The Rise Of Cross-Platform App Development

There are many reasons why your company might want to develop its own app. Many companies are developing apps to make it easier for customers to interact with their brand. Using an app on a smartphone is much easier than navigating to a mobile website, after all. Companies are also developing apps to make it easier for their employees to be productive.

Allowing your employees to access and use company data via devices outside of the office is generally a smart idea (as long as you have the proper security protocols in place) as this allows employees to put in extra work when they need to, whether they are at home or on the road, such as if they’re traveling for work-related purposes. In fact, a lot of companies encourage their employees to bring their own devices to use at work as well. This practice is often referred to as BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). Businesses often develop their own app specifically for this purpose.

The challenge in developing an app, whether it’s for customer use or employee use, lies in the fact that people are not only using a variety of different devices (laptops, smartphones, and tablets), but those devices are running on different operating systems (Android and iOS being the main two). This is something you’ll need to consider when developing an app for your business and it’s why many companies are opting for cross platform app development, which basically allows a single app to be useable across all platforms no matter what operating system is being used.

Cross Platform Vs Native App Development

When it comes to developing apps, you really have three options. The first option is to develop a web app. Web apps run on the web and is stored on remote servers. This means that it doesn’t matter what you’re using (whether it’s a smartphone, tablet, or computer), you should be able to run the app as long as you open up the browser that it runs on. The problem–and it’s a relatively big one–is that you have to be online for a web app to run. Not only do you have to have an Internet connection, but you can’t download it from the app store, which means it can only be found on the website it’s offered on. Because of how severely limiting this is, most companies choose to develop their apps using either cross-platform development or native app development.

Native app development involves developing your app for a specific operating system or platform. For example, if you want the app to work on Mac computers, then you have to write the app in Swift or Objective-C in order for it to be able to run on systems that use the iOS operating system. If you want the app to run on mobile devices that use iOS, you’ll need to write the app in Xcode. Developing the app for non-Apple computers and mobile devices (such as Android) will require different coding as well.

If you’re only developing an app for a specific type of system (such as a computer or mobile device) and operating system (such as iOS or Android), then native app development is fine. However, if you want your app to work on multiple devices and operating systems, you may want to consider cross-platform development. Apps created using cross-platform development will run on multiple platforms using a single codebase, which means that unlike native app development, you won’t have to develop the same app multiple times in order for it to function on different platforms.

Pros And Cons Of Cross-Platform App Development

On the surface, it may seem like choosing between cross-platform app development and native app development is a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t you want to develop an app that works on all platforms as opposed to an app that only works on one (or that requires you to develop the same app multiple times in order to function on more than one platform), after all? However, it’s worth diving into the pros and cons of cross platform app development to make sure that the decision you make is the right one.

Advantages

The following are the advantages of cross-platform development:

Reusable Code

When you write the code for an app using native development, it means that you have to write separate code for every platform (such as Xcode for iPhones and iPads, and Android Studio for Android mobile apps). With cross-platform development, the code you write the first time is reusable for every platform.

Maintainable Code

Whenever you update your app, you will only have to update your codebase once instead of having to update the code for every platform your app is used on. Once you update your codebase, all changes will be synced and reflected on every platform.

Convenient And Cost Efficient

Native app development requires you to know the programming language for each platform you want to develop the app for. You’ll only need to know a single programming language for cross-platform development, which is much more convenient. This also makes building the app more cost-efficient since there’s less work to be done as a result (which also means you don’t need several coding experts working on different versions of the same app).

Wider Market Reach

Restricting the use of your app to one platform means that you’re limiting your reach. If you’re developing a customer-facing app, you’ll want to have as big of a reach as possible. By making it accessible on all platforms through cross-platform development, you’ll have a much wider market reach.

Disadvantages

While the advantages to cross-platform development certainly stand out, there are a few drawbacks to keep in mind as well. These include the following:

Performance Issues

Even though your app can perform quite well when built for all platforms using cross-platform development, it’s important to keep in mind that it won’t perform as well as apps developed natively for specific platforms.

Lower Quality Graphics

Cross-platform development tends to result in graphics that aren’t as high quality as graphics used in apps that were developed natively. This is in part because you won’t have access to core OS graphics libraries. If your app relies heavily on graphics, you may want to reconsider cross-platform development.

Delayed Updates

One particularly inconvenient issue that you won’t really be able to get around is the fact that if an update is released for a specific platform, it can take a while for any changes or new features to be reflected in the cross-platform development tools you’re using.

Mediocre User Experience

Native apps are designed to run on specific platforms and therefore have better user experience than apps that were built using cross-platform development.  This is especially true if the function of your app depends on its ability to directly access the hardware of the user’s device.

Framework Tools To Develop Your Cross-Platform App

The following are some of the cross-platform app framework tools that are commonly considered to be of high quality and worth using:

React Native

When it comes to JavaScript-to-native frameworks, React Native is the most popular one and is used by both Facebook and Instagram. The open-source tool works by translating source code into native elements. One of the reasons its so popular, outside the fact that it was developed and is maintained by Facebook, is that almost 70 percent of all software developers are familiar with JavaScript as well as ReactJS.

Flutter

Flutter was built by Google to compile to native code to address the issue of having to build both iOS and Android apps for each mobile product. However, instead of using JavaScript like other frameworks typically do, Flutter uses Dart, which was the language created by Google in an attempt to replace JavaScript. Using Flutter will allow you to build apps that incorporate Material Design, making them more user-friendly for people that use Google Maps or Gmail.

Apache Cordova

Apache Cordova was released by Adobe as an open-source project. Major companies, including Google, Microsoft, IBM, and Intel, have all contributed to the platform. This framework tool actually powers the build process for almost all of the free cross-platform mobile app development tools that you’ll come across. The way it works is by packaging a single codebase, such as bundling together JavaScript, CSS, and HTML, into a native executable, essentially providing the developer access to native APIs. Apps developed using Cordova can then connect to many of those apps by incorporating community-built plug-ins using plain JavaScript.

Just keep in mind that when using Apache Cordova, you need to have some experience with mobile app development as all the design and architecture decisions are left up to you.

Adobe PhoneGap

Adobe PhoneGap was the basis for Apache Cordova. Now, PhoneGap is a standalone product that is actually powered using Cordova. PhoneGap makes the process easier by using an interface to build Cordova applications. Using PhoneGap, you can set up an application server to host your apps over the network, thereby accelerating the build-to-run-to-revise loop. This allows your developers to focus more on coding your app as opposed to spending so much time on manual updates. Adobe PhoneGap is open-source as well, which means that it has the support of hundreds of developers, including Adobe. However, even though developing apps is arguably simpler than doing do with Cordova, it can still be quite challenging for new developers to get a grasp of.

Ionic Framework

The Ionic Framework is an open-source hybrid tool that combines Angular (a front-end framework most developers are familiar with) with its own UI library. It relies on PhoneGap for its mobile build process, which means it has access to the plug-ins provided by Apache Cordova. Ionic supports JavaScript and TypeScript. The framework also supports hybrid desktop applications that are enabled by Electron along with progressive web applications running in Chrome.

Framework 7

Like so many other frameworks, Framework 7 is an open-source project that’s also powered by Apache Cordova. Built on Vue.js, Framework 7 offers many interface elements that mimic native interfaces; for example, it can recreate Google’s Material Design platform as well as the standard iOS design, thereby providing a more user-friendly app. There are plenty of built-in themes available to customize your app’s interface with as well.

Apache Weex

Another framework powered by Apache Cordova, Apache Weex uses a single source code to generate native experiences as opposed to executing JavaScript and rendering HTML in a WebView (which is what Cordova does). There are many UI components offered out of the box. These components are actually translated to their native counterparts, which improves the performance of the app. The open-source framework also receives plenty of contributions in the form of new design and interface plug-ins from an active community.

NativeScript

NativeScript is an open source cross-platform development tool for mobile apps. It provides native APIs in JavaScript and allows developers to reuse the NPM plug-in directly in any project being developed in NativeScript. The framework also provides support for TypeScript and Angular.js 2. Unfortunately, the drawback of using NativeScript is that resources are not very extensive compared to other framework tools.

Kony

Kony allows you to build multi-platform mobile apps and even provides novice users with pre-built apps that they can use to develop their own apps more easily. The Kony framework comes loaded with features as well, including API connection, automatic coding, and an app preview feature. However, there is very little resource support.

Xamarin

Xamarin is a very popular cross-platform development tool that’s used by some of the biggest app developers out there, including IBM, Foursquare, Dow Jones, and even Microsoft. It’s particularly effective for cross-platform app development if you’re looking to program your app in Ruby or C#. Xamarin lets you design native apps for multiple platforms using just the C# codebase. It’s also worth noting that you can share code using the Xamarin platform, thereby reducing development costs by cutting down on development time. While available in a free version, you will have limited access to the platform’s features and won’t have access to open-source libraries.

Jasonette

Jasonette is an open-source framework that uses a process similar to server-side rendering, which involves the generation of markup on the server. The browser then downloads completed pages from the cloud. With Jasonette, your server will provide JSON files for every mobile screen that users interact with. As a result, there’s no intermediary runtime executing Dart, JavaScript, or other non-native languages. As such, Jasonette is about as native as you can get when it comes to cross-platform development. Additionally, using a JSON-based framework will potentially reduce the size of your mobile code base. However, this is beneficial only if you’re creating a stateless mobile app. For non-static apps, you will need added functionality for your server-side implementation in order to reply with JSON.

Manifold

Manifold won’t actually be of much help when it comes to mobile development. However, it can be very effective if you’ve already built a working mobile website or app. Essentially, the purpose of Manifold is to turn your web app into a native package.

Tips For Developing Cross-Platform Apps

Using a cross-platform development framework may be the way to go if you’re looking to develop an app that will accessible on different platforms. However, there’s a lot more to consider than just making sure your app will function on all platforms. The following are a few tips to help ensure that you develop an app that meets the unique needs of users on each platform:

Make It Attractive

The function of an app is obviously more important than how it looks, but this doesn’t mean that it’s aesthetic isn’t important. First of all, the look of your app can affect its function. An app that’s too visually flamboyant can make users overwhelmed by its use, after all. Secondly, an attractive app will make users more engaged. Last, but not least, the look of your app helps to strengthen your brand’s identity (it has to be consistent with your brand’s look as well, after all) and will help your app stand out from the many other similar apps that are on the market.

Use A Platform-Independent Technique

Even when building a cross-platform app, many developers fall into the trap of focusing on specific platforms, such as iOS or Android. They will end up testing the app on the platform that they use most frequently. However, this can result in the app functioning great on one platform while not as well on the other. Instead, build your app in the same way that you would build a web service. By using a platform-independent approach, your developers will be more inclined to focus on the performance results for both engines.

Test Your App

Because you’ve developed your app to be used on multiple platforms, it means that you need to test it to make sure it runs on all platforms properly. Don’t just assume that because it was created using a cross-platform development tool that if it works fine on one platform it will work fine on all platforms.

Focus On Your Users

Always keep your user in mind when developing an app, whether you’re developing it for a specific platform or for all platforms. If you lose track of your user’s needs during the development of an app, then the app’s functionality and user-friendliness will most likely suffer.

Deciding Which Platform Works Best For You

When it comes to developing an app for your business, there are a lot of things you’ll want to consider. Are you developing a customer-facing app or an app for your employees to use? Who is your audience? Is there a specific platform that your audience is using or do you want to build an app that can work on multiple platforms? Even choosing the framework tool requires some thought. For example, what kind of programming languages are your developers familiar with? What is your budget? What kind of functionality and features do you want your app to have? These are all questions that you will want to answer in order to properly plan out the development of your app.

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