Mobile App Development: Cross-Platform vs Native App Development

With the advent of technology, businesses have come to realize that mobile touchpoints are increasingly more effective in reaching and engaging with customers, than any other channel. Both businesses and individuals, make some of the most vital decisions over the Internet and mobile apps. In fact, the annual number of app downloads worldwide is estimated to amount to 299 billion in 2023, additionally, mobile apps are projected to generate over USD 935 billion in revenue via paid downloads and in-app advertising.

It comes as no surprise that the competition in today’s global market is stiff, either you evolve or you get left behind, therefore the pressure to get a leg up on product quality, precision, functionalities, user-friendliness, and other parameters could be what makes your services stand out over other alternatives.

At the start of the smartphone era, developers were constricted to building applications specific or native to the device, platform, or operating system they were been built on. As the market and technologies for mobile apps grew, new approaches on how to make the same app for different platforms came to light and this was what led way to cross-platform development.

Businesses considering launching their own mobile app will encounter multiple dilemmas like choosing whether to develop it either as a cross-platform app or a native app to best grab wider customer engagement. Before choosing the right path let’s look at what native and cross-platform really mean.

What is a Native App Development?

As its name suggests, this is the process of building an application with programming languages and tools that are exclusively for a single platform, say iOS, or Android. If a business chooses to deploy its apps on both iOS and Android it would have to be done natively – two separate teams work simultaneously on each operating system. In some cases, the company may decide to contract a development team to work on the Android native app first and iterate from it before working with another team to develop the iOS native app.

Native apps have direct access to the hardware of the device such as its microphone, camera, accelerometer, compass, GPS, contact list, and many more, enabling it to take full advantage of respective features in order to deliver higher performance and better user experience. Visuals are tailored to the platform UX, essentially enhancing the user experience and delivering better usability. Device compatibility and browser behavior will also not be a cause for concern to IT business owners. According to a study, 67% of developers prefer Native apps when developing mobile applications. Startups however are apprehensive of the high-cost requirement tied to the concurrent development for both platforms.

Pros of Native App Development

Here are some considerations when moving forward with native app development. Native mobile apps surpass cross-platform apps when comparing speed and performance, stability in maintenance and updates, and customizations.

High Speed and Responsiveness
Native apps are built exclusively for a predetermined set of devices and run on a specific architecture, this allows for better responsiveness and faster performance. They also have access to exclusive APIs and components that are optimized for multiple screen sizes and system versions, the direct contact between the code and underlying resources also enables superior performance. Additionally, aligns perfectly with specific OS guidelines which ensure an improved experience, making it more intuitive and interactive.

Customization of features and UI/UX
Developers don’t have to worry about dependencies between different operating systems, making it easier and faster to configure or customize. Because designing user interfaces for iOS and Android apps takes place in two separate workflows or simultaneously as two different projects, it is easier for developers to adhere to the standards of the platform they’re familiar with, enabling them to implement more effectively and creatively. Additionally, native apps usually have superior flexibility and UI capabilities, they support complex layouts, are compatible with complex animation, feature pre-set libraries, allow full customization of interface elements, and also provide more choices for optimizing the interface and interactions.

Minimized Scope of Bugs
Simultaneously managing two different codebases can present itself to be a challenge, native apps however have one codebase and don’t rely on cross-platform tools resulting in increased efficiency and a minimal occurrence of bugs.

Enhanced Security
Security risks are inherently higher for hybrid apps. The minimum layers, technologies, and languages native apps have enabled an enhanced degree of security. Native app also development provides for more tailored and robust security features with the implementation of file encryption and intelligent fraud detection across each platform’s respective libraries and resources, whilst technologies such as HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript ensure thorough data protection on the user’s end.

Cons of Native App Development

‍As you can imagine, the initial cost of native app development is high. Each platform will require a separate investment and while the teams work simultaneously, the coordination between them to align the UI/UX contributes to longer development cycles and ultimately requires more financial resources especially when compared to the option of cross-platform app development that is compatible to all devices. However, it is also proven that native apps possess value for money in a long run.

Time to Market
Native app development is time-consuming and complex, its likely you’ll need a longer lead time to develop and test the app before launching it, Additionally, the work done for a platform cannot be duplicated for another, which means you’ll need a different team to develop the alterative OS and ensure it’s running smoothly by the time the app launches.

What is a Cross-Platform App Development?

Cross-platform development requires only a single reusable codebase but is built to run on multiple mobile platforms and operating systems.

Organizations, enterprises, and startups typically strive to build their mobile apps on both Android and iOS in order to cater to a larger market, the two mobile operating systems account for near 100% global market share. The work on cross-platform apps involves creating the same codebase which is then deployed on both Android and iOS, this is done with the use of cross-platform mobile app development frameworks such as React Native, Flutter, and Xamarin.

While cross-platform development saves time and cost, there is a significant risk of sacrificing quality in the process. This is because it is challenging to tailor an app that is expected to function optimally on various platforms, and it is more difficult to customize the app beyond what’s allowed in the framework. The cross-platform app will also require an additional abstraction layer when running, resulting in lower performance. Startups, however, favor the reduction in time and cost with cross-platform development.

Pros of Cross-Platform App Development

Deciding on cross-platform development as opposed to native app development depends on which one fits your priorities and circumstances. Here are the advantages of cross-platform development.

Code reusability between iOS and Android apps
A leading benefit when developing cross-platform apps in the ability to create one codebase between iOS and Android apps. On average, developers can reuse and repurpose 80% of existing code to adapt to various devices, which helps save time and effort because the development team can work on both platforms at the same time. For example, upon coding an app for iOS devices, developers can compile it for Android with relative ease and within a short amount of time.

Faster development process and time-to-market
Cross-platform app development enables a single development process and code reusability allows developers to simply adjust existing code for various platforms, eliminating the need to implement separate Android and iOS projects, this makes development incredibly cost-effective and saves developers a lot of time. Development is also substantially faster because the product, design, and engineering teams are working on only one project.

Value for money and reduced development cost
Instead of employing the services of two development teams with different skills and knowledge of programming languages or technologies, you’ll need only one to create a cross-platform app. This will run you 30% cheaper than independently developing apps for both Android and iOS platforms.

UI/UX consistency across platforms
Standardization and consistency in look and feel across multiple platforms is more attainable with cross-platform development. The design of UI and navigation vary among different operating systems and platforms, which is why the development of native apps are handled by separate and specialized teams. Cross-platform development stacks and trending frameworks however handle these differences by default, it is therefore easier to maintain the overall design and brand identity across both platforms.

Cons of Cross-Platform Development

Lower speed and performance
Cross-platform apps often have a higher code complexity when compared to native apps. This is because cross-platform apps require an additional abstraction layer and rendering process, these are typically slower than those built as native apps, ultimately effecting the app’s potential to deliver optimal performance. Additionally, the cross-compliance of code during the development stage could potentially cause overhead in the compiled code, making the app increasingly sluggish, which can significantly impact the downtown, data cost, and app speed.

Adapting the code to each platform can constrain functionality
Cross-platform development frameworks do not support all OS features, including essential device features related to hardware functionality, internal storage access, and integrated local setting functionality. Cross-platform apps must there adapt their design and functionality across specific platforms, operating systems, and devices. This will require substantial effort from the developer who must handle individual differences for each type of device and platform.

The development approach right for you
It is essential that you make an informed decision when choosing between native development and cross-platform development. Certain apps will be best delivered through native development and others through cross-platform development, especially for those seeking cost-efficiency with faster development speed, and low risk. However, if your app demands a high level of customization, optimal usability, speed, and responsiveness, along with an array of complex features and then native development might be more suitable. For every app owner, the choice between the two will always be based on their unique reasoning, the type of app being developed, and the most practical development framework. Taking these aspects into consideration you’ll have to weigh out the pros and cons from the perspective of your application requirements/features.

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