As iOS and Android become the most used mobile platforms (with Windows and Blackberry’s beating retreat of sorts), cross-platform app frameworks have certainly risen to popularity. With their ability to kill two birds with one stone (in this case iOS and Android) these frameworks have become the new favorite of developers as well as businesses.
According to SensorTower, “Apple’s App Store will hit 5 million apps by 2020, more than doubling its current size”
According to Statista “The number of available apps in the Google Play Store was most recently placed at 2.6 million apps in December 2018…”
In such a scenario, businesses wouldn’t risk missing their presence on either platform. Budgeting, however, is usually an issue if businesses go for native apps. This is why cross-platform app development has emerged as the unrivaled choice of businesses that aim for a presence on Android as well as iOS.
Consequently, it is the cross-platform frameworks that take the center stage in this scenario. Before we move on to find out where this category of frameworks stands in 2019, let’s discover some basics about them.
What are Cross-Platform App Frameworks?
Cross-platform app development frameworks allow developers to create mobile applications that are compatible with more than one operating systems, in this case, iOS and Android. It provides them with the ability to write the code once, and then run it anywhere for other platforms too.
While to begin with, these sorts of frameworks came with performance issues and erratic application behavior, they have now become mainstream as the cost of developing native apps for both the platforms is only rising by the day.
Understanding the Difference between Cross-Platform and Native App Development
Before going any farther, it’s a good idea to lay out the differences between cross-platform app frameworks and those tethered to the native approach. As John Koetsier of Venture Beat explains, the fundamental difference between native and hybrid comes in the form of your end result.
Native app development eschews the complexity of creating a sustainable product that spans multiple platforms and instead focuses on generating a competent design that stays close to the target platform – Android, iOS, etc. On the other hand, cross-platform frameworks seek to generate an app that reaches out to as many followers of your brand as possible by covering a wide number of end devices during the programming and creation process.
Even the corner case benefits standing on the side of native app development, it’s hard not to see how much cross-platform frameworks offer businesses that are looking to develop apps which span a variety of devices and target audience segments.
In terms of viable and useful cross-platform options, there’s no shortage of frameworks that are worth your consideration. Here we will discuss the top 5. But, before we do so, we find it important to discuss both, the upsides and the downsides of the cross-platform frameworks, so that you can make a wise choice for your business.
Upsides of Cross-Platform Development
Here are the advantages that cross-platform development offers.
Ease of code reusability is one of the biggest upsides that hybrid app development offers. A single code can be used for multiple platforms. So, it’s half the effort and time as compared to native app development.
It offers a relatively lower cost of development as compared to native app development since the code is written once and uses for both (or more) platforms.
Consistency in UI Components
Cross-platform apps offer a decent extent of consistency in native UI components of the device. The look and feel are uniform.
It is easy to host on respective app stores once all the requirements have been fulfilled.
Integration with the cloud environment is easy. You can even integrate them quickly with enterprise-grade plugins thus offering universal compatibility.
Fewer Technical Barriers
Shorter Time to Market
Such apps offer a shorter time to market and a wide market reach. Since the turnaround is quick, the time to market is short. And as the app is available on multiple platforms as one and the same time, it saves the marketing effort.
Downsides of Cross-Platform Development
Now for some disadvantages that come as a part of the package.
Limited Feature Support
Often, the cross-platform framework that you choose may not support all the features of different devices on different platforms (Android and iOS). So, at times, the lack of such feature support may end up constraining the developer from creating a striking design.
Sluggishness in Running the Code
In the case, wherein too many cross-compliance codes are running at one and the same time, the code runs the risk of running sluggishly. Since the translation engines are responsible for running the code on different platforms, the final code can get bloated and hence slow down the performance.
The UX May not Always Be Optimal
When we talk of cross-platform apps, achieving the same UX on all the platforms is a challenge. It is a herculean task to capture the unique capabilities that each platform has to offer.
Need for Updates
In case a platform issues an update, like adding a feature, it is the cross-platform app development framework that will have to implement the same update on its end too.
Available Tools May Not Be Enough
Specific platform conventions may not support all the tools available within a framework. In such a case, developers need to invest extra time and effort to use native tools to accomplish certain tasks.
Top 5 Cross-Platform App Frameworks
Now that we know both, the upsides and the downsides of cross-platform app development, let’s go on to explore the 5 most preferred cross-platform app frameworks in 2019.
Xamarin was launched in 2011 as an independent hybrid app development framework but was later acquired by Microsoft in 2016, thus lending it more credibility than before.
It is an open-source framework that was launched with an aim to solve the problem of disjointed native technology stacks, which made mobile app development a difficult and expensive affair.
It uses C# for coding, meaning that it works seamlessly on an array of platforms (including Android and iOS). Xamarin is also known for most frequent updates and testing, a virtue that adds substantial value to this framework. Brands as big as The World Bank, Olo, Storyo, etc have made use of Xamarin for building their apps.
The advantage it offers is that most part of the code written in this framework can be used for other platforms. It also provides access to the native APIs apart from faster development with Xamarin plugins and the NuGet package.
Xamarin is, in fact, one framework that successfully resolves the limitation that most hybrid frameworks had presented the developers with. It happens to be the most competitive in developing outstanding native app-like interfaces.
According to Datanyze, The market share of Xamarin till date in 2019 is 31% in the US.
Where Xamarin Needs Improvement
Xamarin is not a free cross-platform app development framework. The price can, in fact, cause a budget predicament for businesses, especially startups.
It also offers limited access to certain important libraries that the app developers need for mobile app development. Also, since the core of its user-interface creation is not mobile, creating the UI is time-consuming.
Community support is also not that great as of now; at least not as much as certain other hybrid frameworks offer.
2. React Native
React Native is an endeavor that Facebook launched in 2015, and it did cause a wave in the market for hybrid frameworks. Within a few years of its introduction in the market, it is already one of the most popular ones.
According to Hacker Noon “The Github repository statistics reveal that 1002 contributors have committed 7,971 times in 45 branches with 124 releases. In addition, it is also the 14th most starred repository on Github.”
Apart from code reusability, it allows you to preview results right away besides offering ready-to-apply elements, thus shortening the developing time considerably. It also gives you access to certain great native functionalities like accelerometer and camera. The result it renders is a high-quality native-like user interface.
Bigwigs like, Facebook Ads Manager, Airbnb, Bloomberg, and UberEats have been using React Native for their mobile apps.
As per Datanyze, The market share of React Native is 4.3 in the USA, which is very promising for a new entrant.
Where React Native Needs Improvement
The navigation of the app will be decent, but not as smooth as the native apps. Also, despite the high-quality apps that React Native offers slower apps as compared to the native apps developed in Java, Objective-C or Swift.
Flutter is another open source and free cross-platform framework for creating native interfaces for Android as well as iOS. Flutter landed very recently in 2017 from Google and has received a rather warm welcome.
It is based on Dart, an object-oriented programming language that developers have found rather easy to acquire the skill for. It offers faster development time with hot reloading, meaning that allows the developer to preview the results of changes in the code within the device or an emulator, or a simulator.
It also allows a wrapping web view and a great native-like user interface. It also offers quick, adjustable gadgets within the framework on its superior rendering motor. The architecture, that Flutter is based upon, is reactive programming, something that is becoming more of preference these days.
The code takes a very short time to write – seconds, perhaps, so, developing, adding features, testing, and fixing bugs are all done in a shorter time. It lends itself ideal for minimum viable product development.
Google Ads, Alibaba eCommerce, and Hamilton Musical are the most known names that have used Flutter as their preferred framework.
Where Flutter Needs Improvement
Google is still testing Futter in its beta phase. So, the version in the market right now is not a stable one, which is also not supported by Continuous Integration (CI) platforms such as Travis or Jenkins.
Though by the virtue of being developed by Google, there are several libraries with ready-to-implement functionalities, Flutter still lacks with respect to native development.
4. Adobe PhoneGap / Apache Cordova
According to iDatalabs, PhoneGap’s market share is currently at 22.29%, making it is one of the most preferred frameworks for developing cross-platform apps.
PhoneGap, like all other handy frameworks, allows the developer to preview results on the hardware as they make changes in the code. The one feature that sets it above others is that allows you to share the application with the team so as to garner their feedback. It also offers a cloud solution in case you want to create your app directly.
Features like the access to third-party tools, a large community (the one behind the free and open-source Apache Cordova), and a large number of plugins, make it better than its competitors.
It uses an intuitive desktop as for mobile app development and then serves the app created on the desktop to the mobile devices connected to it. There are no convoluted text commands to struggle with.
Where PhoneGap Needs Improvement
Well, since nothing in the world is perfect, PhoneGap has its weak moments too. For starters, it does not support all the native functionalities and can cause inefficiencies in this regard. Also, apps built with PhoneGap to tend to go a little low on performance as compared to native apps.
As for the fee, you can develop your app once with PhoneGap. Any later changes and continuation of coding entail a monthly charge.
It is again as open-source cross-platform app framework and licensed under MIT. It uses HTML5 for translation. Very similar to AngularJS in design and structure. It also inherits a few design elements from iOS as well as Android. It allows you to build native-like hybrid apps for Android and iOS as well as progressive web apps.
According to SimilarTech, As many as 25,993 applications use Ionic as of 2019.
It offers an exhaustive list of features and predefined design elements for which developers love it. It can also boast of a large community that lends terrific development support. When used with AngularJS, the results can be awe-inspiring.
It also offers an extensive library of tools, components, and gestures. Its native plugins make development extremely simple. Features like HealthKit, Bluetooth, and even fingerprint authentication are rather handy in Ionic.
Where app performance is an issue among hybrid apps, Ionic endeavors to resolve the same. While apps made in Ionic, look and feel similar to native apps, they also perform very close to the native apps.
Where Ionic Needs Improvement
The knowledge of AngularJS becomes almost a necessity if one wants to go beyond basic apps. Also, designing in-app navigation is complex because of its not-so-easy-to-use UI-router.
So, Where are Cross-Platform App Frameworks Headed?
It is plain to see that better cost-efficiency, higher return on investment, and shorter time to market are the major reasons why businesses choose cross-platform frameworks at all. And it makes perfect sense. The future is plain to see. These three virtues are going to make these and more cross-platform app frameworks not only survive but thrive too.