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Native vs Cross Platform Mobile Apps – Which way to Go?

So you have designed and created specifications for your mobile app.  Congratulations! Now it’s time to choose a platform to develop the app. You know that your app has to be on the Apple app store for the iPhone and it also needs to be on Google Play for Android devices (which account for over 80% of the mobile phones out there). 

The challenge is that iOS and Android use completely different softwares and frameworks which essentially doubles the costs for developing this new mobile app. A native app developed for Android will not function on iOS and vice versa. For many years, native development was the only option available.

However you have heard that there are now cross platform solutions out there that could save you a lot of money?. Cross Platform essentially means you can use the same code base or software to develop it both for iOS and Android. Typically with a cross-platform solution, some custom coding is required for each platform, so instead of paying 2X the cost of one platform to build on both iOS & Android, you would only need to spend 1.25X the cost of one platform.  But there are so many cross platform solutions -how do you then choose one which is right for my project?

In order to decide on a platform, let’s try to understand first the pros and cons of Native vs Cross Platform.

Going Native

What is Native application development?

Native Application development involves developing an application which is specific to one platform so that the application can take full advantage of all the device features such as a camera, accelerometer, compass, GPS, contacts list and so on. The frameworks and languages that are used in building native apps are:
iOS Apps – iOS apps require developers to build apps for iPhone or iPad with a framework known as XCode.  iOS apps are developed with Objective C or Swift language.

Android Apps – Android apps require developers to build apps for touch screen smartphones with an IDE known as Android Studio. Android apps are developed with Java or Kotlin.

Pros of native apps:

High performance – Since the technologies used in developing native applications are platform-specific, the native code enjoys direct access to the host’s operating system and functionalities. This easier interaction with the native features of the mobile devices enhances the overall performance of the application, especially when rendering graphics or multimedia content. 

Better user interface – Since native apps integrate with the mobile operating system flawlessly, users are able to navigate a familiar interface without many hassles, resulting in positive user experiences (UX) and repeated use.

Cons of native apps: 

Costly and time consuming – Creating apps natively for more than one operating system can significantly prolong the development process. The same code cannot be deployed on different platforms and programmers will require more time to convert and rewrite the code, increasing costs and development time. Maintenance is also more expensive as fixes must be applied on both platforms.

Missed opportunities – Developing apps that focus only on one platform could result in missed opportunities, especially if other platforms are not taken into consideration. The reduced target market could lead to revenue losses for your development efforts.

Going Cross Platform

What is Cross Platform application development?

As the name suggests, cross-platform entails creating applications that can run on a variety of operating systems. After writing the application’s code, it can be deployed on different devices and platforms without worrying of incompatibility issues. It’s an all-in-one approach that is popularly used to save time and money. Some of the cross platform solutions used by Goldfish are:

React Native – most popular cross platform solution open-source mobile application framework created by Facebook

Flutter – is Google’s UI toolkit for crafting beautiful, natively compiled applications for mobile, web, and desktop from a single codebase.
Other – Other cross platform solutions exist (e.g. Ionic & Xamarin), however these were early stage solutions that no longer offer the best cross platform experience available.

Pros of Cross Platform apps

Affordable and time-saver – The “write once, run anywhere” approach allows developers to utilize a single code on multiple platforms, which greatly reduces costs and shortens the development time — unlike native apps.

Easy and fast deployment – Cross-platform app developers do not need to learn multiple technologies before creating their apps; they just need to master a few and set the ball rolling. Since there is no need for creating different codebases, the initial deployment on the target platforms is much faster. Furthermore, future changes to the application can be done simultaneously without making individual changes on each platform.

Cons of Cross Platform apps

Performance glitches – In contrast to native applications, cross-platform applications do not integrate flawlessly with their target operating systems. Therefore, some of the apps may fail to perform optimally because of inconsistent communication between the non-native code and the device’s native components.

User experience issues – Apps developed using shared code may fail to offer robust user experiences. Cross-platform apps cannot fully take advantage of native-only features and provide excellent user experiences.  However, React Native does offer the ability to write custom modules in native code, which can allow the developer to write part of the app natively if required.

Conclusion

The choice between native vs. cross-platform app development may sometimes be difficult to make. Native applications win on certain expectations such as high-performance while cross-platform applications are preferred on certain aspects such as savings on time and money. Ultimately, you should go for a platform that works best for your specific requirements including initial costs and ensures you attain the goals of your application development efforts as well as knowing that in a few years you will redevelop and refine your software applications.

Interesting in getting a quote on your next mobile app project? Drop us a line here and we would be happy to help you decide on approach and cost.

Niall McSheffrey
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