What is Cross-Platform Mobile App Development?

According to the latest statistics, 59.17% of mobile users in the USA choose iOS devices while 40.54% prefer Android. Business owners who want to launch mobile apps should decide how to meet the needs of both groups. Should they go for native development and build two separate apps but spend a lot of time and money on it? Or should they start with cheaper and less time-consuming cross-platform application development to build one app that will run on both platforms?

While both approaches are popular among business owners and developers, we want to shed light on cross-platform application development and its peculiarities in this post. But for a better understanding of available opportunities, let’s start with a comparison of native and cross-platform development approaches.

What is cross-platform development and how does it differ from the native one?

Native app development implies building a new app for every platform. It means that if you want to build an application that will run on both iOS and Android, you’ll have to build two different apps. Consequently, you’ll need to look for two different development teams. One of them should have expertise in Objective-C for iOS development and another should have deep technical skills in Java to build an Android app.

Business owners might opt for building native apps when their goal is to provide users with superior performance. Aimed at a specific platform, native apps work flawlessly and boast a unique design. They could be a perfect option for any business that builds mobile apps but there are two drawbacks: long development time and high cost. That’s why more and more businesses, especially startups, opt for cross-platform development.

Cross-platform development allows for building one app that will run on both platforms, in one go. Let’s have a detailed look at the benefits and limitations of cross-platform app development in the following sections.

Benefits of cross-platform development

Cross-platform application development has a number of advantages that make it a preferable option for numerous businesses. Let’s cover them one by one.

Ability to reach more users

By building a cross-platform app, you can kill two birds with one stone, especially if your target audience equally uses Android and iOS. Even if your potential customers prefer one platform over another, creating an app that can perform on both platforms is a sensible decision that will yield great results in the future.

Cheaper development and easier maintenance

Although the word “cheap” isn’t really applicable to software development, building a cross-platform app doesn’t cost as much as building a native app. The cost is lower because an application is built with identical technology and developers reuse the source code. As a result, deployment, maintenance, and updates are also easier to perform on apps with a common code.

Faster development

We have already mentioned that cross-platform application development implies less work than native app development. A common source code helps to cut down up to 80% of development efforts. As a result, business owners can significantly reduce time to market.

Uniform design

App design that reflects identically on any platform adds to user experience. Whatever operating system app users want to use – iOS or Android – they won’t be confused by discrepancies in two versions.

The above mentioned points can become key factors when business owners need to choose between native and cross-platform app development. But to make an informed decision, you should also be aware of the drawbacks of cross-platform software. We’ll have a look at them in the next section.

Limitations of cross-platform applications

One of the most critical limitations that is often mentioned in relation to cross-platform apps is their performance. While native applications boast flawless performance, cross-platform ones can be somewhat slower and inconsistent. It happens because some cross-platform components don’t comply with native ones.

Imperfect performance can become a reason for poor user experience and result in lower customer satisfaction. But to notice inconsistencies in app performance, users should be either developers themselves or use apps with very complicated functionality. In case with simple or mid-complexity applications, user experience doesn’t suffer much.

One more issue that can arise during cross-platform development is a complicated design process. To make an app adequately reflect on both iOS and Android platforms, designers and developers need to think through every detail, from functionality to buttons, to make sure an app will work consistently no matter the platform. However, by taking more effort to create a high-quality design on the development stage, you’ll save time on its maintenance in the future. Thus, such investment in design is quite reasonable.   

Taking into account all the benefits and limitations of cross-platform app development, one can conclude that it’s a great option if:

  • you’re a startup owner and have a limited budget
  • you want to check the viability of your idea
  • you need to launch your app as soon as possible to outrun your competitors

Later on, when you launch your cross-platform app, gather feedback from customers, and manage to attract investors, you can develop native applications to improve quality. 

Top frameworks for cross-platform development

If you decide to build a cross-platform app, you’ll have a choice of frameworks for your application. While your development team will advise on the framework that will best meet your business needs and requirements, we offer you to quickly get acquainted with popular frameworks used to build cross-platform apps. 

React Native

React Native is the most popular framework for cross-platform application development for several years already. Launched in 2015, it’s still used all around the world to build hybrid apps.

Benefits of React Native

  • The framework allows for reducing development time dramatically thanks to the ability to reuse up to 80% of a source code.
  • It’s possible to preview the results of the development process immediately. With the Hot Reloading feature, developers can see the newest changes in a matter of seconds.
  • React Native provides almost native UI so that users don’t see the difference between native and hybrid applications.
  • React Native is based on JavaScript. It means that even a team of web developers can build a decent cross-platform app.

Limitations of React Native

  • It’s not a fully cross-platform framework. Developers still need to write genuine code for some of iOS or Android functionality such as accessing a camera.
  • Debugging and releasing updates can be somewhat slow and inconsistent.

Examples of apps built on React Native: Pinterest, Instagram, Skype, Bloomberg.

Flutter

The next popular cross-platform framework is Flutter. It was developed and launched by Google in 2018, and since that time, it’s one of the serious React Native competitors. Besides the almost native look of apps and the hot reload functionality, Flutter boasts a number of other cool features.

Benefits of Flutter

  • Built on Dart, a programming language created by Google, Flutter allows to develop UI-oriented applications of high quality in a short time.
  • Flutter includes numerous ready-made widgets for iOS and Android devices. These widgets are enough to build a whole app. However, developers can build their own widgets if there’s a need.
  • Being an open-source solution, Flutter is constantly updated and improved.  

Limitations of Flutter

  • Apps built with Flutter usually have a bigger size than other apps. Because of a great number of widgets, Flutter apps weigh more than average apps and can take up much space on users’ devices.
  • Being a relatively new framework, Flutter doesn’t have many libraries. It means that if Flutter developers lack some functionality in the existing libraries, they will have to create new libraries on their own, which will extend the development time.

Examples of apps built on Flutter: Alibaba, Google Ads, Tencent.

Ionic

Ionic is an HTML framework aimed to build cross-platform apps with a native feel and design. In addition to creating mobile apps, Ionic is a great tool for developing Progressive Web Apps (PWAs).

Benefits of Ionic

  • To build an app using Ionic, it’s enough to hire one or two developers who have knowledge of HTML5, CSS, JavaScript, and Angular.
  • The Ionic framework can be integrated with numerous tools and plugins to extend the app’s functionality.

Limitations of Ionic

  • To build applications that go beyond AngularJS functionality, it’s necessary to hire more developers with wider tech stack.
  • Debugging can be challenging.

Examples of apps built on Ionic: IBM, SAP, NASA.

Xamarin

Xamarin is an open-source framework that was launched in 2011. In 2016, it was acquired by Microsoft that made the framework more recognizable. Xamarin uses programming language C# that is considered to be more modern and flexible than Objective-C or Java.

Benefits of Xamarin

  • Except for creating applications that run on iOS and Android, Xamarin is used to build apps for wearables such as Apple and Android Watch.
  • Although Xamarin is a cross-platform framework, apps built with it can boast exceptional performance, almost like native applications.

Limitations of Xamarin

  • Using Xamarin is free for individuals and startups but for enterprises, it offers to buy a license to be able to use its services.
  • Apps built with Xamarin lack quality when it comes to graphics. For apps rich in UX and UI, it’s better to use a native development approach.

Examples of apps built on Xamarin: Alaska Airlines, American Cancer Society, BBC Good Food.

Final thoughts

Although some people might doubt the quality of cross-platform development, real-life examples show that in particular situations it is no worse than native one. Such popular apps as Instagram, Skype, and many others show that cross-platform apps are decent market players loved and used by millions of people.

Thanks to the advantages of cross-platform development such as shorter time to market and reduced development costs, businesses, especially startups, opt for this approach more often than for classic native app development. Of course, cross-platform development does have its limitations but it can be a great choice to build the first version of a mobile app.

What is Cross-Platform Mobile App Development? was last updated June 26th, 2021 by James Nagel