Cross-Platform App Development: Ending the iOS vs. Android Debate
It’s no longer enough to just develop an app for one platform. Most businesses and brands need to target myriad device types. However, developing for all platforms is challenging, especially for a company with limited resources. Fortunately, cross-platform app development frameworks help solve this problem.
We are seeing a huge increase in the variety and types of business apps that are being downloaded, with more consumers turning to mobile apps to interact with brands. In fact, it is estimated that between 2016 and 2020, yearly downloads will double to roughly 284 billion. In order to compete in this market, it is essential to have an app for multiple devices. Today, businesses that invest in mobile strategy need to consider the overwhelming number of mobile devices with different operating systems.
There is no easy answer to the iOS vs Android debate — both platforms are crucial for a successful mobile strategy. For this reason, the majority of apps are already multi-platform, to ensure no major user bases are missed. As a result, the best answer to this debate is to actually develop both apps, simultaneously. This is where cross-platform app development comes into play.
What is Cross-Platform App Development?
In a nutshell, cross-platform app development refers to creating a single app that can run seamlessly on all popular platforms. The idea behind most cross-platform frameworks is to limit development time and resources by writing code in one language that can easily be compiled to multiple platforms. This code is compiled against the native libraries of a specific platform in order to produce an app for each platform the developer targets. As a result, cross-platform apps leverage a single code base that can work on multiple operating systems. There are two types of cross-platform apps:
Native Cross-Platform Apps
Native cross-platform apps are created when you use application programming interfaces (APIs) that are provided by the native software development kit (SDK) but implement them in other programming languages that are not the standard way of developing for a particular porting system (e.g. Swift for iOS and Java for Android). Generally, a third-party vendor provides an integrated development environment (IDE), which controls the process of producing the native app bundle for iOS and Android from a single cross-platform codebase. NativeScript, Xamarin, and React Native are the most common examples of native cross-platform languages.
The final product is an app that still utilises native APIs and can achieve near-native performance, without any lag visible to the user. As such, native cross-platform app development frameworks can deliver a feature-rich, scalable and high-performance app solution.
Hybrid (HTML5) Cross-Platform Apps
Hybrid apps make it possible to embed HTML5 (web) apps inside a thin native container. This native app container allows the web apps to access and leverage native platform features and device hardware.
Hybrid cross-platform apps have always struggled to achieve a fully native look and feel, as they are basically WebViews. Therefore, this approach to development can sometimes result in performance issues when an app’s UI is rich in components. However, even though native cross-platform frameworks are very promising and can successfully be used in some situations, they are generally not ready for prime-time and hide a lot of complexity. Therefore, when choosing a cross-platform strategy, hybrid is considered the more rational approach as of today. It is for this reason the Liquid State platform leverages a hybrid framework.
Benefits of Going Cross-Platform
Cross-platform app development can reduce the time and costs associated with developing apps for multiple platforms. Here are 6 benefits of using cross-platform app development in your company’s mobile strategy.
#1 Greater Reach
Different mobile devices with a variety of interfaces make for a very fragmented market. Not only this, the number of smartphone users for these systems is increasing day by day. Consequently, the more platforms you develop for, the more customers you’ll be able to reach; tapping into a greater market potential.
Leveraging a cross-platform approach allows you to develop an app once and deploy across multiple platforms, including web. More specifically, by creating just one app you can tap into both iOS and Android target markets at the same time, gaining maximum exposure. As such, cross-platform app development is considered a worthwhile strategy for many businesses as it allows them to gain a wider reach.
Often, cross-platform apps are cheaper to build and maintain due to a number of factors. Cross-platform app development allows companies to get an app onto other platforms without having to invest in development specific to each individual system. Not only this, when cross-platform apps are properly architected, at least half of their code can be reused across platforms.
#3 Reusable Code
Around 50% to 80% of code can be reused across-platforms. This results in faster development and reduced costs. Rather than having to write the specific action or sequence for each platform, your developer can write the code once and then reuse those bits in later projects or for other platforms.
#4 Reduced Development
It’s hard to believe that there is a short route to mobile app development. However, the main advantage for enterprises to opt for cross-platform app development is to target multiple platforms with minimal development.
Smart app developers can use cross-platform frameworks to cut down the app development process to almost half the time. This ultimately results in rapid development of the same app that could take significantly more time if built natively for each platform.
#5 Easier Deployment & Maintenance
It is easier to maintain and deploy changes when you develop one application that runs across all platforms. Updates can immediately be synced across all devices and platforms, saving time and money. Furthermore, if a bug is found in the common codebase it only needs to be fixed once.
For these reasons, cross-platform app development provides significant benefits during the maintenance period. Unit tests also only have to be written once for the common code, which saves time and resources during testing.
#6 Uniform Design
In general, users are able to recognise UI elements and predict their interactions across multiple platforms. Therefore, a smooth and enjoyable user experience is critical for any app. When you are designing different apps, it can be hard to sync the different development projects to make the app appear the same.
Consistency is one of the crucial characteristics of a well-designed user experience. With cross-platform app development, the overall design and feel of the app can be maintained across various platforms. More specifically, cross-platform development tools allow developers and designers to create a uniform user experience that app users can appreciate.
In more than a few scenarios, the advantages of cross-platform apps make them a compelling solution for businesses seeking optimum use from a single app. As such, this approach is most frequently used when developing enterprise software. Even though native app development is 100% compatible with the platform, cross-platform apps can offer comparative performance at a more cost-effective price.
If your mobile app is supposed to become a business of its own, then going native may seem the obvious choice. On the other hand, for companies that want to create an app as an extension of their brand (i.e. an app for content distribution), then cross-platform app development may be the way to go.
Ultimately, the cross-platform app development framework you choose depends on the needs and goals of your app project. Here are some things to keep in mind when considering a cross-platform approach:
- The framework might not support every feature of an operating system or device. If a new feature is added, the framework you are using will need to be updated to support those new additions.
- Designing an app for the iPhone is different than designing one for Android; The UI and UX conventions are different, and consequently, touch points and menus work in different ways. A good cross-platform app looks native no matter what platform it is used on. However, a bad cross-platform app might try to act and look identical on every device, delivering a poor user experience.
There are some valid reasons to move ahead with cross-platform app development. The key to success is understanding the various frameworks and development agencies available to make the right choice for your strategy.
If you want to develop your app for multiple platforms, be clear about your decision and choose a company that can effectively accommodate this. One way to do this is to hire a company that is well versed in cross-platform apps. Spending the effort upfront to comprehensively consider your development options can save you a lot of headaches, time and money further down the road.
With the huge drive in mobile app downloads expected to continue, now is a good time to seriously consider your company’s mobile strategy. Liquid State offers a full and flexible cross-platform app framework supporting common interface components across Android, iOS and Web platforms. Our platform empowers businesses to build native, code-free, cross-platform apps for a variety of business functions.
Have you found the right app development platform to execute your mobile strategy?
With Liquid State, you can manage and deliver the right communications to the right people on the right devices. To chat with a professional about your future mobile app needs, contact us today.