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Cross-Platform App Development: Tools, Frameworks and Benefits

Let's imagine John - a man who has a fleet of vehicles. John wants to receive more orders. He decides to develop his application for calling a taxi. Of course, he wants to reach more customers: so he needs software for both IOS and Android. John understands - there will be two different applications. But he heard something about the fact that one can be made that will work on all smartphones.

What does Cross-Platform App Development stand for?

Native development is the development of a product written in original programming languages.  In cross-platform app dev, these languages must be created specifically for the chosen platform. For example, Java and Kotlin are native languages ​​for Android. Swift and Objective-C -- for iOS. A native application will only work on “its” platform. Cross-platform applications can run on multiple operating systems at once. For this, specialized cross-platform frameworks are used, for example, Flutter or React-Native.

Now John knows which is which. At first glance, cross-platform development seems to be more profitable. But then John understands that there are significant differences in approaches.

What does the Cross-App Platform Framework mean?

Cross-platform frameworks can be divided into two groups. First - Hybrid-Native (first approach, hybrid-native development). Second - Hybrid-Web (second approach, hybrid web development).

Types of Cross-Platform Mobile Applications

Native Cross-Platform Apps‍

The hybrid-native approach combines frameworks with a native user interface and common code. And it also includes  cross-platform frameworks with a common codebase and native code. Among them: cross-platform application development frameworks React Native, Xamarin, NativeScript, Flutter and Thunkable Native app builder

For example, React Native is used to translating application code into machine language. It allows providing the native look and feel of mobile applications.

When working with React Native, you need to build your own controls. Then you build a hierarchy with integration in mind. After, you develop a React Native user interface.

Flutter allows you to create applications in the Dart language. Flutter offers a lot of interface elements that look but are not native to the OS. This framework may be suitable for creating a unified UX, and it takes a different approach than React Native.

Flutter does not turn source code into native code, which is executed by the platform. In fact, it draws a window on the phone screen and displays all the elements by itself.

Hybrid Application‍

Hybrid web development for cross-platform applications is based on frameworks. These frameworks have a web interface and common components and a single codebase that runs anywhere. An example of such a cross-platform framework for app development is Ionic.

So, hybrid cross-platform app platforms can be used when:

  • the task is to quickly develop an application for more than 2 mobile platforms;

  • you need to save on the budget while developing a cross-platform app;

  • it requires a relatively simple application without complex animations

  • many parameters of the native functionality can be excluded from the development.

With the development of mobile projects in the world, the demand for mobile development is growing. The speed of creating applications is growing. Interest in simple solutions with an affordable development cost is growing. All this opens up huge opportunities for improving hybrid applications. These can often turn out to be no worse than native ones.

When choosing between hybrid and native app development, it is important to keep an eye on the market.  You should prioritize launch speed, cost, and performance correctly.

Main Problems in Cross-Platform App Development Process

1. Limited platform support

Any cross-platform framework for development is a layer of abstraction over the native platform. It allows you to access only those features that are directly supported by the framework.

In most cases, it is possible to expand support for platform capabilities. For example, by writing native plugins for the framework. In some cases, this can significantly complicate development. 

You also need to note that native plugins and the main code of a cross-platform application, as a rule, run in different processes.  The interaction between them can cause performance problems. For working with sensors, or SQLite, this is usually not a problem. If you use, say, the OpenCV library as a native plugin and start throwing videos between it and the main application... The slowdown can be significant.

2. Limited supply in the labor market

First, the very existence of the developers depends on the prevalence of the framework. Finding people with React Native can be even easier than finding native developers. With Flutter, for example, it's much more difficult.

How much this factor needs to be taken into account depends on the tasks. Most startups may not pay attention to it, as learning a new technology is more of a bonus for existing and potential employees. On the other hand, big business is forced to take into account the labor market.

3. Support risks

The likelihood that support for a cross-platform framework will end is much higher. In comparison with the likelihood of the same event for a mobile OS.

In fact, the question is quite complex. OS can shut down in the same way as frameworks (Windows Phone example is quite recent). In addition, inside native development, individual technologies can also be closed. Sometimes the code on cross-platform frameworks has greater survivability.

An example of this is in the field of games and multimedia. Apple is going to retire OpenGL technology in its OS. Everyone who wrote native 3D applications will have to completely rewrite them to release new versions. What about those who have used cross-platform game engines (such as Unity)? The update will not require any additional effort.

Benefits of Cross-Platform App Development

But of course, cross-platform app development also has a number of advantages. These make it a great technology that continues to evolve.

1. The Product is Exposed to the Target Audience

Your user base is expanding due to the appearance of the application in several stores at the same time. Cross-platform applications offer developers more options to reach a wider audience. Such applications reach users of all mobile devices, regardless of their operating system. This is significantly more cost-effective for the business.

2. Reduced Cost of Development

Single-source code saves you the hassle of hiring multiple developers for each platform. In Cross-Platform App Development,  team can implement the idea across all platforms at once using a single technology stack. This results in less resource waste.

3. Easy to Maintain & Deploy

Developers of those apps do not need to study several technology stacks. Cross-Platform App Development is much more simple in this sense. They don't need to study different platforms. They need to become familiar with one development stack and the specifics of its use.

There is no need to create different codebases. Initial deployment to target platforms is much faster.

In addition, future changes to the application can be made concurrently. Without making individual changes on each platform.

4. Quicker Process of Development

In a native approach creating separate applications for each of several operating systems at once... It can significantly extend the development process. The same program code cannot be deployed on different platforms. It will take longer for programmers to transform and rewrite the code. So it increases development costs and time. Cross-platform development relieves you of this problem. Learn how much time it takes to develop an app

5. Code You Can Use Twice

75% of the codebase of a cross-platform application can be reused, adapting it for new projects. In a multi-platform app development, reusable code is certainly a benefit.

6. Integrate with Cloud easier

The single source code also makes it easy to integrate a cross-platform application with the cloud platform. Enterprise-grade plugins are available to integrate your business applications with the cloud. It makes them universally compatible.

7. Time-to-Market shorter. Customisation easier

Cross-platform applications take less time to support and develop. It means they get to market faster and are much easier to customize.  You can edit one code instead of making changes to versions for each platform.

8. UI/UX are the same

While performance is important to any mobile app, its look and feel (UI) and feel (UX) are also important. The use of a single common development team and a single code allows companies to use the same look for the application across all platforms. That is, the same user interface and UX will look the same across all platforms.

Tools for Cross-Platform App Development

Cross-platform mobile application development technology implies the use of special frameworks. It is used to create an application based on the JavaScript family of languages. All the structure and logic of the application are created using tools in JavaScript. (such as React Native, Flutter, PhoneGap, etc.)

And then it's wrapped in a native trigger, i.e. integrates into the base project for XCode or Android Studio. This allows you to create project assemblies. It will have the same logic for several operating systems at once.

A simple analogy can be seen in the case of Personal computers. MS Word, Skype, mail agents, calendars... All these are natively developed applications for the desktop operating system. Everything that happens in the browser is cross-platform technologies. For example, websites, online text, and graphics editors, social networks, chats, forums.

How to Develop a Cross-Platform Mobile App?

Have you considered all the pros and cons of cross-platform development? If you've already decided that you want to develop exactly cross-platform - it's time to find out how! If you prefer web development, then we advice you to read a guide on how to create a web app.

Choose Cross-Platform  Mobile App Development Tools

For starters, of course, you should choose a framework. Above, we have already considered the advantages of certain frameworks. When choosing, you should proceed with your skills and the needs of the application in the future.

 UI / UX Design

Decide on the UI / UX design of the application. You need to think through everything in advance in order to have a clear plan of action.

Select Appropriate Cross-Platform Apps Modules

You can take advantage of ready-made Cross-Platform Apps Modules to reduce development time. Modules with a wide range of tools really save time. Cross-platform mobile app development has a lot of opportunities.

API Services for Cross-Platform Mobile Apps

You should pay attention here. What kind of API services you can use for cross-platform mobile development? Unfortunately, not every API service may be compatible, so pay attention to this.

How to deal with Multiple Platforms?

In the cross-platform world, all frameworks are roughly the same in their structure. At the heart of everything is the target platform, for which the development is underway. Then abstraction layer, which they promise to make quickly, cheaply, and beautifully.  And between them, there is a bridge connecting these two entities. The abstraction layer is mostly represented by a bunch of JS and CSS (partially or completely). This architecture has typical problems.

They are partly due to the fact that the layer of abstraction...  Relatively speaking, is trying to sit on two chairs - with varying degrees of success. Hence the difficulty: on each platform, the application is displayed and behaves differently. Sometimes this is not a problem. But sometimes unique design and behavior on both platforms are additional business value.

Cross-Platform Testing

In cross-platform developing, testing is a very important step in software quality assurance. 
For desktop applications, the number of OS/system configuration combinations is too large. So it is necessary to conduct a deeper analysis of the audience. You should also highlight the most important combinations for testing.

Cross-platform testing is done to determine the behavior of the application. You should test the website in different environments. Cross-platform testing helps in identifying issues that can vary by platform or configuration. These issues are consistency, user experience, usability issues, and performance. So don't forget to test before you upload your app to the store! As a bonus, we advice you to read this guide on how to build and submit your mobile app in 2 weeks.