React-Native: A one-way road you don’t want to go back!

Working on our first RN app

Zadar Bike Magic design layout

Working on a digital project in tourism, you have to think about a lot of things. Understand the particular market, user’s needs, and overall expectations, and be a real gem in your development environment. In recent years, Lloyds Design team has become specialized in developing websites, both frontend and backend, as well as online software solutions in tourism and accommodation industry. However, we had almost no experience in developing and building mobile applications.

When our client, Zadar Region Tourist Board, approached us with an idea for their mobile app, we were a bit indecisive, knowing what traps the parallel development of iOS and Android apps often carry. Fortunately, we had some previous experience with Shoutem, a app building platform we once used to make a simple 3-screen mobile app.

We wanted to use Shoutem for developing this app too, but we knew the customization required from our clients goes way beyond the capabilities of the intuitive and user-friendly, yet simplified interface of Shoutem builder. At that time we did not know that the Shoutem team is developing a new platform, allowing us to implement all client’s requirements, despite the fact we’re primarily web developers with no experience in mobile development.

Starting with React Native

When we first logged into the beta version of a new Shoutem platform, we found out that it is based on something called React Native, a new framework they decided to use in the newest release of their app builder. For us, the whole concept of React Native was something new — we were challenged with development in a whole new environment. We knew that it was some JavaScript based thing, but we had absolutely no previous experience with it and — frankly — were a bit worried about using it for the first time on a commercial project. Come on — the whole thing was still on their BETA platform!

Working on wireframing

Our introduction to React-Native turned out to be a steep, but quick learning curve and Shoutem developers tried to help as much as they could, providing us comprehensive documentation and giving us tons of how-to advice. Since their platform was still in beta phase and they worked on it almost 24/7, sometimes we had to wait for a response a bit longer — but it would always be provided in the end. Step by step, ping by ping, and soon we were in the middle of development of a complex mobile application, quite quickly using a programming language and framework we were introduced with just a few weeks before. In the end, we realized that it is intuitive, even for our front-end guys whose knowledge of JS and programming is on a modest level.

One of the most important things that made the building of this project easier was the user-friendly documentation. Shoutem GitHub sometimes responded with a “Coming Soon” blank page, but a React Native resource covered all the “holes”. They also gave us clear instructions for setting up a local environment on our computers and mobile devices, so we could make changes to our code with the instant live reload of the app’s front end, making the development process even faster. On the other hand, sometimes the issues we ran into were a bit of a challenge for them, too! It was interesting to work side-by-side with members of Shoutem team on some complex issues, like offline maps or menu customization.

Shoutem platform made React Native development easier for us, taking care of joining all the customized extensions we built and “taping” them together in a seamless way, making the app environment smooth and user-oriented. The additional benefit of the Shoutem platform is in automatization of, for us unpleasant and unknown tasks, the basics of preparing the app and publishing the same on the App Store and Google Play Store.

We’re sticking with React Native

After our first project is done, we can recommend React Native as a framework for development apps that need to look, feel and function simultaneously on iOS and Android devices. We also predict bright future for the Shoutem app building platform, with its numerous pre-made components and extensions and a straightforward and intuitive interface.