With the world getting increasingly digitized and the global mobile phone penetration keeping pace with this rapid growth, companies are starting to question how they can maximize their online market share. Apps on App Store and Google Play Market are no longer used to generate revenue, but also as a medium to raise brand awareness. Everyone wants to get in on the action and reach a wider audience than ever possible before. However, due to the vast variety of smartphones and tablets, with different screen resolutions, hardware features, configurations and OS, a single-platform native app solution will mean losing the audience on other platforms. Hence, the alternative cross-platform development has become a growing trend. It delivers a single-codebase app with cross-platform compatibility, which speeds up development time and cuts costs incurred by separate native apps developed for every platform.
What are Cross-Platform Apps?
Cross-platform mobile applications essentially have a single codebase, that needs to be compiled only once to run on multiple platforms and operating systems (OS). The idea is to use a single language/toolset to create an app without strict spec requirements so that it has cross-platform compatibility. While developers may still need to create different use cases for iOS and Android apps, a single cross-platform application will be able to run on both platforms simultaneously.
Pros of Cross-Platform App Development
Cross-platform app development can offer many competitive advantages that can help address some of the challenges faced by businesses, software vendors and developers alike.
1. Wide Market Reach
Many businesses face the dilemma of deciding between android or iOS, the two leading OS in mobile market share when starting mobile app development. Choosing either one would mean losing the audience on the other. With increasing mobile penetration, an app with cross-platform compatibility could convert for larger market potential and a wider audience.
2. Faster Development
To build and launch an app, developers have to leverage only one codebase. That means you don’t need separate development teams or projects for Android and iOS development. Once the coding phase is done, you can reuse a big chunk of code between platforms which makes the app development up to 50%- 80% quicker. This helps development teams meet project deadlines in a timely manner.
3. Lower Development Cost
Cross-platform development will run you 30% cheaper than creating apps for each Android and iOS platform. You don’t need additional development teams having different skills and knowledge of programming languages or technologies. A single project and codebase is enough to get the task done. Businesses could upload their universal app on extra platforms such as App Store and Google Play Market without spending on a separate native application.
4. Code Reusability
In the case of native development, separate development teams are engaged to write unique app code across different platforms. Cross-platform development leverages the codebase in bits and pieces for future projects on different platforms. Even one developer can handle both platforms concurrently as the codebase is in one place.
5. Consistency Between Platforms
Sometimes implementing different functions across two native apps on separate platforms can be a challenge for development teams. While most UI differences are handled by default by popular cross-platform development stacks and trending frameworks, the difference in design and build navigation for Android and iOS adds to the complexity of native development. Hence, it is more convenient to build standardized apps with cross-platform compatibility to maintain the overall design and represent a coherent brand identity across both platforms.
6. Maintenance and Updates
For native applications, you need to make changes in code for both Android and iOS projects to update the end digital product. In the case of cross-platform development, the process is significantly easier as well as faster since updates are made in a singular multi-platform code and all changes will sync so you can see it reflected across all platforms immediately. Compared to native development, with cross-platform app development you are not only saving on the upfront cost of development, but also for maintenance, bug fixing, and code customization according to usage statistics and feedback in the later stages.
7. Developer Friendly
8. Simple Prototyping
A Cross-platform mobile app can be developed as an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) or prototype to test business concept and present ideas to stakeholders. Since development cost is less than native development and it will give a wider market reach, this will help startups avoid risks early on. Additionally, it won’t take much longer to launch a complete app, maximizing business probability.
Cons of Cross-Platform App Development
There is the other side of the coin too because cross-platform app development poses its own share of challenges ranging from UI/UX problems to speed issues.
Cross-platform apps have a higher code complexity than a native app and can experience integration issues with the target OS. This is primarily due to possible communication problems between the native and non-native components of the target device. It can come in the way of the app’s potential to deliver optimal performance, especially when dealing with graphics.
2. Sluggish Code Performance and Limited Development Tools
Due to cross-compliance of code during the development stage can cause potential overhead in the compiled code. The code performs increasingly sluggish, especially if the chosen development tool is unable optimally to adjust the generated code – possibly doubling the app size, which can significantly impact the downtown, data cost, and app speed.
3. Limited User Experience
Due to performance challenges and a possibly unfamiliar unified design (for iOS and Android users), it may be difficult to meet the desired user experience standards. Moreover, since cross-platform apps are not developed on platform-specific IDEs it will give limited access to each device’s features, hardware and software components. Additional issues may arise from device native APIs integration, as a unified solution does not focus on each device features which can lead to major bugs.
4. Poor UI/UX design
It is impossible to create a one-for-all code that provides the same level of functionality on every device. The inconsistency in devices features means that developers have to simplify app features including screen layouts and graphics to bring consistency in the look across each device.
5. Long Wait for Update Integration
While Apple or Google adds new features to iOS or Android, it takes time for the chosen development frameworks to integrate the new functionality to its set of development tools. This prevents users from experiencing the benefits of the new features (due to OS updates) in most cross-platform apps.
6. Higher Rate of Platform Rejection
Google Play and App store have high standards for performance and user experience. Many cross-platform apps fail to meet these requirements due to performance and user experience challenges, so they are excluded from these platforms.
7. Customization and Native Feature Integration Issues
Sometimes cross-platform development frameworks do not support all OS features, including some essential device features related to hardware functionality, internal storage access and integrating device local setting functionality. Yet, this may not be an issue in some trending frameworks, so it can’t be stressed enough that the choice of the framework should be made wisely. A lack of access to most device native features, also adds to the problem result in limited customization options and blocks most operations of the end digital product.
8. Code loss
For many cross-platform app development frameworks, your code is locked-into a project in such a manner that it can only be accessed from the specific platform. In the case of switching to a new platform, there could be potential code loss.
Choosing Between Native and Cross-Platform
It is imperative to make an informed decision when choosing between native development and cross-platform development. Cross-platform development has the advantage of being cost-effective with faster development speed, which is usually a big win for startups looking for a low-risk solution. However, if your app demands a high level of customization, complex features, and optimal usability then native development might be more suitable. For every app owner, the choice between the two will always be based on their unique reasoning. This essentially means to arrive at a well-rounded solution, you’ll have to weigh out the pros and cons from the perspective of your application requirements/features.