Discourse forum owners: Are you interested in native mobile apps?

Hello everyone, I’ve been building native mobile apps on iOS and Android, such as Texties, some with millions of users, for a living for about 6 years now.

I wanted to gauge the interest among Discourse forum owners for native iOS and Android mobile apps.

It would most likely be a catch-all app where you enter your host name and login (rather than a whitelabeled one). But the important thing is that it is native, with support for a few popular plugins and with push notifications.

I’d like to invest the time to build these for forum owners who would pay a yearly fee to have their forum accessible on such an app. But I’m unsure if there are enough interested forum owners to make it financially viable for me.

Thoughts? If you run a Discourse forum, would you or would you not be willing for pay for a native mobile app for your users?

Just FYI, I spoke to a mod here for the OK to post this here.

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I’m interested, so long as the yearly fee is reasonable for me. :slight_smile:

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“Maybe”

When comparing a proposed native app against l the existing browser wrapper code with push support…

What’s the benefit for end users with native? From what I understand the web version is essentially a web delivered app, once that code is cached things move pretty quickly. I can attest to this having found my own discourse community being about the only usable thing on airplane WiFi.

Also, having people enter a URL would be a UI/UX fail for a paid product/service for me.

The main thing for me is understanding what the real tangible benefit to end users of native would be.

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Yes, very interested in a native app. I think you can use react native for this. There is a react native app built for Discourse, ( GitHub - pmusaraj/discourse-mobile-single-site-app: Single-site app wrapper for a Discourse site. Supports Push Notifications via OneSignal.) but it functions like a wrapper basically, and doesn’t interact via the JSON api, so it doesn’t truly feel like a real mobile app.

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How would this be different from the official Discourse apps? If it adds substantial benefits I might be interested.

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Thanks - I did see the OneSignal version, and it was nice work. I can probably take some clues on the push integration from it.

After some painful experiences with Cordova and React Native, my current approach is to make apps natively (like I write Swift/ObjC on iOS and Java/Kotlin on Android) because certain things are straightforward. Approaches like RN (and the up-and-coming Flutter) look really great, and I hope some day I can just write-once and run anywhere - but RN doesn’t offer the efficiency yet.

This is just my opinion. Some people love RN. And I’ll concede that native has its own issues.

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I’ll try to articulate why I think native apps are better than a wrapper (or just point to some external sources) in a separate reply, but the gist of it is that responsiveness, animations tend to be a lot snappier and user experience is better. I know better is a subjective term, but I’ll see if I can find some examples to illustrate it.

I agree - users having to enter a URL to get to their forum wouldn’t be the best experience.

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I’m thinking specifically from a discourse community member’s perspective. How much might their discourse experience improve? Would it be drastic? Would it really matter to them? The last one is absolutely key.

I like the idea of native myself for the general reasons you point out.

But when I think of my community I’m considering where this might go on a list of priorities, ROI and so on.

Something to ponder.

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Would doing a native app mean you have to replicate all of Discourse’s functionality? How would you keep up with changes? Would it support plugins?

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I’d guess that most sites not hosted by Discourse.org would be interested in the benefit of push notifications on iOS.

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Push notifications on iOS and Androids are already supported in the “wrapper” whitelabeled app listed above I though? We just have to add code for the push provider.

If I can get push notifications on my self-hosted instance into the official Discourse app, that’s news to me.

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Ah, I was speaking to using the whitelisted version. On the discourse “official” app, I never considered it.

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Hi,

Yes, but it would have to be a white labeled one that supports the plugins on our Discourse forums, and be kept up to date with Discourse changes.

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The problem is we can’t get the whitelabeled version approved by Apple without adding some functionality that doesn’t exist in the web app, and they don’t consider push notifications to be a substantial enough improvement to justify an app. For a forum! So irritating.

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This is great question. I’d hope that the API versioning in Discourse follows the semantic versioning approach (it’s one of the things I’ll have to verify). That way, when there’s an incompatible Discourse update, an app update will have to follow.

The less critical thing would be keeping up with incremental feature updates that don’t make breaking changes to the API. I’ll obviously need to keep a regular schedule of updates to keep up with something like this.

I think supporting the most popular plugins (for example, ones offering by Discourse’s own hosting) would be a start (and a given).

In the case of plugins not on that list, I think we can keep adding support as the number of people needing it goes up. I guess there is a threshold for when supporting a plugin becomes a must have. I don’t know yet what that threshold is. Maybe I’ll be able to prioritize development for an obscure plugin if someone has a strong reason to have it on the app.

I don’t think so - as in I don’t think it’ll have features for admins to manage the site. It should mainly support participating in the forum as a regular user.

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I think these are fair points. And merely being a native app will not do it for a user (or an admin that wants to offer it to their users). What you make using the inherent advantages of a native app is what I’m trying to understand. And some of those might easily replicable in the wrapper approach as well.

I realize that at some point, getting something in few people’s hands is the only way to understand if it is worth pursuing. Native is the means to additions like push notifications, better touch targets and responses, animations, navigation and layout that seems more like other mobile apps.

I guess my hope was to understand what a list of must haves would be, what the popular plugins are, and also to put the same question back to forum owners - what are the things that would make a native app worth it for you?

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What plugins are on your forum? You can PM me with the list. I’d love to know.

@jtbayly let’s say Apple allowed for you do the wrapper approach with push notifications for a whitelabeled app. Would that be sufficient for you? Is the OneSignal fork (referred to above) be good enough for you then?