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App Crashes Driving You Bonkers? Understand How to Fix Them and Keep Your Users Happy!

Prioritizing mobile app stability is essential to ensure a successful user experience and protect the reputation of any business. In this post, we will explore some of the reasons for mobile app crashes and try to provide some solutions and best practices for improving app stability.
Mobile App crashes

Mobile App Crashes: Implications, Causes, and Solutions

Have you ever struggled with diagnosing and fixing mobile app crashes? It can be a really time-consuming and frustrating problem.
And, the pressure on developers to deliver stable and reliable mobile apps that people love has never been greater. But crashes continue to plague mobile apps.

Why do mobile applications crash?

There are several reasons why mobile apps crash. Here are the top 6, in no particular order:

Architecture design inefficiencies: Architecture issues are one of the top reasons for app crashes or poor performance. The architecture of an application refers to its overall design, including how components are organized, how data is stored, and how different parts of the app interact. Poor architecture design can lead to scalability, security, and memory management issues, as well as slow response times. To minimize these risks, app developers should carefully plan and design their architecture, regularly monitor and test their apps, and take a proactive approach to maintenance. Read more here about mobile app architecture design best practices.

Memory Issues: Mobile devices have limited memory, and when an app uses too much memory, it can cause the system to become unstable and ultimately crash. There are several reasons why an app might use too much memory, including inefficient coding practices, memory leaks, or excessive use of background services. Inefficient coding practices, such as using large data structures or inefficient algorithms, can lead to an app using more memory than necessary. This can be like having a cluttered workspace, where you have unnecessary items taking up space and making it harder to find what you need. On the other hand, memory leaks occur when an app fails to release the memory it no longer needs. This can be like leaving the lights on in a room you're not using - it's wasteful and can cause problems down the line. Finally, excessive use of background services can also lead to memory issues, as these services can continue to run even when the app is not actively in use, using up precious system resources.

Network Problems: Mobile apps rely on network connections to access data and services, and when the network is slow or unstable, it can cause the app to become unresponsive or crash. This can be frustrating for users, especially if they are relying on the app for important tasks. Poorly implemented network code can also lead to crashes, as it may not be able to handle network errors or interruptions gracefully.

Coding Errors: So yeah, bugs in the code can cause apps to crash. Some common coding errors that lead to crashes include bad nullability handling, collection or array index misuse, and logic errors…..enough said 💩

Operating System and Device Compatibility Issues: Mobile apps must be designed and optimised to work on a wide variety of devices and operating systems, each with its own unique hardware specifications, software configurations, and compatibility requirements. Failure to thoroughly test and optimise the app for different configurations can lead to crashes and other issues, which can result in poor user experience and negative reviews.

Third-party Libraries and SDKs: Mobile app developers commonly use third-party libraries and SDKs to add extra functionalities to their apps, such as social media integration, analytics, and push notifications. These tools can save developers time and effort, enabling them to focus on the core features of their apps. However, using third-party libraries also presents potential challenges, including compatibility and stability issues. Compatibility issues arise when libraries were developed for older operating systems or different development frameworks, potentially causing crashes and other unexpected behavior. Outdated third-party libraries can also create security risks, requiring developers to regularly update their libraries to avoid exposing their users to vulnerabilities and exploits.

Lessons Learned: The Costly Consequences of App Crashes for Businesses

There have been several high-profile cases where architecture issues have led to app crashes or poor performance. Instagram is estimated to have lost over $22m per hour over 8 hours of outage on 31/10/2022. The bug prevented some users from logging into their accounts. Others saw a spookily sudden drop in their follower counts. Spooky, indeed.

In March 2023, there was an outage on the social media platform, TikTok, which affected its functionality for some time. According to The Verge, the outage occurred between 1:25 PM ET to around 1:45 PM ET. While the reason for the outage is not clear, it appears that TikTok was not able to update its software during that time, which may have caused the issue. Can you imagine how much revenue would've been lost, probably in the millions?

Another older example is the 2018 incident where a buggy Apple update caused crashes for users of apps that relied on a particular type of character. The bug was traced back to a memory management issue in Apple's software architecture, which caused the system to crash when it encountered the problematic character. There were significant financial implications for businesses that relied on affected apps. While this was not a deliberate design flaw, it highlights the importance of thorough testing and quality assurance to catch architecture-related issues before they impact users.

Proven Tips to Keep Your App from Crashing: A Developer's Guide to Stability

Mobile app crashes

There are several things you can do to avoid app crashes and improve the stability of your app. Here are a few tips:

Proper Testing: Proper testing is absolutely essential to avoid those pesky app crashes that make users want to chuck their phones across the room. Just like a chef wouldn't serve a dish without tasting it first, app developers shouldn't release an app without thoroughly testing it on a variety of devices and operating systems. This means taking your app for a test drive on an iPhone, an Android, and maybe even a Windows phone (if those still exist). You should also test on different versions of each operating system to make sure your app works for everyone, not just those with the latest and greatest phones. And if you really want to be thorough, load testing can help you identify any bottlenecks that might slow down your app's performance. So, before you send your app out into the world, make sure it's been poked, prodded, and put through its paces to avoid those dreaded crashes and keep your users happy.

Application architecture monitoring: Just like how a watchful building superintendent can catch small problems before they turn into big headaches, monitoring your app's architecture can help you prevent crashes before they happen. By keeping an eye on your app's architecture and monitoring your app’s design components, you can identify potential issues like configuration errors, memory leaks, or unhandled exceptions that can cause crashes down the line. You can also monitor performance metrics like CPU usage and network requests to identify any areas of your app that might be slowing things down. By catching these issues early on, you can address them before they have a chance to bring your app crashing to a halt. So, think of application architecture monitoring as your app's own personal superintendent, keeping things running smoothly and preventing headaches for both you and your users.

Robust Error Handling: When it comes to error handling, the key is to expect the unexpected, just like you'd expect to spill coffee on your white shirt if you're running late for a meeting. That's why having a robust error-handling system in place is absolutely essential to prevent crashes and improve your app's overall stability. A sound error-handling system should catch unexpected errors and display meaningful error messages to users, rather than just crashing or freezing up. It should also log errors to help you identify and fix the root cause of the issue. Think of it like a safety net for your app - even if something unexpected happens, you've got a backup plan in place to catch the error and keep your app running smoothly. So, if you want to avoid frustrating crashes and keep your users happy, make sure your error-handling system is up to snuff.

Memory Management: It's like a game of Jenga - you need to make sure you're not taking too many blocks out of the tower or it will come crashing down. In the case of app development, proper memory management is crucial to maintaining app stability. If your app is using too much memory, it can slow down or even crash, leaving your users frustrated and likely to look for another app to fill their needs. That's why it's important to make sure your app is using memory efficiently and that you're releasing memory as soon as it's no longer needed. Think of it like tidying up your workspace - you wouldn't leave papers and files strewn about your desk, taking up valuable space and making it difficult to find what you need. Instead, you would put things away as soon as you're done with them, keeping your desk clear and organized. Similarly, by releasing memory as soon as it's no longer needed, you keep your app running smoothly and avoid those pesky crashes that can send your users running for the hills. So, remember to keep your Jenga tower sturdy and your memory usage under control to maintain app stability and keep your users happy.

Code Optimisation: It can be a daunting task, but it can make a huge difference in how smoothly everything runs. When it comes to app development, optimising your code is a key way to improve performance and stability. By avoiding memory leaks and reducing the number of unnecessary calls, you can make sure your app is using resources efficiently and avoiding those dreaded crashes that can send users running for the hills. It's like Marie Kondo-ing your code - you want to keep only what sparks joy and get rid of the rest. Additionally, using efficient algorithms can help your app run more smoothly, just like how using a hanger that fits your shirt perfectly can make it easier to find what you're looking for. You'll be amazed at how much of a difference it can make for your app's performance and stability.

Regular Maintenance: It's not the most exciting thing to do, but it's essential for keeping things running smoothly. Just like your car (if you have one), your app needs regular check-ups to identify and address any potential issues before they become significant problems. By performing regular maintenance, you can catch bugs and other issues early on, ensuring your app remains stable and reliable for your users.
This needs to include architecture "refactoring" maintenance. It's the activity to maintain and make the architecture stable enough, also evolve it. A good architecture will allow incremental evolutions, whereas a not-so-good one will lock you in forever.  Keeping your app up to date with the latest versions of frameworks and libraries is essential for making sure everything is running as smoothly and efficiently as possible. A well-maintained app runs more smoothly and provides a better user experience. So, don't neglect your app's maintenance - just like how you wouldn't neglect your car's maintenance. Keep everything up to date and running smoothly to ensure your app stays tip-top.

So basically, avoiding app crashes requires a proactive approach to architecture monitoring, testing, error handling, memory management, code optimisation, and regular maintenance. By implementing these tips, you can ensure your app delivers a seamless user experience and avoids the costly consequences of app crashes.

Why Developers Still Struggle to Prevent App Crashes: Overcoming Time Constraints, Resource Limitations, and Technical Debt

Mobile app crashes

It’s all well and good to offer these solutions, but in reality, there are still several factors that can hinder developers’ ability to implement these best practices effectively.

Firstly, developers are more often than not under pressure to deliver features and updates to meet tight deadlines. In such situations, it can be tempting to cut corners on testing and maintenance to meet these deadlines, which can lead to app crashes down the line.

There’s also usually a lack of resources, such as device testing infrastructure and debugging tools, which can obviously also limit the ability to prevent crashes. Testing on different devices and operating systems can be costly and really time-consuming. It’s just not always feasible, especially for smaller development teams. To mitigate this, some companies subscribe to device farms, where you can make use of virtual devices to test your app on any device you need. Have you tried this?

Lastly, technical debt can accumulate over time, making it challenging to maintain app stability. Outdated libraries, frameworks, and code can create dependencies and compatibility issues that can cause crashes. Without addressing these technical debts, it can be challenging to maintain the stability of your app in the long term.

The Limitations of App Crash Prevention Tools: Resource Intensiveness and Obsolescence

The good news is there are several tools that purport to help us prevent these crashes and provide a stable and reliable user experience, for example, Firebase Crashlytics, Sentry, Datadog, etc. Do you use any of them?

But, they do have some weaknesses which makes them not exactly foolproof. App monitoring tools are designed to help developers and operations teams detect and diagnose issues with their applications in production environments. These tools typically provide real-time insights into the performance and behaviour of the application, allowing developers to quickly identify and fix issues that could impact the user experience.

However, when it comes to monitoring the architecture design of an application, app monitoring tools have some weaknesses. One key challenge is that these tools are primarily focused on monitoring the performance of individual components within the application, rather than the architecture as a whole. This means that they may not be able to detect issues that arise from problems with the overall architecture, such as scalability or reliability issues.

Another weakness of app monitoring tools is that they are typically reactive rather than proactive. They are designed to detect and diagnose issues that have already occurred, rather than preempt issues before they arise. This can make it difficult for developers to identify potential architecture design issues before they become significant problems.

To overcome these weaknesses, some app monitoring tools are beginning to incorporate features that can help guide developers' inefficient architecture design. For example, some tools provide visualizations of the application's architecture, allowing developers to see how different components interact with each other and identify potential issues. Other tools use machine learning algorithms to analyze performance data and identify patterns that could indicate architectural issues.

Wrapping Up

I hope this has been helpful in providing insights into why mobile apps crash and what you can do about it. But now I would love to hear from you! What are your experiences with app crashes, and how do you prevent them? How do you monitor your architecture design? What tools and techniques have you found helpful, and what frustrations have you encountered in the process? By sharing our experiences and collaborating together, we can continue to improve the quality and stability of mobile applications. Let's keep the conversation going!