Native and Cross-platform App Development – All You Need to Know as an Entrepreneur
Find out what the differences between Native and Cross-platform App Development and the corresponding benefit in choosing one.
Table of contents
What is native app development?
One approach you can take is to create two mobile apps, one for Android and one for iOS. 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 applications. By choosing this solution, you decide to create two fully independent applications, one of which does not affect the other. Each has its own life cycle and is a separate entity.
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Pros of native app development
In the past, when cross-platform app development was not so developed, native app development had a number of benefits and a significant advantage. Nowadays, the differences have evened out. Performance-wise, frameworks like Flutter are practically no different from native mobile apps. The time to create a native app is practically the same, or slightly faster, than creating an application via the cross-platform approach, such as with Flutter, but let’s remember that we have not one, but two applications 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, such as with Flutter, but let’s remember that we have not one, but two applications to create.
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.
Cons of native app development
The disadvantages you will encounter when choosing native app development are definitely the cost and development time. Because these are two different apps, you need two development teams and, while the work can often be parallelized, the higher cost will remain. Additionally, the time it takes for the QA team to check two applications can also be longer. And from the management level itself, it is harder to manage two projects in parallel.
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Cross-platform app development
You already know what native app development is, so now you are wondering what cross-platform app development is, yes? Using the general definition that “cross-platform software is computer software that is designed to work in several computing platforms.” I would like to use this space to primarily focus on mobile applications; however, one of the frameworks you are about to read about offers more possibilities than just mobile applications.
Cross-platform software is computer software that is designed to work in several computing platforms.
In the world of mobile applications, when choosing cross-platform app development, you choose a way of creating applications wherein one code base creates two applications, simultaneously for Android and iOS. But what, in all actuality, are the options for us to choose from?
Currently, there are a couple of solutions available on the market. We can choose the Flutter framework created by Google, but we also have React Native, created by Facebook – these are arguably the two major players. There are also less popular frameworks such as Xamarin or Ionic. But if you wanted to go for cross-platform development, which should you choose?
Here, I would like to use the opinion of the community, which I consider to be both an authoritative and an impartial jury. How do you know what the community has chosen? Just take a look at the number of “stars”, i.e. recognitions, given by interested people on Github (a place where particular frameworks are distributed and downloaded). As of writing, there are 127 thousand recognitions for Flutter and 97 thousand for React Native.
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. What’s more, each of them is doing very well.
Native mobile app vs cross-platform app
Now that you know what your choices are, what are the differences between those two solutions?
There are actually quite a few. First comes the amount of code. When writing native applications, you need 2 different code bases: in the case of Android it will be mostly software written in Kotlin, and in case of iOS, the Swift language. But what does it mean for business? Well two code bases needs two development teams – this complicates a lot of things. In my experience it means constantly comparing two applications, checking if they are still consistent. Having one code base, you don’t have to worry about that at all – so it reduces development time. It also reduces the time of the QA team needed for app testing, which we often forget about, yet remains very important.
Pros of cross-platform mobile app development
So, what are the advantages of cross-platform app development? There are many. From a business point of view, it leads to reduced development and testing time. However, we can also consider the consistency of the application, its design and UX. There’s also the fact that a single team is enough to develop the app and then maintain it for both platforms.
Single team is enough to develop the app and then maintain it for both platforms.
One more thing comes to my mind for which cross-platform app development is ideal, and that’s MVP – Minimum Viable Product – apps. These are used to create and test the concept of an app in the market. These take less risk by reducing the cost of development. That means you can 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 mobile app development
On the other hand, can everything be that colorful? Almost. You are probably wondering where the catch is? It is 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.
When you are developing an app that has to simultaneously, for example, work with BLE devices, support and implement other frameworks, and be complex on its own, it is better to choose native app development. Each of these things is possible to implement in cross-app development separately; however, when you add it all together, you may find that it is better to choose native app development.
What should you consider when choosing between native and cross-platform development?
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 in parallel, which reduces app delivery time. However, it is not always possible to parallelize the app development progress 100%. The costs, from the very fact of maintaining two teams, are correspondingly higher.
On the other side, we have one development team, creating one code, which then translates into two applications. In my experience, the effort alone, such as in Flutter, is not much more than creating one native application. So, in a similar amount of time, instead of one app you have the possibility to get two apps – one each for Android and iOS.
There are two more additional advantages when you work with one code for two applications. It eliminates nearly 100% of visual comparison of these applications, whether they are the same relative to each other. 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.
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, among others.
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, among others. 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.
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. 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.
Native app or cross-platform app? Summary
I hope I managed to solve your doubts about choosing between native app development and cross-platform development. You now know what each of these approaches is and what to look for when choosing one.
Choose native app development if you need:
Projects with high complexity, and you are sure about its shape and form. If you need to take full advantage of the system features provided by the Android and iOS platforms, then choosing native app development is the best choice. However, when choosing native app development, you have to take into account that your budget has to be higher because of the necessity to maintain two development teams that will create two separate native apps.
Choose cross-platform app development if you need:
A way in which one development team, using one code-base, creates two applications for Android and iOS (and as you’ve read – it’s also possible to move the project to web applications, or desktop applications in the near future). It is a good choice for small, medium and large projects and, when you need to create the first version of the application, test it on the market and deliver it in a faster time than if you would use native app development.
At the same time, remember that large projects, which were designed from the beginning for a long life cycle, also work well when written in cross-platform development technology.