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Major Cross-Platform Mobile Development Tools

by Svitla Team

June 26, 2018
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Introduction

One thing is true, the age of mobile applications is ingrained in our day-to-day day digital make-up. It’s bigger than ever before, resting well above $78 billion as of last year and expected to top this number by the end of 2018. Understandably, the industry’s key players want a big share of this and as a result, the mobile development tools market is growing fiercely.  For a great many products and companies a mobile application, user-friendly and easy to access, would be a great way to further their business opportunities. This growing necessity has developers barely keeping up with a demand to take the world into a next mobile experience level.

With this spurt growth, developers must rise to the challenge and leverage cross-platform development tools effectively. But what is a cross-platform development tool and how can a developer write code once and use it everywhere? Here’s the breakdown: in essence, cross-platform app development tools embody the ‘write once, run anywhere’ concept because they enable developers to create applications for multiple platforms using the same code foundation.

Not only is this time saving, but also cost-effective as the developer only puts in the effort once and reuses code to design apps that can play with a variety of platforms, such as Android, iOS, Windows, and others. It’s true that there is no right answer when choosing which development tool to use for different types of mobile applications. Developers can go with native apps, cross-platform apps, or hybrid apps. In reality, the decision lies in understanding the application’s intended purpose, its audience, and its features.

Cross-platform vs native app development tools: which one works best for your needs

Native apps - pros and cons

Have you ever encountered an app that was only available in iOS, but not Android? Ever since mobile apps came in the picture, native applications have been customary in mobile development. Fundamentally, native apps are platform dependent since they are specifically designed and built with one operating system in mind.

Native applications present a number of advantages:

  • Unlock potential and gain superior access. Because they are designed exclusively with an operating system in mind, there’s a clear and better integration of the apps’ functionality with the hardware of the mobile device. Hardware features such as Bluetooth, NFC, GPS, camera, microphone, and more can be leveraged to work best with a specific functionality of your app.
  • Screen optimization. Developers are able to more freely enhance and tweak aspect ratio and the display quality of the app, targeted to a specific device or brand. For example, Samsung is a trend-setter when it comes to aspect ratios in the industry and thus, developers work to leverage this quality into the app for an improved user experience.
  • Premium performance, while being as responsive as possible. It’s a well-known truth for developers that native apps work with an outstandingly fast interface and perform significantly better. Which is why many developers decide to go native. Applications built under this scheme take maximum advantage of the device’s processor power.
  • Seamless user experience. As a user, when you want to download an app, you go straight to the corresponding digital store. This presents a huge advantage for user security and accessibility. Additionally, users benefit from not having to be online continuously while using a native app because it’s installed directly on the device. Thus, it enables users to access data whether they’re online or not. This is what makes it the preferred choice for mobile games.

Native apps also come with drawbacks that must be considered by developers when they’re trying to decide if they want to go with a native app or a cross-platform app.

  • Costs. Native apps are great. Which also makes them more expensive in its development stages. The reason behind this increase in cost is that developers must create a separate code for each platform and that represents a bigger monetary investment.
  • Incompatibility. Native apps designed for Apple products aren’t compatible with Android products, and vice versa. This can create an aversion to your app if it’s not readily available in all platforms and puts an end to the seamless experience for the user.

Cross-platform apps – pros and cons

For some developers, cross-platform apps have become the bread and butter of their work. This rise in cross-platform apps is derived from a number of advantages that are obtained when leveraged correctly.

These are the advantages of using a cross-platform app:

  • Reusable. This is the major and most prolific benefit obtained from leveraging a cross-platform app. For developers, it is of substantial value to write code only once, and then reuse it across multiple platforms. The exceptional advantage of being able to reuse code cascades into a number of positive outcomes such as cost-effectiveness, availability, and consistency, which are included in this list with further information about each one. In essence, reusable code enables developers to implement features in one platform and have it work seamlessly across multiple platforms without having to use different stacks of technologies to achieve this.
  • Cost-effectiveness. This is also a key bonus for cross-platform sympathizers. A significant amount of money is saved when a developer builds an application from the same foundation code that functions successfully in different platforms. This is a big influencer when it comes to deciding between native apps and cross-platform apps. This is also noticeable in terms of resources as there’s no need to have a dedicated team for each operating system.
  • Availability. Apps built in the cross-platform scheme are readily available to the user via different platforms, making it easier for businesses to target and market effectively. Also, because it is easier to build and deploy a cross-platform app, businesses can be presented to the market more quickly. And market presence is everything.
  • Consistency. Your app looks, feels, and behaves the same across platforms. It helps businesses provide a consistent experience for the user in all platforms. Keep in mind that this consistency comes with a somewhat simple, yet effective interface. Native apps provide further responsiveness and more complex customization, but with cross-platform apps businesses easily have an app of their product or company that is steady and reliable.

By now, there’s a pretty clear idea of the benefits cross-platform apps entail. Now, let’s take a look at its drawbacks:

  • Less flexibility. If the app needs to include a sophisticated feature, it may be difficult for developers to properly implement it across multiple platforms and have it work successfully everywhere. It may work, but it’s probably not going to reach its maximum capabilities. This is correlated with the loss of performance which is explained next.
  • Loss of performance. Cross-platform apps tend to work without pitfalls when the requirements are straightforward and conventional. Otherwise, complex capabilities will detriment performance in comparison to native apps. With cross-platform apps, businesses offer wider platform support and maintenance, but it loses some performance points.
  • Compliance with digital stores. Submitting an app to digital stores takes time and must comply with a number of requirements that are set in place to meet certain criteria that ultimately seeks to provide the user with an effortless and elegant experience. When using cross-platform apps, businesses must take into account that each update is subject to the same review process, which may slow them down in getting app updates in a timely and satisfactory fashion.

Top cross-platform mobile development tools

Developers are tasked with the decision of selecting an option from the ever-growing pool of cross-platform mobile development tools, which elevates the challenge of choosing the right one for the application’s needs.

This following list includes some of the best immediate tools developers can use to effectively create cross-platform apps, along with its qualities to facilitate the comparison and decision-making of which one suits their needs best.

Xamarin. Extremely well-known and used across the board by developers to build native apps with a single C# code foundation. It’s leveraged by some of the heavy-hitters in the IT industry because of its speed and cost-effectiveness. With this fact, it also rings true that Xamarin is perhaps not the first option for developers that want to develop a mobile game app. To serve that purpose, Unity is a far more detailed game engine with more advanced capabilities for games building.

PhoneGap. A freeware, open-source platform that helps create apps for Android, Windows, and iOS mobile devices. This product sits on top of Apache Cordova and uses standard languages such as JavaScript and HTML. It simplifies the lives of developers by providing plugins that trigger key hardware features such as the accelerometer, camera, GPS, and more. This tool offers complete and convenient training materials to help developers leverage its functionalities to its maximum potential. Additionally, the tool comes with a compiler, a debugger, and testing tools. Please keep in mind this tool is not the best for rich graphics apps.

Apache Cordova (based from PhoneGap, but now a standalone tool). An Adobe product is an open-source tool that provides access to native APIs by encasing web code in a Cordoba set. It integrates plugins, gains access to crucial improvements and leaves all design and architecture choices to the developer. The latter may be an issue if the developer requires more assistance from the tool to make these decisions.

Appcelerator. Enables developers to build apps with great speed using a JavaScript programming codebase. Its rapid nature demands the developer to be knowledgeable in JavaScript. It includes a community of support resources to aid developers, which can sometimes yield a slow response time, but nonetheless, it supports over 5,000 devices and OS APIs.

Sencha. Known as a high-end HTML5 framework, it holds enough power to develop apps with the look and feel of a native app. Its meshes well with other tools such as PhoneGap, for a more sophisticated functional app.

Kony. Lets developers build JavaScript apps for all platforms via helpful widgets and a drag-and-drop feel that makes it easy to move and import items. It supports a number of elements such as augmented reality, customer reporting, pre-built apps, API management, and more.

Rho Mobile. Gives developers an ability to build native-like apps within a Ruby-based open-source platform. It offers the RhoHub environment to code the app and the RhoSync independent server to store app data.

Monocross. An open-source mobile development framework that lets developers build sleek apps via C#, .NET, and the Mono structure. It offers full access to native device APIs using C#.

NativeScript. Free tool for Android and iOS apps built via JavaScript, Angular, or TypeScript. Fairly easy to use, with multiple integrations and plugins for added features. The tool does require familiarity with the command line, but it is packed with a suitable set of documentation.

Conclusion

Developers are at the heart of deciding which app tool to use, and we stand by the mantra of the more information, the better. Making informed decisions, knowing the audience, understanding the product, and defining its purpose will make it easy to decide which route to take. 

Information powers the decision-maker to use the best tools available for each type of scenario.

As mentioned before, there is no right or wrong in selecting a development tool. Instead, developers must identify which framework is better equipped to handle the desired functionalities. Both the native and cross-platform frameworks provide remarkable benefits that can help advance the success of any business that is in the process of building their app.

From our vantage standpoint and with our consulting services expertise, our recommendations are: 

  • if it’s a rich, heavily structured app with a wide range of functionalities for a specific platform, go with a native app. 
  • when looking for a fairly simple and informative app, than most likely a cross-platform development tool is the right path for you.

Do you feel like more details would be useful? We’ve got you covered - leave us a request and we will gladly provide consulting on your product or idea.

by Svitla Team
June 26, 2018

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