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Native vs. Cross-Platform: Choosing the Right Mobile App Development Approach

Hitesh Umaletiya
Hitesh Umaletiya
January 07, 2024
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Calendar iconLast updated January 07, 2024
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Quick Summary:- Stuck in the native vs. cross-platform debate? Read on for an in-depth comparison and guidance on the best fit for your next app.

Native vs. Cross-Platform: Choosing the Right Mobile App Development Approach

In today's digital age, mobile applications are no longer just add-ons but crucial players in a company's success. They provide on-the-go access to products and services to end users, acting as catalysts for growth and engagement. However, when businesses embark on developing a new app, they encounter terms like "native" and "cross-platform," each with its own set of benefits. In this article, we'll demystify the cross-platform vs. native mobile development journey, helping you choose the most fitting approach for your needs.

Before we compare and weigh the options, let's first understand how native and cross-platform mobile apps differ. 

Native vs. Cross-Platform

Native apps are designed and developed to run on specific operating systems (OS). They are written in the native programming language of that OS, ensuring optimal performance, resource utilization, and access to all system-level features.

Cross-platform apps, on the other hand, are engineered to operate across multiple operating systems from a single codebase. This eliminates the need for separate development cycles for each platform, streamlining the development process and reducing costs. 

However, to achieve this versatility, cross-platform apps often rely on intermediary layers or frameworks that translate the code into each platform's language. This translation process can sometimes introduce performance trade-offs or limitations in terms of accessing certain OS-specific capabilities.

Native or Cross-platform: What to Choose? 

Application performance is a crucial factor in application success. A recent report by AppFlyer revealed that up to 50% of apps are uninstalled within the first month due to poor performance. This emphasizes the importance of prioritizing performance optimizations during development. However, native app development, known for its superior performance, often comes at a higher cost.

Cost is another major factor for development companies. So, the question arises: native or cross-platform? To help you decide, let's compare key aspects of each approach and explore the trade-offs involved.

What is Native App Development?

Native app development refers to the process of developing applications for different operating systems, such as iOS or Android, using the respective OS-native programming language. Native Android apps are developed using Java and Kotlin, while Swift or Objective-C is native to the iOS platform. 

Popular Native app development tools

When it comes to building powerful and engaging Native apps, developers have a variety of tools at their disposal. Here are some popular options across different platforms:

iOS: 

Swift: Apple's official programming language for iOS development, known for its conciseness, elegance, and powerful features. Xcode, the integrated development environment (IDE), provides a seamless experience for building and testing Swift apps.

Objective-C: The veteran language for iOS development, still widely used for large codebases and providing compatibility with older versions of the OS.

UIKit: Apple's native framework for building the user interface of iOS apps, offering a comprehensive set of components and APIs.

Android:

Kotlin: Google's preferred language for Android development,  renowned for its interoperability with Java, concise syntax, and null safety features. Android Studio, the official IDE, offers excellent support for Kotlin development.

Java: The traditional language for Android development, still a popular choice for larger projects. 

Android Jetpack: A collection of libraries and tools from Google that simplify common development tasks. 

Benefits of Native Apps

  1. Performance: Native apps leverage the full potential of the device's hardware and operating system, resulting in buttery-smooth responsiveness and seamless animations.
  2. User Experience: Every element, from buttons to animations, feels natural and intuitive, reflecting the platform's unique design language.
  3. Access: Native apps enjoy unrestricted access to all device features, from GPS and cameras to gyroscopes and sensors, opening up a world of possibilities.

However, this comes at a cost. The major drawback of native development is the need for separate codebases for each platform. This is because each platform has its own distinct language and tools for communication. 

Pros of Native App Development:

  1. Better speed and high performance
  2. Access to native features
  3. Offline functionality for uninterrupted user access
  4. Enhanced security measures
  5. Direct integration with platform ecosystems

Cons of Native App Development:

  1. Higher development cost and time investment
  2. Maintenance challenges with multiple codebases
  3. Steeper learning curve for platform-specific languages
  4. Approval processes may introduce delays
  5. Limited code reusability across different platforms

What is Cross-platform development?

A cross-platform application is developed using one codebase that can run across multiple operating systems. Such apps are developed using different frameworks that use a platform SDK. This approach greatly helps developers to leverage various libraries and develop applications faster. 

Cross-platform development aims to achieve the same with a single codebase running on multiple platforms. Popular frameworks like React Native and Flutter utilize shared code, minimizing development efforts and accelerating time to market.

Here's why cross-platform might be your ideal match:

  1. Cost-Effectiveness: Building one codebase translates to significant cost savings and faster deployment. This makes it appealing for startups and projects with budget constraints.

  2. Wider Reach: Reach a broader audience across platforms with a single codebase, maximizing your potential user base.

  1. Maintenance Efficiency: Updating and fixing bugs in one codebase simplifies maintenance and ensures consistency across platforms.

However, cross-platform development comes with compromises. While performance has improved significantly, native apps still hold an edge in speed and responsiveness. Additionally, accessing some device features can be challenging or require platform-specific plugins, impacting the overall user experience.

Cross-platform frameworks:

React Native: A popular framework for building native-looking apps using JavaScript and React, allowing for code reuse across platforms.

Flutter: Google's framework for building beautiful and high-performance mobile apps using Dart, offering fast development cycles and native-like performance.

Xamarin: Microsoft's platform for building native iOS and Android apps using C#, enabling developers to leverage their existing .NET skills.

Pros of Cross-Platform App Development

  • Cost-Effectiveness
  • Faster Development Time
  • Code Reusability
  • Easier Maintenance
  • Wider Reach
  • Consistent User Experience
  • Easier Learning Curve 

Cons of Cross-Platform App Development

  • Performance Challenges
  • Limited Access to Native Features
  • Compatibility Issues
  • Dependency on Third-Party Tools
  • Potential UI/UX Compromises

Cross-platform vs. native mobile development: What should choose?

Now that you've understood the pros and cons of cross-platform and native app development, it's time to make an informed decision. Both approaches have their own perks and perils. You may want to push one codebase across different platforms, or you may want to prioritize the Native speed over the cost. 

All of this takes us in a perplexing situation. To assist you in making a decision, we have curated a short guide to help you determine the suitable approach for your next project.

This checklist will guide you through the key factors to consider before diving into development.

1). How complex is the app?

The complexity of your app will play a role in choosing between cross-platform and native development. Simple apps with basic features often perform well with cross-platform tools, while complex apps with heavy processing, deep device integration, or unique features may require native development for optimal performance and user experience.

2). What is your target audience?

Your target platform(s) are important to consider. If you only target one platform like Android, native development will give you the best performance and access to platform-specific features. However, if you want to reach a wider audience across multiple platforms (e.g., iOS and Android), cross-platform development can be more efficient and cost-effective.

3). What is your budget and timeline?

Budget and timeline are crucial factors. Cross-platform development generally requires less code and can be faster to market, reducing costs. However, complex features or platform-specific optimizations may require additional cross-platform work. Native development often requires more resources and time, increasing costs and timelines, but delivers top-notch performance and platform-specific advantages.

 Conclusion 

There's no one-size-fits-all solution, as the choice ultimately involves a careful balance of priorities. On one hand, Native apps excel in performance, user experience, and full access to system features. They offer a smooth and responsive experience tailored to each platform, leveraging its unique capabilities. However, the downside is the separate development effort required for each operating system (iOS, Android, etc.), increasing time and cost.

Cross-platform apps offer faster development cycles and broader reach. This can be cost-effective and efficient, but potential trade-offs exist. Performance may not be as optimized as native apps. 

The mobile application development market is indeed expanding rapidly.  As per a KBV research report, this market is projected to reach $462 billion by 2027, highlighting the immense potential it holds.

Whether you choose native or cross-platform development, our mobile app development services are designed to help your business thrive. We help boost sales, enhance services, and reach a wider audience by crafting high-performing applications tailored to your specific needs and goals.

Hitesh Umaletiya

Hitesh Umaletiya

Co-founder of Brilworks. As technology futurists, we love helping startups turn their ideas into reality. Our expertise spans startups to SMEs, and we're dedicated to their success.

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