Native App vs Cross Platform App Development: which to prefer?
The growth of mobile app development has been astronomical, and with the lifestyle changes prompted by Covid 19, more and more people resort to mobile applications for their daily needs. According to stats by Build Fire, mobile apps are expected to generate more than $935 billion in revenue shortly. They also mention that there are over 2.87 million apps on the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store has over 1.96 million apps.
So it is obvious that having a mobile application of your own is the next step in business, but there is no point in building an application and nobody downloads it. The obvious question that comes to mind while planning to build a mobile application would be whether it is a native app or a cross platform app. Some businesses choose to capture the best of both worlds and create a hybrid app.
The demand for smartphones and tablets will definitely increase, so it is important to make the right choice, which is why we will be discussing the pros and cons of both native app technologies and cross-platform.
What are native apps?
Native apps are known for their excellent user experience and performance as they are tailor made to that particular platform. However, if you need your apps to be present on both Android and Apple platforms, it is important to develop two separate apps, which could be a bit expensive. However you can’t beat the high quality and the ease with which complex features can be implemented. They are definitely more secure, intuitive and developers have the full freedom to tinker with the target device’s features.
What are cross-platform apps?
In cross-platform development developers use different categories of technologies to ensure the app functions optimally on different platforms. The most commonly and widely used technologies are React Native and Flutter.
Building apps using these technologies save significant amounts of money for companies because they can develop just one for multiple platforms; only a little modification would be needed.
Through native app development technologies, the aim is to create apps that are suited to work particular mobile operating systems. Developers use particular technologies and programming languages to achieve this goal. Normally, Android developers need to be proficient in Java or Kotlin, while iOS developers need to use Objective-C and Swift.
Keeping that in mind, let’s have a rush through the main difference areas between native apps and cross-platform apps.
1) Platform, of course
This is the continuation of the point discussed above. When you want an app developed for both iOS or Android, you either have to adopt cross-platform technologies and make tweaks to conform it to both the platforms.
On the other hand, if you want to have native app for each platform, then build that from scratch. Could be time consuming, but the benefits are manyfold.
2) Accessing device specific features
Along with platform support, the access to device specific features is important. For example, AR or Augmented Reality. Apple had introduced this into their SDK with their iOS 11 version. If you are developing a native app that would greatly benefit from this, because with cross-platform app development, you will have to wait for native plugins, or until that capability is added onto the corresponding framework.
3) Technology differences
For Android app development, developers mostly used Java, and then Kotlin. For iOS app development, the choice is mostly Swift and Objective-C (though obsolete, developers still use it).
Developers need to have a specific set of development tools, Software Development Kit (SDK) and an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) to develop Android and iOS applications. Some developers create a unified API on top of native SDK, apply native IDE for creating a shared codebase for both developing Android and iOS apps.
4) Application Complexity
There are basically two levels of application complexity – business logic complexity and UI/UX complexity. The more the complexity, the better it is to take the native approach.
If the business logic is complex, then the best thing would be to move that logic from the app and into the cloud or similar server, so it would be easy to access via an API. It is also possible to port complex business logic from one platform to another, thanks to the similarities between Swift and Kotlin.
UI/UX complexity include compound views, support for other non-device types like wearables, car support, complex transitions and so on. The best UI/UX performance is one thing that directly facilitates the user’s perception of the app, and this would contribute heavily to the success of the app.
5) Learning curve
The learning curve for Native apps development is fairly easy, while you have to feel your way around for cross-platform app development. If the requirement is to build a simple mobile application where most of the codes can be duplicated across all the platforms, then cross platform app development would be the right choice.
Some of the top cores-platform app frameworks are Flutter, React Native, Xamarin, Ionic and Adobe PhoneGap. Of course each of these come with their own pros and cons. Development frameworks that support iOS and Android apps are Android Studio and XCode.
The team of developers in your team is important. It is advisable to have platform experts for each as they can better identify the device features and functionalities, or the lack of it. If you are planning on a full native approach, then the developers must know the plugins suitable for each. Also, chances are bugs and build issues could keep cropping up, so the developers must have deep platform specific knowledge to identify and eradicate them.
Having a user-friendly website is no longer the priority anymore, as mobile usage is growing exponentially, having a responsible mobile application with exceptional user experience and quick time to market is no longer an added perk for the customer, it is a necessity that will determine the future of your business.
Airbnb was a website that started off with native mobile app and moved into cross-platform solution. Initially they chose React Native, and later voted in favour of Xamarin. It is not because React Native was not good or was inferior to React, but sometimes you need to replatform your software or create a new app and integrate into an existing IT infrastructure.
These days users spend most of their leisure time on mobile phones as part of the lifestyle changes induced by Covid 19. So it is important to consider all the fast, but reliable ways to build mobile apps. And that’s not all, these apps should aid with customer retention as well. As customers have lots of options, they have little or zero tolerance for apps that don’t relate to them.
And it has been proved time and again that mobile applications are core to your business. The real option to consider is actually native, but some businesses choose hybrid. Consider the users first because the application should never suffer from performance or usability issues. If your initial plan is to develop an iOS app, then take full advantage of what it has to offer, instead of thinking “in case we need to support Android users”. If you consider developing an Android app somewhere down the road, then the pretty straightforward method would be to port the app over, considering the similarities between Kotlin and Swift.
The author: Sascha Thattil works at Software-Developer-India.com which is a part of the YUHIRO Group. YUHIRO is a German-Indian enterprise which provides programmers to IT companies, agencies and IT departments.