How we turned rbb24 into one of Germany's leading News Apps

Discover how we relaunched and redesigned an outdated app with React Native and turned it into one of Germany's most popular news apps.

How we turned rbb24 into one of Germany's leading News Apps

rbb24 is the major news brand of public service broadcaster Rundfunk Berlin Brandenburg (RBB) that operates several radio & TV Formats. As part of a major strategy to bundle all news formats under the rbb24 brand, the app was supposed to receive a major overhaul. Even though not initially created by our team, we've been maintaining the app since a couple of years. However, rbb24 did reach the end of its lifecycle being based on outdated technology and frameworks, which made it difficult to maintain and keep it up-to-date.

But it was not only the technical basis that was getting on in years, the UX and UI no longer met current standards either. So we decided to not only put the whole app on a new development framework, but also give it a complete new design.

rbb24 received a significant UX and UI overhaul with its recent relaunch.
“rbb24 has a huge, demanding audience that uses the app several times a day. Therefore we wanted to give them the best possible user experience in a clean and uncluttered design”

Manuel, Head of Design

By the time we kicked off the project, nearly all stakeholders were working from home due to Covid restrictions. So we gathered our partners in virtual workshops to identify the most important requirements for a new UX: we wanted the app to be easy to use, barrier-free, support text-to-speech and finally supporting dark mode. Recognising the demand of tablet users, rbb24 was about to receive an own, dedicated tablet-design as well, which did not exist for the previous app.

As the rbb24 brand received a CI update last year, the app was implemented in the look and feel of the existing digital offerings, taking app-specific elements into account.

Regarding its features, rbb24 now meets all requirements of an state-of-the-art news app

After opening rbb24 on his mobile device, a user can scroll through the latest news. Articles appear as video (available in newsfeed or fullscreen) , audio or text format. Tapping an article opens the full view of the content. A progress bar on the top indicates the reading progress. To support visually impaired users, a text-to-speech functionality has been implemented using the native OS of the device (Siri or Google Assistant). Also, its possible to change the font size of texts from normal to large to improve readability.

Articles are populated from a variety of content modules delivered from the editorial team's CMS. In addition to classic elements such as video or audio content, snippets from social media platforms, which are becoming increasingly important in the news business, can also be integrated, provided that the app user agrees to the loading of these articles. Furthermore, rbb24 regularly publishes visualisations by data journalists that can be displayed in special widgets within the articles. For news events as Covid, those played a major role in the coverage provided by the editorial team. As rbb is also broadcaster of several public radio stations, the app allows streaming of all its stations while in the app or in a native player while having the app in the background or the device being locked.

View of a single article in rbb24 App - before & after

Platform Selection: Why we've chosen React Native as our weapon of choice

Compared to web platforms, the two main mobile operating systems, iOS and Android, are undergoing rapid further development by their operators. Mobile apps therefore usually have shorter life cycles than classic websites and therefore require somewhat more maintenance.

Given this, we decided to implement the mobile app as a cross-platform application. The advantage of this approach is that the complexity of the development is reduced and it is possible to react more quickly to bug fixes and changes, especially afterwards. As a news app for a public broadcaster, future viability was a decisive criterion here.

“Under the Hood, RN handles a lot of different Android API Interfaces”

Chris, Senior Developer

React Native also achieved the best result in our internal preliminary analysis, as the performance and user experience is comparable to native apps. Since React Native has a high degree of flexibility and a low barrier to native development, there was a very low risk with regard to the feasibility of new requirements. Also in regards that we expected a huge number of Android Users coming with different devices and Android versions. Last reason: A lot of the content that the app receives from its CMS is actually HTML formatted, where React Native libraries enable us to translate this to native mobile components.

Homescreen Widgets for the Win

While rbb24 is based on ReactNative, one feature is actually a true native component: The Homescreen Widgets. Users can arrange an rbb24 widget to their homescreen or app library, having a brief overview of the latest articles in the app without the need to open it. If users finds an article particularly interesting, they can open the app by pressing a headline or thumbnail.

rbb24 homescreen widget für iOS
“A couple of months after its release, rbb24 was in the top-league of German news apps”

Björn, Project Lead

App publishers know: when being triggered, unsatisfied users are more likely to give a bad review than content users are to leave a positive one. We therefore implemented a rating functionality to rbb24 (Our colleague Remi describes an app rating implementation with React Native in this article) to receive reviews and ratings by its users regularly and be able to react on their feedback quickly. After a couple of months we're happy to say that thousands of users pushed rbb24 into the top-league of the best-rated German news apps.

Are you currently thinking about creating a news app or modernising an existing one? Reach out via our contact form or give us a call, we're happy to start a conversation.