Can Drupal be used for mobile apps?

Post by Mike C Picture of Mike C
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Mobile apps.

Why are they still such a popular request when we’re well served by web browsers and responsive themes these days?

Is delivering a mobile app a huge amount of work to develop and maintain?

The many forms of mobile application

Any website being developed these days is built on top of a responsive framework allowing pages to adapt and re-layout content based on the size of the viewing device. 

Perfect for mobile and tablet devices alongside traditional desktop screens. 

So why are mobile apps still chased after by people?

What’s wrong with their responsive website?

Often the case is simply about being present on a person’s phone screen - an icon shining back at them as a reminder about the service available. Many website companion mobile apps are nothing more than a re-purposed pile of content from the website or a form-based user interface to search the information from the website.

So if the desired mobile app isn’t technically demanding what’s the best way to get it built and deployed so that your customers or visitors can benefit? There are three directions you can take...
 

Native

Apple (iOS) and Android devices have their own flavour of a mobile app, also known as a native app, which is the best possible way to deliver a great mobile experience making full use of the hardware in someone’s pocket.

However, the time and cost to find dedicated skilled developers and maintain two versions of a mobile app, which is often a simple companion to a website, is often out of the reach of most project budgets.

Hybrid

The solution to the double development time and cost is building the application using the same technologies as the website (HTML5, JavaScript, CSS) and embedding it inside of a web browser wrapped in a native application for Android and iOS.

It’s one set of code and a much simpler development process that can often be implemented by the same team that built the website. There are many toolkits and templates to generate simple applications such as Cordova and ReactNative.

PWA

Progressive Web Applications (PWA) are being pushed as the future direction that mobile apps should be heading in - a fusion of the existing websites responsive theme with additional JavaScript to speed up the reaction of pages for the user and handling times when there’s no Internet connection on the device.

It’s the quickest way to get a mobile app deployed and your icon on a user’s phone screen.
 

If your app is not particularly useful, unique, or “app-like,” it doesn’t belong on the App Store.
Apple Inc.

 

 

 

 

Where does a CMS like Drupal fit into this?

A digital experience platform (DXP), such as Drupal 8, works as a great content store thanks to its built-in data modelling toolkit. But what makes the Drupal CMS shine is the ability to expose the data model via industry-standard API formats such as RESTful, JSON and GraphQL - meaning whatever type of mobile app is decided on - the backend content that powers your mobile app can be driven by Drupal and kept separate from your app. 

This is commonly known as running the CMS in Headless mode if it is not also powering the website.

Two people on phones by You X Venture on Unsplash

Where to go first?

Drupal has a variety of mobile app approaches freely available to use, modify and learn from. Although some of the content is a little out of date, the Drupal.org site has a reasonable summary of options. Some pointers to get going for each type of mobile app are:

No matter what form of mobile app you decide on, Drupal 8 provides a solid platform for serving your data to a multitude of user interfaces - be in mobile apps, websites, smart televisions, information boards or simple input into another system.

The components and plugins needed are mostly bundled with the default Drupal install - or a free simple module installation away. There’s nothing stopping you getting stuck in with some experimentation to decide where you want to head with Drupal as your backend.
 

Struggling to know what's best for you? We'd love to chat with you and explore options relevant to you and your business.

Mike

Mike C

Managing Director

12 years of Drupal development wrangling and a background in digital project architecture.

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