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The Ultimate Guide to Cross Platform App Development Frameworks in 2021

  • Amit Manchanda
  • By  Amit Manchanda
  • |
  • 87D32530-FD6E-468E-BB24-045278513D21 Created with sketchtool. 8 MIN READ
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  • 6BCC25D0-42B3-420B-8C28-C5D7EF3F6856 Created with sketchtool. Updated: December 8, 2020

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 both Android and iOS.

Before moving on to find out where this category of frameworks stands in 2021, it is important to discover some basics about them.

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.

Both native and cross-platform 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 understand 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 (i.e., Android, iOS, etc).

Cross-platform frameworks seek to generate an app that reaches out to as many followers of a brand as possible by covering a wide number of end devices during the programming and creation process.

Parameter
Native Apps
Cross Platform Apps
Cost High cost of development Relatively low cost of development
Code Usability Works for a single platform Single code can be used on multiple platforms 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 device’s OS High on performance, but lags and hardware compatibility issues are not uncommon

Challenges in Cross-Platform App Development Process

A few years ago, cross-platform app development was constrained to making 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 app developers have difficulty maintaining cross-compliance of apps across devices and operating systems
  • Performance-related glitches can lead to poor user experience
  • If a business app manages part of a corporation and stores the user’s data, then going for cross-platform apps is not always a good idea due to security concerns

However, these challenges are minimal when compared to the benefits of cross-platform app development.

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.

Benefits of Cross-Platfrom App Development

1. Maximum Exposure to the Target Audience

Leveraging a mobile cross-platform development approach enables a company to build an app and deploy it 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 the concept ‘write once, run everywhere. Reusable codes and Agile app development processes and tools can lessen the cost of development. Therefore, in order to improve a business on multiple platforms in a cost-effective way, there is no other alternative to cross-platform apps.

3. Easier Maintenance & Deployment

In cross-platform app development, a single and a universal app is compatible for running on all platforms. This makes it easier to maintain and deploy code as changes are 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 only needs to be fixed once. In this way, developers can save a lot of 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%. The process helps to develop 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 mentioned above ‘write once, run everywhere is the concept that is followed while building cross-platform app development. This allows app developers to reduce Time-to-Market (TTM) with quick deployment.

Also, if the app needs to be transformed or customized, it is easy for the developers to do minor changes in a single code. This 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 is hard to sync the various development projects while developing multiple apps. Cross-platform mobile development tools allow developers and designers to build a uniform user experience that app users can enjoy.

Open-source Cross-Platform App Development Frameworks Based on Programming Languages

Programming Language Framework
JavaScript React Native, Cordova, NativeScript, Appcelerator
Dart Flutter
C# Xamarin
Java Codename One
Python Kivy, BeeWare
Ruby RubyMotion

Best Cross Platform App Development Frameworks

There are several cross-platform app development frameworks out there, each with its own set of pros and cons. The most competitive and top-performing frameworks available today are described below:

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.

Xamarin Architecture

Pros of Xamarin

  • Xamarin app development uses C# for coding. This means that it works seamlessly on an array of platforms (including Android and iOS)
  • Xamarin has a strong community of over 60,000 contributors from more than 3,700 companies
  • Xamarin allows for sharing more than 75% of code across platforms, for “write once, run anywhere” ease
  • Xamarin consists of a single tech stack for faster development

Cons of Xamarin

  • Xamarin 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
  • 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
  • Xamarin 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

Xamarin Market Share

Apps Made with Xamarin Cross-Platform App Framework

  • Fox Sports
  • Alaska Airlines
  • HCL
  • 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 into the market, React is already one of the most popular cross-platform app frameworks (and the most trending framework amongst the 5 cross-platform app frameworks discussed in the blog).

React Native Architecture

Pros of React Native

  • Up to 80% of a codebase can be shared across platforms, depending on the app’s complexity. Code reusability significantly speeds the development process
  • React allows for previewing results right away and offers ready-to-apply elements, thus shortening the developing time considerably
  • The Hot Reloading feature enables developers to see changes made in code within seconds, not minutes, like when using native technologies
  • React Native focuses on UI to a great extent rendering a highly responsive interface
  • It also provides access to certain useful native functionalities like accelerometer and camera. This allows for rendering a high-quality, native-like user interface

Cons of React Native

  • React Native is not fully a cross-platform app framework. To use some functions as a camera or accelerometer there is still a need to use native components meaning there will be a separate code for Android and iOS
  • 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
  • React Native lacks consistency when it comes to releasing updates
  • React Native improves the speed of development, but also increases the duration of the debugging process, especially on Android

React Native Market Share

Also, in the Stack Overflow ‘Developer Survey Results, 2019’, React Native was found in the category of dreaded frameworks for the first time.

Most Dreaded Frameworks

Apps Made with React Native Cross-Platform App Framework

  • Instagram
  • Bloomberg
  • Pinterest
  • Skype
  • Tesla

3. Flutter

Beautiful Native Apps in No-Time

Flutter is another open source and free cross-platform framework for creating native interfaces for Android and iOS.

Flutter may sound familiar!

One might be thinking: if Google announced Flutter recently in February 2018 at Mobile World Congress and released its first version on December 5th, 2018, how did it get mentioned 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 describes other reasons that flutter deserves its spot on this list.

In the Developer Survey Results, Flutter was amongst the top 3 most loved frameworks. Additionally, it added more competition to the already decreasing popularity of the React Native framework.

Most Loved Frameworks, Libraries and Tools

Pros of Flutter

  • “Hot reloading” feature enables developers to see changes made in code within seconds as opposed to minutes
  • Flutter is an ideal framework for MVP development. Instead of spending extra money and time on two separate apps, a Flutter mobile application that looks native on both Android and iOS can be built quickly

    Demo App from the Flutter Gallery

  • Flutter is based on Dart, an object-oriented programming language that developers have found rather easy to acquire the skill for
  • Flutter has a full set of widgets in Google’s Material Design and in Apple’s style with the Cupertino pack
    Flutter Class Hierarchy
  • Many ready-made solutions for native Android and iOS apps enable developers to work with Continuous Integration platforms like Travis and Jenkins

Related Article: How Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment Helps to Deliver a Great Software Product

Cons of Flutter

  • There is limited TV support with apps built on the Flutter framework (i.e., Flutter offers no support for Android TV and Apple TV)
  • Though by virtue of being developed by Google, there are several libraries with ready-to-implement functionalities, however, Flutter still lacks when compared to native development
  • 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

  • Alibaba
  • Google
  • Google Ads
  • Tencent

Conclusion

Cross-platform apps are popular as it eliminates the effort to develop different apps for different platforms. A cross-platform app can run across devices and platforms seamlessly. To develop this universally compatible app, a cross-platform framework is essential.

The question is, which out of the mentioned cross-platform mobile app development frameworks is the right choice? The straightforward answer: it depends on the business and app’s functional requirements. However, consulting a skilled and experienced cross-platform mobile app development company can help make a well-informed decision.

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Amit Manchanda

About the Author

Amit Manchanda is working at Net Solutions as Project Lead and has over 9 years of experience in technologies like ASP, Adobe Flex, and Android. He has been part of SME (Subject Matter Expert) Group for RIA applications. He possesses a sound understanding of technical requirement/problem analysis and resolution for providing the best solutions to clients. He is passionate about his work and enjoys interacting with his team. In his leisure time, he loves to listen to music, watch cricket, and play with his daughter.

Leave a Comment

David Mante

2:50 AM, Feb 24, 2021

Good post. I'm a huge advocate for cross-platform app development myself. I'd like to add that Adobe has discontinued PhoneGap Build. Apache Cordova, Ionic and NativeScript are great alternatives for that.

Also, you left off Codename One, which makes native Android, iOS, Desktop and Web apps using Java or Kotlin. It was the first solution to build native iPhone apps in Java, and is still the most mature, performant and stable cross-platform mobile WORA (Write-Once-Run-Anywhere) toolkit on the market.

James

4:20 AM, Nov 07, 2019

For an app that provides a document access feature potentially being able to download the doc from a backend. Also a text messsge feature from admin screen sending a text to groups of usersn . What would use? I am thinking of hosting the app on aws and making use of there database services. Any advice, not sure which framework to use?

Rick

2:00 AM, Jun 07, 2019

"Xamarin is not a free ..." - It is literally completely free. So are the classes on microsoft learn to learn xamarin

"Xamarin offers limited access to certain important libraries that the developers need for mobile app development." - All native app ability is available in Xamarins api. There are also thousands of Nugets (such as Xamarin.Essentials) to help make things smoother.

"Also, since the core of its user-interface creation is not mobile, creating the UI is time-consuming..." -Has drag and drop to create UI if xml doesn't tickle your fancy. Takes seconds to build a ui...

"Community support is also not that great as of now; at least not as much as certain other hybrid frameworks offer." - Stackoverflow has 36k+ tags concerning Xamarin, and there are literally hundreds of thousands (300k+) of posts on the official forum https://forums.xamarin.com/

Akash Lomas

7:02 PM, May 17, 2019

Xamarin development require IDE like Visual Studio. I prefer Visual Studio for Mac as this is best for developing cross platform applications targetting iOS and Android. Visual Studio has three editions Community, Professional and Enterprise. Based on your need and checking with licensing terms one may use Community edition for free. But for development agencies having Visual Studio may cost you 45$ per month for Professional edition or 250$ per month for Enterprise.

The detailed comparison on features is available here https://visualstudio.microsoft.com/vs/compare/ and
cost of subscription is explained here https://visualstudio.microsoft.com/vs/pricing/.

Reza Bon

12:21 AM, May 17, 2019

Miss information on this article. "designing in-app navigation is complex because of its not-so-easy-to-use UI-router"
9 years of experience in technologies... How many years in Angular?

Aleksej Zaicev

3:33 AM, May 01, 2019

A have read a lot of posts from a variety of bloggers, but unfortunately, nobody mentions Nativescript, which is the one of the main competitors to React Native, which offers Vanilla, Angular and Vue support. Why have not you mentions this framework? It is free and licensed under Apache 2.0. The community still growing and they already have a lot of plugins available to enable native features both for Android and iOS (not sure about Windows 10).

Brandon Minnick

2:46 AM, Apr 20, 2019

"Xamarin is not a free cross-platform app development framework. The price can, in fact, cause a budget predicament for businesses, especially startups."

Xamarin is 100% free and included in the free edition of Visual Studio, Visual Studio Community Edition

Haris

7:07 PM, Jan 29, 2019

"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."

I wouldn't agree with this.Flutter recently released 1.0 version also I'm using Flutter for past 6-7 months and I done CI with it.You have it documented very well and there is CodeMagic CI just for Flutter.

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