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Developing the perfect app experience

By Perry Krug, Principal Architect, Couchbase

With the digital revolution in full swing and consumer behaviour constantly changing, app developers need to accelerate their tech innovation to meet these demands and deliver the most engaging and personalised user experience possible.

According to Gartner, global sales of smartphones totalled 432 million units in the fourth quarter of 2016, a 7% increase over the fourth quarter of 2015. With a growing and hugely competitive market, app developers need to understand customers’ current and future needs to create the most relevant apps and to stay relevant.

Content is King

As part of this trend, there has been a major shift towards content-driven apps. Personalised content; tailored to specific consumers and demographics and delivered to the customer in real-time has become the norm. But what’s behind the apps powering news, navigation and Pokémon grabbing games?

It’s all about the data. Interactive content-driven apps need to store and share different kinds of content and metadata. In the app world, this includes rich, personalised content often for millions of users worldwide.

A typical content driven app has a mix of static and dynamic content. Static content includes images and text while dynamic content includes elements that are app generated, transformed and personalised based on information about the context of the user.

Constricted by Structure

During app development, performance and interactivity are critical factors to stickiness and increased revenue. However, they also need to extend from online to offline in a seamless and continuous manner. To keep an app fresh, developers need to be able to add new types of data quickly, without dealing with the complexity and time it takes to change a schema. Content and metadata stores have workloads that are often spiky and unpredictable. If a piece of content suddenly goes viral, the database needs to scale out rapidly without app changes or downtime. Plus, an app’s data and workload should be evenly distributed across the database cluster to avoid hotspots. Most content consumers today are mobile, and web apps can be consumed from practically anywhere in the world.

Content and metadata stores are highly interactive apps where content consumers discover, share and leverage information at record speed. They need to be rich in content and extremely powerful, supporting hundreds of thousands of document operations every second. To have this high performance, databases need consistent low latency and high throughput. Consistent low latency means sub-millisecond response time 99% of the time regardless of the mix of reads and writes.

Offline functionality

Invariably, most applications will also be judged on how well they function if and when the internet connection disappears – with mobile connectivity still not as ubiquitous as most of us would like. If done right, offline functionality can prove to be a hugely popular, convenient and well-used feature, which further adds to the appeal and use of the application. Think of a fitness app user in London for instance. They would surely appreciate being able to check their fitness data and add their calorie intake while commuting to and from work on the Underground.

In stark contrast, the vast majority of banking applications offer the bare minimum of features when offline, if any, despite using mostly static data. In this competitive market, it’s easy to imagine a more refined offline banking service being incredibly popular and for new users to opt for it in their droves. Going ‘offline first’, ensuring that devices and applications can perform their essential functions anywhere, at any time, without fail, will be crucial in this new landscape.

Giving The Customer What They Want

Consumers are spending 85% of their time on smartphones in apps, however, the number of apps they are downloading is decreasing. Consumers are investing in more valuable and engaging apps and are disposing of those that are too one dimensional and transactional. For example, Google Maps is a valuable application which is downloaded onto 83% of devices, it works in real time, provides genuine user fulfilment and varied uses.

This landscape is one of opportunity and threat. App developers need to support their growing data requirements with more flexible and scalable data management solutions in order to provide the rich and engaging user experience that consumers want. If an app can’t provide this experience, nor effectively handle the data required to do so, they will be tossed aside for those that can. It’s Darwinism pure and simple.

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