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

Not sure what to choose for your project? What best suits your goals? We have compared native vs. cross-platform app development for you. Read on and make your best choice!

native vs. cross platform app development comparison guide

Enter any forum discussing native vs. cross-platform app development and you’ll see developers with strong opinions in favor of one approach and against the other. Few will admit that both have their pros and cons. So, who is right?

The truth is, it depends on your business goals. Both native and cross-platform solutions can be excellent, but your choice should be based on your specific needs. In this case, those who see value in both approaches are correct. 

Let’s see how native vs. cross-platform app development compare. Read also:
What Is a Mobile App – All You Should Know as a Future Product Owner

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 native vs cross-platform app development.

Choose native app development if: 

Choose cross-platform app development if: 

✅ You’re looking for a highly complex project.

✅ You are considering moving the project to web or desktop applications in the near future.

✅ You know exactly how the final product should look like.

✅ You just want to create an MVP of your project to test it in the market.

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

✅ You have a limited budget but still want to reach users on both Android and iOS platforms.

✅ You can dedicate a high budget to the platform, as the development costs for native applications are usually larger.

✅ You want to complete your application faster and deliver it in less time than if you used native application development.

✅ You have enough time for native application developers to work on two separate projects.

✅ You are just starting to work on a large project that requires scalability and customization.

Native vs. cross-platform app development

The Third Way: Kotlin Multiplatform

Consider Kotlin Multiplatform (KMP) if:
✅ You want to share code for logic and data processing while keeping native code for UI and platform-specific features.
✅ You aim to combine the performance and user experience of native apps with the cost efficiency and faster time to market of cross-platform development.
✅ You have a project that requires both high performance and rapid development but isn’t overly reliant on platform-specific features.

KMP offers a middle ground, giving you the benefits of both native and cross-platform development.

What is a native mobile application?

Native mobile apps are designed specifically for Android or iOS. Developers build these using programming languages and tools unique to each platform, enabling their application to take full advantage of the operating system’s features.

For Android, this means either Java or Kotlin. Java was the first language for Android development, while Google introduced Kotlin in 2017. The latter has grown in popularity because it supports both object-oriented and functional programming.

For iOS, developers use Objective-C or Swift. Objective-C is an extension of the C programming language, and was the first language used for iOS development. Apple introduced Swift in 2014, providing a modern, high-level language with better performance and easier-to-learn syntax.

Examples of native mobile apps include:

  • Google Maps
  • Facebook
  • Uber
  • WhatsApp

These applications are optimized for their respective operating systems, providing better performance and user experience.

In summary, native mobile applications are built specifically for iOS or Android, using their respective programming languages and tools, ensuring they run smoothly and efficiently on their intended platforms.

Read also:

Flutter vs. Kotlin: Choose the Best Fit for Your Project  – Developers’ Guide

Native app tools

In addition to operating system-specific software development kits (SDKs), native mobile development requires an integrated development environment (IDE). 

The below table summarizes the tools used for native app development on Android and iOS.

PlatformSDKIDE optionsSupported operating systems
AndroidAndroid SDKAndroid StudioIntelliJ IDEAVisual Studio Code (VS Code)Eclipse with Android Development Tools (ADT)WindowsmacOSLinux
iOSiOS SDKXcodeAppCodeVisual Studio for MacmacOS
Native app development tools

Android development tools:

  • Android Studio

The official IDE for Android development, offering robust features and deep integration with the Android SDK.

  • IntelliJ IDEA

A powerful IDE from JetBrains, known for its strong code navigation and refactoring tools.

  • Visual Studio Code (VS Code)

A lightweight and extensible code editor with support for Android development via extensions.

  • Eclipse with ADT

An older, but still used IDE that provides Android Development Tools for building Android apps.

iOS development tools:

  • Xcode

The official IDE for iOS development, providing all the necessary tools to build, test, and submit apps to the App Store.

  • Visual Studio for Mac

An IDE from Microsoft that supports iOS development.

Pros of native mobile applications

  • Better performance

Optimized for specific platforms, making them very fast and responsive.

  • Tighter security

Access to platform-specific security features enhances user privacy.

  • Quality UX

A smooth user experience with a consistent look and feel that adheres to operating system design guidelines.

  • Full feature set access

Access to all device features and functionality for a richer user experience.

  • Minimal bugs

Immediate access to updated SDKs with enhancements and new features.

  • Broad functionality

Unlimited access to APIs and tools provided by the platform.

  • Better app store support

Easier to publish and higher ranking in stores due to better performance.

  • Great scalability

More scalable due to flexibility in resource management and available tools.

  • High performance and great UX

Direct interaction between code and resources results in high performance and better UX.

Cons of native mobile applications

  • Costly development

Developing for both iOS and Android requires separate teams and increases costs.

  • Time-consuming

Development and maintenance take longer due to the need for separate code bases.

  • Lack of code reusability

Code cannot be reused across platforms, requiring separate projects.

pros and cons of native app development - native vs. cross platform guide

What is a cross-platform mobile application?

Cross-platform app development enables developers to create mobile apps for multiple operating systems, such as iOS and Android, using a single code base. This differs from native app development, which requires separate codebases for each platform.

To do this, developers use cross-platform frameworks, which let them access the specific tools and libraries for each platform (like Android SDKs and iOS SDKs) through a single interface. This makes it easier to build and maintain apps across different devices.

Cross-platform mobile apps are typically compiled to use native UI elements so that they feel like native applications on each platform. These frameworks provide an abstraction layer to the underlying platform SDKs, providing access to device sensors and features such as the GPS, battery level, camera, and microphone.

Popular cross-platform frameworks include:

React Native (Meta)

React Native, an open source mobile framework from Meta, was released in March 2015. It’s a top choice for cross-platform app development using JavaScript and, as of version 0.71, TypeScript.

Key features:

  • Reusability: Share code between iOS and Android.
  • Hot Reloading: See code changes immediately without restarting.
  • Native components: Apps look and feel native.
  • Large community: Access a wide range of libraries, plugins, and resources.
  • Good performance: Suitable for most mobile devices.
  • Third party libraries: Easily extend functionality.

Apps made with React Native:

  • Instagram
  • Meta Ads Manager
  • Pinterest
  • Skype

Read also:
Flutter vs. React Native – Which is Better for Your Project in 2024?

Flutter

Flutter is Google’s open source UI framework, which was officially released in December 2018. It uses a single code base to create natively compiled apps for iOS, Android, Windows, macOS, Linux, Google Fuchsia, the web, and embedded devices. Flutter uses the Dart programming language.

Key Features:

  • Single codebase: Write once and run on multiple platforms.
  • Hot Reload: See code changes instantly without restarting the app.
  • Customizable widgets: Create stunning and responsive user interfaces.
  • High performance: Uses Dart’s Ahead-of-Time (AOT) compilation for speed.
  • Open source: Supported by a large and active developer community.
  • Platform customization: Customize applications to meet platform design guidelines.
  • Access native features: Integrate device-specific features with plugins.

Apps made with Flutter:

  • Google Ads
  • Xianyu by Alibaba
  • Hamilton
  • myBMW

Read also:

Top Flutter Apps: Real-World Examples & Business Stories

What is Flutter and How Can It Benefit Your Business?

Pros and Cons of Flutter App Development

Ionic

Released in 2013, Ionic is an open source UI toolkit for building cross-platform mobile and desktop apps using web technologies like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, with seamless integration with Angular, React, and Vue.

Key features:

  • Web technologies: Leverage HTML, CSS, and JavaScript/TypeScript.
  • UI toolkit: An extensive collection of responsive UI components.
  • Cordova and Capacitor: Integrate with plugins to access native device features.
  • Community and plugins: An extensive plugin library and strong community support.
  • Enterprise services: Offers paid services such as dedicated support, CI/CD platform, and tools for biometrics, encrypted storage, and SSO.

Apps made with Ionic:

  • Pacifica
  • MarketWatch
  • T-Mobile
  • Sworkit

Kotlin Multiplatform

Developed by JetBrains and introduced in 2017, Kotlin Multiplatform enables developers to write shared Kotlin code for Android, iOS, web, desktop, and server-side applications. It was declared stable and production-ready on November 1, 2023.

Heads up, this is big! Even though Kotlin Multiplatform lets you create multiple apps from a single codebase, it actually allows you to build truly native applications. Wondering how that’s possible?

While the shared code handles logic and data processing, the native code handles the platform-specific UI and features, ensuring that your Android / iOS application remains fully native.

Unlike other solutions like Flutter, which use a rendering engine to create a uniform UI across platforms, KMP leverages the native capabilities of each platform. This means there is no additional engine layer, and the app runs directly on the platform’s native framework. This often results in better performance and more consistent behavior with the platform’s ecosystem.

You also get the benefits of a cross-platform approach: a single codebase developed by one team can cut costs by up to 40%, speed up time to market, and make maintenance easier.

Key features:

  • Platform APIs and libraries: Access any native technology and combine it with Kotlin Multiplatform modules.
  • Shared codebase: Develop common code across platforms, reducing duplication of effort.
  • Native UI: Support for platform-specific UI implementations using SwiftUI and Jetpack Compose.
  • Interoperability: Integrate shared Kotlin code with existing Android and iOS applications.
  • Full potential of Kotlin language: Leverage Kotlin features such as strong typing, null safety, and coroutines.
  • Growing ecosystem: Growing library support and community contributions.

Apps made with Kotlin Multiplatform:

  • Google
  • Netflix
  • McDonald’s
  • 9GAG

Read also:

In summary, cross-platform mobile applications provide a cost-effective and efficient way to develop applications that run seamlessly on both iOS and Android, using a single codebase and powerful frameworks.

Find a comparison of these frameworks in our other article: 4 Most Popular Cross-Platform App Development Frameworks for 2024

Cross-platform app tools

To create and deploy cross-platform mobile apps, you need specific tools for each platform. For Android, you must have the Android SDK installed on a Windows, macOS, or Linux machine. For iOS, you need the iOS SDK and Xcode, and you must use a macOS device.

IDEs for Cross-Platform Frameworks

FrameworkSupported IDEs
React NativeVS CodeAndroid StudioWebStormAtom
FlutterVS CodeAndroid StudioIntelliJ IDEA
IonicVS CodeWebStormAtom
Kotlin MultiplatformIntelliJ IDEAAndroid Studio

VS Code

A lightweight, extensible code editor with support for React Native development.

Android Studio

Provides robust features and deep integration with the Android SDK for React Native projects.

WebStorm

A powerful IDE from JetBrains with strong support for JavaScript and React Native.

Atom

A hackable text editor from GitHub with various plugins for React Native development.

IntelliJ IDEA

JetBrains IDE with extensive features for Flutter development.

These IDEs are essential for cross-platform development, allowing you to efficiently build, test, and deploy your applications on both iOS and Android platforms.

Pros of cross-platform mobile applications

  • Low cost

Only one team of developers is needed, reducing development costs. The app can reach a wider audience when launching quickly on both systems, helping to test the market and gain traction quickly.

  • Code reusability

The use of a single code base ensures consistency of business logic across platforms.

  • Rapid development

Reuse code and improve productivity to accelerate time to market. Streamlined application testing during development further accelerates the process.

  • Easier maintenance

Updates are easier because there’s only one code base to manage. This ensures consistency across builds targeting different platforms.

Cons of cross-platform mobile applications

  • Larger digital footprint

Cross-platform applications tend to be larger, requiring attention to mobile optimization.

  • Difficult integrations

Not all platform-specific features integrate seamlessly. Hardware-specific integrations, such as using GPUs, may require native development skills.

  • Reduced performance

An additional abstraction layer and runtime can result in lower performance compared to native applications.

  • Delayed platform features

Access to new platform features may be delayed until the cross-platform 

framework is updated to support them.

native vs. cross-platform pros and cons

What’s your best bet: native vs. cross-platform?

The choice between native and cross-platform application development is critical. There are many factors to consider, including your audience, budget, development timeline, performance, and security requirements. Here’s a comparison to help you decide which approach is best for your project.

FactorNative appsCross-platform apps
Time to MarketNative development is slower and requires more maintenance. Creating separate apps for iOS and Android takes longer, leading to a slower time to market.Cross-platform development is quicker, enabling faster iterations and product launches. Ideal for startups and new products.
SecurityNative apps offer superior security with built-in OS features and libraries. This is crucial for high-risk apps like banking, where data protection is paramount.Cross-platform apps get to market faster but may lack the same level of built-in security features as native apps.
PerformanceNative apps are optimized for their specific operating systems, offering high performance and efficiency, making them ideal for performance-intensive apps like games.Cross-platform apps may have lower performance due to the additional abstraction layer needed to communicate with OS services.
Development costsNative development requires separate teams for iOS and Android, leading to higher costs. You need specialized skills and resources for each platform.Cross-platform development is more cost-effective. A single team can develop and maintain the app for both platforms, reducing overall costs.
TestingTesting native apps is more time-consuming as each version for different OS needs individual testing.Cross-platform apps benefit from a single codebase, making testing simpler and faster.
User experienceNative apps provide a consistent and optimized user experience tailored to each specific platform. They follow the design guidelines and utilize native UI components.Cross-platform apps might not deliver the same level of UX as native apps, as they can’t fully leverage native UX components and design guidelines.
MaintenanceMaintaining native apps is more complex due to the separate codebases for each platform. Updates and bug fixes need to be done separately for iOS and Android.Maintenance is easier and less costly with cross-platform apps. A single codebase means updates and fixes are applied once for all platforms.

The Third Way: Kotlin Multiplatform

Kotlin Multiplatform (KMP) offers a unique approach that combines the advantages of both native and cross-platform development. With KMP – like I mentioned before – you share code for logic and data processing while keeping the native code for UI and platform-specific features. This means you get the performance and user experience of native apps with the cost efficiency and faster time to market of cross-platform development. It’s like getting the best of both worlds.

Summary – what to choose? Native vs. cross-platform

Choosing between native vs. cross-platform app development can have a significant long-term impact on your business. Here’s a clear comparison to help you decide which solution is best for your needs and why. But before that, ask yourself a few questions:

  • What are your long-term goals? If high performance and security are critical, native development is a better choice.
  • Do you have the financial resources to support higher development costs? Native applications require more investment.
  • How quickly do you need to launch your application? Cross-platform development is faster and more cost-effective for rapid deployment.
  • Is providing the best user experience possible your top priority? Native apps tend to provide a more polished and consistent UX.

We 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.

Kotlin Multiplatform (KMP) adds an interesting option to the mix. KMP lets you share common code while still keeping native features and performance. It’s great for projects needing both high performance and rapid development. However, it may not be ideal for smaller projects or those with highly complex platform-specific needs.

Ultimately, the best approach depends on your particular requirements. Not sure you have all the answers? Worry not! Sign up for your Free Product Strategy Workshop and figure out the best course of action for you and your future mobile app!

About the authors

Karol Wrótniak

Karol Wrótniak

Mobile Developer

Flutter & Android Developer with 12 years of experience. A warhorse with impressive experience and skills in native and Flutter app development. Karol is probably the most active contributor to open source libraries you've ever met. He develops Gradle plugins and Bitrise steps, and he is engaged in many projects, in particular those related to testing.

Karol has been engaged as a speaker in many events and meetups like DevFest, 4Developers Wrocław, JDD Conference, Linux Academy, and more. He is an active member of Google Developers Group Wrocław, Flutter Wrocław, and Bitrise User Group.

Inez Bartosińska

Inez Bartosińska

Content Marketing Specialist

A Content Marketing Specialist with a rich background of over four years in IT and tech-related topics. She has a knack for turning complex industry jargon into relatable stories. Collaborating with our team of developers, business analysts, scrum masters, and designers, she ensures our technical insights are understandable for everyone. Outside of the office, she's a globetrotter with a passion for discovering new cultures and experiences.