When Flutter, a commercial cross-platform app development kit created by Google, launched back in 2017, one of Intellectsoft’s clients wanted to develop an MVP (or “minimum variable product”) using the kit. An MVP serves as a proof-of-concept for software, where developers create an early version that demonstrates the app’s core features. The purpose was not to speed up the project or reduce costs, but rather to show off to competitors.
As a brand new development platform, Flutter still needed the app development market to catch up. We, of course, did our best to convince the client the development language was still raw, the project would be difficult to scale and too few specialists were trained in Flutter. The client, despite our suggestions, stood their ground and decided to take the risk. While we did make an MVP, our earlier prediction regarding scaling problems quickly came to light, resulting in a difficult project that sucked time and money from other business priorities.
The moral of the story? Don’t use technology for the sake of technology. Choose a development strategy based on your specific needs and use tools that grant real benefits to your team. Native and cross-platform tools are exactly that — tools we use in order to achieve specific business objectives.
Native VS. Cross-Platform App Development: What’s the Difference?
- Performance. There’s no question that native apps are more responsive and perform better than cross-platform apps. This is because native code directly interacts with the device’s internal resources.
- Development Time and Cost. The trade-off, of course, is that native apps take a lot more development time compared to cross-platform apps. They also cost more.
- Product Lifetime. Native development is the safer option for long-term projects since tools and frameworks are more stable.
- UI/UX Design. Native development also wins this round, as cross-platform apps usually lag in terms of UI/UX design and overall experience.
- Security. There is more work involved in securing the cross-platform apps. In native apps everything can be coded into the infrastructure of the app, encrypted and obfuscated.
What Is Native App Development?
Native app development is about building apps with a platform’s native language and using APIs/frameworks specifically designed for accessing device features or functions. For Android, it will be Java or Kotlin with it’s JDK and for iOS, Obj-C or Swift on iOS SDK.
Developers typically prefer native app development for custom, high-performance apps that allow for the best user experience. When building an app natively, developers have access to all features across multiple devices, allowing them to use more complex functionalities, which means these solutions are usually more stable, secure, high-performing and tailored to the environment and peculiarities of use.
Advantages of Native Development
Since apps are built with the native technologies, they take the full capacity of the device’s functionality and deliver steady work, quick operating speed and smooth performance.
Seamless Operation and Compatibility
Native apps are easily integrated with the device’s hardware, ensuring seamless operation. The app automatically works with hardware such as the camera, touch screen features, calendar, GPS and the like.
Reliability and Security
The security risks are higher for hybrid apps. The more layers, languages and technologies your application has, the more likely it is for vulnerabilities to creep in.
Many of the greatest, most popular apps on the digital marketplace have become successful because of their excellent UX (user experience) design — which can be stretched even further with native app development.
Native apps support complex layouts, allow full customization of interface elements, provide more possibilities for complex animation and also offer broader options for optimizing the interface and interactions.
SDK for Developers
Native development readily provides operating features that make app development faster and more cost-effective — SDK or “software development kits” are perhaps the most important part of this process. These comprise a suite of tools and programs that aid in app development for a specific platform.
SDKs can also be streamlined with pieces of code and libraries that are frequently updated and (usually) ready for implementation, complete with technical guides and documentation.
Not only will you find a dedicated community of developers to collaborate and discuss ideas with, you’ll also find that case scenarios and app projects are well-documented, making your research tasks less tedious.
Native apps use less battery power, as they don’t require multiple layers of processing. As they’re easier to optimize, users can enjoy using their devices longer, and without stressing their processors too much.
Easy to Update
Every good app needs an easy, straightforward way to be updated over time. Native apps excel in this — they’re much easier to update as time goes on, and can take advantage of features such as AI, IoT connectivity and more, over the product’s lifetime.
Disadvantages Of Native Development
Despite a long list of perks, native development has its drawbacks as well. Here are the main ones:
Higher Initial Cost
Because native apps are dedicated to a single platform, you will have to make a choice: Do you pay for multi-platform development in a single sum, or do you spread out releases to make your development spend a bit easier? The total cost is usually 30-40 percent more expensive than cross-platform development, so choose wisely.
Time to Market
Native app development can be time-consuming, so you’ll need a longer lead time to develop and test the app before launching it. Due to high project complexity, it will also require different teams to develop one app and ensure it’s running smoothly by the time the app launches.
Since developing apps for Android and iOS are separate, this means they will also have a separate codebase. Developers have to be prepared to implement each new app feature twice since the platforms are different. Not only that but the necessary tools and even the specific developers required to complete these tasks will be different across operating systems.
Examples of Native Apps
There’s no surprise that a large number of mobile applications available on the market are native ones — all tuned to perform at maximum efficiency for their respective platforms.
From games to messaging apps, navigation programs and streaming platforms, here are five examples of native apps you might already be familiar with:
LinkedIn (LinkedIn previously used HTML5 for its mobile app but has shifted to native native. By transitioning to native platform development, LinkedIn has seen its app performance improve tremendously in terms of rendering and speed.)
What Is Cross-Platform Development?
Whereas native apps operate from separate codebases, cross-platform apps share a single codebase. They can also run simultaneously on multiple platforms and devices.
Cross-platform development typically allows for faster (and cheaper) app development, as developers can repurpose about 70 to 95 percent of the code for different platforms. In other words, instead of developing two separate codebases for Android and iOS, you’ll only need one.
Although some parts of the code still need to be developed natively, the majority of development can be done with the help of tools such as React Native, Flutter, Ionic and Xamarin.
Statistics show that, among global developers, Flutter is the most popular cross-platform mobile framework. 42 percent of software developers use Flutter, while 38 percent use React Native, which is the second-most popular mobile framework for cross-platform development.
Here are the other mobile frameworks software developers use:
Advantages of Cross-Platform App Development
As I mentioned before, on average, developers can reuse and repurpose 80 percent of existing code to adapt to various devices. This makes development simpler and faster compared to native app development.
Cost and Time Efficient
Adjusting existing code for various platforms can make development incredibly cost-effective and can save developers a lot of time.
Smaller Team Size
Since the process is much more streamlined across platforms and devices, there’s no need to hire a separate development team for different platforms.
Broad Audience Reach
Cross-platform apps allow brands to reach new markets and broader audiences due to their versatility and wide availability.
Disadvantages of Cross-Platform App Development
Of course, time and cost efficiency comes with certain limitations. Here are the main drawbacks of the cross-platform approach:
Since code is not highly specified according to device or platform, users may experience some performance delays.
Cross-platform apps do not have the same UX that native apps can deliver. Some native elements may also be unavailable on cross-platform apps. As a result, it’s important to plan out a cross-platform UI (user interface) early during development, as changing it can be quite difficult later on.
Dependency on Third-Party Libraries
Because there is typically limited support of SDKs and other libraries, developers may have a hard time searching for ways to integrate new features into the app.
More QA Testing Required
As cross-platform apps need to be compatible with a wider category of programming languages and hardware platforms, they also need very extensive periods of testing for bugs, exploits and other quality assurance concerns.
Examples of Cross-Platform Apps
The availability of various platforms also calls for apps that can handle operating on various systems. A lot of companies take advantage of cross-platform development especially when it’s not an option to concentrate on a single platform alone.
Here are some great examples of top-performing cross-platform apps that have also become indispensable to everyday life:
So Which Do I Choose?
Deciding which mobile development approach to adopt can be challenging. Fortunately, you now have the information to make a proper distinction between both types of app development.
Choose Native App Development When:
Your service is largely mobile
Your app is going to generate its revenue
You own a huge company that can handle the cost
You plan to develop a game with complex designs and interactions
Your niche is competitive and you can gain an edge through better performance
Your app will use most of the device’s resources, such as the GPS and camera
You need utmost functionality and complexity for building your app
Choose Cross-Platform App Development When:
You need the app to work on two platforms (Android and iOS) on a minimal budget
Your startup needs to build an MVP quickly
The app is not going to be a core unit of your business
You need to quickly test an idea and launch to market
Your app doesn’t need too many complex or logical functions
Mobile app use has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and mobile gaming is leading the charge. Between Q2 2019 and Q2 2020, mobile app purchases grew 15% year-over-year on iOS and 25% on Google Play, with games as the largest and most rapidly growing category on both platforms, according to a report by App Annie, which did not detail exact growth figures.
As mobile gaming gains momentum, app developers elsewhere in the mobile space are applying lessons from gaming to apps in disparate categories such as fitness and cryptocurrency. Digiday chatted with four mobile developers across the industry to learn why they are taking cues from the gaming space — and how they are applying these techniques to their non-gaming apps.
The key details:
- Mobile game developers were early to realize the importance of treating apps as social networks in their own right and tapping into networks of dedicated mobile users, rather than relying on pre-existing user networks such as Facebook or Google. “Historically, non-gaming has been super-reliant on social networks, and very often that has been the only true channel of growth,” said Daniel Tchernahovsky, vp of international business development at the marketing software company AppLovin. “In gaming, the process has been a little bit different: from very early stages on, it wasn’t just social networks, it was actually networks such as ourselves and some of our competitors. So there was always the understanding that you need to go beyond, and that the users are not just the users that you find on Facebook.”
- Mobile developers have historically been partnered with large numbers of brands or companies in order to spread the word about their products, a tactic that is becoming increasingly popular throughout the mobile industry. According to his company’s research, Tchernahovsky said, mobile developers’ average number of brand partners is six to nine; “in non-gaming, this number is often four, and in crypto, it’s even three, because crypto apps can’t work with Facebook or Google often.”
- While the practice of A/B testing far predates the mobile gaming industry, mobile developers have “an obsession with A/B testing,” according to Francesco Mancone, head of marketing technology at the Italian mobile app firm Bending Spoons. Mancone and his colleagues used this technique to develop and streamline their own game app, Live Quiz, in addition to Italy’s official COVID-10 contact tracing app, Immuni. “I do think that particularly gaming has applied A/B testing at the core of its product,” Tchernahovsky said.
- Mobile developers outside gaming are bringing interactivity and gamification into their in-app advertisements to keep users engaged and even improve their experiences, much like in-game ads. “In the gaming industry, this is a very important topic; it’s a fundamental factor for delivering high-quality ads,” Mancone said. “And this is something that we have been doing at Bending Spoons since the beginning.”
A converging workforce
One reason why app developers across the mobile space are taking cues from mobile gaming companies is that non-gaming companies have spent the last few years making strategic hires from the gaming sector. The mobile space is littered with developers, marketers and executives with roots in the gaming world. “There’s quite a bit of overlap, from a marketing perspective,” said Advit Sahdev, vp of marketing at the cryptocurrency exchange platform CoinDCX. “One of the common things is that we have very similar marketing channels that are available.”
The poaching of mobile gaming talent is not limited to the mobile app industry. In July, Netflix hired Mike Verdu, a former Zynga executive, to head up its gaming department.
A diverse audience
Mobile gaming developers might be more nimble than other developers in the mobile space because they have had to fight against antiquated misconceptions about gamers to expand their user bases. Tchernahovksy and his peers believe that the process of mobile app development will only become more streamlined — and even more applicable to app development across the industry — as the definitions of both game and gamer continue to widen.
“I think gaming has gotten to a penetration of all demographics now. We’re being asked this question a lot, which is, ‘what’s your average age group, what’s the gender split?’” Tchernahovsky said. “It’s never been something that’s too important for us, because of the scale at which we operate, or gaming operates.”
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In the Age of Information, where the internet has expanded into a magnanimous entity, with phenomenons such as the Internet of Things (IoT) allowing for more and more devices to become ‘connected,’ it is integral that developers take into account mobile applications, and their development across multiple platforms, and how that affects their performance.
Let’s face it- there’s no such thing as a ‘universal’ app. Since there can be no unified application for platforms such as Android, iOS, or Windows, it is of the utmost importance that developers figure out how to streamline the development process, while prioritizing user experience. For some developers, however, streamlining the development process entails cross-platform development, which has many benefits to offer, but is not entirely without its fair share of setbacks. You can either school yourself on ways to get past it or hire help like react native development services to do it for you!
Fortunately, the obstacles that arise most frequently in the development of a mobile application that’s compatible with several platforms can be addressed, and developers can ensure that the application that they’ve created is uniquely suited to the needs, and formats of multiple platforms.
With that being said, the journey to cross-platform mobile application development can be quite tricky to navigate, which is why we’ve gone listed some of the best advice to help you along the way.
#1- Make Your UI interesting:
When it comes to increasing sales, and getting users to download your application; the user interface (UI) matters a lot more than you might think it does. In other words, your mobile app needs to look unique and striking to the eye. The application should have a cohesive aesthetic design to it, so that users search it up, and download it onto their mobile phones.
The outlook of the application should be cohesive across various platforms, yet the aesthetic design should be unique, and instantly recognizable. Not only does the design and interface allow users the ability to associate your application with the design of your app, but it also contributes significantly to the overall brand success.
By making the UI of your application interesting, developers can take a cross-platform approach, while staying true to the brand identity; which helps guarantee that despite the varying platforms, the application remains recognizable.
#2- Test your app as much as you can:
Unsurprisingly, one of the best ways to ensure that your application runs smoothly, and offers users the best experience across multiple platforms is to test it as much as possible. In simple words, the more tests that you run, the higher your chances are of launching a flawless application.
When it comes to testing, the best approach is to ask developers to continually run tests while they are designing the app, since that allows a bigger room for adjustments and changes.
#3- Create a platform-centric design:
When it comes to designing an application for several platforms, many developers tend to go for a generic approach to design. Instead of focusing on a single design, and then thrusting that design onto multiple platforms, try to focus instead on striking the right balance between the consistency of design, and platform guidelines.
Furthermore, instead of copying certain design features from other platforms, try to use the standards of each platform to your benefit. By amalgamating features that are only available on iOS or Android, you can offer your targeted audience the best possible application experience.
#4- Use reliable modules:
Time is everything. As a developer, you don’t have too much time to launch an application, which is why we would suggest that you use modules to expedite the process. Having said that, do your research beforehand, and use modules that you can fully rely on.
#5- Focus on the user:
Mobile applications are geared towards users. An app that does not cater to the needs of its targeted audience is redundant at best. To avoid falling into the category of apps that fail to appeal to their users, from the onset of development, focus on ways to prioritize the user, and improve the functionality and usability of the app.
With these suggestions, developers can navigate the rough waters of cross-app development much better, and prioritize the user’s experience. By doing so, the mobile app that they’ve created will garner attention and will be popular among several platforms.