Cross-platform Mobile App Development: Pros and Cons

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Cross-platform Mobile App Development: Pros and Cons

Cross-platform Mobile App Development: Pros and Cons

On the Internet, you can often find the word cross-platform, but what does it mean? And the answer to this question should be started from afar – from the classical approach to application development, namely the development of a separate application for each platform.

What is Cross-platform?

Several development teams (one for each platform) write applications using native tools, they constantly arrange meetings to make sure that applications on different platforms are identical in functionality and design, so that a user who has switched from one platform to another can continue to use the application without experiencing any difficulties. As a result, an interesting result is obtained: several applications that are implemented in different technologies and programming languages, but at the same time look the same and carry the same functionality. It is at this point that it is worth returning to the original question of what is cross-platform. The cross-platform approach, in contrast to the classic native one, allows you to use the same codebase for different platforms, which eliminates the need to support different versions of the same application. Different frameworks for cross-platform development have different approaches to solving this problem: some compile the code into native code for a specific platform, others use layers between the platform and cross-platform code, but the principle is still the same: it is enough to write the code once, which can be run immediately on multiple platforms. In the article we focus on multiplatform mobile app development with react native, consider the advantages and disadvantages of the cross-platform approach and answer the question: “Is it worth abandoning the classic approach towards cross-platform?”

Pros and Cons of Native Development 

As mentioned in the introduction, globally mobile applications can be divided into two categories: classic (hereinafter we will call them native) and cross-platform, and I believe that before diving into the world of cross-platform mobile application development, it is necessary to talk in more detail about native applications. The mobile world is dominated by two platforms: iOS and Android. To develop applications for these systems, Apple and Google have released the corresponding SDKs. Android apps are developed using Java or Kotlin in Android Studio, for iOS using Swift in Xcode. At first glance, a person who is not familiar with the topic may find it strange to choose a native approach when there is a cross-platform. Why write two applications when you can write one? And really why, because you can make your life so much easier by writing just one application? But as always, in reality, everything is much more complicated. Native development has a number of undeniable advantages, which I propose to talk about further. First of all, it is relevance. It is native developers who first of all get their hands on all the capabilities of new versions of operating systems, whether it be a small change in icons or new full-fledged APIs to improve and develop their application. Cross-platform developers, in turn, have to wait until these features are added to the framework they use, or until someone from the community releases a library, often based on native code. Because of the way cross-platform frameworks work internally, they slow down apps in one way or another, allowing native apps to take over in app speed. Also, frameworks for cross-platform development of mobile applications, unlike native ones, do not have full access to the API of the system, forcing developers to either write native code or look for a library to solve their problem. In general, native application development has only one, albeit very serious, disadvantage – cost. It is necessary to hire two development teams and ensure communication between them. This disadvantage may well become critical for small companies that do not have huge budgets, and become a serious reason for choosing a cross-platform approach.

What Cross-platform Applications are developed on: Tools and Platforms?

There are a huge number of frameworks for developing cross-platform mobile applications, but React Native and Flutter, which we will focus on, have received the most widespread product use. Start with React Native, Facebook’s cross-platform framework built on top of the hugely popular JS library, React Native makes the transition from web to mobile development as easy as possible. Fast Refresh technology allows you to almost instantly display changes in the code on the device, thereby greatly speeding up application development. Since the framework is based on React Js, development on it is done using JavaScript, allowing front-end developers to quickly switch to developing cross-platform mobile applications. While React Native has some performance issues, it is still the most popular cross-platform framework with a huge community supporting a huge number of libraries, which in turn further accelerates development and makes it easier to find new developers. But Google’s rival React Native is getting closer and closer to its popularity.Flutter is a relatively young framework, released in 2017, but despite its small age, it has earned a lot of popularity in the developer community. Flutter is constantly evolving. Originally presented as a framework for cross-platform mobile development, it has already outgrown this definition. Now, based on the Flutter toolkit, you can develop mobile, web and desktop applications. Hot Reload, by analogy with Fast Refresh in React Native, allows you to instantly see the change on the device screen, and a large number of libraries almost completely closes the limited access to the system API (although you need to be careful when choosing libraries, since some of them may not support some platforms) and makes it possible to reduce the writing of native code to a minimum or abandon it altogether. Development in Flutter takes place in the Dart language, which is also developed by Google, which in turn allows adding new features to the language specifically for Flutter developers. So recently, the null safety function came out of beta, which, when included in a project, obliges developers to specifically mark variables whose value can be null, and add checks for such cases, which ultimately leads to higher stability of the application. Dart is also easy to learn for native developers, giving them the ability to quickly switch to cross-platform development if they wish.

Conclusion

So is it worth abandoning native development in favor of cross-platform? The answer to this question depends entirely on your application, your budget, and the time you are willing to spend on development. Native applications are still far ahead of cross-platform ones in performance and functionality, but the development of such applications takes a lot of time and money, cross-platform development at the same time, although not without its drawbacks, allows you to create an application for several platforms in a short period of time. As a result, if your application does not rely on the features of specific platforms or the development budget is limited, it is worth considering a cross-platform solution, otherwise, although using libraries you can try to solve the problem of insufficient access to the system API, you should pay attention to naive development.