Delivering mobile news across the UK
By Matteo Collina

In this post, you’ll discover how nearForm helps companies to scale up their mobile applications.

The client

News UK is the owner of some of the UK’s leading media brands, including The Sunday Times, The Times and The Sun. It was looking for a company that would help it take its mobile apps to the next level.

The brief

News UK had already developed Android and smartphone apps for The Times. Now it wanted to expand its mobile offering, and was looking for a company to build super-fast apps for The Times and The Sunday Times. These would offer a top-quality user experience, with offline first capability. The goal was to use the existing APIs to deliver more efficient mobile consumption through a new smartphone API. nearForm was selected to deliver this transformation, in partnership with Novoda, the company responsible for building the new Android app. Later on, the smartphone API was used to support the iOS app as well.

Design principles

Offline first The new smartphone API aimed to deliver a seamless offline user experience while minimizing the use of data on the device. Cloud-based News UK was committed to ensuring that its subscribers would never miss the latest news. To achieve that goal, nearForm leveraged the best features of the Amazon Web Service cloud technology, so the app could deliver top-quality online and offline content straight to people’s phones. High performance The apps were built to download new editions whenever they become available, and they’re also able to handle simultaneous requests from hundreds of thousands of devices at speed. The challenges

The Times and Sunday Times apps download a new edition onto tens of thousands mobile phone devices per minute, several times a day. nearForm needed to create apps that would deliver a fast user experience for those users. Keeping data usage under control while still making enough data available for offline consumption was also a challenge. As well as the technical challenges, the nearForm developers also had to manage input from four stakeholders. These were the third-party team, who were building the Android app, the team building the iOS app, and News UK’s DevOps and internal API teams.

The solution

nearForm harnessed the HTTP/1.1 byte ranges and the TAR protocol to create archives that could save up to 500 images, while keeping data usage low. The system appended new images onto a single TAR during the day and thanks to the HTTP/1.1 byte ranges, the devices only download the new images, a great data-saving feature.

nearForm put together a three-person development team, coordinated by a delivery architect, to meet the expectations of the four stakeholders. To make the app fast and agile and reduce overhead, the team decided to avoid using frameworks. Instead, they handpicked individual NPM modules to create a lean system designed to meet the clients’ needs.

The business result

nearForm delivered the system on schedule and achieved outstanding performance with this new smartphone API. The new API can process 10,000 requests per second for every AWS EC2 m3.medium instance type. On the end user side, phone data usage is less than 10 MB of data per day on average for a full edition, including hundreds of images.