tech · Clock10 min · 11 Nov 2021

What is Backend in Mobile App Development and How to Choose the Best One for your Application?

Victor Lavrentyev

Victor Lavrentyev

Chief Information Officer

backend for mobile apps
Illustration by Amir Kerr

According to recent statistics, the overall number of smartphone users has become closer to a stunning 4 billion! Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? 

It is no wonder that the influence of mobile apps on businesses and the value they bring has become undoubted. Therefore, more and more companies are considering building their own mobile apps to offer their services to the world successfully. 

Fortunately, the positive impact of the latest technologies has become beneficial not only for companies but for the customer audience at the same time. Accessibility, ease of usage, navigation, improved customer loyalty, and easy and fast connection with customers are only a small number of advantages for both sides. 

Are you in search of the best backend for a mobile app? If yes, we definitely have something to share. We have prepared an article that will accompany you while discovering the world of mobile app backend development and help you to choose the best one for your project. So, let’s go! 

What are the Backend and the Frontend?

Before we get to the detailed description of the backend, let’s take a look at the frontend that exists simultaneously. Most of the applications installed on your phone are frontend apps. These include calculator, Facebook, Instagram, and many more. 

Mainly, all the applications that can be instantly downloaded from Google Play (if you're an Android user) and App Store (if you love iOS) are frontend apps and mobile apps at the same time. Also, all the apps that interact with your favorite gadgets, smartwatches, etc., are frontend apps at the same time. So, to cut a long story short, the frontend can be compared to the top of the iceberg, while the backend objectifies all the processes hidden below. 

Logically, the backend applications are something that the frontend is not. Backend applications are designed to communicate directly with machines but not with humans. Instead, they communicate with the specialized internet using protocols intended for the machines. In most cases, the users of the frontend apps are not even familiar with the backend that “stands in the back.” 

Backend apps are hosted remotely on servers. At the same time, the frontend apps are hosted on the devices of the users. Servers might be both physical machines, virtual clouds, or any other type of platform to handle all the data. But what about the examples?

An excellent example of an app that combines the features of backend and frontend is Booking. This well-known app for travelers suggests a beautiful functionality of hotel search in the nearest location. So, the frontend app is part of the app with the list of available hotels or apartments that you see.

However, the inner part of the data suggested to you (e.g., favorites, addresses, contacts, etc.) is the backend. That means, for example, while you’re in search of your favorite hotels, the app communicates with the server, suggests your current location or the desired one, and in response gets the list of hotels along with the appropriate data. 

Why Do You Need the Backend for a Mobile App?

Let’s take a closer look at the reasons you might need the backend for mobile apps. First and foremost, the reason for having a backend is the fact that you won’t be able to communicate with the user without having it. It’s an essential part if you have to send something to the user and vice versa. 

If you need a professional mobile app that will serve you in the long run, you should completely forget about excluding a backend from your plans. Indeed, if you’re looking for success, otherwise, you might leave things as they are. 

Let’s take a detailed look at the app cases that require a backend server for a mobile app and consider their functionalities. 

In Case the App Needs a Back Office, Web Page, or an Admin Panel That Allows the User to Manage the App’s Content

Netflix

Netflix application allows you to watch and download various movies, TV shows, and sitcoms. Backend gives you a chance to manage available videos. Along with that, it permits you to sign in to your account. 

Uber

Car-sharing applications that don’t need an introduction. The backend app allows managing the cars within your location. You can order a taxi, cancel the ride, or reserve the vehicle you prefer with its majesty backend.  

While registering, your uploaded driver’s license gets verified by administrators. The core function of the admin panel in this particular case is that it allows reviewing uploaded driver licenses to administrators. 

Zalando

Online fashion store with an option of browsing through the list of products. The backend allows app admins to manage the list by adding the new ones, removing the old ones, etc. 

Amazon

The popularity of the Amazon marketplace is global and undoubted. The users have a chance to navigate through various products. The mobile app backend allows the developers to manage the products from the inside (add, remove, etc.). 

Apps That Require Constant Daily or Weekly Updates

Weather

The backend allows this type of application to suggest the latest weather forecast at your disposal.

Synchronization of Data Between the User Devices

Photos

Translation of photos from your laptop to the smartphone or vice versa is possible with the backend.  

Reminders

Reminders from your phone can be easily transported to your iPad with the exact mechanism. 

Collecting Orders and Processing Payments

Zalando

Payment within the app and ordering of new clothes

Uber

Payments for taxi rides are made within the app.

Communication with the Companies and Users

Bank apps

With the help of the backend, you can easily communicate with the bank personnel and vice versa in case of any issues. 

Messengers

Application for Facebook users allows communicating instantly. 

Collection of the Users’ Statistical Data 

Zalando 

An application makes a suggestion of offerings based on your previous searches and orders. 

Users’ Notifications about Promotions, News, or Updates

Zalando

It makes its user instantly notified about the latest updates, discounts, and many more. 

So, summing up all those as mentioned earlier, we can highlight the prominent cases when your mobile application does need a backend:

  • Your app needs a frequently updated data
  • You need to collect data, make orders, and process payments
  • Collection of the statistics about the user’s behavior
  • The necessity of the communication between company and users
  • You want users to get notified about the latest updates, news, discounts, and promotions
  • Synchronization of data between users
  • Be sure that the app data won’t be lost 

Despite the variety of cases, it’s always better to have a professional consultancy covering all the core aspects. Orangesoft can be your reliable tech expert guide in the complex world of mobile app backend development. 

The Mobile Apps Which Work with No Backend

As we’ve carefully reviewed apps that work with the backend, it’s the right time to revise the apps that might work without it. Yes, you’ve heard it right. Plenty of apps you have on your smartphone do work without the backend. 

Calculator

It seems that there is no one that hasn’t used this tool for even the most straightforward mathematical calculations. Indeed, there’s no need to involve the backend for this type of operation. 

Measure

Take a chance to measure all you need with a few touches and your camera only. 

Camera

The camera application is built-in and doesn’t need a backup. You can take a photo or make movies with the help of it.  There’s no need in the backend for its efficiency. However, the nowadays camera might need a backend to store the backups of photos and videos.

Voice Recorder

What about the good old dictaphone? There’s no need for a backend as all the recordings are stored on your device’s local storage. 

Compass

The navigation app is typically pre-installed on almost all iOS devices and needs any of the backends.  

Tetris

The old game doesn’t need any introduction. If your idea is pretty similar to this game, then you shouldn’t worry about the backend. 

Backend Types and Their Use Cases

The implementation of the backend into your mobile app can be quickly done with multiple options. Typically, they can be classified by various aspects like technology, architecture, and the way they interrelate with the frontend applications. However, if you intend to create your own application, the efforts spent on this may be the basis for the classification as well. 

One of the most efficient and easiest options is to create a custom backend from very scratch. The following opportunity gives you incredible flexibility in terms of building your own project with an unlimited number of implemented features. Hiring a team of professionals can be a solution if you want professional assistance to get the best result possible. 

However, it’s no wonder that the suggested solutions cost significant money and time resources. Fortunately, there are much cheaper options. Let’s take a look at them. 

SaaS or Third-Party Services

In particular cases, the functionality you are desperately searching for is already a built-in part of some services. They offer backend solutions that the frontend can easily use. All you need is to get registered, get your monthly paid subscription, and be ready to utilize all the functionality of the working backend. Simple as that, right?

Let’s take a look at the use cases when the following approach can be applied:

Weather Data Application

Building a weather data app is wonderful as you don’t need to build it from scratch. Your frontend app can easily transport data from already existing services (e.g., OpenWeatherMap). All you need is to pay a monthly subscription. 

Content That You Want to Manage

In case a frontend app displays various texts, images, videos, movies, or multiple wide-ranging videos, you’ll need a tool to manage it all. Contentful is a brilliant use case of headless CMS service. Whatever the type of content you want to manage, whether it’s a blog post, article, newsfeed, or anything else, you’ll easily do this after creating an account. Add or delete the media files within the specialized admin panel. The content can be uploaded by frontend apps through API (application public interface). 

Online Shops

Do you think of building your own online shop? Then, Shopify is exactly what you need. It is a type of platform that suggests a ready-to-use backend for your mobile applications. Moreover, it allows you to manage all processes like shipment, payments, stocks, adding or removing the list of products with an admin panel easily. 

Surely, these types of services cost money for the monthly subscription, but the overall price for the user will be significantly lower than building a backend from scratch. It’s definitely a cost-saving advantage. 

Current markets suggest plenty of similar app solutions. The only thing is to find the one that suits you and your project needs the best. However, there’s a small case that you won’t find anything suitable. If this is your case, let’s go further and consider the other option to prevent you from building your own backend. Here comes the MBaaS. 

Mobile Backend as a Service (MBaaS)

Parse and Firebase are awesome examples of the described services. MBaaS allows you to create your own backend from the ready-made components that are common for most apps. These include data storage, authorization, the process of authentication, and push notifications.

Moreover, Mobile Backend as a Service gives you a wonderful opportunity to add some written custom code if the existing functionality is not enough. The main advantage of the following option is the ease of usage and adaptability to customization. However, there are some important aspects to consider if you want to save your money in the long term. 

While dealing with this type of service, you pay for the monthly usage and the options included (e.g., the overall number of users, notifications sent, etc.). But there is always a chance that in a short time, the amount of traffic will significantly increase, and the cost will be at the cost of custom backend development. 

Summing up, mBaaS is more flexible than SaaS but might need some additional customization work to be done. 

Custom Backend Development

Finally, we got to the most efficient and flexible opportunity. Mainly, custom backend suggests all the functionalities of MBaaS and SaaS. The only distinguishing feature is the price of the setup and implementation. The main requirement is a skillful and experienced backend programmer or even a team of developers. 

The final look of your app depends on your requirements, whether it’s a simple application or a complex system. Despite the higher price, nothing won’t stop in your way! Most of the cases show that app developers stop at the custom backend development or even a compilation of the above-mentioned solutions.   

How to Choose a Tech Stack for the Custom Backend App Development

The appropriate and suitable technology stack is essentially an irreplaceable step in the whole lifecycle of the project. If you’ve made the right choice, it’s a basis for the future success of the application and the trust of your users. Moreover, choosing the right tech stack should be in harmony with the main needs of your project that will save your budget in the case of various future issues or updates. 

The process of backend development is pretty similar to other processes of software development. The overall number of developers depends on the overall size of your app-building project. However, the team is equipped at least with one of the backend developers. Surely, it’s better to start with one of the developers and increase their quantity with the evolution and growth of the project. 

As soon as the choice of the development team is made, it’s the right time to set the necessary requirements and choose the basic technologies. These requirements include:

  • The programming language
  • Architecture
  • Infrastructure (for instance, the platform you want to run your backend from)
  • Database (e.g., SQL, NoSQL DB, or a mix of ones)
  • Necessary type of API (e.g., XML, Rest API, JSON API, etc.) 

Also, there are crucial aspects that need to be considered before building your app. For instance, the app related to the medical industry should have the highest level of security possible. At the same time, apps for video and music streaming should contain frameworks along with the programming languages that will handle the maximum load possible. 

Summary

So, what is the backend, and how does it differ from the frontend? Somehow, it can be named a particular application for your mobile app. It’s a specially developed software intended to be used by frontend apps run on end-user devices but not humans. Backend machines can be run on remote servers or machines while frontend does it on the user’s device. 

The importance of the backend for your mobile application is undoubted. However, you need to answer the question: Do you need a backend for a mobile app? In most cases, the answer is positive. 

Choosing the right tech stack for your mobile app as well as the type of backend might be a really challenging task to deal with. Therefore, it’s extremely important to think carefully about all the aspects and even risks. The right strategy will definitely help you to predict the growth of your product, save budget and prevent all the unnecessary expenses in the future. 

If you’re looking for the right app development company, don’t hesitate to contact the Orangesoft team. Our extensive experience in building mobile apps for various niches and products is right there for you. Whatever your project requirements are, we’ll do our best to provide you with the highest result possible.

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