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Rikki
 

Invision Community Apps for iOS & Android

I'm excited to reveal that we are making Invision Community native apps for iOS and Android!

For the past few months, our staff has been using an internal test build right here on our community. Now we are ready to widen testing to a larger pool of customers. Information on how to become a tester is at the end of this post. But first, let's take a look at the app itself.

Technology Preview
We have a lot of exciting plans for the Invision Community app.

We wanted to take full advantage of a clean slate and build a brand new experience that embraces a native app's interfaces. While the app is unmistakably Invision Community, it features new ways of interacting with your content.

We want the app to help shape the future of Invision Community, and we're asking for you to help.

What we are opening up for testing today is a technology preview. This slim app covers the essentials with a view to much more expansion later.

The technology preview is locked to our community. The app we will release will be a 'multi-community' app; a directory of communities users can browse and save.

We’ve taken this approach because the app stores have clamped down on ‘template’ apps, and the cost involved in building and maintaining a separate app per-community won’t be an option for many of our customers. A multi-community app is a great approach for most: simple setup, minimal cost, still fully-featured, and a great way for new users to find your community too.

What The App Does
For the initial phase of this technology preview, discussions are the main focus which is the foundation of every Invision Community. Also available are profiles, streams, search and notifications - including (at last!) push notifications.

Any areas that the app does not currently support will open seamlessly in a web view within the app. As we build new functionality into the app over time, users will encounter fewer of these hybrid views.

Your feedback will allow us to target the highest priority areas during the technology preview phase.

Pricing
Note: The information below outlines our current intentions, but may change as we finalize the app's release to app stores.

The good news is we intend for the app to be free to both our customers with active licenses and their end-users. In time, we will offer a premium option to communities. This funding will secure the app's long-term future.

The premium option could enhance their listing in the directory, or provide special functionality when users use that community in the app.

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Availability

We intend to release the app alongside the next significant point release of Invision Community, expected to be 4.5. Communities will need to upgrade to this version to allow their users to use the app.

Questions?

Why not a PWA (progressive web app)?
Invision Community 4.4 already supports several PWA features. However, until iOS supports Push Notifications (and other features) in PWAs, we don't feel they are a fully-rounded solution to using communities on a phone. Building native apps allow us to experiment with new interfaces and approaches. As PWA support improves in the years to come, we'll feed what we learn back into the main product for the benefit of all users.

Why now?
Those with a long memory will recall that we've had a few attempts at providing an app in the past that weren't successful.

We are great at building apps with web technologies but creating native apps ourselves wasn't sustainable.

Enter React Native.

React Native is an open-source technology for building native apps. React Native allows teams to build native apps using web technologies, but crucially, React Native doesn't build hybrid apps. They are compiled into real native apps - not browser wrappers, but native buttons, text, dialogs, animations and more.

A year or so ago, we started experimenting with React Native to see if it might be a viable approach for us. And it was. Finally, there was a technology that enabled web engineers to build delightful cross-platform native apps.

As we can build native mobile apps using the technology we are familiar with allows us to incorporate mobile app development into our existing processes.

Why just forums?
Invision Community is a large, fully-featured platform, and building the entire platform in a native app from the get-go didn't seem to be the best approach. Instead, we've focused on the most active area of most communities - forums - with other areas still supported in the app via webviews. Over time, additional features and tools will be built into the app so that it eventually reaches feature-parity with the web version. We'll take feedback from our customers to determine which areas to support next.

How will I add my community to the app?
The next significant point release of Invision Community (expected to be 4.5) will have app support built-in. Including your app in the directory will be as simple as enabling the feature in your AdminCP and configuring a few options. 

Is the app ad-supported?
There are no ads of any kind in the app right now. We may include ads or allow communities to run their own ads as a premium option in future.

Can I get a white-label version for my community?
We aim to offer a white-label option in the future.

Will my plugins work in the app?
Probably not. We're intentionally building the app to work with standard Invision Community features and apps right now. If your plugins add new UI elements or change the functions that users interact with it's likely they will not work with the app.

What about themes?
Themes won't work in the app because the app doesn't use HTML. However, some branding/customization will be available via the AdminCP, and we may expand upon this in future.

Have other questions? Let us know in the comments, and we'll answer them!

Sign Up For Testing
For the next stage of our testing process, we will be inviting several customers to try the app and provide feedback/bug reports. As part of the sign-up process, we'll ask for some information about your own community. We'll use this to select further testers once we begin testing of the 'multi-community' version of the app later. The answers you provide will not affect your chance of testing the app on our community.

Interested in joining the testing group? Click here to sign up.

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Comments



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9 minutes ago, Rikki said:

Ads are certainly on our priority list - we know they're important to many communities. That said, getting the basic functionality spot-on is key first, otherwise ads would be a moot point!

Agree! Functionality is first!

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1 hour ago, Sergey_SV said:

Great start! but with out ads, difficult to go with it, since 80% of the adsrevenue is from mobile ads. Then pay-to-use-app feature sould be avaliable in the Commerce for the users ) or per-group allowance to use the app

Agreed. We make the BULK of revenue off of ads on the forums. Without a net positive on monitization I would NEVER adopt this.

 

We also have many features outside of the forums. Since this is not PWA the experience between an app and non app parts of the site will be bad. 

 

I'll pass and wait for PWA support. 

To note, I DO appreciate the effort for mobile. I just think this won't work for our community. 

Also to note, I'm not sure Google allows a single app (common app) to host Soo many different AdSense account ads.  Is it not one account per app?  It's also unclear if you would support header bidding (big deal for larger sites).

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13 minutes ago, Joy Rex said:

You say it won't be HTML, so it will be a true 'native' iOS/Android app, and not just loading a Phonegap or similar app into an app container?

What happens if we do have addons installed? Does it just ignore them?

Yes they are true native apps (check out the Questions section above, there's a bit about the technology).

Addons will open seamlessly in a webview inside the app 🙂 We'll show off how that works in more detail later.

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My site uses all custom apps. I am in need for good mobile experience like true native apps can give.

Any chance you will make the source code for this new app available for download so sites like mine can use as a starting point to building a custom app for our highly customized sites?

Open sourcing the new app would be much appreciated. I'm willing to pay for the source code if it means I can build native apps for my site.

I was planning on building a PWA for my site, but a native app (in addition to the PWA) would be great. I still need the PWA app for other platforms like Desktop.

Edited by KT Walrus

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Sounds great. Several users complaining not having Tapatalk ( I have uninstalled it 2 years ago ) and even losing some of them cause competitors had the option, this would give a boost to the community. 

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Very exciting. Could you explain how a white label system would work?

1. Would we be able to make our own modifications?

2. Would users have to first download the "Invision App"?

I love the idea but I can't see how it would play out in my head.

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11 minutes ago, Tom S. said:

Very exciting. Could you explain how a white label system would work?

1. Would we be able to make our own modifications?

2. Would users have to first download the "Invision App"?

I love the idea but I can't see how it would play out in my head.

Firstly, we don't have firm plans for the white-label approach yet, so take any information about that with a pinch of salt because they will likely change.

Modifications wouldn't be possible; what we'd do is build a version of the app locked to your community, with your branding (your own splash screen, name, colors, etc.). You'd then submit this to the app stores yourself, under your name. Once submitted, we can then provide most updates to the app without your involvement (except in a few special situations). Users won't have to download our app and there'd be no 'Invision' branding in it. We anticipate the white-label app being a relatively high-end offering.

The app we'll be using for initial testing is essentially a white-label app for our own community here, so you'll hopefully be able to imagine that but for your own community.

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20 hours ago, KT Walrus said:

My site uses all custom apps. I am in need for good mobile experience like true native apps can give.

Any chance you will make the source code for this new app available for download so sites like mine can use as a starting point to building a custom app for our highly customized sites?

Open sourcing the new app would be much appreciated. I'm willing to pay for the source code if it means I can build native apps for my site.

I was planning on building a PWA for my site, but a native app (in addition to the PWA) would be great. I still need the PWA app for other platforms like Desktop.

I think it's probably unlikely we'll make the source code available as a product. That said, I'm sure we could at least discuss partnerships and see if there's something that would work. Get in touch once it's available 🙂 

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13 minutes ago, Rikki said:

Firstly, we don't have firm plans for the white-label approach yet, so take any information about that with a pinch of salt because they will likely change.

Modifications wouldn't be possible; what we'd do is build a version of the app locked to your community, with your branding (your own splash screen, name, colors, etc.). You'd then submit this to the app stores yourself, under your name. Once submitted, we can then provide most updates to the app without your involvement (except in a few special situations). Users won't have to download our app and there'd be no 'Invision' branding in it. We anticipate the white-label app being a relatively high-end offering.

The app we'll be using for initial testing is essentially a white-label app for our own community here, so you'll hopefully be able to imagine that but for your own community.

Thank you for the response.

Concerning the no modifications part. Why is that not an option? After you build the version of the app locked to my community, could I not then have access to the code to make modifications (similar to the web app version)? And then it would be my responsibility that when you release an update for the app I would incorporate it alongside my modifications? Similar to how I do with the web app currently. (It might get complicated, but that's my problem).

Essentially, I think it would be nice if you copied a similar business model that you use for the web version. As for instance, if I could not make any modifications to the web app, I would not be a customer of yours. The same case applies for the mobile app.

7 minutes ago, Rikki said:

I think it's probably unlikely we'll make the source code available as a product.

You posted this as I was typing my question. This probably answers most of the above 😄

Please do consider offering some kind of partnership service for more customizability. I'm sure businesses will be willing to pay a higher fee for it. 

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Indeed - just like we make custom agreements for larger companies now, I wouldn't want to rule out doing something similar with the mobile apps too. Equally, I don't want people to expect that we'll be offering app source code up for download and modification as a regular product/service; there's simply no way for us to make that work at scale.

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Do you intend (long term) to copy some of the tapatalk features and behavior? Most importantly - will the owners of the community still own all member registrations, posts made from the app only and so on? Do you see tapatalk as a competitor?

As the app will be free and ignoring the agreements with the large companies for the time being, do you have any plans to monetize the app on your end? Or the development and support is expected to be funded only from the license sale and renewal?

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20 minutes ago, jair101 said:

Do you intend (long term) to copy some of the tapatalk features and behavior? Most importantly - will the owners of the community still own all member registrations, posts made from the app only and so on? Do you see tapatalk as a competitor?

As the app will be free and ignoring the agreements with the large companies for the time being, do you have any plans to monetize the app on your end? Or the development and support is expected to be funded only from the license sale and renewal?


You already own our own data. Our app uses native APIs built into Invision Community. So "we" (as Invision Community) do not take, permanently copy or mine your data in any way. The mobile app will connect to your community which returns the data.

Rikki mentioned monetisation in the blog. Honestly, it's early days so we have no firm plans. We're keen to make sure it's free to the end-user though. Monetisation will most likely come from optional things like promotion in the directory and possibly more theme options for the admin. Nothing is set in stone, but I wanted to be transparent about the direction we've talked about internally.

As said, we want to ensure your users have a great experience with the app and there is no pay barrier for them.

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