When it came time to source a developer for our Beyond Flipped app, we contacted a variety of different development teams to get an idea of what was possible within our allocated budget. The teams consisted of individual developers, small companies, and larger organisations, all with different approaches and costings.
After discussing the requirements and various methods of development with the prospective developers, the final decision became an easy one. An independent web designer and developer based in the UK named Ben Baker. Ben was proposing ideas and innovations that were not only exciting, but also achievable with the budget available, and within timeframe proposed. Me and Ben had studied together at university and had kept in touch over the years, which is what led us to approach him with regards to developing our app.
Ben was the perfect collaborator for the project, as he understood exactly what we were aiming to achieve. His past experience in the education space with his previous work meant he understood the kinds of hurdles we may face throughout the process. He’s a perfect fit with regards to our team culture, and he has a passion for pushing the envelope when it comes to new technologies, which I’ll talk about next.
Instead of a static app developed using traditional methods, Ben was interested in taking existing web authoring tools and blending them with state-of-the-art app authoring technologies. The end result would be a more dynamic mobile application, at a fraction of the cost. This kind of thinking was right up our street and made the decision of which developer to work with an easy one.
At the heart of this mobile app framework would be Ionic and WordPress. Ionic would provide cross-platform app development, capable of utilising Google’s progressive web app technology, whilst WordPress would deliver the front-end authoring environment, for content creation and management.
By taking advantage of modern web browser technologies we’d be able to build a progressive web app (think mobile app on the web), capable of running in a web browser, whilst utilising the hardware and software features of mobile devices like you smartphone or tablet. The benefit of this approach is that you can build a single application that runs across both mobile and desktop operating systems. I’m doing a pretty ropey job of explaining it, so here’s a couple of excerpts from Wikipedia!
Progressive Web Apps
Progressive web apps are technically regular web pages (or websites) but can appear to the user like traditional applications or (native) mobile applications. This new application type attempts to combine features offered by most modern browsers with the benefits of mobile experience.
Native mobile apps deliver rich experiences and high performance, purchased at the expense of storage space, lack of real-time updates, and low search engine visibility. Traditional web apps suffer from the inverse set of factors: lack of a native compiled executable, along with dependence on unreliable and potentially slow web connectivity. Service Workers are used in an attempt to give progressive web apps the best of both these worlds.
Through the use of the ‘Ionic’ framework (a free and open source mobile framework for developing native and progressive web apps) we’d be able to build a web-based version of the Beyond Flipped app capable of providing native app features and functionality, such as swiping, tool tips, and OS-level sharing (even AirDrip across Apple devices).
Separate ‘builds’ of this progressive web app could then be packaged up for both iOS and Android, capable of supporting screen sizes from the tiny iPhone 5 right up to the mammoth 12.9 inch iPad Pro. What’s more, that app could even be loaded on a desktop machine in a web browser and still offer same functionality, elegantly rolling back to traditional downloads of native sharing.
It was clear, after we discussed the potential application of the technology, that we’d be able to create a unique offering very quickly with a very high level of fit and finish, whilst also allowing for expansion at a fraction of what it might cost through a team of developers at a third-party design company. We could add features over time without fear of budget and scope creep, and these features could be developed, tested and pushed to user across all platforms at once, with a single unified design.
We ran the ideas past the rest of the team and all agreed that this was, by far, the most innovative, practical, and exciting option available. We agreed to move forward and started to map out a schedule for the project in the first of many Skype calls to come!