How to keep a mobile app stable as it grows?

While there are specifics of mobile apps that you cannot ignore when talking about platform stability, many aspects of delivering stable mobile products pertain not only to apps designed  for cell phone and tablet users but also to any app in general. Therefore, in this article, you’ll find a number of universal tips that will help your teams succeed in stable app development in general.

What is app stability, and how does it demonstrate itself?

First and foremost, there are two aspects that you must consider when asserting whether your app is stable or not.

  • Delivery of the desired effects of actions for a group of users
  • Desired outcome repeatability

The key to having a stable app is making sure that it behaves as planned and delivers the desired outcomes repeatedly for a group of users. Let’s say your app doesn’t throw up error messages and makes the experience of using it pleasurable for half of its users. But what if other actors can’t use the platform because of bugs? And what to make of the fact that another portion of users must deal with frequent app freezes? Such an app is not stable.

To talk about app stability, your teams need to look at the wider picture of your app’s behavior for a group of users. In that context, it’s important that the platform delivers as expected to not only a few users but the whole group of users under scrutiny.

App stability is its ability to behave in a desired way repeatedly.

This way, you can expect repeatable outcomes and have all, not just some users, rely on your product. If that’s not your case, you should know what symptoms will signify that your platform isn’t stable enough.

While app instability is a broad term that may encompass a number of software-related phenomena depending on whom you ask, there are certain symptoms of an unstable mobile app about which your teams should always be vigilant.

Some of the most common mobile app instability symptoms include

  • Freezes (hungs),
  • Crashes,
  • Force closures.

Their common denominator is users’ inability to complete the tasks at hand. If any of the above symptoms affect a group of users, the app is unstable. 

💡 How to ensure the stability of an app used on oil rigs? The SafeEx case.

A project team is modernizing an inspection & maintenance web tool used by Ex Inspectors on an oil rig. The users can’t afford to suffer the consequences of lost connections and server errors in the middle of their sea-based operations. Therefore, the product modernization team focuses on performance enhancements that’ll improve user experience.

By way of refactoring major components, optimizing the legacy code, and migrating to PostgreSQL, our team brings the software up to speed. We created a plan to replace the on-premise server-based infrastructure for the cloud by migrating to AWS. Through revamping the Mobile App Push Synchronization API with the Redis cache, we facilitated stable processing and recovery for connection failure scenarios.

As a result of our work on the product, users can carry on with their tasks regardless of network disturbances but also enjoy a ten times faster generation of data views and up to 10 fewer queries to the database. A way to go, isn’t it?

To learn more about creating this app, read the SafeEx case study.

SafeEx case study view

Ensuring task completion regardless of network connectivity is definitely an important enablement. On the other hand, for apps where the offline mode is crucial, facilitating app usage without the Internet can negatively affect the UX, as users can’t download the important updates on time.

As you can see, safeguarding your scaled-up or mature application’s stability can be a complex process without easy solutions. At the receiving end of it are always your users (and your business, for that matter). 

A frustrated user of an unstable mobile app may result in a higher churn rate or a soaring number of app customer support tickets, and negative reviews in online marketplaces.

Not to mention the risk of lower market share and lost revenue that may entail if the loss of users and their dissatisfaction continues.

While there are many causes of bad user experience in mobile products, app stability definitely gets your product one step closer to ensuring it doesn’t get such a downvote in Google Play Store or Apple Store.

Causes of application instability

There is no one universal list of application stability saboteurs. However, based on our experience in creating and modernizing digital products, we can distinguish some common antipatterns that cover mobile and other apps.

  • No performance monitoring (and poor performance)

While thinking about the reasons for having unstable apps, your teams may be tempted to focus on the technical side of your app only. But software creation process-related deficiencies can have an effect on your platform stability just as well! How’s that?

Well, without monitoring your app’s performance, you won’t know it’s displaying instability symptoms for a group of users. Consequently, without these insights, your teams can’t address the performance problems mobile users are experiencing.

Want to know how we do IT? Check out how we improved the performance of a language mobile app!

  • Backend issues

If you feel your mobile app’s health is endangered by resource-intensive tasks, it may be related to insufficient use of the cloud. Optimizing your cloud services to the fullest, your teams can outsource resource-consuming tasks to the off-premise server with virtually no storage capacity limitations if the budget allows it. The full usage of the cloud paves the way for high-performing, scaled applications that can take a more extensive load easily.

Backend-wise, you should also keep a watchful eye on the server response time as demonstrated in the responsiveness of your mobile application. To that end, make sure your teams test app response time and create a solid backend so that no user has to wait for resources to load.

Finally, while a mobile backend as a service is a go-to solution for startups and smaller projects with budget constraints, it doesn’t support a long-term backend strategy if you plan to expand your mobile app later on. In that case, a custom backend offers potentially higher performance scores and room for new features and stable growth.

  • No updates

When accessing a given web app, all users that enter a website have the newest version of the app by default. In mobile apps, that’s not the case because it’s up to the user to download the latest update at their convenience. That leads to situations when within a group of users, some have the newest mobile app version while others have older ones. As a result, every app version does what it's supposed to do. So, in such a group, every person using the product may have different experiences of it and, consequently, different stability ratings. To prevent such situations, your teams may use update popups or app blocking for update downloads.

Remember, though, that preventing your user from engaging with the app to force updates may be a double-edged sword. After all, you wouldn’t want minor font or color changes to block the user experience.

The best tactic is to use app blocking only for downloading the most critical updates.

  • Low application quality

Is your team taking quality shortcuts to get software done faster? They may need to pace themselves for some adjustments along the way. Convoluted app logic, code debt, and no testing can effectively hinder the stability of your product at any stage of development and definitely sabotage the growth of scale-ups and more mature apps.

Let’s take tests, for example. Testing your mobile apps on various devices and operating systems contributes to the greater stability of your product. It also pays off to conduct regression tests that ensure new add-ons won’t undermine the elements of a platform that used to work earlier. If your teams don’t have tests that check such aspects, you may be unloading a bunch of changes onto the app and not even knowing that they are causing regression in other areas. Want to know how testing helped achieve the desired quality of a data analytics platform? Check out the Biocore case study!

  • User experience flaws

User testing helps you spot flaws that may produce bugs. As a result, it’s an indispensable tool in the hands of product teams that care about app stability. At the same time, though, overdoing it in terms of the number of features is also a risk you may want to address.

Feature creep may happen if you allow too many features in your app with little regard for their usability. While having unnecessary features doesn’t guarantee your product will have more errors, every new add-on is a new place in your app where bugs can appear. Ultimately, it all depends on the execution of a given functionality and the product, as well as the quality measures taken in the process.

Into UX-related topics? Check out the article on adding new app features without hurting your mobile app's usability!

Four top tips on preventing app instability and fostering growth

Professional software teams always have app stability at the back of their mind. So, if you want yours to succeed in preventing app instability and ensuring healthy business growth, follow these steps preventatively at all times.

  • Step 1: Measure performance

Application performance monitoring and reporting are crucial for app stability. To best reap their benefits, have your teams use specialized tools like Sentry or Datadog that’ll make it easier for developers to spot problematic areas, learn about the context of the occurrence, and resolve issues like crashes and freezes.

App performance dashboard

Example of an app performance dashboard. Source: VMWare

  • Step 2: Make sure your teams use technologies properly

In the process of providing a stable mobile experience to a group of users, it’s essential to make sure that developers use advanced coding tactics that’ll bring out the best possible results. Outdated programming routines and lack of experience can cause rookie mistakes that’ll undermine mobile app stability. To prevent that, instill good habits (like parsing JSON files in a separate string not to mess up the app’s visual side) and involve skilled developers in the software creation process.

  • Step 3: Track metrics

Metrics allow you to measure the KPI (Key Performance Indicator) success and reach higher in terms of your mobile app’s growth. So, befriend your teams with metrics that measure your product’s success. Below you’ll find some of the business and technical metrics helpful in spotting performance pitfalls in your mobile app.

Metrics that help spot app performance issues

Ensure the product team tracks them, draws conclusions, and makes adjustments.

  • Step 4: Follow the best IT practices

Software developers have an abundance of tried-and-tested success tools at their disposal. From manual and automated testing through user tests and code review - one could go on and on about the best IT practices at your team’s disposal. 

Tools, techniques, and processes fostering application stabilityTool, technique, or process elementHow does it help maintain app stability?                                                        Testing                        Flagging bugs                                                        Continuous Integration/ Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) pipelines                        More frequent and reliable updates for apps thanks to automation                                                        Application updating                        Downloading the latest app version that minimizes the risk of throwing up errors                                                        AgileOps                        A software cycle that allows you to fail fast in order to succeed sooner                                                        User tests                        Spotting problems thanks to user input                                                        Code review                        Identifying code misuse and backlogging issues for resolving                                                        Issues backlog                        Keeping track of errors and crashes                                                        Issues prioritization                        Assigning importance to issues worth tackling                                                        Cloud-based infrastructure                        Greater infrastructure reliability and automation that picks up errors sooner                        

In the spirit of fail fast to succeed sooner, they all support your app stability goals, helping you build that crucial user satisfaction and fostering business growth.

We’ve implemented better practices and adjusted the software. What’s next?

Delivering stable mobile apps is a challenge developers face daily. The good news is that many of the tactics proposed here, like testing or relying on cloud infrastructure, have the potential to take your app to the next level not only in terms of stability but also in usability and time to market, to name a few. So, it’s a win-win on many counts!

Hungry for more knowledge? Check out our mobile app development content collection!

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