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Down Dog Case Study: Building 500K Subscribers App with Kotlin Multiplatform Mobile

Down Dog is the innovative start up that brings a studio-like yoga experience to your mobile device. With Down Dog you get a brand new yoga routine every time you come to your mat.

Unlike following pre-recorded videos, Down Dog won’t make you do the same workout over and over again. With over 60,000 different configurations, Down Dog gives you the power to build a yoga practice you love!

This app brings yoga to over 500k subscribers on both Android and iOS, with over 100k users completing a practice daily. The app has 200k reviews on iOS and over 100k on Android, with an average rating of 4.9 on both platforms. And what is this incredible app built with? Kotlin Multiplatform Mobile!

Visit the Kotlin Multiplatform Mobile portal to create your first cross-platfrom application with Kotlin!

The story behind Down Dog

In 2015, having worked at Google for three years, co-founder of Down Dog Benjamin Simon started to feel frustrated with the size of Google and his inability to drive progress forward as an individual programmer. He had recently become obsessed with yoga and was in the middle of finishing a yoga teacher training program. It suddenly dawned on him that the logic for yoga sequencing they were learning could be put into code in order to generate semi-random sequences much like an instructor does, which was the seed idea for Down Dog. So, with an old college friend, he began to work on bringing the practice of yoga to people’s mobile phones.

The project

It has now been about six years since the first prototype. Certain parts have remained unchanged; the same original set up of a Tomcat backend server still runs on AWS that communicates with a PostgreSQL database. The first version was a prototype that only existed as a web app (written in TypeScript). When they then committed to Down Dog, that prototype was thrown out and they built the first iOS app using Swift, which launched in August of 2015. In March of 2016 the Android app followed, which was written in Java. Around September of 2016, the decision was made to switch to Kotlin for the Android mobile app development and the server, which only took about a month (with the help of IntelliJ IDEA’s auto-converter). 6 months later, the web version of Down Dog was launched, which was built using KotlinJS.

At this point, code was not being shared between any of the three clients, but they were being written in parallel so that changes to the business logic were essentially a copy-paste job (plus syntax changes when converting to Swift). At the beginning of 2020, Down Dog switched to Kotlin Multiplatform and began sharing code among all three clients for everything but layouts and other platform code. The team has even moved the majority of their iOS platform code from Swift to Kotlin, so that their entire project is now Kotlin with the exception of around 5 Swift files.

Down Dog under the hood

In terms of what is native, it is mostly just the view code. There’s also network interaction, media playback, local storage, and third-party integrations like Facebook login. The rest is Kotlin.

Under the hood, there’s a module structure that looks roughly like this:

Common: multiplatform module containing code shared across the clients and server (mostly various helpers that have been written).

Base: a kotlin-jvm module that depends on ‘common’ and contains non-client code used by the server as well as in standalone tasks.

Server: a kotlin-jvm module that depends on ‘base’ and contains all of the Servlets. This module uses the gretty plugin for running the server locally, and the war plugin for deploying to AWS Tomcat servers.

Tasks: a kotlin-jvm module that depends on ‘base’ and contains various standalone tasks that need to run (database cleanup, generating reports, certain content-specific tasks).

Client: a multiplatform module that depends on ‘common’ and contains nearly all of the code for all three clients. Most of this code is structured as ViewController-View pairs, where the ViewController is platform-independent and the View is an “expect” class implemented separately for each Android, iOS, and JavaScript. This module also contains some “expect” objects which wrap other platform interactions (e.g. a Network object to handle all requests/responses), and it contains data classes representing the API with the server, for which we use kotlinx.serialization to convert to and from JSON.

Android: a kotlin-android module that depends on ‘client’ and contains the Activity class, which calls code in ‘client’ to initialize the app.

JavaScript: a kotlin-js module that depends on ‘client’ and contains a main function that calls code in ‘client’ to initialize the app.

Additionally there is an Xcode project similar to the Android and JavaScript modules, containing primarily just the UIApplicationDelegate class, which calls code in ‘client’ to initialize.

Story of the mobile application

The speed of development for the app was probably the single biggest priority. Launching features simultaneously on all platforms is an important component of this and also helps prevent bugs. Even before we were actually sharing code, we did parallel development and kept the three clients up-to-date with each other. Performance is definitely an important consideration, which makes being able to interact with the platforms directly very important (especially with the media playback API’s).

Having used Java since starting coding in high school, Benjamin had long been a fan of IntelliJ IDEA and had been aware of Kotlin’s popularity among app languages for some time. Discussions between the cofounders ultimately led to the adoption of Kotlin for the project. Much of Java was considered overly verbose and otherwise frustrating for mobile development, and it was often pointed out that the problems they were finding in Java seemed to have been addressed in Kotlin. That eventually led to the decision to try Kotlin, especially because it was also much closer to Swift, which at the time was the only option for iOS. In addition to being able to share code across platforms, Kotlin’s ability to create DSLs was very useful because it is used heavily to write the logic for the workouts. There were never any alternatives that were seriously considered. React Native was the other big option at the time that was being pushed, but there were performance issues (especially on Android), and JavaScript was also unappealing.

Gains from using cross-platform

Now, the speed of development across the three client platforms is pretty much unmatched. A single engineer is able to do all of the UI implementations, now does all three clients and has re-skinned or otherwise changed the screens in Down Dog in just a few months.

If you are putting off using Kotlin for whatever reason, Benjamin has just one last suggestion for you: “Just do it. You won’t look back.”

Visit the Kotlin Multiplatform Mobile portal to find more about cross platform development!

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