InsightsMobileDevopsAndroidiOSReact NativeIonicPlatform

Best Tools for Cross Platform App Development

cross platform mobile app development toolscross platform mobile app developmentcross platform app developmentcross platform mobile development

In today’s digital world, there are countless devices running numerous mobile operating systems all around the world. To reach the largest possible audience, you would have to publish your app on each of these different mobile platforms. 

 

However, creating an app for different operating systems like Android and iOS isn’t an easy task. You would have to create the app multiple times for different platforms with different technologies and different tools. This can consume a lot of time, money and effort, especially if you’re a small company and you don’t have that many resources to spare. This is where cross-platform development tools come in.

 

We already introduced you to cross-platform mobile development and its advantages over native development. We also mentioned some of the popular frameworks in this space. Finally, we discussed what to consider before choosing between Flutter, React Native, Ionic, Xamarin for your next cross-platform mobile development project.

 

Now, to help you get a full picture of the most incredible tools for cross platform development to get you started building your app project:

 

  • Mobile App Development
  • Cross-Platform Development Pros and Cons
  • Best Tools for Cross-Platform Development

 

Mobile App Development

Before diving in, let’s just recap the the three main ways to develop an app: 

 

Web Apps

Web apps are apps that run on the web and are stored from remote servers. These apps are then loaded and shown on devices through a browser interface like Chrome or Safari.

 

Even though web apps can be great in some cases, they do have their own setbacks. The first problem with web apps is that they require constant internet connectivity to be able to run on your device as they’re loaded from the web and aren’t stored on the device. Another problem is that the apps aren’t available in any mobile app store, which can make it harder for users to find and use them.

 

Hybrid Cross-Platform Apps

Hybrid apps are web apps that are wrapped and packaged inside a native container, allowing a hybrid app to run on the device as if it was a native application built in the same programming language as the operating system on the device. Hybrid cross-platform apps are mainly developed in HTML5, JavaScript and CSS.

 

Hybrid cross-platform apps solve the problems that web apps face, where they do not require internet connectivity as they are running a native shell. Hybrid apps can also be published on the app stores where users can easily find them, increasing the chances of discoverability and consequently your number of users.

 

Native Apps

A native mobile app is an app developed to work on a specific platform or operating system.

For iOS, developers write apps in Swift or Objective-C, while for Android, developers write Android apps in Kotlin or Java. As for the mobile app development tools used, iOS developers use Apple’s Xcode while Android developers use Android Studio as their main IDEs (Integrated Development Environment).

 

Native Cross-Platform Apps

Native cross-platform tools allow you to write your code once and then have that code translated into the native code of multiple operating systems, allowing you to publish your mobile app on different platforms with minimal effort. Native cross-platform apps are the perfect combination of hybrid apps and native apps, allowing developers to reuse code for various features, as well as improved performance similar to that of native apps.

Cross-Platform Development

Cross-platform mobile app development is the process of creating mobile apps that can be deployed or published on multiple platforms using a single codebase, instead of having to develop the app multiple times using the respective native technologies for each platform.

 

Cross-Platform Development Pros

There are many advantages when it comes to cross-platform development.

 

Reusable Code: Cross-platform development tools allow you to write your code once then export your app to many operating systems and platforms without having to create a dedicated app for every single platform.

 

Convenience: Cross-platform development tools save you the hassle of having to learn multiple programming languages and instead offer you one substitute for all of these different technologies.

 

Maintainable Code: Whenever you modify or update your app, you only have to update your codebase once and the changes would be synced and reflected in all the apps on different platforms.

 

Cost Efficiency: Cross-platform development allows you to save the cost of having multiple teams working on different versions of your app and substituting them with one team. Most cross-platform development tools are also free to use, with some offering paid subscriptions for additional features.

 

Market Reach: By publishing your app on multiple platforms, you’re casting a wider net and increase your chances of having a larger user base and consequently a higher return on investment and higher revenues.

 

Cross-Platform Development

Cross-Platform Development Cons

While cross-platform development tools have a lot of advantages that make them worthy, they certainly do come with a few setbacks and there are a few situations when cross-platform development might not be the way to go for you.

 

Performance: While some cross-platform development tools provide you with performance that is close to a native app, they are still never quite as good. That’s why you shouldn’t be using cross-platform development tools if your app’s performance is a high priority for you.

 

3D and Graphics: Just like performance, cross-platform development tools aren’t known for delivering the best graphics and user experiences and can lack access to core OS libraries like graphics. Cross-development might not be the best option for you if your app relies heavily on graphics, which is the case with many mobile games.

 

Single Platform App: If you’re building your app to be published on a single platform such as iOS or Android), then you should develop a native app. In this case, you would only need one team using one technology without sacrificing the performance losses of cross-platform apps.

 

Platform-Specific Features: While cross-platform development tools offer many of the basic features shared between different platforms, they can lack some of the specific features offered by Apple, Google, and Microsoft on their respective operating systems.

 

Device-Specific Features: Cross-platform development tools can give you access to different aspects of your device, like the camera or GPS, but if your app needs to access and deal with the device hardware directly, then it’s better and more efficient for you to develop a native app.

 

Delayed Updates: Whenever a new update is released for a specific platform with any changes or added features, it could take some time until those changes are reflected across all cross-platform development tools.

Best Tools for Cross-Platform Development

Despite some limitations, cross platform development is truly a solution that is fast, cost-efficient, optimal solution for many businesses and startups best friends. All the above solid pros, they are the evidence that companies should consider to switch to cross-platform app development without a second thought.

 

To help you work on cross-platform mobile application development, we will be looking at the best cross-platform frameworks for developing mobile apps.

 

  • React Native
  • Xamarin
  • Apache Cordova
  • Ionic
  • Adobe PhoneGap

React Native

React Native is a cross-platform native mobile app development framework created by Facebook based on their React JavaScript library. React Native mainly uses JavaScript with JSX, an extension of JavaScript, ES6 (ECMAScript 6), a major update to JavaScript that includes dozens of new features, and React.JS, a JavaScript library for building user interfaces.

 

React Native allows you to build mobile apps using React Native components, which are then compiled into native apps that are almost identical to apps written using native tools.

 

React Native Pros

Some of the advantages of cross-platform mobile app development using React Native include:

 

Reusable Code: Develop an app and export it on multiple platforms from a single codebase.

 

App Stores: Publish your app on the most popular app stores of the respective platforms.

 

Performance: React Native compiles your app into native apps, which are almost identical to apps created using native tools, making it faster than hybrid apps that have to run code inside a platform-specific web component.

 

Native UI Components: React Native allows you to create views using React Native UI components, which are compiled into platform-specific UI components, unlike other cross-platform tools that use HTML tags. By offering ready-made components, this saves you a lot of time compared to writing everything from scratch.

 

Hot Reloading: A feature available in React Native that allows changes in the code to take effect right away in iOS and Android apps so that you can visualize the changes immediately.

 

Testing: Debugging React Native apps is fairly easy as it publishes native apps, which can be tested on physical devices using a tool like Expo, a free and open source toolchain built around React Native, without the need to open them in Xcode or Android Studio.

 

Native Code: Unlike most other cross-platform development tools, React Native allows you to further modify your published native apps separately and it gives you the option to even combine between your React Native code and native code, whether it’s Swift, Objective-C, or Java. This is great in case you want to implement separate visual components for different platforms using platform-specific code.

 

Reliability: React Native is created by Facebook and many of the world’s top mobile apps use React Native including Facebook, Instagram, SoundCloud, and Skype. So needless to say, it’s very stable and reliable.

 

React Native

React Native Cons

While React Native is one of the best cross-platform development tools out there at the moment, it is certainly not perfect. Some of the disadvantages of React Native include:

 

New Technologies: Learning JSX and ECMAScript isn’t as easy and would probably take more time than other familiar technologies like HTML and CSS.

 

Native UI Components: While the UI components are one of the biggest advantages of React Native, there is only a few number of ready-made ones available at the moment considering it’s still a fairly new cross-platform development framework. This is sure to change with time.

 

Native Code: In some instances, you might have to write native or platform-specific code in your mobile apps, especially if you need to access the device hardware like the camera or GPS, which can defeat the purpose of cross-platform development and can deem React Native useless for smaller teams.

 

Almost-Perfect Performance: While React Native excels in terms of performance compared to most other cross-platform development frameworks, it’s still never as good as native apps development using platform-specific tools and languages.

Xamarin

Xamarin is a cross-platform mobile app development framework owned by Microsoft based on Mono, a free and open-source .NET framework, to create native apps using C#.

 

Xamarin Pros

Xamarin cross-platform mobile app development has multiple advantages.

 

Reusable Code: Develop an app and export it on multiple platforms from a single codebase.

 

App Store: Publish your app on the app stores of the respective platforms.

 

Complete Development Stack: Xamarin is considered by many developers to be the most complete cross-platform mobile app development framework. It has its own dedicated stack with C# as the programming language; Visual Studio as the IDE, which is completely integrated with Xamarin; .NET as a development platform; Xamarin Test Cloud for testing; and Xamarin.Insights for analytics.

 

Performance: Xamarin apps are also almost identical to native apps in terms of performance. Xamarin apps are faster than hybrid apps, which have to run code inside a platform-specific web component.

 

Native UI Components: Create views using Xamarin Native UI components, which are compiled into platform-specific UI components, either through Xamarin.Forms, which contains a complete cross-platform UI toolkit for .NET developers, or through Native UI development.

 

Plugins and APIs: Xamarin offers a set of plugins and APIs that allow access to hardware functionality. It also supports customization through linking with native libraries.

 

Testing: By installing the Xamarin.Forms Live Player app on a physical device, you can test and debug your apps immediately with a live preview and synchronize your app with the device in real time.

 

Reliability: Xamarin was acquired by Microsoft in 2016 and as of today has over 1.4 million developers in over 120 countries. So it’s definitely reliable and well-maintained.

 

Xamarin University: Xamarin provides a live, interactive, mobile development training led by Xamarin experts with over 80 courses covering 10 tracks, allowing you to easily learn the technologies needed to get started right away and always stay up-to-date.

 

Xamarin

 

Xamarin Cons

While Xamarin can be great for many use cases, it has some pitfalls.

 

App Size: Xamarin app sizes are generally known to be larger than native ones, which isn’t ideal in terms of memory management. This is because of the libraries which are used to translate C# calls into native calls.

 

Delayed Updates: Xamarin can sometimes fail to keep up with the updates released on supported platforms, including new features or changes, which can cause issues with your app until the Xamarin libraries are updated.

 

Native Code: When using Xamarin.iOS or Xamarin.Android to develop mobile apps with a native look and feel, you will need some basic knowledge of native languages like Objective-C, Swift, and Java. This isn’t required for Xamarin.Forms, though.

 

Graphics: While Xamarin builds apps for multiple platforms using a single codebase, it only mostly shares the code logic between the platforms while UI components are mostly platform-specific. This makes Xamarin a bad choice for mobile apps that rely heavily on graphics like mobile games.

 

Apache Cordova

Apache Cordova is a cross-platform mobile app development framework for building hybrid mobile apps using web technologies including HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

 

Apache Cordova Pros

Some of the advantages of cross-platform mobile app development using Apache Cordova include:

 

Reusable Code: Develop an app and export it on multiple platforms from a single codebase.

 

App Store: Publish your app on the app stores of the respective platforms.

 

Supported Platforms: Apache Cordova supports a large number of mobile platforms and operating systems that most developers need, including Android, iOS, Windows 8.1, iPhone 8.1 and 10, OS X, allowing you to reach almost all mobile users.

 

Available Plugins: Cordova offers a wide range of plugins that provide you with the ability to access the device capabilities that your mobile app needs.

 

Familiar Technologies: Cordova isn’t a programming language, so you can develop your apps using web technologies that you already know, like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. You can also use the tools that you are already familiar with, including the editor you use, as it doesn’t have an official IDE that you have to abide by.

 

Apache Cordova

 

Apache Cordova Cons

As is the case with any cross-platform mobile app development tool, Cordova has some setbacks, including:

 

Performance: Mobile apps created with Apache Cordova suffer from performance issues as it is a hybrid cross-platform mobile app development tool.

 

Apache Cordova Development Tools: Due to the fact that Apache Cordova uses web technologies like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, most of the development tools used for Apache Cordova are optimized for web development, not mobile app development.

 

Testing: Debugging your code in Apache Cordova can be a pain. While you can usually fix any code issues using your development tools, you will need to use platform-specific tools to fix issues that occur in a specific platform.

 

Technologies: While web technologies like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript might be familiar, you will need experience in both web and mobile apps to create Cordova mobile apps.

 

Supported Platforms: Cordova has had many of its supported platforms deprecated over the years, including BlackBerry, Firefox OS, Symbian, Ubuntu Touch, webOS, and Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows Phone 10. While it might be tough for Cordova to deprecate larger platforms like iOS and Android, there is still no guarantee that it will keep supporting any of its current platforms.

 

Delayed Updates: Cordova can sometimes fail to keep up with the updates released on supported platforms, including new features or changes, which can cause issues with your app to the extent that it could be removed from the app store until it’s updated.

 

Plugins: While Cordova offers one of the highest numbers of plugins out of any cross-platform development tool out there, it still doesn’t compare to native mobile app development tools.

 

Ionic

Originally launched in 2012, around the same time when web-based technologies like JavaScript started to be used for building extensively to deploy native apps for iOS, Android and other popular mobile operating systems.

 

Ionic is an open source framework used for the development of cross-platform apps and Progressive Web Apps (PWAs), based on the HTML5 programming language. Furthermore, the framework features a wealth of front-end building blocks, which helps with the development of highly user-friendly mobile apps. Apart from HTML5, Ionic also uses CSS and JavaScript at its core. Additionally, in order to run your app on multiple platforms it has to be wrapped with Cordova or PhoneGap.

 

Ionic Pros

Reusable Code: Ionic apps run on different platforms such as Android, iOS, Windows etc. As a result, you don’t have to write codes for each platform. It reduces development time a lot. Framework’s focus on HTML, CSS, and JS enables quick development, low costs, and minimal maintenance.

 

Easy to learn: If you have familiarity with HTML, CSS and Javascript you can learn it very fast

 

Easy documentation: Ionic has very good and well documentation. Most of the things are covered on their official site. So you don’t have to move around different sites to learn.

 

Rapid development: When you run a command it generates all files with template codes.  So you don’t have to write everything from scratch.

 

Ionic

 

Ionic Cons

Performance: Native mobile application’s performance is better than Ionic app, namely animations, scrolling, and network operations.

 

Security: If you are developing financial app, for example, an app for bank, Ionic framework is not recommended. It may not provide as much security as native application.

 

Limited native functionality: There may be some native functions that may be not available in Ionic framework. In that case you have to develop the plugin yourself. However, there are many plugins available to cover native functionalities.

 

Technologies: Building in-app navigation can be notably complex, as the UI-router is tricky to maneuver at present. It is not suited for high-end graphics dependent applications or games.

 

Need for specialists: JS can be tricky to learn. And you’ll need someone who can not only “do” JS, but also have deep knowledge of a handful of advanced libraries and technologies including Angular, Cordova, Ionic, etc.

 

Early adopter risk: This technology is still in its infancy. Support keeps changing, standards keep changing, and libraries can be completely rewritten at any time.

 

Adobe PhoneGap

Adobe PhoneGap provides a way for users to create mobile applications using technologies such as HTML, CSS, and Javascript. Applications created with PhoneGap can be distributed to various vendor app stores and installed on an end-user’s device like any other native application. Each vendor provides a different toolchain, and each PhoneGap release is compatible with a specific set of tools.

 

Adobe PhoneGap Pros

Easier getting started: Anybody with the basic skills of HTML5/CSS/Javascript can jump into the foray of PhoneGap mobile app development. All they need to have is the expertise to augment the Web components with that of the native SDK.

 

Reusable Code: An app developed using PhoneGap framework exhibits compatibility with iOS, Android, Windows 7 and mobile web. Thus, it drastically, reduces the mobile app development and delivery cost.

 

Rapid testing and deployment: The testing team doesn?t need to cross-check the universal aspects built using Web elements of the app across multiple platforms or devices. They have to focus only on the UI aspect that drives user engagement.

 

Adobe PhoneGap

 

Adobe PhoneGap Cons

Performance: If you need to build an app with rich graphics, particularly games, we would suggest you go for an alternative and adopt native mobile app development. Though 3rd party caching solutions for native graphics acceleration are there, expecting too much from them could be a mistaken belief.

 

Lack of UI Widgets: Users want the native app experience but the unavailability of compatible UI widgets raises a challenge for a PhoneGap developer. The PhoneGap framework offers limited pre-built UI elements and, hence, they often have to rely on external resources. This often delays the delivery.

 

Flutter

Flutter is Google’s modern development kit designed to build mobile apps for Android, iOS, and Google Fuchsia. Flutter is not a framework but rather an SDK for applications designed for a touch screen. Its primary purpose is to work with iOS and Android devices but can run on other platforms as well.

 

As for the interface site, Google’s framework uses Skia, an open source 2D rendering engine. This set of components allows creating UI in a way – for those of you familiar with game development – engines like Unity allow creating games.

 

It is because widgets are the core of this framework. Everything in Flutter is a custom widget created to look natively both for iOS (Cupertino) and Android (Material Design) devices. The whole UI design is all about combining those widgets, including text, shapes, animation.  They determine even aspects of the layout like padding. You can even build your own complex widgets from simpler ones.

 

Flutter Pros

Hot reload: One great thing about Flutter is hot reload. Developers can see all the changes they’ve made to the code right away in the app. It takes just seconds to see changes, so teams can quickly add new features, fix bugs, and experiment. 

 

Hot reload enables better collaboration between developers and designers when they want to improve how the app looks and check effects immediately. There are some limitations to hot reloading, though.

 

With native app development, you need to wait up to several minutes to see every change you make.

 

Reusable Code: There’s no need to build separately for two platforms. You can build just once, have one codebase, and use that one codebase for two applications. Besides cross platform development, Flutter can give you a start on developing for the Fuchsia platform. Fuchsia is an experimental operating system in development at Google. Many think that Fuchsia is the future replacement for Android.

 

Perfect for an MVP: If you want to show your product to investors as soon as possible, you can build a Flutter mobile application that looks native on both Android and iOS. Thus, your investors will have a clear idea of what your MVP looks like. Developing two separate apps would take much more time and money.

 

Less code: The programming language of Flutter is Dart. Dart is object-oriented and strongly typed. Flutter resembles React Native, and its programming style is reactive and declarative. Flutter doesn’t need to use a JavaScript bridge, which improves app startup times and overall performance. Dart achieves this thanks to Ahead-of-Time, or AOT, compilation. Dart also makes use of Just-in-Time, or JIT, compilation. JIT compilation with Flutter improves the development workflow by allowing for a hot reload capability to refresh the UI during development without the need for an entirely new build. Flutter means less code. And where there’s less code, there are fewer bugs. With Dart, 100% of the code is usually shared between iOS and Android apps.

 

Widgets: Widgets are necessary for an app’s view and interface. They must have a natural look and feel regardless of screen size. They also must be fast, extensible, and customizable. Flutter takes the everything’s a widget approach. It has a rich set of widgets and extensive capabilities for creating complex custom widgets. In Flutter, widgets aren’t only used for views. They’re also used for entire screens and even for the app itself.

 

Native features: Some platform – specific functions like camera and geolocation require access to native features. These functions need to be implemented by means of native languages, and Flutter gives the feel of developing on the native platform. Flutter allows you to reuse your existing Java, Swift, and Objective-C code to access native features and SDKs on iOS and Android.

 

Official support: Since Flutter is Google’s initiative, the framework has a big name behind it. There’s great support from the Material Design team and a community of over 1000 developers who are willing to contribute to the growth of this framework.

 

Easy to set up: Flutter is easy to set up and start coding on low-end machines. You don’t need to be worried that your operating system won’t be able to handle Flutter. Quite the contrary, Flutter doesn’t require a powerful machine.

 

 

Flutter Cons

The framework is relatively young, and it’s still growing and developing. The toolkit has its flaws.

 

Limited libraries: Google supports Flutter and there are many helpful libraries. However, the framework is relatively new. You won’t find every functionality you’re looking for. Native apps, on the contrary, have everything in their native SDKs including Stripe, Twilio, and most streaming services such as WoWza and UStream. With Flutter, developers would have to build these libraries themselves, which is time-consuming.

 

Continuous Integration: There are many ready-made solutions for native Android and iOS apps that allow them to work with CI platforms like Travis and Jenkins. There are also ready-made Flutter solutions for most popular CI platforms like Travis or Circle. However, you need to set up the toolkit for these kinds of platforms.

 

Conclusion

Picking up the right cross-platform app development tools is important for building a solid app. Whether we’re talking about enterprise mobile apps or consumer apps, choosing the right tool for the job isn’t a quick or easy process.

 

With such a broad offering of development platforms, it’s easy to get lost. It all depends on your business goals, your budget, and even on your resources.

 

At Wiredelta our weapon of choice is cross-platform development as it is fast, cost-efficient and enables our developers to be truly full-stack. We are well versed in Ionic and React Native mobile apps, but Flutter and PWAs are not challenges that we would avoid for now. So if you have a project you want to start, don’t hesitate to reach out to us today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *