Metro UK app launches cross-platform with React Native

We recently launched our first commercial app in collaboration with Metro newspaper, 11versus11, offering football fans personalised football news for the teams they follow.

Each edition of 11 targeted articles is pulled from over 65 sources, providing quality content from mainstream news organisations and carefully curated fan site writers alike. With offline reading, article rating for adaptive delivery, as well as the ability to save, recommend and share content across social media, 11versus11 provides fans with up to the minute personalised news in an easily digestible form.

11versus11 has already received positive press coverage and featured in both the Editor’s Picks and Top Sport sections of the App Store, and is available to download now for free on both iOS and Android.

Building for 11versus11 and beyond…

The foundation that the app is built upon extends far beyond just 11versus11, with apps already planned for other Metro verticals, so that readers of other interests can soon share in the same smart digital experience football fans can currently enjoy.

We opted for WordPress multisite, so that each vertical could share the same codebase whilst maintaining their own, independent dashboards. In fact, work has already begun on the next vertical: by using WordPress Multisite, it’s a simple process of adding a new site to the network and setting up a few API keys. Not only does this method allow for more efficient development, but also considerable savings for the client in terms of cost.

All about the API

When it comes to the all important matter of APIs, you might be surprised to learn that we didn’t go with the official REST API. While we’ve tried and tested the WordPress REST API in past production sites, this project required much finer grain control using middleware. The official WordPress REST API undoubtedly has its strengths but is better as a kit to build standard websites without a lot of additional work. If you’re curious about what we’re using instead you can check out a simplified version here.

Writing in React Native

If you’ve been following us on twitter or bumped into our team recently you’ll probably already know that these apps are written in React Native. For those not already familiar, React Native is built by Facebook and will feel immediately familiar to anyone who’s used React, which is becoming increasingly common in the WordPress development community.

It’s easy to see why, as just one of the advantages it offered us was the ability for two of our front-end developers to complete around 90% of the apps using the skills they’ve already developed. Be warned though, that last 10% involves coding natively with Objective-C and Java so it might not be the best fit for every developer out there. 

Crunch-time & Cross-Platform

To ensure we were able to capture the widest possible user base for the app, it was important to ensure it was cross-platform; but tight deadlines can be the bane of developing for multiple devices. For this reason we opted to run with iOS first, before adapting it for Android.

Why? Well for one thing the iOS build required less than 160 lines of code in Objective C, whilst Android needed over 400 lines of Java. Counting lines of code may not always be the best indication of effort needed, but in this case we found that Android took up to the three times as long to implement features that weren’t supported out of the box compared to iOS. However, by focusing first on iOS and the foundation that produced, turnaround for building, testing, and shipping the Android app was reduced to just three weeks.

What the future holds…

Clearly 11versus11 is just the beginning, both for our ongoing collaboration with Metro newspaper and future app development here at Big Bite. Work has already begun on similar apps for other topic areas and soon Metro will be able to boast of a suite of personalised digital content apps for their readership.

In broader terms we also fully expect to see something of a resurgence in app development thanks to the increasing agile and efficient ways that app and site development skills can utilised. The likes of WordPress and React Native are quickly leaving the historically expensive, difficult app development of previous years in the past where they belong, and we’re sure that Big Bite and Metro won’t be alone in embracing what’s now possible.

You can read more about 11versus11 on the website or download the app on either iOS or Android.