The importance of good app architecture in a mobile-first world

In today's world, mobile devices have become the primary way that people access the internet. Therefore, it's essential for companies to focus on mobile architecture and view it as a separate entity from system architecture. By doing this, your app will provide both the desired functionality and the flexibility for future development.

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In this article we'll delve into the importance of mobile architecture and in a follow-up article, we’ll explain how to assess if your mobile app architecture is fit for purpose. But first, let's understand what mobile architecture is. 

What is mobile app architecture?

Mobile app architecture is the foundation for building successful apps. It involves the use of specific techniques, patterns, and rules to create an app that meets both business and regulatory requirements as well as industry standards. A well-designed mobile app architecture should not only meet functional requirements, but also consider factors such as the human interface, connectivity, system integration, use of sensors, and use of data.  

In addition, a strong mobile app architecture can help accelerate development and enable scalability in the future. By prioritising a solid architecture, you can ensure that your mobile app is poised for success. 

Now that you know what mobile architecture is, what sets it apart from system architecture? 

Mobile and system architecture are two distinct fields, each with its own unique characteristics and development processes. In this article, we’ll explore the differences between these two types of architecture, including specific traits of mobile architecture and the ways in which it is developed. Understanding this is crucial for those looking to create successful mobile apps.

The importance of privacy in mobile architecture

One major difference between system and mobile architecture is the importance of privacy in mobile architecture. Mobile devices have access to a wealth of personal information, making it crucial for companies to consider privacy in their mobile architecture.  

Poorly designed architecture can lead to abuse or theft of personal data, as seen in Norway’s COVID-19 contact tracing app. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health had to abandon the app because they didn’t have an appropriate architecture in place to safeguard individuals’ information.  

On the other hand, a strong architecture, like the one used in the UK’s COVID-19 app, can protect an individuals' information and give them control over their data.  

The importance of security in mobile architecture

Another crucial aspect of mobile architecture is security. It's not just about protecting sensitive data and user information - it's about creating a secure environment for your users to interact with your app. 

Think about it: mobile apps have access to a wealth of personal information. From bank account details to personal contacts, these apps can hold a treasure trove of sensitive data. And, as the number of mobile apps continues to grow, so do the opportunities for hackers to exploit vulnerabilities in your app's architecture. That's why mobile app security should be one of the most crucial elements of any app project.

But, with the right approach, you can protect your users and your organisation from potential security breaches. One strategy is to implement a "secure device" concept, which can help underpin robust architecture. By storing cryptographic secrets that are bound to the user's device and requiring biometric authentication to unlock, you can provide a more secure experience for your users. 

Another important aspect of mobile app security is understanding that the code runs on the user's device. This means that a rogue actor can reverse-engineer the code to find vulnerabilities. While you can make this harder, it's not possible to completely stop this. Therefore, it's vital to have strong security measures in place and not rely on "security-by-obscurity." 

In short, the security of your mobile app is not something to take lightly. By taking a proactive approach to security, you can protect your users, and your reputation from potential breaches. 

The importance of scaling and distribution in mobile architecture

Scaling and distribution is the process of making sure that your app can handle an increasing number of users and requests without slowing down or crashing. For web apps or backend services, the architecture and organisation need to plan for growing their infrastructure as the number of users increase. But mobile apps are installed on individual devices, which means that each user brings their own “infrastructure” and the app scales “for free”.  

This opens up new possibilities for scaling. such as using on-device machine learning, like Apple's Photos app, which can process user's data without sending it to a server first This is not only better for privacy, it can also significantly reduce operational costs. 

But scaling and distribution isn't just about making sure the app can handle a lot of users, it's also about making sure that all the different features of the app work together seamlessly. With mobile apps, features are often developed by different teams, and it's crucial to have governance tooling in place to ensure that everything fits together like a puzzle. This way, your users will have a smooth and enjoyable experience, and you'll avoid any headaches caused by conflicting features. 

Navigating the challenges of mobile architecture development

Developing mobile architecture presents unique challenges compared to backend development where teams have the freedom to choose different technologies and develop features independently.  

Mobile development requires teams to use the same programming language, framework, UI components and follow the same networking and data storage practices to maintain security and consistency.  

This added complexity can be similar to that of a "monolithic" architecture for a large system. But in addition to that, mobile apps must also ensure a cohesive user interface, a seamless user experience, and maintain consistency throughout the app. It's a delicate balancing act, but mastering it is key to creating a successful mobile app. 

The consequences of poor mobile architecture

Poor mobile architecture can be a disaster for your app, leading to a host of problems that can cripple its performance and user experience. From an overwhelming number of bugs that make it nearly impossible to use, to slow release of updates and improvements that leave users feeling frustrated. The consequences of poor mobile architecture can be dire. 

But it's not just the user experience that suffers. Poor mobile architecture can also lead to sky-high running and maintenance costs, as well as a near-impossible task of testing and debugging. And while it may be tempting to try and fix these issues by throwing more resources at the problem, like hiring more developers or turning to low code solutions, these are often  sticking plaster solutions that can make the problem even worse in the long run. 

On the other hand, good mobile architecture can make the team’s work easier and quicker, improve control over work and data flows, and make testing more efficient. It can also ensure that your app is continuously scalable and reliable for users.  

How bad mobile architecture usually happens

Bad mobile architecture is often the result of cutting corners and prioritising short-term delivery over long-term sustainability. When organisations neglect to focus on design and evolution, their infrastructure and processes become fragmented, leading to a build-up of technical debt that can "implode" over time. 

Good architecture involves not only building the right infrastructure and processes, but also investing in a maintenance plan and aligning business needs with the architecture. It's about taking a holistic approach, rather than just focusing on short-term gains. By taking the time to create a solid foundation, your mobile app will be able to withstand the test of time and adapt to the ever-changing landscape of mobile development. 

How to design app architecture - in a nutshell

Mobile architecture is a crucial aspect of building successful mobile apps. From understanding the differences between mobile and system architecture, to prioritising privacy, security and scaling, it's important to take a holistic approach to design and development.  

However, it's important to remember that good architecture doesn't happen overnight. It takes time, effort and a commitment to long-term sustainability. By staying focused on design and evolution, organisations can prevent bad architecture and instead, create a solid foundation for their mobile app that can stand the test of time. With the right approach, you can create an app that not only meets your needs, but also exceeds user expectations. 

If you’ve found this article useful, you may find our guide on how to assess if your mobile app architecture is fit for purpose helpful.  

At Zühlke, we specialise in delivering best-in-class mobile applications in record time. With over 50 years of experience in software engineering, we've worked with some of the biggest names in banking, including First Direct, HSBC, and Standard Chartered. But that's not all - we also played a major role in the development of the NHS COVID-19 app, delivering a medical-grade app that met strict guidelines and exceeded user expectations in just 12 weeks!  

If you're looking for a partner that can bring your mobile app vision to life, look no further than Zühlke. Get in touch today to speak to our friendly experts. 

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