In today’s highly disruptive and Darwinian mobile app development world, businesses wouldn’t risk missing their presence on either platform: Google Play Store and 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 2020, 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 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, thereby enabling to release a product/software faster, safer, 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 platforms and instead 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.
The Benefits of Cross-Platform App Development
Gautam Agrawal, the 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.”
a) Code Reusability
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 used for both (or more) platforms.
c) Consistency in UI Components
Cross-platform apps offer a decent extent of consistency in native UI components of the device. The look and feel is uniform.
d) Easy Hosting
It is easy to host on respective app stores once all the requirements have been fulfilled.
e) Cloud Integration
Integration with the cloud environment is easy. You can even integrate them quickly with enterprise-grade plugins thus offering universal compatibility.
f) Fewer Technical Barriers
g) 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 at the same time, it saves the marketing effort.
Top 5 Cross-Platform App Frameworks
There are a number of cross-platform app frameworks out there, each with their own set of pros and cons, however, as per the following trend where we have picked the most competitive and top-performing frameworks available in the market 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 complexity of the app.
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 as 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 Google announced Flutter recently in February 2018 at Mobile World Congress and released its first version on December 5th, 2018, then 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. The other reasons that made me include Flutter in this list are backed by a survey held by Stack Overflow.
In the Developer Survey Results, 2019 Flutter is amongst the top 3 most loved frameworks and it added another complexity to the existing 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 build a Flutter mobile application quickly 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 the virtue of being developed by Google, there are several libraries with ready-to-implement functionalities, Flutter still lacks with respect to native development.
c) Since Flutter-enabled apps use built-in widgets and not platform widgets, therefore the size of the app 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
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.
b) The Ionic framework allows you to ship continuously. From automated native builds to live updating and CI/CD, Ionic Appflow addresses the entire mobile DevOps lifecycle.
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 development is expected to experience much more advancement very soon.
The question is which out of mentioned cross-platform app frameworks should you choose? The straightforward answer: it depends.
No doubt, the answer sounds a bit diplomatic, but the reality is your cross-platform app framework choice depends entirely upon what you want to achieve.