When the first smartphone was introduced, consumers might not have realised how, in a few short years, much of their online interaction would be from these devices. Even with their small screens and often slower internet speeds these devices have become the main way we now interact with the internet.
Apps are small, smart, downloadable pieces of software designed to run specifically on smartphones. The rapid and astronomical growth of this market surprised many people. With mobile devices many businesses have seen a new way to connect (e.g. interact with a brand, transact or get information) with their consumers on a much more personal level, wherever they are.
Mobile web traffic (i.e. accessing websites from a smartphone browser) has recently outstripped laptop and desktop traffic in New Zealand and around the world, proving that people are starting to rely on their mobile devices much more than they are on their larger, sometimes more powerful desktop/laptop devices. Convenience is a huge factor here, of course.
For many years however the developers building this mobile smartphone solutions and the consumers using them have often been faced with a decision: a website (accessible via the smartphone browser) or an app. In the developer community this often polarises people and there are many passionate articles discussing the pros and cons of both approaches. For businesses in New Zealand who need custom mobile software, often it involves some difficult decisions: do you need a mobile responsive website, an iOS (iPhone / iPad) app, an Android app (perhaps even a windows phone app) or all of the above? Generally all these things need to be developed separately using different technologies so it can become very expensive. It can also be hard to get impartial advice from software development companies as they will often steer you towards the technology that they specialise in.
Cross Platform Development Tools
In recent years, numerous companies have attempted to create cross-platform development tools. These make it possible to code a single app that could then be used on all platforms, including web. Some of these products include Phonegap, iFactr, Kony, Xamarin, Appcelerator, etc.
Some of these tools are promising — the ability to be able to cut down both development time and cost by only developing one app is very attractive. However, as is so often the case with cross platform development tools, there are always limitations and compromises. Unfortunately many people (and we at 3months have fallen into that trap in the past) end up finding out what those limitations and compromises are too late in the project or when new requirements emerge.
The other big drawback in using these tools is that most are proprietary (i.e. not open source) and none have dominated which has fragmented the market and increased the risk of picking a technology that very few people understand.
ReactJS is the new kid on the block, it was created by Facebook who open-sourced it and is now used by some of the the most popular sites in the world (e.g. Facebook, Instagram, Netflix, AirBnB). We love it for building highly responsive data driven user experiences for the web. For an example of the sorts of stuff you can do — if you are a member of Consumer New Zealand we recently built their product comparison tool in ReactJS.
React Native — changing the game
This is where it get’s really interesting. In the middle of last year React Native was released.
The lower cost, quicker turnaround time, and ability to develop for all platforms at the same time, while using a language that most developers already know and use, has the potential to bring huge benefits for businesses needing to use web / mobile technology to compete.
Every project needs to consider the pros and cons different technology / architecture options but we believe that ReactJS / React Native brings an exciting new alternative.