Cross platform app development is the process of creating mobile apps that can be deployed or published on multiple platforms using a single codebase, instead of having to develop the app multiple times using the respective native technologies for each platform.
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Why get into cross-platform mobile development?
As of fall of 2021, almost sixty percent of the population use the Internet on their mobile devices actively. No wonder: not only mobile phones are with us all the time, but the Internet providers keep constantly increasing the area coverage and the speed. What does this mean to businesses? First of all, while a desktop application might have been enough in the past, that ship has long sailed now.
Over 98 percent of smartphones in the world use either Android or iOS as their main operational system. Therefore, it’s only natural most companies crave to satisfy the fans of both of these giants. It’s a lucrative field, too: according to predictions, the revenues from mobile applications will surpass 500 billion dollars by 2021. Why create native iOS or Android software, when you can create something to accommodate them both by doing half the work?
Cross platform app development for mobile has multiple advantages for a developer. First of all, it allows you to reuse a significant account of code, meaning there’s less time and effort to put in. This makes the production both cheaper and faster. For a business, less time spent in development also equals an earlier release– and, in turn, quicker profits. In addition to that, releasing one cross platform app instead of multiple native apps lets them save on marketing.
Nevertheless, there are a few cons as well. The platforms you’re developing for might sometimes have different levels of feature support, which will put certain limitations to the user experience. If you choose to use a cross platform mobile development framework, you might also find out that not every tool available in them can be used on a certain platform. These compatibility issues might make you turn to native Android or iOS development tools.
Cross Platform App Development Pros
There are many advantages when it comes to cross platform app development, including:
- Reusable Code: Cross platform app development tools allow you to write your code once then export your app to many operating systems and platforms without having to create a dedicated app for every single platform.
- Convenience: Cross platform app development tools save you the hassle of having to learn multiple programming languages and instead offer you one substitute for all of these different technologies.
- Maintainable Code: Whenever you modify or update your app, you only have to update your codebase once and the changes would be synced and reflected in all the apps on different platforms.
- Cost Efficiency: Cross platform app development allows you to save the cost of having multiple teams working on different versions of your app and substituting them with one team. Most cross-platform development tools are also free to use, with some offering paid subscriptions for additional features.
- Market Reach: By publishing your app on multiple platforms, you’re casting a wider net and increase your chances of having a larger user base and consequently a higher return on investment and higher revenues.
Cross-Platform Development Cons
While cross platform app development tools have a lot of advantages that make them worthy, they certainly do come with a few setbacks and there are a few situations when cross-platform development might not be the way to go for you, including:
- Performance: While some cross platform app development tools provide you with performance that is close to a native app, they are still never quite as good. That’s why you shouldn’t be using cross-platform development tools if your app’s performance is a high priority for you.
- 3D and Graphics: Just like performance, cross platform app development tools aren’t known for delivering the best graphics and user experiences and can lack access to core OS libraries like graphics. Cross-development might not be the best option for you if your app relies heavily on graphics, which is the case with many mobile games.
- Single Platform App: If you’re building your app to be published on a single platform (e.g. iOS or Android), then you should develop a native app. In this case, you would only need one team using one technology without sacrificing the performance losses of cross-platform apps.
- Platform-Specific Features: While cross platform app development tools offer many of the basic features shared between different platforms, they can lack some of the specific features offered by Apple, Google, and Microsoft on their respective operating systems.
- Device-Specific Features: Cross platform app development tools can give you access to different aspects of your device, like the camera or GPS, but if your app needs to access and deal with the device hardware directly, then it’s better and more efficient for you to develop a native app.
- Delayed Updates: Whenever a new update is released for a specific platform with any changes or added features, it could take some time until those changes are reflected across all cross-platform development tools.
Cross-Platform Development Technology Stacks
While cross platform app development tools save you the effort of learning different technologies, you will still have to have a decent knowledge of the ones used by every tool to build mobile apps. The technologies used include:
Native vs. Cross-Platform Apps
Today, the “native vs. cross-platform” question is no longer about building slow-performing, ever-crashing apps at half the price of an iOS or Android app.
With powerful cross platform app application development tools like Xamarin, React Native, and Flutter, you can create apps with a 90% reusable codebase that utilize native UI and control elements, access smartphone functionality, and comply with the Human Interface and Material Design guidelines.
The Basic Difference between Native and Cross-Platform App
Native apps are developed exclusively for a specific platform. These apps are developed in a language compatible with the platform. Apple, for instance, prefers Objective C and Swift for iOS while Google favors Java for Android. Using these acceptable languages, developers can make better use of the innate features of these platforms. A native app developed for Android will not function on iOS and vice versa.
Cross-platform apps are compatible with multiple platforms. Due to the market share of Android and iOS, most cross-platform apps are limited to these two operating systems. These apps are developed in HTML and CSS since these standard web technologies are platform independent. There are several cross platform app development tools that allow developers to create these apps with little trouble.
In the case of Windows Mobile, iOS and Android app development, each platform has something called a software development kit (SDK for short). Usually, it contains a compiler, a debugger and other development tools. In most cases, it also prefers some programming languages over others. For example, Android mainly supports Java, and most iOS development tools use Swift or Objective-C. Using an SDK, you can create an app which will be native to that specific platform.
Now, how do we do cross platform mobile development? The first way is by using an application programming interface (API), which acts as an intermediary between the code and the operating system. This can be achieved with an integrated development environment (IDE), usually coming from a third party.
The second way is also known as the hybrid approach. Why? Because it contains both mobile and web development techniques. Basically, you use HTML5 and CSS to code the graphic user interface (GUI), and wrap it inside a WebView container found in the SDK. WebView allows you to manipulate the user experience and allows them to use the functionalities of the hardware (e.g., the camera of their smartphone) to a certain limit.
However, some actually claim that hybrid programming is not a type of cross platform mobile development, and the only quality they both have is shareable code. The design part of the hybrid app has the advantages of a cross platform one, but the control elements are usually native still. You should also remember rendering CSS and HTML5 eats up a ton of resources of central and graphics processing units. This means the app will drain the user’s device battery much faster.
The best cross platform mobile development frameworks
The main advantages of cross platform mobile development are not only increased accessibility of your app: it also optimizes the processes of testing and maintenance. For your first steps, we’d advise you to go with specialized frameworks. Having a specific toolset to guide will smooth the learning curve. Now, let’s see your best choices.
Xamarin is a Microsoft cross platform app development framework that allows 75–90 percent of the code to be shared between different systems. The coding language Xamarin uses is the Microsoft-developed C#. The framework is also free and open source: there are over sixty thousand active contributors as of now. It is, however, not just meant for cross platform mobile development, and works just as well for desktop applications.
By supplying the tools needed for mobile app development, it extends the .NET development platform. What exactly does it contain? Well, first of all, you get the base framework that lets you access the native features. In addition to that, there’s a wide selection of libraries and extensions for the code editor (e.g., for syntax highlighting). You can also use the packages available to .NET users. Using the ahead-of-time compiler lets you avoid some performance issues, too, as the app you design will run directly in the hardware of the mobile device.
Initially released by Google in 2017, Flutter is the youngest of the bunch presented here. However, just like Xamarin, it is more than just a cross platform mobile development framework. You can also use it to develop for Google Fuchsia, Mac, Windows, Linux, Web, and even embedded systems. What’s unique to Flutter is the programming language: it uses Dart, which, just as the Flutter itself, was developed by Google. Among the famous clients of the framework are Realtor.com and The New York Times.
Flutter has received praises due to its hot reload feature, allowing the developer to instantly review the changes made by the most current updates. There is no need to restart the application after editing its source code: the effect will be shown immediately in the Flutter framework. This makes it easier to experiment, add new features, and fix small bugs in your program.
The 10 best cross-platform applications
From Windows to Linux to Mac and back, it’s becoming more and more difficult for companies to pin themselves down to one single platform. As a result, we need applications that can span those various platforms. Here are 10 of the most popular cross-platform applications between computer operating systems:
There is little doubt that one of the most popular cross-platform applications is Firefox. No other browser has come as close to usurping Internet Explorer as the reigning king of the Web as Firefox has. A good cross-platform browser has become essential, since so many applications and services are now handled online. Thankfully, the rise in popularity of cross-platform browsers like Firefox has helped ensure that companies don’t lock down their sites and services to a single browser.
Applications like OpenOffice enable those who can’t afford Microsoft Office to function in a business (business-like or educational) environment. OpenOffice is one of the pillars of the open source communities and is one of the most important cross-platform applications available.
If you do any support, you know the importance of a good application that allows you to remote into a client’s machine. There are plenty of them out there; some of them are cross platform by way of being used within a browser. But few of them are truly cross-platform applications. TeamViewer is one such beast. With a client for Windows, Linux, Mac, and iPhone, there will rarely be a client or situation you can’t support.
There’s no shortage of PDF readers out there. And for every platform, there is a unique PDF reader. But none of those unique viewers offers the quality and ease of use that Adobe Reader provides. It is the standard for PDFs, and with clients for just about every platform, it’s a clear winner over the competition.
Never before has a Web browser caused such a buzz. Not only did Google Chrome turn heads, but it also gave the competition reason for concern. Google Chrome is fast (the Linux version has been tested as the fastest rendering Web browser on any platform), it is stable, extensible, and as cross platform as any other browser (not called IE).
If you’re looking for a stand-alone email client and you need it to traverse the landscape of all your platforms, look no further than Thunderbird. Thunderbird is a true emailers’ email client. With its slick, tabbed interface, you will find no email client that looks and performs as well across your operating systems. And like its cousin, Firefox, Thunderbird is theme-able and has a vast repository of plug-ins to make it even more useful.
Apache is one of the most-used Web servers in the world. When you add to that the fact that you can use Apache on Windows, Linux, and Mac, it’s hands down the winner among Web servers. And to top it off, Apache is free. How can the competition win against such a mighty contender?
Although this tool is new to the world, you will not find a better database administration tool anywhere for any platform. With this MySQL admin tool, you can work your MySQL magic on all platforms. The only downfall? For some platforms, you have to use the development release. But according to my experimentation, the development release is as stable as any other database admin tool available.
VMware can be used across platforms for just about any reason. From a single user wanting to experiment with other OSes to massive enterprise rollouts, VMware can do pretty much anything. It’s proprietary, but it’s worth every penny.
You will be hard pressed to find a more flexible, useful media player than VLC. VLC is available for Linux, Mac, Windows, *BSD, UNIX, Solaris, and more. It can play nearly everything and even do it across a network. It has a tiny footprint, it’s open source, and it’s free. What more do you want in a media player?
The bottom line is, it’s definitely worth taking up cross platform app development. While it has a few weak spots, it also has clear perks to both business owners and developers. It’s also a career path that allows its professionals to lead rather comfortable lives. Feeling excited? Then roll up your sleeves and get down to work – that nice salary won’t earn itself!
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