The future of FreeAgent Mobile

It’s been over five years since we launched the first version of FreeAgent Mobile. We initially launched with just the iOS app, and then went live with the Android app nine months later. Both apps have improved considerably since then, from shiny new designs to an ever-expanding range of functionality to help our customers manage their books on the move.

Up until fairly recently, our mobile team was comprised of a relatively small team of engineers, designers and a product manager (that’s me!). Our original technology decision to use a ‘hybrid stack’ worked really well in the past, and was an important aspect in achieving a lot as a tiny team.

However, our aspirations around mobile are growing, along with the size and capability of our Mobile team! So we’re now embarking on a new technology strategy that we believe will result in a better mobile experience for our customers and allow us to deliver innovative new features and ways of working.

Why we’re changing

The FreeAgent mobile app was built using a hybrid stack of technology, which uses a mix of traditional web technologies (like HTML and CSS) and bundles them into a native app you can download from app stores. The advantages to the team here were that we could quickly deliver both iOS and Android apps, using a set of technologies that were already familiar to them.

In addition, we were able to easily build and roll out new features and improvements across both platforms simultaneously, which meant we could keep both apps in sync in terms of functionality. Another bonus.

The downside of using hybrid technology is that it’s hard to match the performance, stability and user experience of a truly native app. A simple example would be the difficulty in presenting the right keyboard type to the user depending on the data input, or implementing standard user experience patterns like ‘pull to refresh’.

These frustrations were felt by our engineers as well as our users, and working around limitations meant having to write the code twice, eventually slowing down the development and release process.

As a result of these increasing frustrations, and our growing capability, the team got together and made the decision to re-platform the mobile apps to fully native technology for iOS and Android. Essentially, this meant that we would rebuild the apps in the native languages we had chosen.

That decision was a few months ago now and the team has been quietly beavering away on the new native apps since then, while still maintaining the existing ones. We’ve also been conducting user research as to what customers want to see in these new apps (see the end of this post for how you can get involved in this), and we’ve come out with lots of ideas about how the apps can evolve going forward.

The future

We’re still working away on the build so that later in the year we can launch brand-new, fully native, versions of both the iOS and Android apps.

Before then, we’ll be beta testing limited versions of these to make sure we’re on the right track. The first version of the new apps will primarily mirror the functionality and design of the existing app. There will be a couple of new usability enhancements, for example, being able to refresh information by pulling down the screen and adding search functionality to a few new areas.

Once the re-platformed apps are live, we’ll be looking at releasing a range of different features from utilising Open Banking to enhanced expense functionality and push notifications.

Get involved

We would love for you to get involved and help us shape the future of our mobile apps! We are giving you not one, but two, great opportunities to let us know your thoughts:

  • Complete a short survey to tell us about your experience on mobile and what’s important to you. Not only will your input help shape the future of the app, you’ll also be in with a chance of winning a £50 voucher.
  • In the next few weeks, we will release a beta app for iPhone (Android will follow in the next couple of months), and would love to get your feedback on how the new native app feels. To sign up for beta testing, complete this form.

We’ll keep you posted on our re-platforming progress, as well as our future plans for mobile, so make sure to check back here for updates.

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Roz Hewitson is a Product Manager for the mobile team at FreeAgent, the UK online accounting software made specifically for freelancers, small business owners and their accountants.