The Trends Reshaping The Mobile App Market With Netsells Lead Mobile Dev, Peter Bryant

Scott Batchelor

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As an answer to the continued uptake of portable technology, the mobile development industry is evolving at lightning speed. With new products, features and infrastructure changing the capacity for developers to create high-performing mobile experiences, we are entering a new era of mobile excellence, with more variety than ever. 

We sat down with Peter Bryant, our Lead Mobile Developer, to learn about the trends that are changing the ways we build and deploy mobile applications, as well as how this will change the space as we know it.

Flutter Continues to Grow 

In 2017 the Flutter framework revolutionised our ability to build beautiful cross-platform applications. Now, it’s changing the entire development landscape.

We continue to see fast growth in Flutter usage, with over two million developers having used Flutter in the 3 years since its release. This increasing adoption rate is telling that more and more mobile developers are switching to Flutter- probably due to the sustained effort of the Flutter community to polish the framework and add to its extensive capabilities.

Flutter represents one of the most versatile options in app development, allowing for even the most extensive apps to be created and deployed to iOS, Android and the web with relative ease. At Netsells we’ve been using Flutter since shortly after its inception, and believe it is the best way to create whole-of-market digital products.

The continued adoption of Flutter is a very exciting development in the mobile app space, partly because of Google’s backing, but mainly because of the fresh approach it takes to development and deployment. If you need your app to reach the market faster and you don’t need too many native SDK features, then Flutter provides a great platform for developing robust, intuitive mobile apps.

That being said, if you’re looking for a mobile app with advanced security features, or need to build something with a significant amount of 3rd party integrations, then it may be worth considering a native iOS or Android app.

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App Deployment & Revenue is Changing

There is a high-profile lawsuit currently moving through the US court system which has the capacity to alter the way we distribute and earn money from mobile apps forever. Fortnite creators Epic Games have challenged Apple’s restrictions on apps having in-app purchasing options outside of the one offered by the App Store.

There are three main changes that Epic Games are seeking in App Store policies: 

Firstly, it wants the ability to have an alternative payment processing system for in-app purchases. This could potentially mean billions of dollars in revenue being erased for Apple, as it has traditionally gained 30% from the fee it charges many developers. This would allow product owners to retain more profit, which in turn could be used to fund further updates and features on their product roadmap.

Secondly, Epic Games want Apple to lift the ban on developers advertising ways to make payments from outside the device ecosystem, where their users may get a better deal, and they may retain more of the profits from microtransactions. This would also provide new revenue streams for other payment processing platforms, such as Venmo, Stripe or Square.

Finally, in its most radical demand, Epic Games wants users to have the ability to install apps by sidestepping the App Store entirely, installing directly from their own website. This could have a profound effect on distribution, as apps have always been stored and downloaded through a centralised app store. If this comes to an end, digital products will have to be marketed and shared using completely different techniques, more akin to product or SaaS marketing.

Should any of these motions pass, we could see the amount of money developers are able to make for their work drastically increase, with more autonomy over their output and sales.

API-Centric Approach

The application programming interface (API) has been a key part of software development for decades. Now, a new breed of third-party APIs are offering capabilities that free developers from lock-in to any particular platform and allow them to more efficiently bring their applications to market.

Developers realise that much of the functionality they need to build into an app is redundant to what many other companies are toiling over. They’ve learned not to expend precious resources on reinventing the wheel but instead to rely on APIs from the larger platforms, such as Salesforce, Amazon and, more recently, specialised developers. 

We’re still in the early innings of this shift to third-party APIs, but a number of promising examples illustrate how developers can turn to companies such as Stripe and Plaid for payment connectivity, Twilio for telephony, Factual for location-based data and Algolia for site search.

While getting to market more quickly at a lower cost is a huge win, there is an even more important advantage: Development teams are able to focus on core functionalities and what makes the product unique, leaving the heavy lifting on other, more common areas to the teams who build and manage the third-party APIs. This translates to a much stronger product come launch.

On top of that, third-party API developers have access to a much larger dataset when it comes to adding API functionality. This means that when they make changes to the functionality of the API, it is not only based on the data from your own usage, but thousands of other similar businesses. This ensures that you always get the best possible performance for your app.

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Changing Backend Services

Traditionally, if we wanted to build a mobile app with a centralised back-end capability, we would have to build both the app itself and a web application capable of handling databases, API requests and anything else ‘under the hood’. 

Now, however, we’re seeing the emergence of technologies which describe themselves as ‘Backend-as-a-Service’ (BaaS).

BaaS is a cloud service model in which vendors provide pre-written software for activities that take place on servers, such as user authentication, database management, remote updating, and push notifications (for mobile apps), as well as cloud storage and hosting.

BaaS providers offer a number of server-side capabilities. For instance:

  • Database management
  • Cloud storage (for user-generated content)
  • User authentication
  • Push notifications
  • Remote updating
  • Hosting
  • Other platform- or vendor-specific functionalities; for instance, Firebase offers Google search indexing

BaaS and MBaaS providers include Google Firebase and Microsoft Azure.

So, is this the end of the backend development industry? 

In short, no. Whilst there are a growing number of benefits to using BaaS solutions, they are not a catch-all solution. Users have less control over their backend infrastructure, which means they are unable to provide the level of security or automation of a traditional bespoke backend. They also don’t allow developers to define customised cloud integration, as the architecture varies based on type of business.

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