In a mobile-first world—where customers demand seamless, near-perfect experiences from the applications they rely on—the tools and systems you use can make or break your product’s potential. You need the right elements in place to make your release cycles more efficient, reduce your spend on unneeded tools and resources, and ensure your apps keep performing at their best long after launch.
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at some considerations for putting together a great mobile tech stack—as well as our top picks for the tools you should have in your arsenal.
Core components of a mobile tech stack
There’s a lot to keep in mind as you start assembling your mobile tech stack. Factors like your app’s core purpose, use cases, security requirements, development timelines—even your team’s own expertise—need to be addressed. Plus, you need frameworks to help you build today, balanced with tools to help you scale tomorrow.
Every operating system (OS) has its own set of structural requirements. But in general, any solid mobile tech stack should include the following five basic components:
- Programming languages: The language(s) developers use to code software and mobile apps
- Mobile development environment: A form of integrated development environment (IDE); software that includes common tools developers need to build mobile apps
- Source code control system (SCCS): Used to help track changes in source code and other files during the development process
- Collaboration and task management software: Used to help development and product teams plan, track, and collaborate on projects
- User insights and product analytics: Helps product leaders understand user behaviors, product utilization, and adoption trends
Let’s dig into each of these components in more detail.
1. Programming languages
There are a number of programming languages available to mobile developers, each with its own pros and cons. For example, some are designed for speed while others process vast data sets; some work well with numerous platforms while others are purpose-built for their native OS. Ask yourself these questions when deciding which language is right for you:
- Does the language only work on a specific operating system, or across many?
- How popular is it? Will I be able to find programmers who are skilled in this language?
- How flexible and scalable is it?
- How much maintenance does it require?
Objective-C and Swift (iOS only)
Objective-C is a general-purpose programming language for macOS or native iOS apps. It’s easy to learn, and was once widely accepted as the standard for iOS programmers. Swift is a newcomer in the space, and an evolution of Objective-C. It’s open source, considered to be safer and more easily scalable than its predecessor, and provides developers with real-time feedback so they can shorten their dev cycles and spot issues faster.
Java and Kotlin (Android only)
Java was developed in the 1990s, and was long considered the go-to programming language for Android apps. It’s still extremely prevalent today, thanks to its versatility and “write once, run anywhere” functionality. Kotlin entered the scene in the 2010s. It’s an open source language that runs on multiple platforms, including iOS and Android (we’ve included it in the “Android only” list because it’s now Google’s preferred programming language for Android). Kotlin’s syntax is simpler than Java’s—resulting in cleaner, more easily maintainable code. However, it’s still easier to find developers who code in Java than those who code in Kotlin.
React Native is an open source mobile application framework, used to build both iOS and Android apps. It’s a popular option for teams looking to write once and run anywhere, without any reconfiguration. Plus, teams with websites or web apps built with React can reuse many of their same components and styles in their React Native mobile apps.
2. Mobile development environment
Mobile development environments allow programmers to be more productive and efficient by bringing together all the common activities that go into building apps in one place—including writing and editing code, debugging, and automation. It’s important to choose the right environment before you start working on your app, ensuring it’s compatible with your chosen programming language and supported by the operating systems you’re building for.
Xcode (iOS only)
Xcode is Apple’s native IDE, made for developing apps across Apple’s ecosystem. Xcode is free, uses a highly intuitive interface, and includes features that make it easy to publish your app once it’s complete.
Android Studio (Android only)
Android Studio is Google’s native IDE, and includes a full suite of tools for building apps on any Android device. Its robust feature set includes things like pre-built templates, emulators, and versioning tools.
Firebase by Google is compatible with most popular web and mobile app languages. Its suite of services includes valuable features for both product leaders and developers—most of which can be used on their own. Some of our favorites are Authentication (allows your users to access your app via federated identity providers like Google or GitHub), Crashlytics (allows you to track and analyze crashes in real time), and Dynamic Links (allows you to create intelligent links that direct users to the most relevant pages in your app).
3. Source code control system (SCCS)
A source code control system (SCCSs) is essential for all development projects—it allows you to track your full source code version history. Having a SCCS mitigates overwriting, helps resolve code conflicts, and makes merges from various workstreams easier. SCCSs also enable branches, which allow developers to work in their own “space” before everything gets merged back together.
Git and Sourcetree
Git is the most widely used SCCS today. It’s an open source project that works well in almost all development environments. It’s known for being extremely flexible, fast, and distributed—so your full code repository lives in each of your developer’s branches. Sourcetree is a graphical user interface (GUI) for Git. It’s a more visual way to engage with Git, but offers the same basic functionality.
4. Collaboration and task management software
Collaboration and task management software helps your development team stay organized, builds accountability, and keeps projects moving forward as planned. It also helps create a single source of truth for your contributors—becoming the place your team goes to revisit their strategy, track your project’s overall progress, and get updates to inform the work they’re doing.
Jira was created by Atlassian, specifically for development teams. It’s particularly popular amongst agile teams using the Scrum framework. Jira creates a unified view of everything going on inside a project—including Kanban boards, budgets, timelines, and assignments. It also allows teams to view code repositories directly in Jira.
Basecamp offers similar functionality to Jira, at a lower price point. Basecamp isn’t just for development teams. It can also be used to facilitate cross-company communications and collaboration, making it easy to get people like Marketing or UX / UI Design involved in your projects. While Basecamp is handy for getting a broader swath of stakeholders involved, it lacks the dev-focused features many programmers have come to expect from Jira.
5. User insights and product analytics
The best way to build products mobile users love using? A data-driven approach. Understanding your users’ preferences, how they interact with your app, and which features they utilize most (and least) helps you see what’s working well—and shows you where to focus next. A user insights and product analytics tool can help you answer questions like:
- What core actions are users taking within my app?
- Which features are most popular?
- What does usage look like at the user and account level?
- What do my users think about my app?
Pendo for Mobile
Pendo for Mobile helps you improve adoption of your mobile app through contextual onboarding, in-app guidance and messaging, and behavior tracking. It allows you to understand where your users are thriving—or getting stuck—so you can guide them through a seamless journey across their devices. Core functionality of Pendo for Mobile includes:
- Track how users interact with your mobile app
- Gather mobile-specific insights (like which app versions your users are on or which operating systems they’re using) to make better decisions and shape your roadmap
- Create workflows and contextual onboarding to drive an incredible user experience
- Launch in-app guides and surveys to efficiently communicate and gather feedback from users
Pendo for Mobile is also a codeless solution, so it’s easy for product managers to deploy without additional engineering resources—and it’s compatible with apps built in iOS, Android, Xamarin, React Native, and Flutter.
One last thing…
As you design your mobile app, don’t forget to keep your specific users—and their devices—in mind.
Apple and Google have spent years “training” us to engage with their devices and operating systems (iOS and Android, respectively) a certain way. While it can be tempting to move quickly and build OS-agnostic apps with the same look and feel, remember that someone with an iPhone won’t expect the same haptics, iconography, or navigation as someone with an Android. Both Apple and Google have guidelines to help product and development teams design for these differences.