Introduction to Cross-Platform App Development

by Dec 14, 2021#CrossPlatform

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Table of Content

  1.  Introduction
  2. Cross-Platform App Development
  3. Native App Development
  4. Progressive Web Applications
  5. Cross-platform vs. Native App Development
  6. To conclude


Organizations and business owners have an important choice to make when it comes to what technology to choose before embarking on the journey of developing a mobile app. With so many options and technologies on the table, the key question that arises is, whether you are going for native or cross-platform development?

Cross-Platform App Development

Many organizations and business owners feel overwhelmed by the potential number of choices and allured by the promises of cross-platform development, and thus decide to opt for a cross-platform solution as a compromise.

However, the reality is that there is no 100% clear winner in the trade-off between native and cross-platform apps. It often really depends on what you want to do, and what is the objective of the application you are working on, the goal it will achieve, and the market that the app is targeted at.

There are cases where you can achieve (multiple) benefits with a particular platform, but those cases are not applicable for all organizations in the same way.

Cross-platform development is not a new concept. We can go back to 2007 when HTML5 mobile apps were presented as an option for iPhone applications.

Native App Development

Overall native apps tend to work better with the built-in functions of a device and deliver a better user experience on a particular device and operating system. They are so-called “native” because they can leverage most of a particular device’s features and also interact seamlessly with the operating system’s APIs.

Native apps also get a boost from app stores. App stores, such as the iOS App Store or Google Play (for Android) ensure that apps with insufficient security receive less attention, and as such are more difficult to get approved and promoted.

Certain functions such as multi-touch events and geo-locations functionalities are easier to implement with native technologies than they are with their cross-platform counterpart frameworks.

Progressive Web Applications

But around 2010, responsive web design enabled web applications, to be more collaborative and available across a range of mobile devices. Fast-forward to the past couple of years, and we now have Progressive Web Apps (PWAs), which are not native, as they do not compile into platform-specific components, but work surprisingly well on mobile devices.

Instead, PWAs use web technology and are essentially website applications that are viewed in an instance of a browser built on your device. PWAs have no direct access to the hardware of the system and are therefore limited in terms of performance and capabilities.

Due to the browser-based nature of these PWAs, support for offline execution is also minimal, mostly reserved for offline caching of images, and small amounts of data, by using web browser service workers. Despite this, PWA technologies are becoming widely popular as they provide a great user experience, and are a quick way to convert a legacy website into a mobile app.

Compatibility, which provides very high consistency, is of secondary importance. Web browsers’ ever-increasing capabilities and complete support from both Google and Apple make PWAs an appealing option for diverse businesses and organizations.

The main difference between PWAs and their “more-close-to-real” counterpart cross-platform frameworks is compiling to native.

Cross-platform vs. Native App Development

Cross-platform apps have, to some extent, an advantage over native apps. Cross-platform apps are especially interesting when launching a Minimal Viable Product, given that cross-platform platforms make it possible to approach more potential users, on different operating systems and devices, faster with minimal codebase changes.

If you want to save costs, cross-platform apps can help you with this. This allows you to reach different devices and receive real feedback from a specific group in the market that you are targeting.

Cross-platform apps are a great choice when starting to develop a prototype. By making a prototype it is possible to receive feedback and see if the app is a good idea, and how it resonates with users.

Platforms such as React Native and Flutter (as well as Ionic, Xamarin, and Nativescript) allow native Android and iOS apps to be produced. In other words, the software is managed by the device’s iOS or Android operating system rather than running from the browser, like with PWAs.

So, what do you do when market research shows that 50% of your users potentially use Android or iOS? Then, cross-platform apps may then be the answer that your organization needs.

What about if you need to develop an app that uses simple interactions? Apps that connect people are ideal for cross-platform development. Think of social networks, booking applications, or e-commerce enabled apps. These are great candidates for using a cross-platform development solution, such as React Native, Flutter, Ionic, Xamarin, or NativeScript.

What about money considerations and budget constraints? Let’s say that you already have a frontend team that is responsible for developing your website or web app, and decide that you want to develop a mobile application, this should be straight-forward, right?

In principle, it is easier to write a cross-platform native app in JavaScript with React Native than to develop one from scratch for iOS with Objective-C or Swift, and another one for Android using Java or Kotlin.

For any developer, writing a React Native application is comparable to developing a standard React application, with some differences, which are not difficult to overcome. A team that already knows what they’re doing in React should get a quick start in developing a mobile app, using a comparable framework like React Native.

The idea that frameworks like React Native, Flutter, Xamarin, and NativeScript do not work well with applications that use animation, audio, and video functionality is being put to the test by large organizations that are investing resources of pushing the boundaries of what cross-platform development can achieve. For example, Facebook is working on promoting React Native, by building their apps with it. A huge number of apps have been developed using frameworks such as React Native, Flutter, Ionic, and Xamarin.

Whole industries have been disrupted by cross-platform development and apps that enable audio and voice communications, delivery apps, chat, and e-commerce solutions, have been developed with these technologies and frameworks. Some of these apps have won over the public by enabling a great user experience and functionality.

To conclude

Today, businesses face tough competition and their main focus is on the target audience. That’s why organizations need to take advantage of cross-platform app development tools whenever they can, and as long as the markets that their app targets are well-suited for cross-platform development, and do not require features that can only be delivered best, through a native functionality that can only be provided by a native framework.

In further articles, we will explore some of the main cross-platform frameworks available and check some of their advantages and disadvantages. Stay tuned.

About Us: Krasamo is a mobile development and consulting company focused on the Internet-of-Things and Digital Transformation.

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