When talking about native mobile app development, it’s good to first understand the landscape. There are approximately 6.5 billion smartphone users worldwide, and that number is growing. As smartphones become more ubiquitous and, at the same time, more powerful and advanced, the way they are being used has changed. It’s much more than calls and texting; over the past decade, these little devices have become a primary means of working, shopping, socializing and more. Today you can listen to your favorite podcast, get the latest global news, check work email, collaborate with coworkers, attend online video calls, consult your doctor, and order dinner delivery – all from your phone.
This convenience drives demand for more apps that do innovative things – users are becoming conditioned to expect an app for nearly any task, and they are eager to find them. In 2021, users downloaded 230 billion apps worldwide, and in the 3rd quarter of 2022, they downloaded 35.3 billion apps on the Apple App Store and Google Play alone. The average smartphone user has up to 40 apps on their device at any one time.
What Does the Mobile App Boom Mean for Organizations?
As a result of this mobile app usage boom, more and more organizations are developing and delivering new apps and extending their existing web apps into mobile apps to meet the demand. The first development choice they need to make is which smartphone operating systems they wish to support. The two dominant mobile OS (operating systems) in use today are iOS, with 28% of the worldwide market share, and Android, with 71% of the worldwide market share. As such, most organizations support these two operating systems for the broadest reach, but depending on available resources and skill sets they may not deliver support for each at the same time.
Native Or Cross-Platform Tools?
The next choice an organization needs to make is what tools to use when developing mobile apps for these platforms. The tools generally fall into two categories: native and cross-platform.
Native Mobile App Development
The term native mobile app development describes building an app specifically for a given mobile operating system, such as iOS or Android, using programming languages that are native to that OS.
Building native allows you to deliver the most seamless user experience – your apps will behave like other native apps, generally perform better, and can leverage direct access to other device capabilities such as the camera, microphone, GPS, and more.
Cross-Platform Mobile App Development
The term cross-platform mobile app development refers to using tools that are not native to a given operating system but can produce native apps for each platform from a single master codebase.
Cross-platform development tools can save time and resources by consolidating the work to build apps for multiple operating systems into a single effort, but there are tradeoffs. When developing complex interfaces, you must consider the differences among operating systems and devices. For example, navigation bars and widgets look and behave differently on iOS vs. Android. When using cross-platform tools, developers must contend with these differences and know how they will affect the user experience. Also, because the codebase is not native to the OS, performance and access to device features can be impacted.
This recent post discusses cross-platform mobile app development in more detail.
Why Develop Native Mobile Apps?
Generally speaking, developing a mobile app using native tools will deliver a superior product vs. apps developed using cross-platform tools. Here are just a few of the advantages:
Because they are designed specifically for a given platform and compiled with the native APIs and programming language, native apps perform faster and use device power and resources more efficiently than cross-platform apps.
Native mobile apps behave like all other native features of the device, meaning users can interact using the same actions and gestures they are familiar with, providing a more intuitive experience.
Access to device features
Because they can take advantage of core device capabilities, such as the accelerometer, GPS, camera, speakers, and microphone, native apps can offer users a more integrated and interactive experience.
Should I Use a Mobile Database?
While developing mobile apps using native tools can deliver a better product, it does not make the apps immune to issues, especially if the database on the backend is in the cloud. An app that only uses a cloud database depends on the internet; if a user tries to launch the app where there is no connectivity, it will fail, leading to app abandonment. To retain users, you must ensure that data is always fast and available, which requires a database built for mobile apps.
The mobile database model consists of the following:
- a central cloud database
- an embeddable database running locally within apps on mobile devices
- automatic synchronization between the mobile embedded database and cloud database
With the mobile database model, local data storage and processing on the device ensures that apps are always fast and available, even without the internet. And automatic synchronization uses connectivity when it is available to ensure that data is consistent across the app ecosystem.
When planning your native mobile app development effort, consider the database backend carefully – look for a mobile database with built-in sync capabilities that support your native development tools.
Couchbase provides a mobile database ideally suited as a synchronized backend and embedded database for native mobile apps.
The Couchbase mobile database stack consists of the following:
Couchbase Capella – A fully managed cloud NoSQL database-as-a-service (DBaaS) with support for SQL, search, analytics, and eventing
Couchbase Lite – An embedded NoSQL mobile database with SQL, search, peer-to-peer sync, and broad mobile platform support
Capella App Services – Fully managed backend services for bidirectional sync, authentication, and access control for mobile and edge apps.
Native Mobile Development Tools
While there are only two mobile platforms to build for, there are multiple tools and languages that you can use for the development effort. Here is a brief overview of the options.
Tools for iOS App Development
The Apple IDE (Integrated Development Environment) for building iOS apps is XCode, a graphical interface that includes everything required to write code for native iOS apps.
XCode allows developers to build apps using the Swift programming language and Objective-C.
Objective-C is an object-oriented programming language based on the C programming language. Developed in the mid-1980s, Objective-C was the primary programming language used by Apple up until 2014. It is still widely supported for iOS development. Its strengths are superior stability, compatibility with C and C++, and the ability to dynamically load code, which means you can use it for all app types, from lightweight to large and complex.
Couchbase can be embedded directly to iOS apps built using Objective-C. You can learn more in the Couchbase docs for Couchbase Lite on Objective-C.
Introduced by Apple in 2014, Swift is an open-source programming language that offers a simpler syntax than Objective-C, making it easier to learn for newer developers. Swift was designed to be faster than Objective-C and as a type-safe and memory-safe language, meaning that the language prevents type errors. Being open-source, Swift also has a large and growing community.
Couchbase supports Swift for embedding Couchbase Lite directly to your iOS applications. You can learn more in the Couchbase docs for Couchbase Lite on Swift.
Tools for Android App Development
Android Studio is the IDE used for developing Android apps. It is built on JetBrains’ IntelliJ IDEA software and designed specifically for Android development.
Android Studio supports developing Android mobile apps using the Java programming language and Kotlin.
Java is an object-oriented programming language introduced in 1995. Developers can use Java for desktop applications as well as Android mobile apps. It is a mature and popular language with excellent performance, a large collection of libraries, frameworks, tools for Android development, and a wide pool of worldwide expertise.
Couchbase can be embedded directly to your Android applications built with Java. You can learn how in the Couchbase docs for Couchbase Lite on Java.
Introduced in 2011, Kotlin is a general-purpose, open source, statically typed “pragmatic” programming language designed for developing Android applications. Its creators focused on interoperability, safety, clarity, and tooling support, and it is generally regarded as a more accessible language to learn for Android development than Java.
To learn how Couchbase can be embedded to your Android apps built with Kotlin, check out the Kotlin documentation for Couchbase Lite.
Mobile app development will continue to grow in importance as worldwide mobile app usage increases. Delivering native apps that are fast and reliable is one of the best ways to ensure a superior experience that grows your user base and keeps them coming back.