What is a Real-Time App and Why Does it Matter?

3 min read Darryn Campbell on Feb 28, 2024

At the core, real-time technology is about the instantaneous sending and receiving of real-time data, effectuating real-time functionality. This functionality allows for the publishing and subscribing of data. This information is transmitted and presented in milliseconds, mirroring real-time events. Such real-time features can be seen in real-time applications, or real-time apps, as some may call them. In this post, we'll define what a real-time application is, provide examples, and explore their significance in our daily lives, especially in the context of internet of things (IoT) and real-time systems.

What is a real-time app?

A real-time app is an application that sends and receives data in milliseconds. This event-driven functionality is crucial in modern-day software development, with instant messaging serving as a primary use case. Real-time apps have revolutionized the user experience, making it more seamless and efficient.

Is a real-time application the same as an online application?

Yes and no. All real-time applications are online, but not all online applications function in real-time. Some applications operate online without any real-time functionality. For instance, an e-commerce application like Amazon requires you to manually refresh or reload the page to see changes. Instagram, a prominent figure in social media, is another example; while it has real-time functionality, your feed must be manually reloaded to view the latest content.

Real-time applications have permeated virtually every industry, platform, system, and game. When you receive notifications from online games or direct message notifications from WhatsApp, for instance, these are all carried out in real-time.

Real-time app examples

One prevalent example of real-time technology is in our daily communications. When someone sends you a message in a chat app, and you receive that message on your smartphone in milliseconds, or you get a mobile push notification, that notification or message is received in real-time.

Another use case lies in live streaming, for instance, video conferencing applications like Zoom or Microsoft Teams. When participants join a meeting in these apps, their presence is updated and displayed to all other participants in real time.

Perhaps you've noticed while using Uber, watching your taxi move smoothly along the street towards you on your phone is another demonstration of real-time technology. The map and taxi location update in real time.

GrabTaxi’s real-time map.

PubNub exists for real-time apps

But, how do these real-time apps function? This is where PubNub comes in. As a leading player in data streaming services, PubNub ensures the smooth functioning of real-time applications. Mobile devices send tiny packets of data to each other in 1/10 second or less (considered real-time speed). However, this doesn't just magically happen. The app developer needs a real-time solution to send this data.

Over time, PubNub has continually evolved to meet changing technological standards and demands, offering reliable real-time services across various applications and industries. Building a real-time infrastructure yourself, managing latency issues, ensuring scalability, and dealing with time constraints can be challenging, costly, and consumes a considerable amount of development time. Moreover, after building it, you must maintain and scale the network to ensure your application's uptime, which is why many developers and startups choose PubNub.

Developers can use the PubNub network, which we've built and scaled globally. This saves them time, money, and enhances the user engagement in their web applications, as they don’t have to build it themselves. Businesses like PubNub are known by many names: IaaS (infrastructure-as-a-service), data streaming services, real-time networks, and more.

The notable benefit for developers is that they can use our infrastructure (our network) so that they can focus on building their apps. The infrastructure is made up of numerous data centers (massive server rooms spread across the globe) that transmit (aka, 'stream') these small packets of data. This type of infrastructure is called a real-time network. That’s what we do at PubNub.

How can PubNub help you?

PubNub assists developers in building, delivering, and managing real-time interactivity for web apps, mobile apps, and IoT devices—all while maintaining user retention. Our platform is built on the industry's largest and most scalable real-time edge messaging network. As of 2024, PubNub supports a vast variety of the latest technologies and protocols, ensuring that your applications stay ahead in the rapidly progressing tech world.

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