The Role of the Database in Mobile App Development
You may have heard that mobile app usage is increasing substantially across the globe. Here’s a few interesting facts that make it clear:
- There are approximately 6.5 billion smartphone users worldwide, and that number is growing.
- Users spend between four and five hours on mobile apps every day.
- In 2022, users downloaded 255 billion apps worldwide, up more than 80% from 2016.
As a result of this worldwide boom in mobile app usage, organizations are rushing to bring apps to market to capitalize on the demand. But there are a few questions they must address before beginning development, such as which platforms to build for and where data storage and processing should happen within their application architecture.
The first question is the easiest, as the two dominant mobile operating systems (OS) in use today are iOS and Android, which have 28% and 71%, respectively, of the mobile OS market share worldwide. To get the broadest reach, most organizations must support these two operating systems at a minimum. And when building apps for these platforms, available development tools generally fall into two categories: native and cross-platform.
Building a “native app” essentially means that you develop an app specifically for a given mobile platform using a programming language that is native to that OS.
Generally, native apps deliver a more seamless experience for users — they behave like other native apps on the device, they typically perform better and they have the benefit of direct access to device features such as the microphone, camera, GPS and more.
But native development takes specialized skills and only delivers an app for a given OS, so supporting both iOS and Android means developing and maintaining two codebases. Keep this in mind when planning your development approach.
Cross-platform development tools are integrated development environments (IDEs) that can produce native apps for multiple platforms from a single master codebase. While the ability to “write once, run anywhere” with cross-platform tools saves time and reduces development effort, tradeoffs can come in, contending with features such as menus and widgets that behave differently on each platform.
Developers must evaluate and code around these differences. And because of the additional abstraction layer and rendering processes that they introduce, cross-platform apps sometimes do not perform as efficiently as apps developed with native tools. But if your app requirements are relatively basic and not complex enough to warrant a separate development effort per OS, cross-platform tools are a great option to deliver apps for iOS and Android quickly, especially for organizations with limited resources and a short delivery timeframe.
Where Does the Database Fit In?
When developing mobile apps, you need to decide where data storage and processing fit into the architecture. If you choose to use a cloud database for the backend, your app becomes dependent on the internet. This can be fine in areas with a consistent, reliable network, but what if the user goes into an elevator, subway or airplane? Or what if they go off the grid for extended periods, such as on a camping trip or ocean cruise? An app that depends on the internet will fail where there is no connectivity, meaning users cannot use it, which leads to abandonment.
The key to delighting users is by providing a great experience, and for that your app must always be fast and available, regardless of where users go. The only way to do this is with a mobile database, that is, a database technology designed specifically for mobile apps.
The term “mobile database” refers to a database deployment that extends the cloud-computing model by distributing data storage and processing from the cloud to the mobile devices that run the apps. A mobile database consists of a central cloud database, an embeddable database running locally within apps on mobile devices and automatic data synchronization between the embedded database and the cloud database.
With a mobile database, data is stored and processed on the device, allowing an app to operate reliably, even without the internet. And the automatic synchronization takes advantage of connectivity when it is available by syncing data in its most compact form between the edge and the cloud to ensure consistency across the app ecosystem.
When setting out on your mobile app development journey, the database backend that you choose is of paramount importance. To ensure a successful effort and popular app, be sure to use a mobile database with built-in sync that supports your development tools, whether they be native or cross-platform.
Native Tools for iOS App Development
For iOS app development, Apple provides Xcode, an IDE that includes everything required to write code for native iOS apps. Xcode developers build apps for iOS using one of two programming languages: Swift or Objective-C.
Objective-C was the primary programming language used by Apple up until 2014, and it is still widely used by developers for its stability, compatibility with C and C++, as well as its ability to produce all types of apps, from lightweight to large and complex.
Swift was introduced by Apple in 2014 as an open source programming language designed to be faster than Objective-C. It offers a simpler syntax than Objective-C, making it easier for newer developers to learn.
Native Tools for Android App Development
Android Studio is an IDE designed specifically for Android development. Developers building Android apps on Android Studio use either the Java programming language or Kotlin.
Java is a mature and popular language that was first introduced in 1995. It offers excellent performance, a large collection of libraries and lots of frameworks and tools for Android development, as well as a vast community of loyal Java developers all over the world.
Kotlin was introduced in 2011 as an open source programming language for developing Android applications. It was designed for interoperability, clarity and tooling support. It is considered easier to learn than Java.
Couchbase Lite supports Objective-C and Swift for iOS applications, as well as Java and Kotlin for Android apps. The documentation for each, providing code samples and tutorials, can help developers get started quickly to embed Couchbase Lite directly into their apps.
There are many cross-platform development options available. Here are four of the most popular frameworks.
Flutter was created by Google in 2017. Flutter developers use a programming language called Dart to build mobile apps. It includes an SDK to compile code into native apps for iOS and Android, and it is becoming known for its simplicity and speedy compilation.
Xamarin is an open source platform from Microsoft for building iOS, Android and Windows apps using .NET. Xamarin.Forms is the specific Xamarin feature that allows developers to create apps for multiple platforms from a single codebase.
Ionic was introduced in 2013 as an open source SDK for building iOS and Android apps using standard libraries such as React, Angular and Vue.
Flutter developers can embed Couchbase into their apps by using the community-provided and -maintained Couchbase Lite for Dart project, which implements Couchbase Lite for Dart and Flutter. There’s also documentation for using Couchbase Lite for React Native mobile apps as well as for Xamarin and Ionic.
Couchbase for Mobile App Development
Mobile development will continue to increase in importance as mobile app usage continues to increase worldwide. Delivering apps that are consistently fast and reliable is the key to delighting users and standing out in a crowded market.
Regardless of the development model you choose, native or cross-platform, the Couchbase mobile database works with your tools of choice. It’s built specifically to power mobile and edge applications. Learn more here or try it for free today.