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Shoutem Open Sources React Native-Based 'WordPress for Mobile Apps'

Shoutem today introduced a revamped React Native-based version of its online mobile app builder that it describes as "WordPress for mobile apps."

The company provides an online platform for creating native iOS and Android apps based on a library of extensions that can be used by themselves -- writing little or even no code -- or customized by more experienced developers familiar with React Native. The platform is open source, available on GitHub, where it also provides its open sourced extensions and many other components.

Although the company has been on the market for eight years with different versions of its product aimed at different use cases, it has gone all-in on React Native in this fifth iteration of the platform, converting to that technology in a year-and-a-half effort.

"We have been a classical app building platform, focused on non-technical users building their apps through a simple WYSIWYG editor," company exec Robert Sekulic told ADTmag. "And we had a perfect product for that. Problem we had, a lot of people want to go beyond WYSIWYG editor. This is why we decided to open our platform for developers. You can come and without technical skills create an app. If you want more customizations, we're using React Native and plugin architecture behind, so it's very easy to modify existing or create new functionalities."

While the company offers several editions -- featuring support and different tiers of capabilities -- at different pricing levels, as Sekulic noted it has opened up the platform for free to developers, minus the capability to automatically publish apps to the Apple App Store and Google Play store.

The tool's extension marketplace features more than 40 prebuilt building blocks of code that provide different kinds of functionality. For example, extensions are available to provide navigation, present news articles, display a photo gallery, stream a radio station and so on.

Also available are mobile back-end services, providing authentication, push notifications and more, including the ability to hook into server-based resources such as Firebase, Google Analytics and others. Design templates and themes are also available.

The Online App Builder
[Click on image for larger view.] The Online App Builder (source: Shoutem)

One thing it doesn't provide is an online code editor. Shoutem recommends using Visual Studio Code for actual from-scratch development or extension customization. In addition to the online app builder, a command-line interface (CLI) tool is provided via npm for many development activities, such as creating project folders, bootstrapping extension files, creating screens and so on.

Besides targeting individual developers with the free, open version, Shoutem is also aiming at agencies with a white-label reseller program that enables them to create apps for clients, and enterprises, enabling them to save up to 80 percent in development time, according to the company.

Over at Hacker News, a reader questioned how Shoutem was different from straight-up React Native with other libraries such as NativeBase or Awesome React Native. In answer to that question, a reader with the handle "tenodi," apparently Shoutem's Tomislav Tenodi, directed them to the Shoutem FAQ that listed these benefits:

  • Xcode or Android Studio aren't needed to run apps on iOS and Android devices.
  • Testing of apps on iOS devices using Windows.
  • Shoutem open sourced many extensions which developers can use, modify and install into their own apps.
  • Update apps instantly without resubmitting them to the stores.
  • Shoutem provides a customizable Web interface which clients can use to manage apps.
  • A lot of non-technical users are using Shoutem Builder, to whom developers can sell extensions.
  • Shoutem takes care of all the breaking changes in React Native.

"While there are similar app creation solutions out there, this is the first tool that focuses on developers, enabling efficient development of native mobile apps and our successful launch on Product Hunt supports the claim," Sekulic said.

In a news release, Shoutem said it has met several times with the core team behind React Native at Facebook -- which created and subsequently open sourced React Native -- and even secured a quote from Christopher "vjeux" Chedeau, an early contributor to the project at Facebook.

"Finally, someone has done for mobile apps what WordPress did decades ago for the Web," Chedeau is quoted as saying. "With its new architecture based on plugins, building beautiful apps in React Native becomes a breeze. This is likely going to bring a big shift in the mobile landscape, stay alert."

Shoutem said it was currently in the process of migrating to React Native the approximately 5,000 iOS and Android apps built with previous versions of the platform. When that's done, the company said, it will be the world's biggest publisher of React Native apps.

About the Author

David Ramel is the editor of Visual Studio Magazine.

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