At the beginning of the mobile app development process, many clients struggle with the decision of whether to build a cross-platform app or a native app for iOS, Android (or both). But once you’re informed about the realities of modern mobile app platforms, you’ll find that the decision is actually a very easy one because today’s cross-platform apps—also known as hybrid apps—deliver far greater benefits over a native app. So why are more and more companies opting for cross-platform mobile app development where before, the native route was more popular? Find out what companies such as Uber, Airbnb, Tesla, SoundCloud, Facebook, Instagram, Walmart, Skype and many others have already discovered: cross-platform apps are the way to go.
How Are Cross-Platform Mobile Apps Different From Native Platforms?
Native apps are built to suit one precise operating system—either iOS or Android. Meanwhile, hybrid or cross-platform apps are built to suit multiple platforms, so the most obvious advantage is cost since you can develop a single mobile app for Apple and Android users, whereas you would need to develop two separate native applications to achieve the same reach.
Up until fairly recently, native apps were widely preferred due to the fact that these applications were faster and they had the power to interact with and leverage device hardware more effectively than their hybrid counterparts. As a whole, native apps were generally regarded as being better, faster and more user-friendly.
The emphasis on native mobile apps left companies to foot the bill for the development and maintenance of two mobile apps that performed essentially the same functions on Android and iOS devices. Of course, some opted to develop a native app for just one platform, which meant that they could only engage a portion of prospective users.
But improvements in hardware and in the world of mobile app development means that unified code base applications—also known as cross-platform or hybrid apps—now offer a more cost-effective solution, with a user experience (UX) that was previously reserved for only the best native apps. And instead of paying for the development and maintenance of two separate applications, companies can focus on a single cross-platform app that can be used on virtually any device, regardless of the operating system. Here, we’ll explore how and why this shift has occurred, as we examine the ins and outs of modern app development.
Examining Native and Cross-Platform Mobile App Development Platforms
Once known as the best option for most mobile app development projects, native apps have started to fall out of favor as cross-platform apps have increasingly gained more attention. Here is a look at some of the platform options for developing today’s apps.
React / React.Native
Angular has emerged as one of the more popular mobile app development platforms, used for building native mobile apps and web apps. The release of Angular 7 led to lots of advances for mobile developers, who enjoyed features such as functionality modules or “blocks”, templates, dependency injection, data binding, a diverse range of components, declarative templates, end-to-end tooling and “integrated best practices.” In fact, Angular was regarded as one of the most-used technologies in 2018, ranked just behind Node.js. Angular has some undeniably good features, but at the end of the day, it can only be used for web-based apps and cross-platform mobile apps, which means you’ll need to build and maintain two separate native apps. That could be as much as double the time and cost of what you could expect to spend on a single hybrid app.
Xamarin is a cross-platform app development platform based on C#, so it’s viable for both iOS and Android devices. The major upside of this framework is its cross-compatibility with a number of other interfaces; its code can be repurposed on other platforms. According to a 2019 survey, Xamarin had a 31% market share in the cross-platform app development industry. But there are some drawbacks; namely, cost, which can be rather prohibitive for smaller companies and startup ventures (although it is free for individual non-commercial usage.) The cost of development using Xamarin can also rise due to the time-consuming nature of UI development.
Kony, Flutter and Similar
These native interfaces involve lots of constraints, especially when you consider that once you build on these platforms, you’re locked into that platform for the life of your app. This alone has led many to avoid this development option due to the limitations, especially in the long-term.
The Disadvantages of Native Apps … And Their Downfall
Up until fairly recently, slower mobile devices meant that native app performance was far better than what one might see with a hybrid application. This, combined with the better hardware integration resulted in a better user experience that made native apps the undeniable front-runner for many years. But now, cross-platform apps offer an optimal competitive advantage since they allow companies to avoid falling victim to several native app cons.
These native disadvantages include the following points.
Greater Cost and Time to Build and Maintain
To equal the reach of a single cross-platform app, you would need two native apps—one for iOS and one for Android. That means you’re faced with two development projects and two separate budgets which can double the total cost when all is said and done. Updates and maintenance budgets are also much higher than what you’d see on a single cross-platform app, especially when you consider the more dramatic impact that OS updates tend to have on native apps.
Poor Backwards Compatibility
Native apps are notorious for having very limited backwards compatibility. In short, when an app is updated to work on the latest OS version, it may stop working properly on older devices that are running anything but the latest operating system. Now consider that Apple’s devices tend to stop accepting new operating system updates after a few years. This means that a native app may only work on only the newest devices with the most current OS. That’s bad news for enterprise apps and consumer-facing apps alike.
Greater Impact From OS Updates
Native apps are built for a specific operating system and as such, OS updates tend to have a fairly dramatic impact on app function. It’s not uncommon for a major OS update to cause major functionality issues in a native app, necessitating significant and potentially costly updates. Meanwhile, cross-platform apps are, by nature, more flexible, which means that OS updates tend to have a much smaller impact on these applications.
It’s for these reasons that native apps have largely fallen out of favor, giving rise to the era of the unified code base app, better known as a cross-platform mobile app. Some major industry heavyweights have shifted to cross-platform apps, including Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Uber, Walmart, Airbnb, Bloomberg, Vogue, Adidas and countless others.
The Benefits of Cross-Platform Mobile Application Development
Cross-platform apps give you the power to engage users on Android, iOS devices, OS X and Windows, which is ideal for companies targeting the general public and even for enterprise apps that will be used in an environment with both Apple and Android-powered hardware.
We’ve arrived at a unique point in time for the mobile development industry: there are currently no advantages that are significant enough to justify the added cost and increased development time of going with a native app. Cross-platform apps are faster and they deliver a seamless user experience that was previously only possible with a native application.
Choose A Partner with Cross-Platform Development Expertise
At SevenTablets, we specialize in cross-platform app development, with a UX that’s tailored perfectly to suit iOS and Android. We take great pride in our ability to deliver a rapid time to market, with a single development project that allows clients to enjoy a far lower cost than what they would face if developing multiple native apps. In fact, SevenTablets has developed a custom platform called STAX, which allows us to re-use as much as 85% or even 90% an app’s back-end Node.js, while the remaining 10% to 15% of the remaining front-end React code is custom-tailored to suit the latest iOS and Android operating systems.
Our unified code base apps are very cost-effective to support, maintain and even upgrade. Clients also enjoy an extremely efficient database management experience for their application.
Cloud app hosting is another one of our specialties, so our mobile apps can be securely accessed in the cloud for a scalable, affordable hosting solution. We also deal extensively in mobile security. Our team knows what it takes to create even the most secure features, such as payment gateways, which limits the potential for damage and liability arising from hackers and data breaches. SevenTablets is adept at integrating a wide array of different functionalities using technologies such as mobile analytics, predictive analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR) and data lake integration, so our clients can make the most of their mobile app and all of the data that this platform generates.
SevenTablets’ software and mobile app developers work with clients across Texas—including Dallas, Houston, Austin—and beyond. If you’re ready to build a robust, user-friendly cross platform mobile app or custom software platform that will bring results for your business, contact SevenTablets.
Shane earned a B.S. at Texas A&M (whoop!) and studied mathematics as a graduate student at Southern Methodist University.
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