React Native: An App Development Tool for All Scales

December 24, 2017

It's all about the app

Small, medium and large enterprises know they need to interact with customers in new and innovative ways using apps. The best digital marketing and UX reaches new markets, drives sales, improves brand awareness and gives users what they need before they know they need it. React Native is the latest mobile tool developed by Facebook on a Javascript foundation offering

Whatever your marketing goals, your strategy could be improved by developing a mobile app. But the reality is not that simple. You don't just need one: you need one for each platform your customers use - Apple and Android. This is because the market is fragmented with different languages, platforms and access points. Until now, that meant investing at least twice the work, twice the time and twice the cost to create 'one' app because there wasn't anything that worked across them all.

React Native - one tool, many platforms

React Native is a mobile app development tool created by Facebook to address the multi-platform problem. It focuses on building applications using JavaScript code - the most popular language. Prototype expert Khodor explains 'Its built on the React JS methodologies and focuses on building mobile applications using JavaScript.' As it can be installed on any computer a Javascript developer can start building apps in minutes.

What are React Native's benefits?

There are a number of major benefits to using this technology. React Native doesn't need any special software or platform. It's also open source with no special licenses so you can adopt the latest innovations. This lets smaller companies take advantage of developments teams make at organisations like Facebook Instagram and AirBnB. Open source is like having a huge development team you don't have to pay for.

Why has nobody done this before?

They have tried! Titanium ionic and phonegap are all past attempts at creating cross-platform developer tools but it's not easy. You've got to look at the history. App development has been an evolution. From the start lots of providers were pushing different solutions so if you wanted to use those tools you needed different experts to create them. That's why you see products targeted to single platforms - it's expensive. App building has been something that takes too long and needs too many people to implement. So it's unsurprising that small and medium enterprises haven't explored the app market much until now as that's a lot of investment. React Native could be the solution they need.

How does React Native work?

React Native transitions JavaScript code and compiles it into code that runs as a native application. The JavaScript bridge connects the Native code and the JavaScript code. Kodor explains 'The resulting performance is one of the best in the market. You can use your native code if needed. And if you have other existing applications you can add React Native code easily because you can just import whatever other code you already have.'

Does React Native have any disadvantages?

This isn't the absolute Utopia of cross-platform tools it's about 80% of the way there. But that's actually enough. Think about different users - they expect different things and they're not going to be happy if you try to change that. For example menu locations and other interface aspects are different between Android and iOS. Start moving things around and you're degrading the customer journey. So you need to add about 20% in each version. But that is still a massive improvement over creating unique apps for each market.

The other factor to consider is that while open source gives small companies access to the latest solutions bigger companies come up with if they want to do something completely new they will still struggle. You need someone to invest in creating the new solutions first. But if you want to create a simple app it could do up to 100% of the work.

Should I invest in React Native?

The key here is to look at who else is using React Native. When big players like Facebook AirBnB and Instagram are involved you can be fairly confident your investment is going to deliver for some time. Programming languages and tools come and go so investment in such a changing landscape can be a big risk but now everyone can take advantage of the work done by Facebook and others through open source.

You also have to think that JavaScript has been taking over the Internet: it's now on front end it's now on servers it's now even in apps. Even for a smaller enterprise who might only have the budget for one person if you're going to invest in a skillset then someone who knows Javascript and is trained in React Native is going to be a good option.

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Written by
Alexander Rauser
Alexander Rauser


Alexander Rauser is the author of Boardroom Guide to Digital Accountability and Digital Strategy: A Guide to Digital Business Transformation, and creator of the DSX Program, a digital strategy and transformation program for Enterprises.

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