Native or cross-platform development? Which one is better for your app?
In a perfect world people would use one (perfect) platform for building their digital projects. The reality is, we still have a ways to go to perfection. Currently we use several different platforms to build our digital projects. So, how do we adapt this fact when doing application development? Which option is better – native or cross-platform development and what are the advantages of each approach?
We are currently living in the world where most devices are built using two major platforms with a few small “outliers'' around them. If it's a desktop app, you are looking at Windows and macOS. If mobile, you have Android and iOS. The question then becomes, which one to choose for your project?
Choosing the right approach around this topic is one of the most important decisions to make during the early stage of application development. This decision can and will influence the future success of your application. Developing the app for the wrong platform or with the wrong tools can prevent market penetration and quickly lead to failure.
| What is native app development?
Native app development represents a simple approach – you develop your application only for one platform. Usually, each platform has its own set of tools, libraries, toolkits and SDKs that can make development faster and easier. The final app in this case, targets high performance and quality of the specific platform it is built for. For example – Kotlin for Android and Swift for iOS. When the app is built natively, it will also have access to every hardware resource on the device – like camera, memory, sensors etc.
Building natively might be a good approach, especially when you have a specific and targeted group. For example, you have conducted research and found your target group of users will only be using Macbooks. In this case, there is no reason to develop your app for other platforms. There are some apps that have built their success on their single-platform exclusivity.
If you know that sooner or later you will need to develop an app for the second platform to expand your user base, developing natively might not be a good approach. Having to develop on a second platform usually means your costs will double and you will probably need to have another team that’s experienced in the development on the new platform. Along with this point, the time of the development could be doubled as well. Sometimes the user experience will be different as well when you move a design to a new platform. Depending on the platform, specific UI, navigation, feature sets and general design options could look very different.
| When to develop a native app?
Native app development can be a good idea when you expect a high performance application, dedicated to one, specific platform. It’s the best choice when you need to deliver an outstanding experience to your future users. Another reason building native is the best choice would be when your app is full of user-friendly animations or requires access to all the resources of the phone. For example, when you develop a game it may require several animations and access to the vibration component in the mobile device. Native app development will also give you access to every API and tool dedicated to this platform, as well as advanced store support. Lastly, native apps can give you better scalability for future expansion, as well as easier update-management dedicated to that specific platform.
| What is cross-platform app development?
Should your application need to be on both platforms, why develop a single app for each of them? Cross-platform app development represents a different approach by developing one app which works on both platforms. Thanks to the cross-platforms tools like Flutter, Xamarin or React Native you can accomplish cross-platform development.
Essentially the development team will only develop one code base that will serve the completed application across platforms (Android, iOS). This is attractive for a variety of reasons which we will outline below. Like anything, there are pros and cons to using this development strategy and all should be considered before making a decision for your app.
One of the main advantages for using this approach would be if you are working with a limited budget. By using cross-platform development you can have your app on both platforms with a single codebase, one development team and usually a shorter overall time to market.
Another distinct benefit for cross-platform development from a business perspective is access to a larger user base. With one codebase on two platforms, your app has the chance to attract many more users. It can also be cheaper for you to develop further updates for each platform due to only needing to edit a single code base.
Using this approach does have a few disadvantages. Cross-platform applications might have problems with performance and overall code quality (as they usually need more device resources). There can also be a lack of customization options which should also be considered before making a choice to build with these tools.
Although you will save the time it takes for development, the developers hourly rate might be slightly higher for this expertise. Cross-platform code is usually more complicated and requires a deeper level of knowledge to complete.
All things considered, the access to resources (feature settings) as well as to 3rd party libraries might be limited. That’s why it is not the best idea to build cross-platform apps when you need a lot of in-app animations or your app needs to manage items built into the device like the camera, memory or sensors.
| When to develop a cross-platform app?
Using this method of development might be a good choice if your app design is relatively simple with flexibility around in-depth modifications. Currently, cross-platform apps offer a very high, almost-native quality which means a normal user will likely not detect a difference between a native app. That said, you might need to accept some responsiveness or performance differences.
Cross-platform development can be a good approach when you want to build something to verify your thesis or provide an MVP. Although the possibilities are still growing for cross-platform development, you might experience some features limits.
The decision to begin development using native or cross-platform development might be the most important choice in the entire process of app development. Both approaches have some advantages and disadvantages. It is difficult to say which method might be better without exploring the details of the project.
Here at AppTailors we believe that cross-platform development is the future of building applications for mobile and web. Over the last few years we developed a few applications with cross-platform frameworks (Flutter) and we continue to see the growth of this technology. There is an active community of Flutter developers that represent the ongoing support in the marketplace. As always, reach out to us with any questions. We have a passion for sharing our expertise and are always happy to talk about the best way to approach your next app development project!
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