We often say, there is no such thing as “the best technology” for a specific development area. For example, in 10 Most Popular Ionic Apps of 2020, we discussed how 86% of developers participating in the Ionic Annual Developer Survey said they prefer Ionic over React Native. But while that may be true, Ionic has its downsides when compared to React Native. The latter is also a widely preferred mobile development framework for many big companies and small companies around the world. In fact, React Native powers some of our favorite apps today. But, before we introduce the top 10 React Native apps of 2020, let’s take a moment and remember what React Native is.
How did React Native start?
Facebook is the most known social network today, and its mobile application is one of the most used apps in the world. As the progressive tech giant they are, Facebook tried to launch a cross-platform app ever since 2010. This was a new and strange concept at a time when other companies were heavily investing in native applications.
Unfortunately, the mobile development technologies available were not ready for cross-platform back in 2010, especially not for Facebook’s requirements. So, naturally, the original app was slow, and buggy. In fact, they were facing the same issues they had when releasing the website. Hence, they put their experience to good use and did exactly what they did with the website – create a new framework that meets the needs. And thus, React Native was born, and with it the Facebook app we now know and love.
So far, the Facebook app registered over 5 billion downloads on Google Play and ranks #1 social networking app in App Store. Today, the Facebook app is, of course, absolutely free and resembles the Facebook site in every single way. From the UI style to the features, the mobile application provides a seamless, immersive experience every single time.
Around the same time Facebook was releasing their first version of the mobile app, Instagram was being released and it took the market by storm. So much so, Instagram registered 25.000 users on the first day, and within a week it already had 100.000 downloads. By April 2012, when Facebook bought Instagram, the mobile app already had 27 million users.
In 2016, the team behind Instagram started looking into React Native and how it would help their teams push updates faster. Today, React Native powers many of Instagram’s features. In fact, according to the team, the iOS and Android versions of the app share 99% of the same code base for the post promote feature along. They also share 97% for SMS Captcha checkpoint, 85% for comment moderation, 87% for lead generation ads, and 92% of the push notification codes.
Needless to say, React Native made Instagram’s life so much better. And the cherry on top, thanks to React Native, Instagram has now an almost instantaneous start-up time. Today, Instagram has over one billion Google Play downloads and ranks #2 in Photos and Video apps on App Store.
Skype has been one of the most popular video conference applications for a very long time. This Microsoft-owned platform connects thousands of people and teams around the world every single day. And while it is well known that their desktop application is built in Electron, the mobile app is built in React Native.
But you might wonder, Microsoft has its own C# based cross-platform mobile tool, Xamarin. Why would they use React Native instead? The answer is performance and simplicity. Simply put, React Native is easier to learn and minimizes the tweaking needed to make both the iOS and Android versions of an app work. As we’ve seen for Instagram, an app built with React Native shares between 85% to as much as 97% of the same code for the two versions.
But Microsoft wasn’t happy with that either, so they took React Native to a whole new level. They built a simple thin layer for React Native, a framework called ReactXP. As the creators of React always say, “learn once, write anywhere”. This framework eliminates the need to code the view layer – those specific UI elements that make the app work on each platform. Of course, developers still have the option to customize each app for a more native feel, if they want. But now that is purely optional with ReactXP.
4. Uber Eats
Uber Eats was created in 2014 as another revenue stream for Uber. However, the standalone mobile application was only launched at the end of 2015, with Toronto as an initial testing ground. Today, Uber Eats operates in more than 6000 cities in 45 countries, and has become the go-to service for delivery for most.
When asking why Uber chose React Native for their Uber Eats mobile app, the answer was: experience. Their web applications are based on React, so it made sense that the mobile apps follow suit.
Walmart started about 50 years ago as a simple idea of selling more for less – the traditional discount store dream. Since then, the retail chain expanded in over 27 countries and now owns around 11.500 stores worldwide.
Their first mobile application was launched as a native app for iOS in 2011. However, the obvious trends towards cross-platform technologies with lesser development time and lower costs, pushed Walmart to switch to a better solution – React Native.
Like Uber Eats, the move was not an instant one. Walmart initially introduced React Native as an alternative to their mobile tech in 2017. But it took the team until 2019 to replace 90% of the Walmart Grocery App’s original native infrastructure with React Native. What is more interesting though, this percentage is not by mistake nor is it that the app is not ready. It is in fact a strategic choice of “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it”. In Walmart’s case, there are specific native functions that work better than the alternative. One such example is the native navigation function Walmart kept, instead of replacing it with React Native’s navigation system. According to Walmart, native navigation makes future feature integrations easier for their developers and it’s better for A/B testing.
Pinterest itself was launched back in 2010 and immediately captured the market’s attention with their unique and visial platform. If you never heard of Pinterest, imagine a huge collection of mood boards. Find inspiration, create your own boards, and share your ideas with others – friends or strangers.
Pinterest was already using React for their web apps when they started considering React Native for mobile as well. And the reason for choosing the mobile framework is the same as always. It’s the ability for code sharing resulting in minimized development work, performance, and scalability.
Pinterest currently has almost 350 million active users and supports approximately 200 billion pins. Even more impressively, Pinterest record around 2 billion searches every month, out of which 600 million are visual. It’s clear that Pinterest needed a tool that would have quick startup time and fast rendering. And what better tool than React Native? Ranking as the #1 Lifestyle mobile app on App Store, Pinterest has been downloaded by more than 100 million users on Google Play.
Bloomberg defines itself as a “high tech, market-moving, data-driven, cross-platform, information company”. In other words, all of the things React Native supports and empowers. For those who don’t know, Bloomberg is a world-renowned financial and business software provider for analytics, news, and insights.
In 2016, Bloomberg launched its mobile app through which they aimed at helping the financial markets decision-makers faster, and on the go. This incredible app was build in just six months, at least half the time needed to build a native app for both iOS and Android.
When asked why React Native, Bloomberg stated the same reasons as everyone else – it’s fast, minimizes development time, and it works wonderfully with native mobile or web technologies.
“React Native is the best out there, expect it to appear in other Bloomberg mobile apps in the future.” – Gabriel Lew, senior software engineer at Bloomberg.
8. SoundCloud Pulse
In a blog post published on their official blog, SoundCloud explained that when they started designing their new app for creators – the SoundCloud Pulse back in 2016 – they were facing some issues. One, which system should they start with – should they go with iOS only since that’s where the majority of creators were at the time, or both iOS and Android? The second issue, finding iOS engineers proved harder than they expected.
So, they looked for alternative technologies that replaced the native ones and found five-months-old React Native. Since it was developed by Facebook, this new framework promised quite a bit, but will it rise up to the expectations, and will it be better than going native?
The only downside the SoundCloud team found is the rapidity with which React Native is evolving, requiring more time for extensive code maintenance. However, this should be a norm with any other techs and is not a deal-breaker for SoundCloud at least.
Discord was in fact built for and around gaming communities. More precisely, their core mission was to build a platform where people can connect with friends and families while playing. Today, Discord allows users to text, voice chat, and stream videos at the same time.
The platform allows users to create or join a server which is then divided into different voice or text channels. Once in a voice channel, each user is also able to stream their screen or share their camera. All the while, the other members choose which stream or feed they want to watch. Naturally, this feature sets Discors aside from other chat services like Messenger or Skype.
Discord adopted React Native as soon as it became open-source on iOS. Years later, the Discord team noticed their app could not keep an expected 60 frames per second. It took the team only a few weeks of updates and fixes – with the help of free tools from the React Native community – and the app was maintaining the desired fps’s again. But these fixes also brought “unplanned” benefits. They managed to shave 2 seconds out of the overall loading time and it now had fluid gesture interactions for the core navigation system. In a nutshell, Discord proved why maintaining the code up-to-date is so important. And even though you might think it’s a pain, the long-term benefit clearly outweighs it.
In a talk, back in 2016 when React Native was only about a year old, Tal Kol – Mobile Apps Lead Architect at Wix at the time – described several issues with new mobile tech. It was too new, it was incomplete, it was unpolished and unstable. In other words, although React Native seemed like the best option for Wix’s new mobile application, it didn’t seem to rise to expectations.
The Wix app still uses some native elements, such as the core UI. But, according to Tal Kol, about 95% of the application was running on React Native. Today, Wix ranks #25 in Productivity on App Store and has already been downloaded over 5 million times on Google Play.
If we’ve learned anything today it’s that React Native is a gem for mobile development. But, it also has its ups and downs, like any other technology. The main issue with React Native – for the lack of a better term – is the fact that it is constantly evolving. So, if your team is not on top of React Native’s development, you will have some issues. But as we’ve seen from Discord’s example, these situations are an easy fix, so don’t get discouraged.
Overall, React Native is a high-performance, scalable, and free technology that supports some of the most used apps today. This framework works well with native technologies as well as web technologies and can be integrated step by step. So, if you are looking for a new and better technology for your app, React Native is your answer.