Native or Cross-Platform App Development
Scrolling, scrolling, and more scrolling is what we do all day and you’d agree. Whether we’re shopping online, ordering food, or mindlessly scrolling through social media; we are literally living in mobile apps.
This is encouraging news for app developers and businesses which plan to go mobile. But the next point of concern where the unsettling debate starts is: which development platform is better; native or cross-platform?
There’s no universal answer to this question. But we’ll cover the positives and negatives of both platforms so you can make a better decision for your business. In this rundown, you’ll read about how each of these platforms works and what to consider when choosing an approach to build a mobile app.
What is Native App Development?
Native app development means building a mobile application exclusively for a single platform through its native operating environment. Platform-specific programming languages and tools are used to develop native applications. For instance, you will opt for Xcode and Swift/Objective-C to develop a native iOS app while opting for Android Studio and Kotlin/Java for a native Android app.
Native app development uses APIs/ frameworks specifically designed for accessing a device’s functions and hardware like proximity sensors, cameras, GPS, microphones, and so on. As a result, these apps can provide greater speed and a better user experience. The app’s look and feel are also matched to the platform’s UX, which improves the user experience.
Despite being typically preferred by mobile app developers, Native app development has its own pros and cons. Let’s take a look.
Advantages of Native App Development
- High Speed:
Speed is one of the most crucial factors that plays an important role in user engagement and retention. A delay of a few seconds is enough to make the user stray off. Unlike hybrid and cross-platform apps, native apps don’t come with complex code and turn out to be comparatively faster. Majority of the app elements are preloaded in advance hence displayed promptly. Higher speed also makes it easier for native apps to be published and ranked higher on the platform’s app store.
- Broad Functionality:
The developers have access to all the APIs and tools provided by the platform that they’re working on. These APIs can directly access the device’s hardware features such as camera and microphone, ensuring quicker execution.
- Offline Accessibility:
Native apps stand out for numerous reasons, the offline feature is just one of them. Native apps operate smoothly and flawlessly even in the absence of internet connectivity. This means that the user gets to access all the app functionalities even when the phone is on airplane mode. This offline functionality is a true blessing for users living in remote areas with low internet connectivity or having access to limited data.
- Great UX:
Tools and widgets provided by the native platform support layouts that are difficult to execute, allow complex animations, help create standard intuitive interfaces, and offer a broad range of options for optimizing the interface. These are the secret ingredients to a flawless user experience. These tools and widgets are not available in hybrid or cross-platform development.
- Minimal Bugs:
Developers usually encounter fewer bugs when creating native apps. The reason behind this is complexity. Multiple codebases have to be maintained for a single app in cross-platform development. This means that adding new features or fixing the pre-existing ones in cross-platform apps would require you to separately code them into each codebase. This approach is prone to more bugs and errors. Managing a single codebase is way easier than managing two different codebases. Since native apps have one code base, they come with minimal bugs.
Disadvantages of Native App Development
- Increased Initial Cost:
Building native apps can be costly when you have to develop and launch them separately for both iOS and Android. Different technologies and programming languages have to be used to develop apps for respective platforms.
Native app development can be time-consuming as the work done for one platform cannot be duplicated for the other. There have to be two separate teams working on each version of the app. A lot of time goes into the entire development process, including research, planning, technical development, and testing. You will need a specialized team to build, test, and debug the app for both platforms separately.
- Separate Codebase:
Since the apps for both iOS and Android have to be developed separately, they will also have a separate codebase. Developers will have to implement each new feature of the app twice on these platforms.
Not only that but the teams and sets of tools for each platform’s development will be different.
What is Cross-platform App Development?
Cross-platform apps have a native look and feel due to a combination of native and independent code that suits multiple platforms. The code is written once and repurposed by the developers, resulting in faster and cheaper development and quick releases.
Since these work on multiple platforms simultaneously, cross-platform apps effectively expand the user base.
Despite being profitable and convenient, these apps are prone to losing quality as it is difficult to tailor a solution that is compatible with various operating systems.
Just like native app development, cross-platform development also comes with its own strengths and weaknesses. Let’s take a look!
Advantages of Cross-platform App Development
One of the reasons that businesses choose cross-platform app development is that it reduces development costs. Existing code can be adjusted for various platforms, making the development process incredibly cost-effective. This is where the cross-platform framework gains a competitive edge over all the other alternatives.
- Fast Development and Deployment:
Reusable codes make the development and deployment process much quicker since there’s no need to create separate codebases and the existing code is adjusted for various platforms.
- Broader Reach and Expanded User Base:
Brands with cross-platform apps reach a broader audience due to their wide availability, which eventually leads to generating greater revenue.
- Smaller Teams and Easy Maintenance:
Instead of having two teams of developers working on app development for two different platforms, you’ll hire only one team, which will eventually cut down on development costs too.
Moreover, the inevitable bug fixes and maintenance also become easier in cross-platform development as there is only one codebase to focus on. Hence, testing, debugging, and upgrading apps is much easier and quicker.
Disadvantages of Cross-platform App Development
What do we do when an app shows delayed performance and has glitches? Yes, we stop using it. Smooth functionality is a crucial factor to an app’s success, and unfortunately, cross-platform app users experience performance delays since the code is not fully specified according to the platform.
- Limited UX:
Cross-platform apps cannot leverage the native UX components. As a result, they are unable to provide the same UX that is expected of platforms. Some native elements may also be unavailable on these apps, so it is important to plan out the cross-platform UI during the early stages of development.
Development frameworks may not be able to access and support all the features and functionalities of the device, like push notifications, GPS, and the camera.
- More QA Testing:
As cross-platform applications are tailored to be compatible with a broader category of programming languages and platforms, they also require extensive periods of testing, debugging, and other quality assurance concerns.
- Delayed Updates:
When Google and Apple introduce new features to the iOS and Android platforms, native solutions can start using them without any delay. Whereas, in cross-platform apps, there is an update delay. Cross-platform apps have to wait until those updates are adjusted to the chosen framework; frameworks need to adopt the development tools that allow you to integrate new features and functionality. This is time-consuming, hence the delay.
Factors to Consider When Choosing an Approach to Build a Mobile App
Native app development produces high-performing apps. But if you have budget constraints, go for cross-platform development. Only a single codebase and a single development team are required across both platforms. Thus, you’ll save 30-40% of the cost as compared to native development.
Cross-platform development is a wise choice when you’re developing an app that only displays information fetched from the network. However, if it requires access to low-level APIs or involves heavy processing, go with native development.
UI and UX
If stunning visuals, great experience, and overall aesthetics are important features of your application, you’ll want to go with native development, as in a native environment, developers can easily access all UI/UX components. While in cross-platform development, UI/UX elements will be largely limited.
In situations where you’d want your MVP ready and running as soon as possible, opt for cross-platform development so there’s no need to work on two versions of the app separately. A single cycle of development is needed for the app to run on both the iOS and Android platforms.
When to Choose Native Development?
- When you plan to develop a responsive high-end application with complex and interactive features.
- When you want your app to be easily updated with new features in the future.
- When there are no budget constraints for the app development process.
- When you have a target audience in mind, and your niche is competitive. Native apps render a better UX and are bound to rise in the market.
- When your app requires full access to the device’s resources, like the camera and GPS.
- When there’s no rush to launch the application.
When Should You Use Cross-platform Development?
- When you have budget constraints. If you want your app to function on both iOS and Android on a minimal budget, cross-platform apps are easier on the pocket.
- When you own a startup, have less time for app marketing, and want the MVP ready and functional in no time.
- When the app doesn’t involve complex animations and functionality.
So, which is better: Native or Cross-platform? Keeping the aforementioned factors in view, it seems like there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this.
Before you make a decision, you need to consider all the ins and outs. For example, what is the purpose of the app? Who is going to be your target audience? How important is the app’s responsiveness (speed and performance)? What are the project/business requirements? And so on.
Native development seems to be the best choice in most cases, especially when it comes to user experience and app performance. We’d recommend you stick with native development whenever possible, as, despite being costly, it ensures a quality product that is secure and offers a better user experience, speed, performance, and a loyal user base.
But in the end, the choice is yours, opt for a development approach that best suits your unique business requirements, customer expectations, the nature of your business, and your budget, of course.
Still doubtful about whether to go for native or cross-platform development? We got you! Get in touch with experts at CitrusBits for a free consultation!
“Well, there is no particular answer to which sort of development you want to pick. It mostly depends upon your application and your main target audience. If your application is principally founded on utilizing API calls and showing that information to clients on the mobile end, or if your application doesn’t do a lot of handling and processing of information locally on the mobile end and it simply needs to function admirably with the back-end, then Cross-platform is for you since you want your app to look and behave the same across the platforms. Yet, in the case where your application has to use different sensors and mobile-related stuff, Native development is the best approach.”
Sr. Android Developer
“After going through the above details, one can easily decide that there is no one-size-fits-all. Native has the perks of unleashing maximum hardware resources/power with just a few simple API methods. On the other hand, many screens with rich content and animations can be developed on both platforms together with just one codebase.
But we can have a quick checklist based on our own experience as well as that of tech companies around the globe. We should always give preference to cross-platform when the app does NOT require CPU/GPU intensive operations along with other hardware requirements. Code management and scalability are also important things to keep in mind while making this decision. If one is targeting a large-scale application and planning frequent updates, Native platforms should be the choice to keep the code in good shape for a longer time and to avoid frequent framework/API depreciation issues while running for incremental updates.”