A rocket is nothing without a powerful engine. The same goes for a mobile app — without a functional backend, an app will have a limited capability and user experience, no matter how engaging the UI. The backend facilitates data exchange and communication, helping a mobile app perform compute-intensive tasks.
Let’s look at what a mobile application backend is, how it works, and what types there are. We’ll also answer the question when your mobile product needs a backend.
What Is Mobile App Backend?
A mobile app backend is the brain of a mobile app. Among other things, the backend takes care of data processing, storage, and security.
The backend operates on the server, and it’s that part of the app that you don’t see, but your mobile app depends on it for functionality.
A mobile backend takes care of:
Data processing and storage independent of a smartphone’s capabilities
Data sync and sharing across multiple devices and platforms
Content updates within the mobile app
Management of the app’s business logic
Authorization and authentication that control access to data
Heavy processing operations (e.g., retrieving songs when you open a Spotify playlist) need a mobile app backend because of the limited capabilities of smartphones.
The mobile backend runs on a remote server and communicates with the mobile app to deliver a feature to end-users.
The backend, unlike the frontend, runs without a graphical interface. A backend is an app designed for communication among machines and servers.
The mobile app backend server performs remote tasks and processes information to make the frontend app experience better. A hosted backend stays on remote servers that developers access via APIs (application public interface).
How Does a Mobile Backend Work?
A mobile backend communicates with the app’s frontend to answer user requests. Together, they’re the soul (backend) and the body (frontend) of any modern mobile app.
Without the backend, the frontend is non-functional and without the frontend, an app wouldn’t be understood by the end-user (because there’s no visual layer).
But how does the communication happen? How does a machine-based backend understand what a human needs?
The answer lies in two-way communication via APIs.
When a user taps on the screen, the frontend sends a request to the backend. The backend retrieves the information required to perform a function via an API and sends back the final output to the frontend.
Let’s take an example.
Say, you want to buy your favorite pair of shoes on Amazon. You click the buy now button and go to a checkout page to pick the payment option.
The frontend (Amazon app) sends a request to its backend servers to connect to the external payment gateway. The result: you see a banking payment page asking for your payment credentials like credit card information, address, CVV, etc.
The API connects the backend and the frontend to the external service (payment provider) to display the payment page and pay for the order. The two-way communication ensures that the app keeps functioning seamlessly and offers the desired solution to the end-user, which in this case is to buy a pair of shoes.
Ever since Google introduced the Flutter mobile app SDK, it became the core of many prominent cross-platform mobile apps. With its rising popularity, apps built with Flutter continue to grow in numbers. Let’s look at some of the mobile apps built with Flutter and how Flutter's robust functionalities have contributed to their success.
How Many Flutter Apps Are There?
When Google released Flutter 1.20, reports indicated that the number of Flutter-built apps available on Play Store increased from 50,000 to 90,000. By the time Flutter 2 was released in March 2021, there were more than 150,000 Flutter apps on Play Store, and we can predict that the number will continue to rise with Flutter's growing popularity.
What Popular Apps Are Made with Flutter?
Xianyu by Alibaba
Xianyu by Alibaba is an ecommerce app for buying and selling second-hand goods. The app is built in Flutter and is available on both iOS and Android.
In 2017, the team at Xianyu conducted an in-depth comparison between available cross-platform development platforms. The analysis favored Flutter, which offered a better development experience and faster testing capabilities compared to, for example, React Native.
Easy implementation, minimal learning curve, and hot reload feature helped Xianyu launch new product pages quickly. After initial success, Flutter became a standard part of Xianyu’s tech stack, speeding up development and improving the cross-platform experience for end-users.
The Xianyu app now has more than 50 million downloads and 10 million active daily users.
Google Stadia used the available custom Bluetooth plugin logic, which reduced the quantity of code to be written. The team was able to deploy features quickly across iOS and Android versions. Flutter’s shared codebase and hot reload capabilities increased the speed of development. Also, automated testing using Flutter was fast and reliable.
eBay’s automobile portal eBay Motors, is one of the most popular apps built with Flutter. The app lets you buy and sell vehicles and accessories, discover new listings, and connect with car buyers and sellers.
Hot reload and automated testing allowed them to test functional prototypes quickly. The development experience was seamless, and apps delivered a consistent user experience.
Flutter’s code-sharing capabilities sped up the platform-specific integration deployment process. The team used available Flutter plugins to integrate device APIs quickly.
According to the team, Flutter’s capabilities (shared code, hot reload, and “write-once use forever” philosophy) let the team deliver new features in record time.
The New York Times used Flutter to create a cross-platform app for their readers. Read by millions every day, NYT was looking for new ways to engage their readers and improve the user experience.
Flutter’s cross-platform capabilities helped NYT launch a platform-independent app — the popular KenKen puzzle.
Offering a seamless experience across platforms is always a challenge for developers. Flutter’s single codebase allowed the team to launch KenKen Puzzles for iOS, Android, Windows, macOS, and the web, simultaneously.
Flutter facilitated real-time iteration and saved time on building and running multiple betas. This let the NYT team launch a seamless version of KenKen puzzles across platforms quickly.
MyBMW app lets BMW owners interact with the car — lock, unlock, locate, monitor, and navigate using their mobile device. The app serves as a single-point solution for managing car ownership with good user experience.
My BMW app was primarily built for iOS for different vehicle models and variants. Though it had an Android version, feature discrepancy was a major challenge for BMW. BMW ownership experience was inconsistent for iOS and Android users affecting the brand image.
The company had two fundamental goals to tackle the “platform disparity” problem:
Launch a seamless app with the same functionalities across platforms without increasing costs.
Build a development platform for consistently releasing features without reducing development speed.
Flutter helped them tackle both challenges. BMW had several car models and brands under its umbrella, each requiring a dedicated app.
With Flutter, the BMW team launched the new MyBMW app to deliver a cohesive and seamless ownership experience. An internal platform powered automated builds and testing of unique app versions for different platforms, markets, and sub-brands. This saved BMW thousands of hours every month.
Topline is a music production app for artists to save their music ideas. Artists can record tracks, add lyrics, compose creations, anywhere, anytime. The app saves everything on the cloud, so artists are never worried about losing their record-breaking beat.
The app was launched by Abbey Road Studios for iOS, originally. The ideas' novelty and utility made the app an instant hit. Though an Android version was not planned initially, persistent demand made the developers look for options.
Building a music production app on Android is trickier than iOS due to audio latency issues. Limited resources and a small team added to their problems.
Choosing Flutter for cross-platform development made sense to the Topline team as they could launch both Android and iOS versions with a single codebase.
According to the Topline dev team, Flutter helped them quickly build, launch, and deploy without much hassle. The team added a neat swipe menu and launched Android and iOS versions in just 10 weeks — a seemingly impossible ordeal if they’d developed natively. The app became immensely popular and was officially featured on Google I/O 2018 and Flutter Live 2018. In 2018, Topline also won the Top UK App Award.
Based in Santa Clara, California, Realtor.com is a popular real estate company and the second most visited real estate listings website in 2021. Until mid-2019, their organizational model had two separate Android and iOS development teams and codebases, which became an overhead later. After recognizing the benefits of having a single codebase, the company started implementing new features using Flutter’s Add to App feature.
Adding Flutter to the existing mobile apps brought many benefits. For example, it freed their web developers from having to learn two new languages and frameworks. Moreover, the ability to develop features for both iOS and Android at once increased their productivity. Feature release and code changes now require only half developers than earlier.
Sonos lets you listen to music from popular streaming services like Spotify, Gaana, or Apple Music on any speaker. People use the free Sonos app on their mobile, tablet, PC, or laptop to connect their home speakers to streaming services.
Flutter increased the development capabilities of the Sonos team. The framework saved hundreds of hours and helped launch a refreshed and intuitive cross-platform app quickly.
They solved all existing issues and developed additional features that improved the user experience. Sonos revamped the UI and offered assistive features for end-users across all platforms. Integration of sound, animations, transitions, and walkthroughs was easy with Flutter.
The new features and UX solved the problems and delighted the app’s existing and growing user base.
Flutter brought consistency to their product development efforts. It also improved their build time (from overall 70.45 minutes to just 9.9 minutes) and increased the team’s performance. Also, a single codebase made it easier to manage bugs, monitor the app, and correlate app metrics with other systems.
Beike supports people in finding their dream home and enjoying a great virtual house hunting experience in China. Beike lists 187 million properties in China and offers virtual property tours via a mobile app.
According to the Beike dev team, Flutter let them scale without hiring a large team. Relying on the Flutter community, the team saved a lot of time thanks to several plugins, widgets, and solutions that sped up the development.
Today, the company has more than a dozen apps operating under the Beike umbrella. Together, the apps have helped 300 million families find and visualize their dream home.
Betterment is an online investing company that provides investment and financial advice. The Betterment team needed a solution that would help them better manage their mobile codebase. With Flutter’s add-to-app feature, Betterment connected the new code to its native codebase without impacting the customer experience.
Today Betterment has over 500,000 user accounts and 26 billion assets under management.
Google Pay — Digital Payments
Google Pay is one of the world’s most popular digital payments apps with more than 100 million users across the globe. The app allows users to pay for goods and services and adopt digital payments in some of the remotest corners of the world.
Every region or country expansion required its own set of unique features. An increasing user base on iOS and Android led to a wastage of development resources due to the duplication of efforts for every feature. Also, finding and hiring more engineers was a constant challenge, too. Choosing Flutter for development made natural sense.
Flutter helped Google Pay consolidate engineering resources and save on building dedicated teams. With a team of 150 engineers, the team could rewrite and test the existing app with 300+ features. Google Pay, built on Flutter, was launched to 100 million monthly active users in the US and Indian markets.
Thanks to Flutter, Google launched a slick, beautiful, and efficient app, with a 35% smaller codebase. According to Google, they were able to save 60-70% on development time due to a single codebase.
Global village, ocean of talent, or the universe of opportunities — however you want to call it, we’re sailing away from the physical world toward the digital. People shop on mcommerce platforms, consume digital goods, and work and communicate on mobile devices. The digital shift is palpable, and the demand for online services is at an all-time high.
Building an online services marketplace can be an inspiring business opportunity, letting you tap into an increasing number of markets.
What Is an Online Services Marketplace?
As a business owner, you’ve probably used talent sourcing platforms such as Upwork or Fiverr for hiring. You’ve called for an Uber for your commute or booked an apartment at Airbnb.
But online services can also be pretty much anything where the product is a service. You can sell online fitness lessons, live meditation sessions, or product management courses.
How services marketplaces work
In an online services marketplace, service providers list their offerings. Buyers browse the app and hire a service provider to get things done. The marketplace charges commission (either from the seller or buyer or both) to facilitate the service delivery.
The pandemic increased the demand for service digitization. People look for online classes, coaching sessions, and online on-demand services online. Also, as the economy is bouncing back, people are expected to spend more on services like travel, hospitality, and food delivery.
Despite the global drop in consumption during COVID-19, the rapidly shifting consumer behavior gave online commerce a boost. Mobile commerce sales in particular experienced a significant increase as the preference toward remote transactions continues.
Businesses of all sizes have focused on developing their mobile commerce channels, with some companies experiencing online sales that outperformed even the most optimistic forecasts. But the opportunity is still available for newcomers who want to capitalize on this financially stable industry.
A mobile marketplace is a digital store designed with a mobile-first strategy in mind. Consumers download the marketplace mobile app to shop online, find a new service, or simply window shop and explore goods. The marketplace hosts multiple vendors and allows shoppers to buy different products or services on a single platform.
Mobile marketplaces are a natural progression from ecommerce platforms and online stores. A mobile marketplace brings sellers closer to buyers and simplified the online shopping and selling experience for smartphone users.
Marketplace apps offer several features to facilitate product discovery and mobile payments.
Amazon, Alibaba, Etsy, and eBay are all examples of mobile marketplace apps that have done phenomenally well in recent years.
But marketplace apps aren’t limited to physical goods and the retail industry.
A marketplace can host services, courses, websites, apps, other businesses, and skills. For example, Flippa sells affiliate websites, SaaS businesses, and online stores. Gumroad sells a plethora of products made by contributing users. Humanoo has a whole package of fitness-related services and courses.
While this guide outlines the steps in mobile application development, the process isn’t the same for every project simply because no project is the same. Companies come with different product ideas, bringing different assets (graphics, designs, existing apps that need a revamp). Some steps in this guide will be skipped for those that have designs, for example. Also, not every step is necessary or mandatory — the development process should never be rigid and set in stone (just like your assumptions).
Look at this guide as a general outline of what’s involved in the mobile app development process, but by no means treat it as definitive.
The key to building successful products is flexibility and skill with which you and your vendor can target customer needs and solve their problems.
This guide is meant to show you what’s usually involved in the mobile app development process.
What Are the Main Steps in Developing a Mobile Application?
There are basically six steps involved in developing a mobile app. In the agile approach, they are repeatable — each iteration helps refine the product.
Development with QA
Step #1. Product Discovery and Strategy
How do I start developing a mobile app? — Validating your idea
Every app starts with an idea — so that’s where you’ll be starting your journey.
Thorough idea validation is the most important step in the life of your app. You need to be harsh with your idea: there’s no place for kindnesses or leeways. If you won’t validate your idea properly, you’ll end up sinking resources.
You should be able to describe your product idea in one sentence when woken up in the middle of the night. Such clarity helps keep everyone understand the vision better.
To validate your idea, you can use a variety of available resources, such as the Lean Canvas or similar. These tools will help you narrow down your vision.
Templates that help in this phase:
Prioritization chart (must, should, could feature separation; you can use Miro for that)
Keep in mind that these are just frameworks that yield tangible results when created by experienced product managers. It’s not to say you shouldn’t do them — if anything they’ll help you put your idea into context.
When you approach a software agency, the team might want to fill out some of those templates too. Don’t let that discourage you. The vendor needs to understand your business context because, without it, the vendor loses key information that can lead to false assumptions and an obstructed workflow.
Exploring your competition and target audience
During product discovery, you should learn as much as possible about your target audience, competition, and monetization strategy.
You should be able to answer questions such as:
What do you want to achieve through your app?
Who is the target audience?
What problem does the app solve?
Who is your competition?
What will your app have that your competition doesn’t?
How will you monetize your app?
Keep in mind that the process of chiseling out a defined set of features (as understood by developers) depends on close cooperation between you and the software agency you’ll work with.
This process can take a lot of time in some cases. The reason why is that it takes time to narrow down your product idea. The more complex the product, the longer it takes to finish the process of defining scope.
During product discovery, you define use cases and create functional requirements. At the end of this stage, you should have a document with user interface requirements. UI requirements will later be distilled to specifications (e.g., user stories and the backlog).
The conclusions you draw from product discovery determine the direction in which your app will move. A thorough analysis is therefore necessary to secure a validated idea that will be desirable but also technically viable.
Because every project requires a thorough analysis, you might want to hire professionals to help you in this stage of the journey.
Vendor-supported product discovery can be used in a variety of scenarios. For example:
If you already have a product but aren’t satisfied with it, a vendor should provide you with a comprehensive UX audit to pinpoint what your mobile application is lacking and what it needs to help you achieve better results.
You don’t have a product yet but want to:
improve an existing process (e.g., build an app to support your internal sales team in contacting and managing clients)
expand your business and add another sales channel
introduce a new solution that you’ve observed in your target audience
A vendor can find users for initial tests of your product for a steady stream of validated learnings. Experienced software agencies can also check your competition and do market research.
How to choose a software agency?
A software agency can come in handy during those first steps of your app’s lifecycle. Reliable agencies with a portfolio of successful projects will have enough experience to support you right from the start.
In a fixed-price model, you usually follow a sequential order in product development: requirements and analysis, design, implementation, testing, deployment, maintenance. By definition of a Waterfall model, once requirements are complete, there’s little to no possibility to change the scope.
In other words, in Waterfall-based fixed-price models, you don’t have the flexibility to introduce changes once the project enters development. This can create a few problems:
Missed product-market fit after launch (customer preferences come and go; the longer the development the higher the likelihood of missing the fit)
Solution not solving user problems (good products are always developed with customers embedded into the decision-making process)
Paying the buffer for the vendor — a vendor has to offset any possible losses caused by unexpected hurdles in development
Contactless payments are the gold standard for Near Field Communication (NFC) tags in 2021. A great majority of mobile phone users have made contactless payments in recent years. The use of NFCs for payments is likely to grow as we move toward cashless societies. But there is much more to NFC tags than payments.
Let’s look at how NFC is changing industries by exploring uses for NFC tags.
How Are Industries Adopting NFC in 2021?
NFC technology has been around for more than a decade, steadily growing in adoption.
NFC solved a major pain point — providing secure contactless payment systems for mobile payment processing. As less digitalized businesses saw the contactless potential, they started looking for new ways to use NFC in their everyday affairs.
NFC in retail
The retail sector has been using NFC for contactless mobile payments. But NFC in retail has moved beyond just a payment method.
Retailers are using NFC tags for sharing product information, offering discounts, in-store marketing campaigns, etc.
NFC in healthcare
NFC-based SOS features are now standard on many smartphones. One can scan a smartphone to know the medical history, raise an SOS alarm for a person involved in an accident or in case of an emergency.
Also, NFC tags on sealed medical packages help doctors and caregivers check dosage info and prescriptions using their smartphones.
NFC in banking and finance
Banks and financial institutions are using NFC beyond payments. Apple Pay, Google Pay, Android Pay, and other NFC-enabled mobile wallets are just the tip of an iceberg in the banking sector.
NFC tags are easily recyclable, reducing the use of non-degradable plastic cards. Many financial institutions are also using NFC tags as keys to lockers and deposit boxes for customers.
Best NFC Use Cases and App Examples
NFC has been integrated in several mobile apps, especially during COVID-19. Here are some of the best uses of NFC tags in mobile apps:
NFC-based travel and transportation apps
NFC has reinvented the archaic practices that have been in place for the better part of the last century. The travel, tourism, and transportation industries are rapidly rolling out NFC-based apps and contactless ticketing solutions.
Airlines and airport authorities are experimenting with NFC boarding passes, and public transport systems have shifted to NFC-powered ticketing apps.
NFC-powered public transportation systems are operating in several major cities — New Delhi (India), Nice (France), Beijing (China), Seoul (Korea), etc.
Restaurants, bars, and popular tourist spots are also using NFC stickers and tags for information exchange. Hotels are using NFC-based smart locks for keyless entry to rooms. Tourists and customers can use an NFC-powered mobile app to get more info, read reviews, find the best deals, get entry to an area/room, and post reviews.
NFC-based events and entertainment apps
NFC apps allow venue owners, organizers, and artists to comply with local social distancing mandates, sell tickets, promote contactless payments, and ensure minimal contact.
NFC simplifies ticket delivery and venue access for locations like theaters and concert halls. People use NFC-enabled devices and smartphones to validate their entry — at sporting events, theme parks, concerts, conferences, or a live show.
NFC tags can streamline access control and security protocols. Companies are using NFC to upgrade their old access management systems. NFC tags can be embedded into mobile phones, wearables, wrist bands, and key chains to identify team members, visitors, and workers within office campuses.
HR teams can use NFC-enabled apps to track work hours and team attendance without being intrusive.
An NFC-based access control system like AEOS by Nedap brings systems, electronic devices, smartphones, and people on the same network. Modern offices can use this solution to facilitate and track movement, provide access to conference rooms, cubicles, or floors.
NFC-based automation apps
NFC tags can automate homes, offices, buildings, and even vehicles with IoT networks. NFC apps can be used to configure device operations, share WiFi passwords securely, and control a computer system remotely.
Shar sensitive information like social media credentials securely
Open doors and access areas within a building
Send emergency messages (SOS) or call a number
Configure a wireless Internet connection and share WiFi password
NFC tags can also power smart locks and work as a keyless solution to access apartments, cars, and hotel rooms. Many hotels are now using NFC-enabled smart locks as an alternative to plastic keycards. Guests use their own smartphones instead of plastic keycards to unlock hotel rooms. This helps hotels follow safety and hygiene protocols. Plus, hotels ditching plastic keycards for NFC can reduce plastic waste.
NFC-based wellness and fitness apps
Wearable tech is heavily dependent on NFC tags for fitness-related information exchange. Fitness apps collect data from wearables and track sleep patterns, calories burnt, heart rate, and other metrics in real-time.
All major fitness bands use NFC as an underlying tech to improve user experience and become a part of daily life.
MI Band 4 by Xiaomi supports contactless mobile payments and configurable gestures to create a workout schedule, play music, set an alarm, etc.
NFC has other use cases for fitness and healthcare apps, too. Caregivers can monitor patients’ vitals and ensure a safe delivery of genuine drugs. Prescriptions can also be stored in NFC tags.
Many pharmaceutical companies and institutes have started using NFC-powered smart drug labels that store a medicine’s expiry date, dosage information, authenticity information, etc.