Category: Android, Blog, Business, Development, Flutter, Fundamentals, iOS

Native and Cross-platform App Development – All You Need to Know as an Entrepreneur

Can’t choose between Native and Cross-platform App Development? This post will clarify the differences once and for all!

The first question your mobile app development partner is going to ask you is whether you want a native or cross-platform app. A confusing question for someone about to build their first-ever application.

Fortunately, you’ve come across this post and we’re gonna help you get all the right answers and help you choose native vs cross-platform once and for all!

TL;DR

Here’s a quick summary of the article for those of you who are all caught up with the basics and simply need help deciding between cross-platform and native app development.

Choose native mobile development if:

Choose cross-platform app development if:

You’re looking for a project with high complexity;

You are sure what you want the final product to look like:

You need to take full advantage of the system features provided by a specific platform (Android or iOS);

You can dedicate a high budget to the platform as the development cost for native apps is usually high;

You have enough time for the native app developers to work on two separate projects.

You need to have to separate native Android and iOS applications;

You consider moving the project to web or desktop applications in the nearest future;

You just want to create an MVP of your project to test it on the market;

You want to complete your app faster and deliver it in a shorter time than if you would use native app development;You are just starting to work on a large project that will require scalability and adjustments;

You are just starting to work on a large project that will require scalability and adjustments;

With that out of the way, let’s dig deeper and find out where the most significant differences between native and cross-platform applications really lay.

 

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What is native mobile app development?

If you want to have two separate iOS and Android apps that will benefit from all the hardware’s native features, you’re after native.

Advantages of native apps

Disadvantages of native apps

✅ Recognizable User Interface 

✅ Optimized User Experience

✅ Additional security

✅ More integrations available

✅ Improved positioning in the app store

Higher costs

Takes longer

Complex QA process

Problematic project management

By choosing this approach, you choose to create your application in Kotlin for Android – which is currently the most popular language for this platform – and likewise in Swift for iOS apps.

If you decide to follow this route, you will have to create 2 fully independent mobile apps, one of which does not affect the other. Each would have its own life cycle and had to be approached as a separate entity.

Pros of native mobile app development

In the past, when cross-platform mobile development was not so common, native apps came with a number of benefits and held a significant advantage. Some of the most popular ones came down to:

  • User interface (UI) is designed with a specific operating system in mind, making the native mobile app feel and look more natural and intuitive;
  • User experience (UX) offers better performance and less crashes as the code is written with a specific platform and all its strengths and limitations in mind;
  • Additional security can also be achieved with native mobile development tools;
  • More integrations with other features and programs of the preferred device can be achieved through native mobile app development;
  • Improved positioning can often occur, as for example, Apple app store is more likely to recommend native iOS apps because of the other benefits like better performance and interface.

Cons of native mobile development

The disadvantages you will encounter when choosing native apps are definitely the cost and development time. But there is more to it if you dig deeper:

  • Higher development costs result from the fact that native app development requires two different app versions to be built and, as such you need two development teams. And, while some of the processes can often be done concurrently, you will still be paying for two separate applications.
  • More time needed to complete a native development mobile application because, once again, these are two separate native apps you’re building;
  • Prolonged QA process additionally extends the native development time and costs;
  • Complex project management derives from two separate teams working on the same mobile app.

When to choose native app development technologies?

So does it all mean native apps are bad? Not in the slightest! It simply implies that you really need to be certain that’s the best way for you to go.

If you’re sure your target audience largely favours a particular operating system over the other, native mobile application may be your best bet! After all, there’s no reason to pay for a solution that will run on multiple platforms if the end user is only interested in iOS.

If, however, you know your audience equally relies on iOS and Android apps, consider going cross-platform!

Understanding cross-platform app development

Advantages of cross-platform apps

Disadvantages of cross-platform apps

✅ Faster development 

✅ Better consistency across platforms

✅ Modern UX & UI design

✅ Reduced development costs

✅ Easier testing

Perfect for an MVP project

Less integrationsSome hardware features are unavailable

Slower performance

Now that you know what native app development is, you are probably wondering what cross-platform app development is, right?

As the name suggests, cross-platform software is designed to work for multiple platforms. So, you need your mobile app to thrive on Android, iOS, and possibly even web operating systems – this is the best solution for you!

Pros of cross-platform mobile app development

So, what are the advantages of cross-platform apps? There are many:

  • Reduced development time, as with cross-platform applications you’re literally building for two operating systems at the same time;
  • Greater consistency, as the mobile application looks and feels very similar on multiple mobile platforms;
  • Impeccable UI and UX, as cross-platform frameworks like Flutter and React Native really emphasize the importance of design;
  • Reduced development costs, as a single team is needed to complete the project for both Android and iOS operating systems.

Another scenario when cross-platform app development is ideal is working on the MVP – Minimum Viable Product – apps. These are used to create and test a concept of an app on the market. MVPs are less risky, as they are significantly cheaper to build.

Eventually, they allow you to test your idea on the market, among real users, and then decide whether to continue developing the application in its current form – cross-platform development – or create native applications.

Cons of cross-platform apps

On the other hand, can everything be that colorful? Almost. You are probably wondering where the catch is? It’s really small 

There are literally a few points to consider when you are thinking about choosing between native and cross-platform app development. Often, the complexity of the project can determine the right choice.

Some of the disadvantages of cross-platform apps are:

  • Integrations are weaker compared to native mobile apps, as a single codebase has to meet the requirements and fit into the functionalities of several operating systems;
  • Some of the native hardware features cannot be used for the same reason;
  • Performance delays can occur from time to time, as non-native code can’t always seamlessly communicate with the device’s hardware.

Editor’s note: Modern cross-platform development frameworks, such as Flutter, effectively address most of these issues, as the framework tries to mimic the native codebase as close as possible, while also maintaining concurrency thanks to an integrated development environment.

So, let’s say you’ve decided to proceed with your cross-platform solution. How do you choose the best cross-platform framework?

Popular cross-platform frameworks for mobile development

Cross-platform app development allows developers to build mobile applications where one code base supports two mobile operating systems simultaneously, both for Android and iOS.

But what, in all actuality, are the options for us to choose from?

Flutter vs React Native

Currently, there are a couple of solutions available on the market. The two most prominent cross-platform frameworks to choose between are the Flutter created by Google or React Native created by Facebook.

There are also less popular frameworks such as Xamarin or Ionic. But let’s focus on the big players right now.

It can be pretty difficult to choose between Flutter and React Native, especially if you’r launching your first-ever cross-platform app. The best way to identify the right solution for your next project if you’re not a tech person yourself, is to rely on the opinion of the community, which I consider to be both an authoritative and an impartial jury.

How do you know what the community prefers?

Just take a look at the number of “stars”, i.e. recognitions, given by interested people on GitHub (a place where most of the frameworks are distributed and downloaded). As of the time of writing, there are 127 thousand recognitions for Flutter and 97 thousand for React Native.

Editor’s note: At the time of update, there were 147k Flutter recognitions against 106k for React Native.

Should you chose Flutter for your next cross-platform solution?

In my experience, Flutter works best for cross-platform app development.

Google has been very supportive of the framework’s development, providing frequent updates and a growing range of libraries for developers to use. And the community itself has become the largest cross-platform mobile framework community in two years – creating numerous improvements and supporting each other.

I’ve seen more than a dozen Flutter projects in my development career: from small, through medium, and to some really big ones, like CPOT. What’s more, each of them is doing very well.

What should you consider when choosing between native and cross-platform development?

After reaching this point in the article, you already know what native apps and cross-platform apps. You know the pros and cons of each of these options. Finally, I want to show you what you should consider when choosing between the two.

Time to market

One of the first things to consider is the cost and time of development.

In case you choose native app development, you have to accept that you will need two teams to create an iOS app and an Android app. The work of these teams is usually done simultaneously, which reduces app delivery time. However, it is not always possible to maintain the app development progress 100% parallel.

On the other side, we have cross-platform apps with one development team and a single code which then translates into two applications. In my experience, the effort here is not much greater compared to creating one native application. So, in a similar amount of time you get two native-like cross-platform apps.

Development costs

The costs, from the very fact of maintaining two teams, are correspondingly higher. The formula is simple here:

  1. A single cross-platform app is cheaper than two native apps.
  2. A single native app is cheaper than a cross-platform one.

So it pretty much comes down to your audience and their operating systems of choice.

UX & UI design consistency

cross-platform frameworks allow you to maintain the highest consistency in the overall appearance of the two versions of the app. This is a common pain when creating applications in native app development. The second aspect, which is also very important, but often overlooked, is the time required for QA to check application.

Platform and operating system versatility

Another thing worth noting is that Google is developing Flutter not only as a cross-platform framework for mobile applications, but also for web and desktop applications.

Flutter web is currently released as a stable version and ready for its first commercial projects, while Flutter desktop is still in development but with promising progress.

As your project grows with its lifecycle, you will once again have the opportunity to take advantage of cross-platform development and expand it to other platforms like web apps, still using the same, single development team with mostly one code.

Performance and complexity

When comparing native app development vs cross-platform app development, it is also worth considering the technical aspects.

Is Flutter really capable of giving our app the look and performance of a native app? Google has included a lot of tools to make Flutter apps have the same feel as native apps. The performance itself is also very high – Flutter aims to provide 60 frames per second (fps) performance, or 120 fps performance on devices capable of 120Hz updates.

On the other hand, there is a known nuance in the Flutter world with junk animations on iOS when first launching the app. However, Google is very aware of the problem and is improving the animation performance with each release.

Technical maintenance and libraries’ support

It’s paramount to make sure that the programming languages and/or frameworks you’ve decided to work with are regularly updated and maintained. Here, both the provider’s and community’s engagement matters.

As of writing, version 2.5 of Flutter has just come out, in which Google focused even more on performance to write even better apps.

Editor’s note: Flutter 3.3 is already available and Flutter Desktop’s first case study became available.

Native vs cross-platform mobile app development: Summary

Today, the differences between native, cross-platform and hybrid mobile apps have pretty much evened out.

Performance

Performance-wise, cross-platform development frameworks like Flutter are practically no different from native mobile apps.

Time to create

The time to create a native app is practically the same, or slightly faster than creating an application via the cross-platform approach.

But you should also keep in mind that we have not one, but two applications to build.

Access to native APIs

There is one thing that is undoubtedly an advantage of choosing native app development – access to native APIs. Sometimes it may happen that cross-platform frameworks do not have 100% of the same capabilities as native options.

However, it is often the case that cross-platform frameworks can catch up. Nonetheless, the latter will always be in a “chasing” mode and may for some time be a step behind the capabilities of native applications.

Let it all come together

I wish there was a universal advice to whether cross-platform app development is better or more efficient than native one, but there simply isn’t. Just like no two mobile apps are identical, all business cases are unique.

And that’s why we could only say for sure which direction would work best for you specifically after getting to know your needs, your goals, and your capability.

Not sure you have all the answers? Worry not! Let’s organize a product design workshop and figure out the best course of action for you and your future mobile app together!

Sebastian Wojdakowski

Flutter Developer

Software Developer working with Flutter since the very beginning when the first stable version came out in December 2018. Previously iOS Developer - I find room in my heart for both Dart and Swift languages. Privately a huge aviation enthusiast.