3 min read
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on Nov 10, 2014
A simple, concise look at what realtime technology is, realtime app use cases, and how a Data Stream Network like PubNub benefits developers.

At PubNub, we provide a realtime data stream network for web, mobile, and IoT developers. After I say that, people often give me a “what the heck?” look. I originally wrote this post for my mother, but soon realized it provided a solid, very simple look at realtime technology, data streaming, and what a realtime app is.

At the core, realtime technology is the sending (publishing) and receiving (subscribing) of data “as it happens” in real life. Information or data is sent and presented in milliseconds. So what are some examples of a realtime app? Here’s a couple, with gifs!

What is a realtime app?

When someone sends you a message in a chat app, and you receive that message on your phone, or you get a push notification, that notification or message is received in ‘realtime.’

text message received animated gif realtime app

Receiving a push notification in realtime

When you watch your taxi moving on a map on your phone, and it smoothly moves along the street towards you, the map and taxi location is updating in ‘realtime.’

taxi application map animated gif realtime app

Taxi dispatch app GrabTaxi‘s realtime map

In a multiplayer game, when two players move their characters, player position is updated on both browsers in ‘realtime’

multiplayer game animated gif realtime app

Robot Onslaught by Thomas Hunter

When you click a button on your phone to change channels on your TV, that signal is sent in ‘realtime.’

remote control animated gif realtime app

Mote.io by Ian Jennings

When you’re walking to your house, and your lights turn on based on your geolocation, that signal is sent in ‘realtime.’

home automation smart home animated gif realtime app

Home automation app Revolv uses geolocation to trigger devices

Why does PubNub (and other data stream networks) exist?

The next question is, why does PubNub exist? To make realtime happen, devices are sending little tiny packets of data to one another in under a 1/4 second (which is considered realtime speed).

This doesn’t just magically happen. The app developer needs a ‘realtime’ data stream network to send those little tiny packets of data. Building a ‘realtime’ infrastructure yourself is hard, can get expensive, and is a large burden on development time. And once it’s built, you then have to maintain and scale that network.

This is often why many of our customers often go through a build vs buy stage, and soon realize that building it themselves isn’t plausible. Developers will first try to build realtime into their application with an open source protocol, but soon find it’s expensive, time consuming, and tough to scale.

Building a Realtime App on a Data Stream Network

So app developers use our data stream network, which we’ve built and globally scaled for the developer. This saves them time and money (they don’t have to build it themselves, we did it for them). Businesses like PubNub are known as many things: IaaS (infrastructure-as-a-service), data streaming services, realtime data stream networks, realtime networks, etc.

The value to the developer is that they can use our infrastructure (our network) so that they can focus on their apps. The infrastructure is made up of multiple data centers (massive server rooms spread across the globe) that move (aka, ‘stream’) these small packets of data. This type of infrastructure is called a realtime Data Stream Network. And that’s what we do at PubNub.

Getting Started

Now that you understand what PubNub does, check out the PubNub Use Cases page, and see some real world examples of realtime technology in use. Or if you want to get started right away, sign up for a free account and head over to our short Quick Start Tutorial to get going.

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