development agency based in Warwickshire. They have been at the forefront of mobile innovation for a number of years with clients including Bridgestone Tyres, Calor Gas, Bestway Cash and Carry, Park Holidays and Baxi Boilers.
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