Cross-platform vs. Native Mobile App Development: Which one to choose

 
Aruna R S
Aruna R S

Today, 99.6% of all smartphones run on either IOS or Android. Increasingly mobile apps have gained significance as way to not only conduct business but also for raising brand awareness. There are hundreds of new applications being launched on a daily basis. In the last few years, the concept of cross-platform mobile app development has taken off in a big way. It allows the developer to write the code once and employ it across all platforms – Android, IOS or Windows. Some of the advantages of developing Cross Platform apps.

Cross-platform vs Native apps:

Native apps

Native apps are written in languages that the platform accepts natively. For example, Swift or Objective-C is used to write native IOS apps, Java is used to write native Android apps, and C# for the most part for Windows Phone apps.

Apple and Google offer app developers their own development tools, interface elements and standardized SDK; XCode and Android Studio. This allows any professional developer to develop a native app relatively easily.

Advantages

  • Since native apps work with the device’s built-in features, they are easier to work with and also perform faster on the device.
  • Native apps get full support from the concerned app stores and marketplaces. Users can easily find and download apps of their choice from these stores.
  • Because these apps have to get the approval of the app store they are intended for, the user can be assured of complete safety and security of the app.
  • Native apps work out better for developers, who are provided the SDK and all other tools to create the app with much more ease.

Cross-platform apps

While cross-platform development is somewhat an umbrella term for any mobile app project that targets multiple platforms, hybrid is a subtype that implies the use of a specific development model. Legitimate representatives of hybrid development tools are Cordova and Phone Gap. Both allow to create apps that are web/native ‘hybrids’, with the code being written in HTML, CSS or JavaScript, and later wrapped in an invisible native WebView browser.

Cross-platform development tools that do not use WebView and communicate with the platform directly aren’t united in any subgroup. Existing under the general term of cross-platform development, they are sometimes called native development tools, which just makes it all even more confusing. For the sake of convenience, we’ll refer to these tools as ‘near-native’ here and will explain why they deserve such a praise.

In ideal scenario, cross-platform apps work on multiple operating systems with a single code base. There are 2 types of cross-platform apps:

  1. Native Cross-Platform Apps
  2. Hybrid ‘HTML 5’ Cross-Platform Apps

Native Cross-platform Apps

Native cross-platform apps are created when you use APIs that are provided by the Apple or Android SDK but implement them in other programming languages that aren’t supported by the operating system vendor. Generally, a third-party vendor provides an integrated development environment that handles the process of creating the native application bundle for iOS and Android from a single cross-platform codebase. In this case, the final product is an app that still uses native APIs, and cross-platform native apps can achieve almost native performance without any lag visible to the user. Native Script, Xamarin, and React Native are the most common examples native cross-platform languages.

Hybrid HTML 5 cross-platform apps

Although mobile applications are designed for smartphones and tablets, it is back end servers (either on-prem or Cloud-based) that handle application logic. Since both IOS and Android SDKs feature advanced web components, skilled software engineers often utilize Web View to create parts of an application’s GUI (Graphical User Interface) with HTML 5, CSS and JavaScript. The most popular hybrid app development framework is Apache Cordova (formerly known as PhoneGap).

Mobile app development tools

Xamarin:

Xamarin apps are built with standard, native user interface controls. Built with #C and .NET, Xamarin allows developers to re-use code and simplifies the process of creating dynamic layouts in iOS.Apps not only look the way the end user expects, they behave that way too. Xamarin apps have access to the full spectrum of functionality exposed by the underlying platform and device, including platform-specific capabilities like iBeacons and Android Fragments. Xamarin apps leverage platform-specific hardware acceleration and are compiled for native performance. This can’t be achieved with solutions that interpret code at runtime.

Apache Cordova

Apache Cordova is an open-source mobile development framework. It allows you to use standard web technologies – HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript for cross-platform development. Applications execute within wrappers targeted to each platform, and rely on standards-compliant API bindings to access each device’s capabilities such as sensors, data, network status, etc. Cordova has no limitations in relation to natively developed applications. What you get with Cordova is simply a JavaScript API, which serves as a wrapper for native code and is consistent across devices. You can consider Cordova to be an application container with a web view, which covers the entire screen of the device. The web view used by Cordova is the same web view used by the native operating system. On IOS, this is the Objective-C UIWebView class; on Android, this is android.webkit.WebView.

Apache Cordova comes with a set of pre-developed plugins which provide access to the device’s camera, GPS, file system etc. As mobile devices evolve, adding support for additional hardware is simply a matter of developing new plugins.

React Native

The React Native framework was created by Facebook, and its development started as a result of a hackathon back in 2013. React is an example of a technology that the developer community created for itself when developers were looking for a tool that would combine the good things about mobile development with the power and agility of the native React environment. React Native’s genesis resulted in a huge enthusiastic community investing into the framework’s development, and there are catalogs of freely available components that go with it.

React Native uses various UI blocks to compose rich mobile apps for both IOS and Android using a common JavaScript codebase. React Native also allows developers to see their code and its implementation on real mobile screens next to each other in real time.

React Native provides development tools for debugging and application packaging, which saves time.

Which One to Choose

So, if you want to impress users with a lightning fast interface, rich functionality, and overall performance, native apps are what you need. In addition, you get better security and stability. The price for this is that you’ll most likely need to hire two dedicated teams for each platform. Small business may not be able to afford develop an application for both platforms.

Cross platform apps, on the other hand, can be developed for both IOS and Android. Plus, cross platform apps are much easier in terms of maintenance and deployment, so you can spend more time and money on marketing and attracting new customers. However, their biggest disadvantage is lower performance, which may be especially crucial if you’re developing an application with features that require deep hardware integration.