Cross Platform Mobile App Development – Pros and Cons

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Szymon Nitecki

Updated May 15, 2024 • 14 min read

Mobile applications have been with us for more than 10 years. Within that time, the mobile development market has significantly changed.

At the beginning developers were limited to native platform-specific applications which were not able to work on different systems. The growing demand for custom mobile apps brought new ideas for shortening development time. And that’s how cross-platform development was born. Near-native platforms, such as React Native or Flutter, are examples of cross-platform frameworks that allow developers to create apps for multiple platforms using a single codebase. These frameworks are gaining ground and offering better opportunities to build native-like experiences. Today, we want to discuss the pros and cons of such solutions.

Understanding Cross-Platform Mobile App Development

Cross-platform mobile app development encompasses the creation of applications that are compatible with multiple mobile operating systems, utilizing a single codebase. This approach contrasts with native app development, where dedicated code is written for each specific platform. By leveraging cross-platform development technologies, developers can build mobile applications that provide consistent functionality and appearance across diverse devices, significantly reducing development time and costs. Additionally, integrating native code within cross-platform applications is a common practice to optimize performance and achieve a more native-like experience on each platform.

The appeal of cross-platform development lies in its ability to streamline the app creation process. Instead of managing separate development projects for iOS and Android devices, developers can focus on a single project, ensuring faster deployment and easier maintenance. This efficiency makes cross-platform app development an attractive option for businesses looking to reach a wider audience without compromising on quality or experiencing inflated development costs.

Cross-Platform Apps Explained

At their core, cross-platform apps are designed to function across multiple mobile operating systems, using a single codebase. This approach differs from native app development, where apps are created specifically for one platform, such as iOS or Android. The key advantage of cross-platform apps is their ability to provide a unified user experience across different devices, which is achieved by writing code once and deploying it across multiple platforms.

The development of cross-platform apps involves various strategies and tools that allow code reuse, which is not typically possible with native applications. By leveraging these development approaches, businesses can significantly cut down on development time and resources. However, it's important to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of creating native and cross-platform apps, as the choice heavily influences the app's performance, user experience, and overall success.

The Evolution from Native to Cross-Platform Development

The journey from developing native applications, which are built specifically for one platform, to embracing cross-platform app development marks a significant evolution in the mobile app industry. Initially, the focus was on creating native apps to leverage the full potential of each platform’s capabilities, ensuring optimal performance and user experience. However, this approach necessitated separate development efforts for iOS and Android platforms, leading to increased costs and extended development timelines. Cross-platform development frameworks have revolutionized this process by eliminating the need for creating separate native apps for each platform, streamlining the development process and significantly reducing time to market.

As the need for broader market reach and faster deployment became evident, the industry shifted towards cross-platform app development. This shift was propelled by the promise of a single codebase that could be deployed across multiple platforms, reducing redundancy and maximizing efficiency. The evolution from native to cross-platform development reflects a strategic move to balance the demands of rapid deployment, cost efficiency, and a consistent user experience across diverse mobile operating systems.

The Growing Importance of Cross-Platform Solutions

The digital landscape's constant evolution has underscored the growing importance of cross-platform solutions in the realm of mobile app development. As businesses strive to reach users on both iOS and Android platforms, the ability to create a single application that runs smoothly across various devices becomes essential. This approach, which bridges the gap between native and cross-platform development, allows for the efficient use of resources by enabling source code to be shared across platforms, thereby streamlining the development process.

Furthermore, the adoption of cross-platform app development strategies reflects a broader industry trend towards flexibility and scalability. By focusing on creating native-like experiences with the efficiency of cross-platform tools, developers can meet users' expectations for seamless functionality and high performance on any device. This strategic emphasis on cross-platform solutions is not just a response to current market demands but a forward-looking approach that anticipates the future of mobile application development.

Selecting the Right App Development Framework for Your Project

Choosing the appropriate cross-platform mobile development framework is vital for the success of a project. Each framework has its unique features, including differences in data storage capabilities and support for different programming languages. Developers must consider these aspects, along with the specific requirements and goals of their project, to make an informed choice.

Furthermore, the selection process involves evaluating the scalability, performance, and future maintenance needs of the application. Cross-platform mobile development frameworks offer a range of options, but finding the one that aligns perfectly with the project's needs requires thorough research and comparison.

Comparing Framework Maturity and Ecosystems

The maturity of a framework is a critical factor to consider, as it reflects its stability, feature set, and the likelihood of finding solutions to common problems. A mature framework typically has a robust ecosystem, including extensive documentation, a wide range of plugins and extensions, and a large community of developers. This ecosystem can significantly ease the development process, offering pre-built solutions and community support for challenges encountered along the way.

Comparing the ecosystems of different frameworks also involves looking at the availability of resources for learning and troubleshooting. A well-supported framework with a vibrant community and a wealth of resources can greatly reduce development time and improve the quality of the final product.

Assessing the Learning Curve and Community Support

The learning curve associated with an open-source mobile application development framework can vary significantly. Some frameworks are designed to be easy for beginners, while others may require a deeper understanding of programming concepts. Assessing the learning curve is essential for teams to estimate the time and resources needed for development accurately.

Community support plays a pivotal role in overcoming the challenges that come with learning and using a new framework. A strong, active community can provide invaluable resources, such as documentation, forums, and tutorials. Additionally, community-contributed plugins and extensions can extend the functionality of the framework, enabling developers to achieve more with less effort.

Cost Considerations in Cross-Platform Development

Cost is a critical factor in the decision-making process for selecting a development technology to build mobile applications. Cross-platform development can offer significant cost savings over native app development by allowing code reuse across multiple platforms. This approach reduces the amount of code that needs to be written and maintained, lowering initial development costs and ongoing maintenance expenses.

However, it's important to consider the total cost of ownership, which includes not just the initial development costs but also the costs associated with maintaining and updating the app over time. Selecting the right cross-platform development technology can help balance these costs, ensuring a cost-effective solution for building and maintaining mobile applications.

1. Faster development

With cross-platform solutions, developers mostly work with one codebase which handles iOS and Android and there is no need to build separate Android or iOS projects. Everything is in one place. Cross-platform applications are built as single projects but support different devices. It is possible to reuse a big part of an app's code between platforms, and that's why development is much quicker.

2. Lower costs

In comparison to native applications, a cross-platform one can be about 30% cheaper than building iOS and Android apps separately. You just have one project for both iOS and Android, and big chunks of code and other assets can be reused between the platforms. In this way, cross-platform development is faster so, as a result, the overall cost for each platform is less than developing native mobile apps.

3. Wider audience

Many app owners face a challenge when starting with mobile app development: is it better to create an Android or an iOS application first? No matter which platform has a bigger market, it is always a trade-off which can cost a lot of money. Starting with a cross-platform solution you get a much wider audience at the very beginning – you can target both markets at the same time. You can also build for one platform first to release the product faster, and then quickly iterate on adding support for second platform.

3. Consistency between platforms

iOS and Android have some differences in terms of building navigation and design. In cross-platform development, most popular UI differences are handled by default. In native development, even in a team with great communication, there can be some differences in implementing functions. In cross-platform development, this situation doesn't occur often, as the platforms share the same codebase. It also allows you to build a more coherent brand identity in apps on both platforms with less effort.

4. Reusable code

This is one of the greatest things about cross-platform applications – it's possible to create one codebase for Android and iOS at the same time. In native applications it is necessary to write code separately, which is usually done by two different developers or teams. In custom mobile app development, the whole codebase is in one place. This saves a lot of time, because one developer can handle both platforms concurrently.

Cons of cross-platform mobile apps development

1. Lower performance

Performance is one of the most important characteristics of an app. It depends on many factors but, in general, if you compare two applications where one is native and the other is cross-platform and both have the same functionalities, the native one will be slightly faster. However, these differences in performance are usually small, especially when it comes to simple applications.

2. Harder code design

Cross-platform applications have to adapt their design and functionalities not only to specific devices but also to platforms, which have many differences. As a result, it creates extra work for developers who have to handle specific exceptions for a variety of devices and platform differences, especially with more complicated features. These issues don't occur that often in native apps, so developers can focus on solving users' problems.

3. Long wait time for new features

Every time Google or Apple introduce a new feature for Android or iOS, it takes some time to update applications to support this new feature. In native apps, new SDKs are provided with the updates much faster than for cross-platform frameworks.

Best cross-platform mobile solutions

Not every app can be built with a cross-platform solution. There are many cases when it's better to stick to native development. However, it's always worth considering cross-platform development, as it significantly decreases time and cost of development. For relatively small applications without specific platform requirements, React Native or a similar framework can be a perfect match. If you want to get more details about your application, drop us a message. We're always happy to help.

The Future of Cross-Platform Development

The future of developing cross-platform apps looks promising, with advancements in technology and tools expected to further simplify the development process. As businesses continue to seek cost-effective ways to reach a broader audience, the demand for cross-platform solutions will likely increase. Additionally, the focus on maintenance and continuous improvement of apps will drive the adoption of practices and tools that facilitate easier updates and bug fixes.

Emerging technologies, such as AI and machine learning, are set to play a significant role in automating and optimizing various aspects of the development process. This evolution will not only enhance the capabilities of cross-platform apps but also improve the efficiency and quality of development efforts. The future of cross-platform development is geared towards creating more powerful, user-friendly, and maintainable applications that meet the growing needs of businesses and consumers alike.

Emerging trends in cross-platform app development frameworks are enabling developers to build more sophisticated and high-performing applications. These frameworks are continually evolving, incorporating the latest technologies to improve development speed, application performance, and user experience. As a result, developers have access to a wider range of tools and platforms that support the creation of feature-rich, cross-platform apps.

Additionally, the integration of new technologies, such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), into cross-platform development frameworks is opening up new possibilities for app development. These technologies offer immersive experiences that can be leveraged for gaming, education, and retail applications, among others. As frameworks evolve to better support these technologies, developers will be able to create even more engaging and innovative applications for users across different platforms.

The Role of AI and Machine Learning in App Development

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are transforming cross-platform app development frameworks by enabling smarter, more intuitive applications. These technologies allow developers to write code that can learn from user interactions, making apps more personalized and efficient. This integration leads to enhanced user experiences, with apps that adapt to individual user needs and preferences over time.

Furthermore, AI and ML contribute to the automation of various development processes. They can analyze vast amounts of data to identify patterns and predict user behavior, which informs better decision-making in app design and functionality. This not only speeds up the development cycle but also improves the quality and relevance of the apps created, setting a new standard for developing cross-platform apps.

Predictions for the Next Decade

In the next decade, cross-platform app development is anticipated to evolve significantly, with a strong focus on seamless integration across multiple devices. As IoT devices become more prevalent, apps will need to operate not just on iOS and Android devices but across a diverse ecosystem of connected devices. This will challenge developers to write code that is not only compatible with multiple operating systems but also optimized for a wide range of device capabilities and screen sizes.

Another prediction is the increasing reliance on cloud-based development environments that allow real-time collaboration and testing across different platforms. This will likely reduce development time and costs, while also mitigating compatibility issues that can arise when developing for multiple platforms. The emphasis will be on creating more robust, scalable apps that can adapt to rapid technological advancements and changing user expectations.

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Szymon Nitecki

Szymon is studying at Cracow University of Economics. He started to improve his programming skills...
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