The days of unitasking applications seem to be numbered as we see more apps become more feature-rich.
Take the case of the popular ES File Explorer file manager app for Android. What used to be a straightforward file manager that allows users to copy, move, delete and rename files has become packed with added features like junk cleaners and charge booster. The current version’s APK (Android’s app install file) is now twice as large as the version two years ago. And it’s a trend for other apps as well – apps are getting bigger and more complex.
On the deployment end, this doesn’t seem to be much of an issue. Google Play has increased its APK size limit (or apps deployed through the store) to 100MB. Asset-heavy apps like games work around this by distributing a small app file on the play store, but with downloadable asset bundles that contain media like graphics, audio, and video, and are hosted on external file servers.
This is why you still might see another download notice within applications even after you’ve installed them. We see this trend with Apple iOS apps as well. Last year, Apple upped its limit for apps to be as large as 4GB. Previously, iOS apps were limited to 2GB. (That makes you wonder why they still sell 16GB phone models but that’s beside the point for now.)
Not size but speed
Storage and bandwidth are both getting cheaper. Internet connections, for the most part, are getting faster around the world. Devices are getting beefier with speedier processors and more RAM. We can just expect the trend for larger apps to continue. The question now is, how can developers and publishers provide better experiences to their end users?
We’re living in an age of digital downloads and streaming is catching up to physical media. We saw the audio CD’s doom with the rise of iTunes.
In some areas like video games though, gamers still prefer physical media partly due to the sheer size of games. Grand Theft Auto V, released in 2015, was a 60 GB download. With the global average speeds of of 5 Mbps, that could take more than a day to download.
Waiting times are often chalked up as bad user experience. This is why many console and PC gamers bemoan buggy titles that are rushed into release only for these games to get patches almost the size of the whole game. These patches are to be downloaded over the Internet and installed before the game can actually be played.
It’s not just games. Other software developers have also opted to make early releases and then roll out and release installers, patches, and updates online instead of physical media. Digital downloads are always accessible and, price-wise, digital downloads can be a bit cheaper.
For instance, prior to fully shifting to electronic software downloads, Adobe used to charge extra for physical media copies of software to be shipped. Distributed infrastructure to the rescue
The sizes of these applications are no joke, especially if developers and publishers are expected to provide speedier rollouts to users. This is where infrastructure becomes vital to online delivery.
Many developers have gone to the cloud to make this work. Sizable installers and asset packs are usually hosted in cloud storage like Amazon S3 or Dropbox Sync, so that publishers can easily scale capacity if ever there would be high demand for the files.
The infrastructure layer of the cloud stack is also critical. Content delivery networks (CDNs) enable faster delivery of all sorts of content – from rich-media content to sizable files like installers and patches.
CDNs cache files across a geographically-distributed network, and these allow users to access copies that are physically closest to them. This decreases latency, which can add seconds to web page and file load times. This could translate to minutes for larger files like apps and asset bundles.
In addition, using CDNs decreases the chance of server overloads during critical times such as release dates and patch rollouts, since everyone will be trying to get the same files from your server. Without a CDN as a safeguard, a rollout might as well be a self-imposed Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) “attack” on your system due to the sheer volume of concurrent users accessing your network, which can cause your main server or servers to be inaccessible.
CDN service providers provide additional options and safeguards to aid. Incapsula, for example, combines CDN services with security against true DDoS attacks and load balancing options to provide failover measures. Such services ensure that there is no interruption to your rollout.
Speedy and reliable rollouts
Developers and publishers owe it to their end users to provide applications that work at the time they are promised. Part of that delivery is making sure that users have uninterrupted, speedy, and reliable access to your applications and patches. This can be done by ensuring that infrastructure through which rollouts will be implemented have safeguards to ensure that files and patches get delivered promptly.
(About the author: Dan Blacharski is a thought leader, advisor, industry observer and PR counsel to several Internet startups. He has been widely published on subjects relating to customer-facing technology, fintech, cloud computing and crowdsourcing. He lives in South Bend, Indiana with his wife Charoenkwan and their Boston Terrier, "Ling Ba.")
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