Cross-Platform App Development Services, Solutions, & Tools

Cross-Platform App Development: Everything You Need To Know

One of the more frustrating things about mobile app development is that you need to create an app for each platform separately. Writing different versions of code, in order for it to work flawlessly on both iOS and Android, can be costly and time consuming.  However, it doesn’t have to be!

If you’re efficiency junkies like us, you’ll want to find a better way. And that better way is using a cross-platform app development approach. In a word, it’s a “write once, deploy anywhere” methodology.

Sounds intriguing? We thought so, too! With that in mind, we wrote this article outlining everything you need to know about cross-platform application development including the best mobile app services and tools.

What is Cross-Platform App Development?

Cross-platform development is the process of making an app work on multiple operating systems. And when it comes to mobile apps, there are only two that you need to worry about: iOS and Android.

In an ideal world, a native app would work on both of these platforms, but sadly that’s not the case. Both iOS and Android app development use their own programming languages, specifications, and SDKs that make their codes incompatible with each other.

To get around this, you need to make versions of your app for each platform that you want to run it on. As you can imagine, this gets tedious and overwhelming very quickly, especially for complex apps.

The ultimate solution is to use a cross-platform mobile app development approach, which allows you to write code once then deploy it on multiple platforms effortlessly.

There are two general ways to achieve a cross-platform mobile app. One is using a hybrid app, which is basically a website app that sits on top of a simplified browser called a webview. Thus, you can create the app using standard tools like HTML and CSS, then publish it on multiple webview apps on each respective platform.

The other is through native cross-platform tools, which automatically translate your code into native code for iOS, Android, and others. Apps developed through these platforms will often have better performance and access to more device-specific features.

Cross-Platform App Development Pros

There are many reasons for implementing a cross-platform mobile development methodology, aside from having a reusable code.

One is that you can keep your costs and development time down. You don’t need to hire both an Android and iOS developer when making your apps, effectively cutting your project expenses by half. If you or your team is writing the app yourself, there’s no need to learn new programming languages. Knowledge of HTML, CSS, and Javascript is often enough for cross-platform mobile application development.

It’s also easier to achieve the holy grail of cross-platform development – a uniform user interface (UI). You can make the app look consistent on every device while adding the platform’s native UI elements to make it “feel right” to users.

The bottom line is that cross-platform development allows you to market your app faster, and cheaper, at the maximum possible reach.

Cross-Platform App Development Cons

While iOS/Android cross-platform development has its perks, not every project is a perfect fit for this approach due to its notable disadvantages.

The biggest drawback is that you can’t use any of the platform-specific features for each device. These are often core functionalities like 3D graphics, which is why it’s not a good idea to use cross-platform development tools if your app is for mobile games. Cross-platform apps will also have limited access to the device hardware itself.

The performance of apps made with cross-platform tools also won’t be as good as a truly native app. Some tools (like React Native) do allow you to add in native code to improve compatibility and performance. But, then again, that’s not a fully cross-platform solution.

Best Cross-Platform App Development Frameworks and Tools

1. React Native

React Native is currently one of the hottest and well-loved cross-platform development tools on the market. Launched by Facebook back in 2015, the tool allows you to write code once using Javascript, then publish it as a native app on every major platform.

The key strength of React Native is its performance. It’s as fast as and nearly identical to a native app. A unique feature of this tool is that you can add native code to your React Native code, allowing you to fine tune the performance or use platform-specific features.

On the flipside, requiring developers to use native code for accessing OS-specific functions means that React Native is not a fully cross-platform app development tool.

Developers also love React Native because of its many programmer-friendly features. One is Hot Reloading, where code changes are reflected immediately on the app for instant feedback. Debugging is also faster by allowing you to test your app on a physical device without the need to open Xcode or Android Studio.

Some of the well-known apps made with React Native include Bloomberg, Pinterest, Skype, Tesla, and, of course, the Facebook and Instagram apps.

2. Ionic

Ionic is an open-source, cross-platform development tool that focuses on building beautiful user interfaces fast. It uses the language of web design like HTML5, CSS, and Javascript to build UI elements on a native mobile app. It’s one of the best tools available if you want to create Progressive Web Apps (PWA)

Ionic is one of the few tools that provide a robust feature set centered around design. It’s easy to create amazing and responsive UI using themes, fonts, pre-designed components, and other interactive elements.

The tool has a passionate community of over 5 million developers behind it. Some of the apps that use Ionic include IBM, NASA, and Pacifica.

3. Adobe PhoneGap

PhoneGap is the tool of choice if you want to create hybrid apps that run smoothly on every platform and device. Based on the open-source Apache Cordova framework, the tool allows you to write a web app using HTML, CSS, and Javascript. You then use a variety of plug-ins and third-party tools to give your hybrid app access to device-specific features.

One significant advantage of PhoneGap is that it’s easy to develop apps on the platform. It has a user-friendly desktop development environment that automatically compiles your project online, eliminating the need to maintain SDKs.

However, as a hybrid app development tool, it’s not suited for creating high-performance, real-time apps like games. There’s also a lack of UI widgets and platform-specific debugging tools. And since it’s limited to web-based programming languages like HTML, it’s not as efficient at true mobile app development.

4. Xamarin

Xamarin is a cross-platform tool owned by Microsoft and used in its Visual Studio IDE. It allows you to code once using C#, then publish it to a variety of platforms. And since C# is a programming language universally supported by iOS, Android, and Microsoft, the code tends to work seamlessly on each OS.

Xamarin is considered to be one of the most comprehensive mobile development stacks available. It’s completely integrated with a programming environment (Visual Studio), language (C#), developer platform (.Net), and even testing (Xamarin Test Cloud). Because of this tight integration, you get robust development tools for debugging, UI design, and code editing.

The single-stack approach of Xamarin also makes app development dramatically faster. Approximately 75% of your code is preserved across all platforms, giving your apps greater visual consistency across devices.

The one drawback of Xamarin is that creating a UI with it is very tedious since its design tools are not focused solely on mobile. Because of this, Xamarin is very inefficient at handling graphics-heavy apps with complex interfaces.

Lastly, Xamarin is one of the more expensive cross-platform development tools, requiring enterprises to get a Microsoft Visual Studio license.

Nevertheless, Xamarin is a stable and reliable mobile development tool. Popular apps made with it include BBC, Fox Sports, and the American Cancer Society.

5. Google Flutter

Flutter is an open-source, cross-platform development tool developed and maintained by Google. Since its release back in 2018, it has become one of the most beloved development frameworks for mobile apps, coming close to the popularity of React Native. The tool uses Dart, an easy to learn programming language that’s similar to Java and Javascript.

Flutter is a tool for creating iOS, Android, web, and desktop apps using only a single codebase.  It’s a favorite among developers and startups as an MVP tool, allowing them to deploy apps quickly without spending too much time or money.

And, unlike hybrid apps, Flutter-developed apps retain the native look of both Android and iOS. That’s because it uses built-in widget toolkits of both Google (Material Design) and Apple (Cupertino pack). This reliance on widgets, however, makes Flutter apps have bigger file sizes compared to native apps using platform widgets.

Some of the apps made with the Flutter framework include Alibaba, Tencent, and, of course, Google.

Need Help with Cross-Platform Development?

Cross-platform app development is one of the most efficient ways to simplify the app creation process. However, it can still be tricky to navigate its many tools and features. That’s where we come in! Our custom web development services ensure you get the product you want, every time. Get in touch with us today, and let’s have a conversation.