Native vs. Cross-Platform Mobile App Development: How to Make the Right Choice

Authored by Zerone Tech Team

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Native vs. Cross-Platform Mobile App Development: How to Make the Right Choice Zerone Tech Team

Abstract:

Anyone who is planning to develop a mobile app will often face this question: whether to adopt native application development approach or go for cross-platform method. In this white paper, we highlight the key differences between native and cross-platform applications, the advantages and disadvantages of both approaches and which option is better to choose in a particular situation. We also compare some of the popular frameworks used in mobile development.

Introduction

Deciding between native and cross-platform development approach depends on a number of factors such as your business goals and ideas, the application’s user interface (UI) and user experience (UX), desired functionalities of the app, its availability on the preferred OS (Android or iOS), the type of audience that will primarily use the app, expected longevity (life) of the application, how intuitive the app should be to its users, database structure, security features that need to be implemented, and ultimately the development cost and time.

You should also know the functionalities supported by both native and cross-platform methods and understand the technical requirements your current system should fulfil in order to support the selected development platform.

Each method of mobile app development has its own strengths and challenges. With careful planning and strategic technology decisions, you can help ensure a successful launch of your mobile app and encourage its adoption among users.

What is a native mobile app

A native mobile application is developed to work on a particular device or platform. Native applications are coded in specific programming languages such as Objective C or Swift for iOS applications and Java for Android applications. Since a native app is built for use on a specific device and its operating system, it has the ability to utilize device-specific hardware and software. Compared to web or cloud-based applications that are generic across multiple systems, native mobile apps fully take advantage of the device’s OS and technology to provide optimized performance.

Key benefits of developing native applications

  • High performance and processing speed: Native app codes run faster because they are developed and compiled using the platform’s core programming language and APIs. Due to tight coupling with the device’s built-in features, native applications offer high processing speed combined with a fast and fluid user experience.
  • Security, reliability and support:Since native apps are located on the mobile device, they are able to utilize the security features offered by the mobile device. Native apps gain complete support from their corresponding app store or marketplace which benefits the user in terms of proactive security and performance upgrades of the platform. Companies can take advantage of the mobile device management solutions such as remote management of apps on individual devices.
  • Integration with mobile hardware: With a native mobile app, you can leverage the hardware capabilities of mobile devices such as camera, GPS, touchscreen, accelerometer, and phone, and interact with them directly, in the way the platform was designed to do. But when you try to access these features through a web application, it could be challenging since a web app uses a generic or standard browser to access these features.
  • Offline support: Most of the web applications require internet connectivity to work, since all the page content resides on the web servers. It’s possible to create native apps with offline capability that can store both the mobile app and its data locally on the mobile device. An offline native mobile app can operate even without connectivity.
  • Unparalleled user experience: Native apps are purpose-built apps. Unlike the web apps that present a single, generic UI across all platforms, native mobile apps have the ability to fulfil a customer’s UI and UX expectations. Native coding gives app developers better control over user experience, which allows them to design the apps for easy support and extendibility.

What is a cross-platform mobile app

As the name implies, a cross-platform mobile application works across platforms using a single code base which makes it compatible to run on different operating systems like Android, iOS, Windows, or BlackBerry. Some of the common frameworks that support cross-platform application development include Sencha, Adobe PhoneGap, React Native, Ionic, and Xamarin.

It’s challenging for many organizations to hire app developers specialized in individual operating systems (such as Android or iOS) for building, maintaining and updating mobile applications and their future versions. That’s when you need to consider hybrid and cross-platform apps that can operate on more than one platform at a time, without the need for developers to create discrete versions of the app code. This allows organizations to save their development cost and time.

Key benefits of developing cross-platform applications

  • Rapid and cost-effective development: By leveraging a single code base for different platforms, cross-platform apps cut down the cost and time needed for development. Developers could write one program and then deploy it across the multiple operating systems where the mobile app is going to be used. Reusability of code for future projects saves the organization from investing in developing a new application from scratch.
  • Simplifies a developer’s job: Cross-platform frameworks are designed for simplifying scripting languages. Availability of dynamic cross-platform frameworks that extensively support CSS3, HTML5 and JavaScript offers an easier option for developers to reduce the complexity of app development.
  • Support for cloud and other enterprise solutions: Cross-platform mobile app development facilitates easy integration with a cloud environment. For instance, cross-platform frameworks such as Appcelerator and PhoneGap provide a vast library of plugins that enables easier access to various other mobile platforms. Developers can use these plugins to enhance the app functionalities and features.
  • Wider market reach: By hosting their app on multiple platforms, business owners will be able to reach a larger audience. Cross-platform applications increase your possibility of securing a larger user base, consequently gaining higher ROI and higher revenues.
  • Simpler in terms of maintenance: It is easier to update or modify cross-platform apps since you only need to update your codebase once. Any update will be synced across the platforms to ensure smooth operations.

Pros and Cons of both the approaches

If you’re thinking of building a mobile application for your business, you must understand the differences between native as well as cross-platform development approaches, and also identify how your selection is going to impact your business.

Here is a breakdown of the pros and cons of both the approaches:

When to choose native apps

Go for native mobile app if:

  • You are developing a complex application, like a Messenger app
  • Your majority users prefer a particular platform, like a specific OS
  • Your mobile app needs access to the device’s features like camera, GPS, contacts etc.
  • Your users expect offline support
  • Your users demand high performance and speed
  • Your users look for the ultimate user experience
  • Your mobile app is supposed to become a business of its own (such as a fitness or healthcare app or a face-morphing app)
  • You plan to build an IoT-based mobile application

When to choose cross-platform apps

Go for cross-platform app if:

  • Your business seeks exposure to a large number of users at a time
  • Your priority lies on cost-effectiveness, faster time-to-market and rapid deployment
  • Your app doesn’t require complex animations or calculations
  • Your app requires only the basic features needed to support your business
  • Your idea/ product needs to hit the market soon
  • You want the changes/ updates to be deployed across all platforms instantly

Development frameworks: Here’s what we recommend

Coding your idea to success also depends on the selection of the right app development framework, the quality and variety of its plugin libraries and APIs, and the compatibility and integration aspects of the framework.

To help you make a choice easily, we are comparing some of the leading frameworks in cross-platform mobile app development:

Wrap-Up

When you consider high-end user experience and advanced technical standards of development, native development has an edge over cross-platform development. However, cross-platform technologies speed up the development process without compromising the quality, and are considered optimal for B2B enterprises and business process automation apps, where time-to-market is valued above other needs. For example, if you need to rapidly test your business idea in the market at a minimal cost, then cross-platform development is the best choice. In all other cases that aim at long-term development with superior responsiveness, seamless performance and outstanding user experience, native development remains the best choice.

“If responsive web design was cutting edge in 2012, then Progressive Web Apps are what astute developers started focusing on in 2017”, wrote Applause last year.

Imagine how would it be in 2020!

Full to near-native apps have already started ruling the roost, and it is high time your business should understand and recognize the true value of a well-targeted mobile app. The primary focus of a business should be on delivering rich mobile app experiences to their end users. Hence selection of the right mobile app development platform is extremely crucial.

About the Author

Zerone Tech Team is a bunch of technology enthusiasts at Zerone Consulting who have hands-on expertise in a vast variety of technologies essential to keep businesses running in the competitive world. The team is committed to perform systematic research on the novel technologies and the dynamic digital trends, and share the insights with the readers.

Zerone Tech Team will enrich you with updates on the latest happenings in IT and also provide thoughtful perspectives.

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