Cross-Platform Applications

Understand the difference between native and cross-platform app development. Learn how to determine the right approach for your business needs.
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Smartphones are reshaping the digital landscape day by day, becoming the primary gateway for people seeking information and making decisions. At the heart of this transformation are mobile applications, which streamline daily tasks and provide essential insights—from current weather conditions to stock market fluctuations.

With consumers increasingly relying on their smartphones, businesses are prompted to adapt. Historically, app developers primarily focused on two main smartphone platforms: Android and Apple iOS, crafting native applications tailored specifically for one or the other. However, the landscape has expanded to include seven operating systems including Linux, KaiOS, GrapheneOS, Tizen, LuneOS, LineageOS, and Windows 10. This proliferation of platforms underscores the growing significance of cross-platform apps, which allows for applications to function seamlessly across multiple systems.

 

Definition of a Native App

A native app is an application that is developed specifically for an operating system. It requires developers to build apps from scratch using platform-specific programming languages and tools. For instance, developers programming native apps for Google Android typically use Java or Kotlin, while those building for Apple iOS often work with Objective-C or Swift. Native apps can also often be downloaded onto the device, which means they can be used offline. And, because they’re developed for a single operating system, the app is designed to take advantage of the device’s features, like its GPS, vibration and camera.

 

Definition of a Cross-platform App

A cross-platform app, as its name suggests, is an approach to developing apps that are compatible across multiple platforms or operating systems. Cross-platform app development leverages reusable, web-based code to be rendered across different platforms through a single coding effort. This method utilises frameworks that equip developers with necessary tools, plug-ins and user interface components, facilitating a “write once, run anywhere” approach.

Previously, Apple operated its own unique platform, while other smartphone brands either adopted Android or developed proprietary operating systems. This fragmentation segmented the app market into numerous smaller segments, complicating the efforts required for app developers to effectively reach diverse markets.

 

Both users and developers recognised the challenges this posed, particularly in terms of app compatibility across different devices. A prominent issue was the difficulty of sending text messages between iOS and Android users. For devices that millions depend on for modern communication, a robust solution was imperative. In this case, Apple opted to adopt the RCS (Rich Communication Services) standard, used by all other manufacturers. However, this underlined the ongoing challenges of platform fragmentation.

Developers addressed the problem by designing languages and frameworks compatible with multiple operating systems. Today, these languages and codebases simplify app development efforts, making it more universal. Special cross-platform frameworks allow developers to write a unified app codebase that runs on multiple platforms. The codebases act as a translation mechanism that works as the app encounters different platforms, translating the app language to the native language of the platform.

 

Development Process

The development of cross-platform apps requires different programming languages and frameworks than those of native apps. Cross-platform app developers use frameworks including NativeScript, React Native, Flutter (Dart), and Xamarin. Native app developers use Swift for iOS, and Kotlin and Java for Android.

 

Performance

Native apps are more resource-intensive and time-consuming to develop but are optimised for the platforms they’re designed for. This makes them especially suitable for demanding applications such as complex 3D gaming or intensive data processing tasks.

Cross-platform apps are developed expeditiously, as they prioritise broad compatibility over perfect optimisation on each platform, trading off some functionality to enhance reach and usability.These apps are ideal for simpler applications that span various operating systems. The trade-offs in performance need to be considered in the overall cost-benefit analysis for both types of development.

 

UX/UI Development

Mirroring the performance aspect of the two types of app development, a native app enables extensive and familiar customisation of the UX/UI by using more of the platform’s individual features, while cross-platform development strives for consistency.

On the other hand, the cornerstone of cross-platform development is achieving a consistent UX/UI across all utilised platforms. Cross-platform frameworks are specifically designed to provide the necessary libraries and tools to ensure this uniformity. These frameworks help maintain a coherent user experience, irrespective of the platform or device, facilitating ease of use and familiarity for users navigating the app on different operating systems.

 

Maintenance and Updates

Maintenance and updates tend to be more resource-intensive for native apps, especially if multiple development teams were involved during the initial build. Each platform requires its own specific updates, compounding the effort and complexity involved in keeping the app current.

In contrast, cross-platform apps offer a more streamlined maintenance process. Updates can be rolled out simultaneously across all platforms, significantly reducing both the time and costs associated with maintaining the app.

 

Development Costs

The development time for cross-platform apps can be as much as 20% shorter compared to native apps, which also translates into a corresponding reduction in development costs. Native app development is resource-intensive, often necessitating separate teams, maintenance procedures and codebases to address the specific demands of each targeted platform.

This further increases the appeal of cross-platform apps, particularly for startups or smaller businesses looking to benefit from the reach cross-platform apps can provide.

 

Flexibility and Scalability

Companies today generally prioritise flexibility and scalability when evaluating potential investments. Two areas in which cross-platform apps excel. They are inherently designed and programmed to adapt easily to new and diverse platforms and devices. This adaptability allows businesses to expand reach without significant rework.

Although native apps provide a more robust foundation for scaling platform-specific advancements and integrating new features, this high-quality scalability incurs greater costs. Native development demands more resources, both in terms of time and money, making it a more substantial investment compared to the more versatile cross-platform approach.

 

Weighing the Pros and Cons of App Development Approaches

In developing a mobile application, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Neither cross-platform nor native development will be best-suited to every industry and use case.

Different companies will have a unique set of considerations driving its app development. Only after you have clearly defined your priorities can you confidently select the right approach. When choosing between native and cross-platform app development, the objective remains to select the method that best balances user needs with business constraints. Oftentimes, the audience, budget, development timeline and security needs are among the top-of-mind concerns business leaders have when deciding to develop new or revamp an existing app.

Native App Development

ProsCons

Superior performance

Slower time to market

Intuitive, customisable UX

Limited audience reach

Direct hardware access

Higher costs

Offline functionality

Built-in security

Cross-platform app development

ProsCons

Reusable code

Limited customisation and personalisation

Rapid time to market

Restricted hardware access

Close-to-native UX

No offline functionality

Greater cost efficiencies

Appsynth helps you communicate with customers.

Regardless of the path you choose, Appsynth can accelerate your mobile development through building, testing and deploying your application. Our team, comprising software engineers, solution architects, designers and QA specialists, brings a wealth of experience in assisting brands from various industries to develop high-performing applications used by millions nationwide. We have expertise in creating successful apps with both cross-platform and native app development approaches.

 

Contact us today for a free consultation and discover how we can help launch your app.

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