Cross-platform app development is undoubtedly one of the most popular recent software building trends. However, if you have a project in mind and are unsure whether you should choose a native app or a cross-platform one, you've come to the right place. In this article, we've covered everything you should know about cross-platform application development, facts and details as well as its pros and cons.
After reading this guide, you'll be able to decide whether you should start looking for a trusted company that offers cross-platform app development services right away to get the best app while saving your time, money, and resources.
What Is Cross-Platform Development?
Cross-platform app development is a process of creating an app that will run on various operating systems rather than developing an app version for each platform specifically.
In other words, cross-platform apps are created with a single codebase; native apps use different codebases.
The goal of cross-platform development is to create software that will be able to work well in different environments. Why is the idea so attractive? By choosing cross-platform application development, one can create both an iOS and Android app that will work on multiple devices (e.g., smartphones, smart watches, tablets) and even as a web version and make it available to more customers.
What Are the Most Popular Cross-Platform Frameworks?
The most popular cross-platform app development frameworks are
- Apache Cordova
- Kotlin Multiplatform
- Apache Flex.
According to Statista, Flutter has become the best cross-platform framework in 2021 (used by 42% of developers), followed closely by React Native (used by 38% of developers).
Cross-platform mobile frameworks used by software developers worldwide from 2019 to 2021 (Statista)
Flutter has plenty of advantages to bring to the table (we'll discuss them further on). It was first launched by Google in 2017, and it uses Dart as the main programming language.
React Native was launched by Facebook in 2015, and it's the second best cross-platform framework that was commonly used before 2021.
Apache Cordova, Ionic, Xamarin, and Unity can also be distinguished among cross-platform app development frameworks used by developers these days. There are other frameworks, but they are far less popular.
What Is the Difference between Flutter and React Native?
Now that we've defined the best cross-platform application technologies, let’s compare what both frameworks have to offer:
What Are the Apps Built Using Flutter?
Here are some of the apps that have been built using Flutter:
- Google Pay
- Google Ads
- Philips Hue
- SpaceX Go
What Are the Apps Built Using React Native?
And here are some of the cross-platform apps that have been built using React Native:
What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Cross-Platform Mobile Development?
There are both benefits and limitations in cross-platform app development. We'll start with the pros first, as they well outweigh the cons.
Benefits of Cross-Platform Development:
- Reduced development cost. If you choose cross-platform development, you won't need two development teams to create two separate apps—one for iOS and another for Android (and probably a web app). You'll only need one team.
- Faster development speed. A cross-platform app that runs on multiple platforms requires only one cycle of development.
- Single codebase. Instead of using different codes for your iOS and Android apps, you will be working with one codebase.
- One app for all platforms and devices. Cross-platform development allows you to have an app that will run on your iPhone, iOS-based tablet, Android phone, and desktop computer, as well as work seamlessly on your browser.
- Wider market reach. With the app being created for any number of app stores, it has the potential to reach more customers and bring more profit.
- Minimized upfront expenses. Cross-platform development allows building an app with minimum investment, as it's simpler and faster than the development of two native apps, so you can make an MVP and collect quick market feedback.
What about Limitations? There Are Some, too:
- App size. Due to the fact that cross-platform frameworks have to be included in the final file, the end app size increases by some megabytes.
- Limited functionality (app communication with the device) In cases of connection between device-specific functions, you may need a platform-specific code, as a cross-platform app can't always connect as ideally as native apps can.
- Native components. Such frameworks as Flutter doesn't use existing native components, so new elements have to be built from scratch.
- Slower performance speed. Some cross-platform apps can be slower than their native counterparts due to an additional abstract layer and rendering process.
- Limited UX. In some cases, cross-platform apps can't provide exactly the same native UX experience.
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Native vs. Cross-Platform Apps Development
You can develop a mobile app by utilizing one of the two approaches: creating a native app or a cross-platform one. Both have pros and cons and should be chosen depending on the goals you pursue by creating your app.
What Are Native Apps?
Native apps are created with programming languages and tools specific to a single platform and are designed for this platform only. Android apps are usually created on Java or Kotlin; iOS apps—on Swift and Objective-C. Native apps are designed specifically to deliver exceptional user experience on the specific platform, so they are tailored to its UX rules and perform exceptionally well. However, they are expensive in terms of development, and if you need an app that works on both iOS and Android, you have to hire two separate development teams to do the job.
What Are Cross-Platform Apps?
As opposed to native apps, cross-platform mobile apps developed for multiple platforms and devices with one codebase work both on Android and iOS.
What Is the Price of Native and Cross-Platform Development?
What is the price difference between native and cross-platform app development? Which option is more cost-effective? It depends on the app you want to develop. If you need a complex app with many system-specific features, integrations, etc., you may not be able to cover them all with a cross-platform app. If your app doesn't require such efforts and you understand it right at the beginning, then cross-platform is your definite choice. However, in general, it's impossible to give any solid estimate before all the project requirements are collected.
Is Cross-Platform App Development Faster than Native App Development?
Yet again, it depends on your project. Cross-platform technologies can make the development process shorter but not by 50%. As with the cost, time is also project-specific. Surely enough, with a cross-platform app, there is only one team that works on the project instead of two, so delays are minimal. However, don't expect miracles from your development team. If your project is complex, it can take as much time as a native app development does.
Is Cross-Platform Mobile Development Right for You?
Before you start looking for cross-platform app development services, check if the following points apply to you:
- You want to create an app for more than one platform and different mobile devices
- You haven’t defined your target audience
- You run a startup
- You need an MVP
- You have a small budget for app development
- You need the app to be developed fast
If all or most of these suggestions describe your situation, you should go with cross-platform development.
When Cross-Platform Development Is Not a Good Option?
Now check another list of suggested situations:
- Your project requirements are still not worked out
- You are planning to later integrate your app with external devices (e.g., IoT)
- Your app needs to use a low-level mobile API
- You are creating a complex app with many platform-specific features, and it's expected to deliver excellent performance
- All your competitors have native apps
If these suggestions are close to what you have, cross-platform app development isn't for you, and it makes more sense to invest in a more expensive native app.
Is There a Commercial Benefit to Choose Native Development over Cross-Platform?
Before making a decision, you need to understand what's going on in the market and what your competitors have in store. If they all have native apps, you'd better follow suit and develop one—if you want to enter the competition. Cross-platform apps not always can compete with native apps in the same niche. Besides, as we've already mentioned, some complex platform-specific projects can't rely on cross-platform technologies. Therefore, native development is best suited for them.
Are There Any Risks of Choosing Cross-Platform Development?
Choosing cross-platform over native development can have some risks, but most of the arguments customers usually have in mind, have little to do with reality.
- Possible user experience issues. There is a belief that cross-platform mobile applications will never be able to provide the same user experience as native applications do. To some extent, it's true. However, let's not forget that the technology and tools are constantly evolving, and in properly developed apps, the difference is almost indistinguishable.
- Lack of experts. This is yet another belief that is also half-true. Since everything is changing so fast, with older frameworks giving way to more advanced ones within a year (go and check the Statista chart we've mentioned earlier), the problem is not in the lack of professionals but rather that they have to be very flexible and capable of learning fast.
- Insufficient experience and few case studies. This argument is frequently voiced by those who have little knowledge in the field. Cross-platform app development isn't something new. A great number of mobile app development companies have been providing cross-platform development services for a while now, and some have plenty of case studies in their portfolios. Therefore, it's not a problem to find a company that has the experience and expertise.
- Fast-pacing development of technologies. Which is definitely a good thing, not a risk. Each new cross-platform framework evolves fast and has a lot to offer. The important thing here is to be able to stay equally fast and keep in mind all the frequent updates and changes you need to make to keep your users satisfied.
Do End-Users See the Difference between Native and Cross-Platform Apps?
No, since most cross-platform apps offer a "native-like experience." However, it is possible sometimes for a user to notice some illogical placement of elements regarding this or that device, as cross-platform apps look the same on all operating systems. Therefore, some apps require additional styling to make them look exactly like native ones. Still, this is definitely not the biggest issue if your app performs exquisitely.
Now you know all about cross-platform mobile app development, its specifics and risks, and how it differs from native app development. So if you have a product that should work perfectly well on multiple operating systems and all sorts of devices, you can weigh the pros and cons of each option and decide which way to go.
We hope that this guide was helpful to you, and you will be choosing a software development company that offers cross-platform application development services, having a complete understanding of what you expect and need from them. If, however, you are still unsure whether you should develop a cross-platform mobile app or a native app, you can contact the FLS team for more details, and we'll do our best to consult you on the subject and help you develop your product.
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