The Comprehensive Guide to Application Architecture in Mobile Development

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In today’s world, the smartphone is King, Queen, and all of the other pieces on the board also. People use these devices for everything in their life, from ordering food to checking the weather and news. Smartphones are used for work and play and their popularity is only growing. In fact, since 2016, the global number of smartphone users has increased from 2.5 billion to 3.8 billion. This is an increase of almost 50% in a very short period of time and with emerging markets like India and China having low smartphone penetration, the expectation is that this will only continue to increase. 

Pick the Mobile Application Architecture that Makes Sense

Table of Contents

Why Your Business Might Need a Mobile App

The true power behind smartphones is the apps that run on different operating systems. Businesses worldwide are trying to take advantage of the smartphone market for a variety of reasons. In some cases, it is a sales tool to better market and advertise their products and services. In other instances, it is a means of communicating with their clients to assist with problem and issue resolution. Businesses know that a mobile app is essential today if they want to stand out from the competition as that is what their clients are looking for.

When it comes to obtaining a mobile app, the operating system of the smartphone or device is instrumental. Each device is dependent and tied to a different app store where all of the apps are available for download. In Q1 of 2020, the Android app store known as Google Play had the most number of apps available with 2.56 million apps accessible for download. Apple’s app store was in lone second place with 1.85 million apps available for devices running iOS. The Windows and Amazon app stores were both significantly lower.

Pick the Mobile Application Architecture that Makes Sense

The opportunity within the mobile app space for businesses is however massive. Currently, revenues for paid downloads and in-app advertising globally account for close to 582 billion dollars, but this number is set to skyrocket to 935 billion US by 2023.

Pick the Mobile Application Architecture that Makes Sense

What is Application Architecture?

When building an application, architects need to have a plan in place before they start. Application architecture is the underlying structure that developers work with to build an application. This foundation describes the tools and techniques that need to be used to ensure that the app is well designed and functioning at the highest level.

Pick the Mobile Application Architecture that Makes Sense

Mobile Application Architecture – Key Principles

When building a mobile or web application, ensuring that each component performs its function is critical. A small problem in the creation phase of the architecture for a mobile application can have far-reaching consequences on the viability of the final product. Popular mobile apps understand this principle – they are built with stability and functionality in minda and demonstrate these concepts daily. Apps that fail to consider a mobile application development architecture in their planning generally do not survive for long on any of the app stores as users quickly demonstrate their dissatisfaction. Mobile application security architecture is another key feature of a reliable app no matter iOS, Android, or Hybrid. When choosing the right architecture and developing an application, try to avoid loopholes in mobile app security. 

What is Mobile Application Architecture?

When discussing mobile application development architecture, architects look at industry-specific best practices and standards. Developers need to consider all types of wireless products in this analysis so that the application works with both smartphones and tablets seamlessly.

From a simple perspective, applications are designed with three different layers in mind. The data layer includes all the data utilities, service agents and data access components. Moving up from data, the business layer includes all of the different workflows and business entities as well as the business components themselves. Finally, the presentation layer is where the user-interface (UI) processes and components sit.

Pick the Mobile Application Architecture that Makes Sense

While this level of information is suitable for a high-level explanation, it is possible to drill down to gain even more insight into the underlying architecture for mobile applications. In this instance you need to understand your target audience and how they will be using the mobile application. If you are building a rich client for example, the business and data layers will sit on the mobile device. Conversely, thin client mobile applications will have these two layers sitting on the server.

Other considerations to keep in mind are the devices your mobile application will need to support. This includes an understanding of hardware specifications like screen size and resolution as well as underlying processing power and memory. Depending on your use case, your application might require a camera or GPS to function correctly which will impact your decision making. In all cases, design should be based around minimum requirements vs ideal solutions. That is, look at what you need with limited network connectivity instead of an always-connected solution as you do not always know how end-users will access and use the mobile application in the field.

Another important feature to consider when choosing an architecture pattern is app security. Mobile app security is a measure to protect applications from external threats like malware and other digital frauds that denounce critical personal, corporate, and financial information.

Since loopholes in mobile security can give access to confidential information and also disclose data like users’ current location, banking information, personal information, and more, it is important to incorporate security features in an app’s architecture. 

Android Mobile Application Architecture

Choosing the right android mobile application architecture can be somewhat complicated as Google does not specifically recommend any specific one. This can be problematic as many older apps were designed without a specific approach or best practice in mind. This unfortunately tends to impact maintenance cycles and future development activities.

However, the Clean Architecture that we discussed earlier is a good solution to this problem. Using this architecture, developers are not tied to a specific framework or database. In addition, each layer is also independent while still being able to transmit information and data.

Pick the Mobile Application Architecture that Makes Sense

iOS Mobile Architecture

Unlike Google, Apple did have a suggestion when it came to iOS mobile application architecture. They suggested the use of MVC (Model-View-Controller) architectural pattern for UIKit, although many experts believe that this is not the best solution.

MVC pattern is made up of three main objects:

  • The Model. A layer where the data (persistence, model objects, parsers, managers, and networking code) resides. 
  • The View. A layer which visually represents your app. Its classes don’t contain any domain-specific logic, so they are considered to be reusable. 
  • The Controller. A mediatory layer between the view and the model. Ideally, the controller communicates with an abstraction via a protocol and doesn’t know the concrete view it’s dealing with. Commonly, the way a UITableView communicates with its data source via the UITableViewDataSource protocol is considered as a classic example.

Pick the Mobile Application Architecture that Makes Sense

Apple’s MVC documentation explains these layers for iOS mobile application architecture in detail and can give you a good theoretical understanding.

Hybrid Mobile Application Architecture

When it comes to mobile application architecture, the hybrid has many proponents, but before jumping into it with both feet, the first question to be asked is what does hybrid mean? Apple and Google both prefer developers to create applications targeted toward their OS. In essence, this means developers need to write two completely unique apps which are incompatible with each other.

Hybrid mobile application architecture attempts to mitigate this duplication of effort by letting developers create one codebase that can be used with either OS. At first glance, this might seem to be the ideal solution and in the right circumstances, it is. While time savings are clear in respect to only one codebase for both OS’s, additional platform-specific revisions are often required so the time saving might not be as large as expected.

Hybrid does have some benefits but in some instances, it can actually be unsuitable so once again, a clear understanding of your use-case is paramount. For example, native UIs still tend to look better than their hybrid counterparts. This tends to matter if your app requires complex graphics and images, but is not as important if your application is text-heavy.

What Else to Consider When Choosing the Right Mobile Application Architecture

When considering the architecture for mobile applications, there are several questions that need to be asked and answered before a suitable path forward is selected.

Understand Device Hardware

Whether an android mobile application architecture, a hybrid mobile application architecture or an iOS one is the path forward depends on the devices that will be used most frequently.

Pick the Mobile Application Architecture that Makes Sense

Based on the device OS, screen resolution, space, and memory, different choices can be made. This is a crucial first step as understanding the hardware that powers a device will drive decisions about the minimum specifications the application needs to comply with.

Is Data or WiFi Always Available?

To understand which option is best for your mobile application, you need to understand how and where it will be used. If your application will always maintain a connection to the server, a thin client approach might be more suitable.

If, however, you cannot guarantee this connection, or you need a more complex UI, then pursue a rich client path. Rich client solutions are generally more complicated to maintain and install, but they might also be the only suitable option.

It is important to always design and architect a solution based on the worst case scenario. In this instance consider countries or locations with slow internet. In this case, users will either be unable to use a thin client or will simply abandon the app in frustration. Here, an upfront investment into a rich client experience is the only suitable alternative.

Consider User Interface (UI)

A UI is how users interact with applications. A confusing UI will only cause conflict and will impact how your users perceive the app and its usefulness. While design matters, it should not be at the expense of the user experience itself. Creating a picture perfect design matters little if your users are unable to understand how to use the interface and application.

Choose The Correct Navigation Method

How menus are presented and the app itself functions has a big impact on an application’s usefulness and popularity. There are a variety of different navigation methods that an app developer can pursue when building an application. These include:

  • Scroll view
  • Single view
  • Stacked navigation bar
  • Modular controller
  • Tab controller
  • Gesture or Search driven navigation.

Navigation is critical in how apps are used and choosing the right option is a crucial factor on the overall user experience.

When selecting the right mobile application architecture, there are various considerations that a trained and knowledgeable partner can assist with. At NIX we understand how to design mobile applications, accounting for user requirements, and business needs. Our team has experience working with all of the different frameworks currently available and work with you to choose an option that best suits your organization and overall objectives. We understand how to design around limitations in data, hardware, and bandwidth and can help you choose the right solution based on your requirements. Let us help you choose the right mobile application architecture for your business and customers to ensure that you are successful. Contact NIX to find out how we can help you.

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