Using Sitecore to provide content to native mobile apps

The number of information channels that our clients are using to reach their customers has steadily increased and the explosion in popularity of smartphone apps has introduced another communication medium that needs to be managed. As such, more and more of our clients are asking us to help them streamline the amount of content they need to manage on a day-to day-basis.

We’ve already helped to develop smartphone apps for a number of clients, and have implemented our knowledge of key content management platforms to allow them to use their existing web content to directly populate these apps.

We recently helped one of our clients to launch their new smartphone app for iOS and Android, with a large amount of content being served from their CMS which in this instance was Sitecore. Our key challenge was how to pull content from a web based system, using a device which may not necessarily maintain a consistent connection to the internet due to coverage issues.

We’re about to get technical so bear with us…

In order to ensure the best possible experience for the user, we compiled content stored in Sitecore to a content package which could be retrieved when the user had a suitable data connection.

When a content editor published content within the CMS, a custom Sitecore process generated a structured representation of all of the content relevant to the app including images and video content. The content was compressed then stored in a central location. We exposed this content to the native application using a custom built API. Once a user had a suitable data connection the content was downloaded to the device once and the app could run completely offline.

The two biggest benefits of handling content in this way are that:

1) Many changes can be sent to users without having to release a new version of the app. This is particularly useful when dealing with iOS apps as any new versions are subject to a lengthy review period before being allowed in to the App store.

2) Content is managed centrally and the same content can be used on both the web platform as well as the native apps.

With over 20,000 downloads, we’re very pleased with the app and the results that have been achieved — and we’re hoping to help more clients explore the world of app development in the very near future.