In today’s highly disruptive and Darwinian mobile app development world, businesses wouldn’t risk missing their presence on either platform: Google Play Store or the Apple App Store.
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.
Before we move on to find out where this category of frameworks stands in 2021, let’s discover some basics about them.
What is Cross-App Platform Framework?
At the TechCrunch Disrupt Conference in San Francisco, Mark Zuckerberg said:
“The biggest mistake we’ve made as a company is betting on HTML5 over native.”
However, the world of software has transformed a lot since Zuckerberg made that statement in 2012. Today, the future is in the hands of cross-platform app frameworks.
Cross-platform app development frameworks allow developers to develop mobile applications that are compatible with more than one operating system; 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, thereby enabling them to release a product/software faster, safely, and with better quality.
The Difference Between Native and Cross-Platform App Development
Native vs. cross-platform is a never-ending debate that has kept the tech community divided for years. There are a few experts who prefer native apps over cross-platform apps. On the other hand, companies like Uber are coming up with their cross-platform app framework—Ribs— to rewrite their driver app.
At this point everyone know that apps built with cross platform frameworks only ship if you compromise quality. But nobody has measured whether they save time over just half-assing two native apps.
— Ben Sandofsky (@sandofsky) August 14, 2019
Both native and cross-platform app development technologies are in a constant state of evolution. This changing nature of technologies signals that these topics should be revisited from time to time to check which of these options is currently leading the game.
Native app development eschews the complexity of creating a sustainable product that spans multiple platform app development and focuses on generating a competent design that stays close to the target platform–Android, iOS, etc.
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
|Cost||High cost of development||Relatively low cost of development|
|Code Usability||Works for a single platform||Single code can be used on multiple platform, for an easy portability|
|Device Access||Platform SDK ensures access to device’s API without any hindrance||No assured access to all device APIs|
|UI Consistency||Consistent with the UI components of the device||Limited consistency with the UI components of the device|
|Performance||Seamless performance, given the app is developed for the devices OS||High on performance, but lags and hardware compatibility issues are not uncommon|
Challenges in Cross-platform App Development Process
A couple of years back, the cross-platform app development was constrained to make simple mobile apps and games. Over time, emerging technologies have made cross-platform development more adaptable, powerful, and flexible than before.
However, cross-platform development still faces challenges like:
- Performance hiccups because of inconsistent communication between the native and non-native components of gadgets.
- Cross-platform developers find maintaining cross-compliance of apps with limited tools
- Performance-related glitches can lead to poor user experience.
- If your business app manages more of a corporate and the user’s data, then going for cross-platform apps is not a good idea as per security concerns.
But, these challenges are minimal when compared to the benefits it has.
Benefits of Cross-Platform App Development
Gautam Agrawal, senior director of product management at Sencha stated that:
Given the exponential increase in the cost of per platform development and the need for rapid time to market, cross-platform development is the way to go for the enterprise.
1. Maximum Exposure to the Target Audience
Leveraging a mobile cross-platform development approach enables you to build an app and deploy over various platforms, including the web. This means that by building a single app, one can target both – iOS and Android platforms, thus, maximizing their reach.
2. Reduced Development Cost
The cross-platform app development is based on a concept ‘write once, run everywhere’. Reusable codes and agile app development through tools can lessen the cost of development. Therefore, in order to improve your business on multiple platforms and tools in a cost-effective way, there is no other alternative to cross-platform apps.
3. Easier Maintenance & Deployment
Since there’s only one developed app that runs over all platforms, it is easier to maintain as well as deploy code or changes made. Updates can promptly be synced over all platforms and devices, thus saving time and money. Moreover, if a bug is found in the common codebase, it should be fixed once. In this way, developers can save a lot on time and money.
4. Quicker Development Process
The quick development process is another win-win situation when it comes to developing cross-platform apps. Single source code for multiple platforms can help reduce the development efforts by 50 to 80%. It helps you to get a feature-rich business app in less time. The team of developers can meet the expected deadlines in cross-platform app development.
5. Reusable Code
Another good thing about this platform is that the code can be used again and again. Instead of developers developing new codes for every platform, a single code can be reused. This saves time as well as resources because it eliminates repetition in the task of creating codes.
6. Easy Integration with Cloud
Cross-platform mobile apps are totally compatible and can take advantage of various plugins integrated with the cloud settings. In other words, the single source code is coordinated with various plug-ins and extensions to enhance the app’s scalability and functionality.
7. Faster Time-to-Market and Customization
As we mentioned above ‘write once, run everywhere’ is the concept that is followed while building cross-platform app development. It allows app developers to reduce Time-to-Market (TTM) with a quick deployment.
Also, if you need to transform or customize the app, it’s easy for the developers to do minor changes in a single code. This, further, helps to deliver products more swiftly than the competitors by improving customer engagement.
8. Uniform Design
Users can recognize user interface (UI) elements, and foresee their interactions over various platforms. Therefore, User Experience (UX) is an important thing to consider for any app or software.
It’s hard to sync the various development projects while developing multiple apps. Cross-platform mobile development tools allow developers as well as designers to build an uniform user experience that app users can enjoy.
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Top 5 Cross-Platform App Frameworks
There are several cross-platform app frameworks out there, each with their own set of pros and cons. However, as per the following trend, we have picked the most competitive and top-performing frameworks available today.
1. Xamarin: Loved by Developers, Trusted by Enterprise
Xamarin was launched in 2011 as an independent cross-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 to solve the problem of disjointed native technology stacks, which made mobile app development a difficult and expensive affair.
Pros of Xamarin
a) Xamarin app development uses C# for coding, meaning that it works seamlessly on an array of platforms (including Android and iOS).
b) Xamarin has a strong community of over 60,000 contributors from more than 3,700 companies.
c) Share more than 75% of your code across platforms, for “write once, run anywhere” ease.
d) A single tech stack for faster development
Cons of Xamarin
a) It is expensive for enterprises.Xamarin is a framework that comes free for individuals and startups. However, enterprises are required to buy a license for Microsoft’s Visual Studio.
b) Xamarin is not recommended for apps that demand heavy graphics because each platform has a different method for visually laying out screens. A UX/UI-rich application is advised to be implemented natively.
c) 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.
Apps Made with Xamarin Cross-Platform App Framework
- Fox Sports
- Alaska Airlines
- American Cancer Society
- BBC Good Food
2. React Native: Learn Once, Write Anywhere
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 (and the most trending one amongst the 5 cross-platform app frameworks discussed in the blog).
Pros of React Native
a) Up to 80% of a codebase can be shared across platforms, depending on the app’s complexity.
b) Apart from code reusability, it allows you to preview results right away, besides offering ready-to-apply elements, thus shortening the developing time considerably.
c) Hot Reloading feature enables developers to see changes made in code within seconds, not minutes when using native technologies.
d) React Native focuses on UI to a great extent rendering a highly responsive interface.
e) 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.
Cons of React Native
a) React Native is not fully a cross-platform app framework. To use some functions like camera or accelerometer you have to use native components, so there will be a separate code for Android and iOS.
b) Since the framework is not built in conjunction with iOS or Android, it lags behind the native platforms at times. This is one of the reasons that led Udacity to stop investing in React Native for new features.
c) React Native lacks consistency when it comes to releasing the updates.
d) React Native improves the speed of development, but also increases the duration of the debugging process, especially on Android.
Also, in the Stack Overflow ‘Developer Survey Results, 2019’, React Native was found in the category of dreaded frameworks for the first time.
Apps Made with React Native Cross-Platform App Framework
3. Flutter: Beautiful Native Apps in No-Time
Flutter is another open source and free cross-platform framework for creating native interfaces for Android as well as iOS.
Yes! I can read your minds here.
You might be thinking if Google announced Flutter recently in February 2018 at Mobile World Congress and released its first version on December 5th, 2018, what made me mention Flutter in this list of cross-platform app frameworks.
PS: In May 2019, Google announced the availability of the new stable build, Flutter 1.7.
Remember, Flutter is a cross-platform app framework maintained by Google, the very same organization that develops the Android Native Framework. A survey held by Stack Overflow backs the other reasons that made me include Flutter in this list.
In the Developer Survey Results Flutter is amongst the top 3 most loved frameworks, and it added another complexity to the current popularity of the Reactive Native framework.
Pros of Flutter
a) “Hot reloading” feature enables developers to see changes made in code within seconds not minutes as when using native technologies.
b) It is an ideal framework for MVP development. Instead of spending extra money and time on two separate apps, you can quickly build a Flutter mobile application that looks native on both Android and iOS.
c) Flutter is based on Dart, an object-oriented programming language that developers have found rather easy to acquire the skill for.
e) Many ready-made solutions for native Android and iOS apps enable you to work with Continuous Integration platforms like Travis and Jenkins.
Cons of Flutter
a) There is limited TV support with apps built on Flutter framework, i.e., Flutter offers no support for Android TV and Apple TV.
b) Though by virtue of being developed by Google, there are several libraries with ready-to-implement functionalities, Flutter still lacks when compared to native development.
c) Since Flutter-enabled apps use built-in widgets and not platform widgets, the app’s size is usually bigger. Currently, the smallest possible app made with Flutter can weigh no less than 4MB.
Apps Made with Flutter Cross-Platform App Framework
- Google Ads
4. Adobe PhoneGap: Build Amazing Mobile Apps Powered by Open Web Tech
Pros of Adobe PhoneGap
a) It allows you to share the application with the team to garner their feedback.
b) It also offers a cloud solution in case you want to create your app directly.
c) Features like 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.
d) It uses an intuitive desktop as for mobile app development and then serves the app created on the desktop to mobile devices connected to it.
Cons of Adobe PhoneGap
a) PhoneGap is not recommended for high-performance applications and hardware intensive apps like gaming apps due to its poor performance and lack of UI Widgets.
b) PhoneGap is dependent on iOS SDKs to build an app and downloading these SDKs requires a Mac.
c) Apps built with PhoneGap to tend to go a little low on performance as compared to native apps
Apps Made with PhoneGap Cross-Platform App Framework
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5. Ionic: Make App Creation Lightning Fast
Ionic is an 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.
PS: Ionic has introduced Ionic React: One codebase. Any Platform. Now in React.
Pros of Ionic
a) Ionic is based on a SAAS UI framework designed specifically for mobile operating systems. It provides numerous UI components for developing robust applications.
c) Ionic is backed by a vibrant community of more than 5M developers in over 200 countries.
Cons of Ionic
a) The knowledge of AngularJS becomes almost a necessity if one wants to go beyond basic apps.
b) Designing in-app navigation is complex because of its not-so-easy-to-use UI-router.
Apps Made with Ionic Cross-Platform App Framework
Cross-platform solutions are effective; however, they did not gain enough mileage since their birth due to fragmentation in mobility platforms. Now that the mobile app development world is largely divided into two large platforms— Android & iOS—cross-platform mobile app development is expected to experience much more advancement very soon.
The question is, which out of the mentioned cross-platform app development frameworks should you choose? The straightforward answer: it depends but consulting a skilled and experienced cross-platform mobile app development company can help make a well-informed decision.