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The smartphone app is changing everything. Mobile apps became necessary for a multitude of businesses from different industries. These apps are vital because they can operate efficiently on multiple devices. Using Cross-Platform Mobile Development, you can quickly build these solutions.
Native vs. cross-platform apps
There are two types of mobile apps - native and cross-platform. Native apps are programmed for specific devices, such as Android or iOS. They can take full advantage of the available hardware and software. The downside is that they're developed separately for every platform and usually take time and effort to create.
Cross-platform apps solve this problem because they use standard code across multiple platforms. To do that, the cross-platform native app development approach should be used. Cross-platform frameworks divide an application into individual modules so each module can be written in a separate language targeting different platforms. Then all modules together form one application interpreted by one virtual machine (VM). So what's so great about these cross-platform mobile app development options?
Unsure if cross-platform development is the right choice for your project?
Don't worry; you're not alone. Many mobile app developers face the same dilemma when choosing the right technology stack. But don't fret; we're here to help.
iTechArt has developed cross-platform apps with many different technologies. Therefore, we have a lot of experience in this area and are confident we can develop a cross-platform app that meets your needs.
Contact us today to discuss your project idea!
They are developed for a specific platform only, like iOS or Android. They use the Framework provided by the OS. Each platform is different, so each app must be coded separately with native languages (Objective-C or Swift for iOS; Java for Android). Such an approach ensures maximum performance for these platforms, but it is costly due to high development costs and the time needed to create separate versions per platform.
These applications provide reusable source code that can be used across several platforms at once by employing any of the following frameworks: Apache Cordova, PhoneGap, Ionic Framework, Xamarin Forms, and React Native.
It should be noted that cross-platform apps are not a silver bullet for mobile app development, as this type of solution does not always provide the same level of performance compared to natively built applications. In addition, some features might be limited on each platform. However, despite these disadvantages, using a cross-platform approach can help you save time due to reusability and easy maintenance of the codebase across different OSes.
To learn more about Cross-Platform Mobile Development, we will consider the five most popular options: Apache Cordova, PhoneGap, Ionic Framework, Xamarin Forms, and React Native. All frameworks mentioned below aim at one thing – to make cross-platform app development more accessible and cheaper for you.
1) Apache Cordova
This technology allows you to reuse the code on your web or backend services responsible for business logic. On the other hand, the low performance of some features impedes the user experience with these apps.
2) PhoneGap / Adobe PhoneGap
Adobe PhoneGap is a proprietary version of Apache Cordova maintained by Adobe Systems. It offers more extended configuration options than its open-source competitor, making app development even more accessible. Moreover, it offers the possibility to access native APIs and features via plugins which you can find on Adobe PhoneGap Build.
There are lots of open-source projects for PhoneGap
3) Ionic Framework
Ionic Framework is a frontend SDK that allows you to build applications using web technologies like CSS, HTML5, and Sass. It has components like cards, popups, or side menus, but it provides integration with UI Bootstrap, which means developers can use Bootstrap components in their code. In addition, there is support for AngularJS 2 (the latest version of this Framework). Finally, many extensions and third-party tools make developing apps easier with Ionic: cloud storage services like Dropbox and OneDrive, push notifications, and even a backend (BaaS) service like Parse.
4) Xamarin Forms
Xamarin is a popular development environment for building mobile applications on both iOS and Android with C#. It uses the .NET Standard Library, the core library implementation for all .NET platforms, including .NET Core and Mono.
The main difference between Xamarin and other cross-platform technologies is that you can use standard UI controls and layouts to create user interfaces — for example, tabbed pages or Android's recycler views. That allows developers to build native apps and reuse code across different platforms by creating visual elements without platform-specific designs.
5) React Native
How to choose the appropriate hybrid app framework?
We can recommend Apache Cordova or PhoneGap for apps with simple logic and less demanding graphics. However, if your project requires more complicated features, you should choose technologies that provide a better user experience in terms of performance, such as Ionic or React Native.
For projects that require an app for different operating systems, Xamarin Forms is the universal choice due to its standard API for iOS and Android.
Of course, cross-platform development involves some issues, but it doesn't mean they are unsolvable. Many developers have already found ways to solve them, including poor performance on older devices, lack of platform-specific UI components, etc... We hope this article will help you find whether cross-platform development technology is right for your project. At iTechArt, we can develop a cross-platform app with any aforementioned technologies (and many others, such as Xamarin). Just drop us a line, and let's discuss your idea.
What is cross-platform development?
The idea behind cross-platform development is to create code that will work on several platforms instead of building separate apps for each operating system. Using this technology, you can reuse most or even all of the code, saving up to 90% of app development time.
Many technologies are available for cross-platform development like PhoneGap/Cordova, Ionic Framework, Xamarin Forms, React Native, etc. They all use HTML5 as the primary coding language, so there's no need to learn new languages because web developers are already familiar with them. However, it takes some time to find out which technology better fits your needs - check out our review below!
What are the pros and cons of cross-platform development?
The main advantage is obvious — you only need to develop one app for different platforms. But, in addition, it saves time, energy, and money because there's no need to hire more developers.
We've prepared a list of the pros and cons below so you can decide better which technology fits your project best:
Positive aspects of cross-platform development:
- The code can be reused for different platforms (and, therefore, saves time and money)
- There's no need to learn new languages or build separate teams for each platform (both development time and overall costs are reduced)
- Cross-platform apps look like native apps on all major platforms (iOS and Android). The UI design is very similar, making users feel more comfortable using the app.
Negative aspects of cross-platform development:
- Poor performance causes jitters or even malfunctions in some cases. You need to ensure that your app works well on older devices, which requires additional testing. Keep in mind that not everyone has the latest iOS/Android release - there are still many people who use old operating systems.
- Cross-platform apps lack some platform-specific features. For example, iOS apps cannot implement some parts of Material Design, which can be frustrating for users.
- If your project is not data-driven or contains a lot of business logic, you may face issues when trying to reuse most of the code because UI requirements are different on each platform.
What are the best cross-platform development technologies? There are many competing technologies for cross-platform app development, but we compiled a list of the top three most popular ones:
Ionic is one of the most popular frameworks for coding mobile apps using web technologies. It supports almost all major platforms, including iOS, Android, Windows Phone, etc. One of Ionic's main strengths is its huge community that provides plenty of open-source plugin packages (such as date pickers, image galleries, slideshows, etc.), which can significantly speed your development time. If you plan to build a simple app with linear UI with data-driven elements for CRUD operations (Create Read Update Delete), Ionic may be an excellent cross-platform development.
Xamarin Forms is another powerful technology-based C# language like Xamarin, which allows you to use the same APIs for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. It has many supporters in IT communities and its own GitHub organization.
Pros and Cons of Cross-Platform Mobile Development
- Less development time is needed. In addition, you can reuse most of the code, which is cost-effective if you need to build multiple apps for different platforms.
- No additional maintenance costs because there's one codebase for updating an app in the future.
- Poor performance (jumpy UI, slow load times). If you plan to create a complex app that needs smooth functionality, native technologies may be better.
- Limited access to OS features (no exceptional platform capabilities like iBeacon)
How to choose the proper cross-platform Framework? There are many open-source frameworks, so it can be challenging to choose exactly what suites your project best. We recommend trying free trials before making final decisions about the technology stack. Here are some tips to help you make educated decisions before trying each platform.
- Check if the cross-platform library is open source or has a free trial version available for download on GitHub. In addition, some technologies like Sencha and Appcelerator Titanium offer an extended version of the product not allowed in free trials.
Native Mobile Development Technologies
Native apps are coded in a specific programming language for a specific platform. This means that developers must learn different coding languages and strategies depending on their target OS. For example, iOS applications are written in Objective-C/Swift, while Android apps use Java. Native development gives you access to all hardware features of a device, including GPS, address book, camera, etc. In addition, native apps can be built using optimized tools offered by each platform (Xcode for iOS and Android Studio for Android).
- Fast performance due to direct calls into operating system features
- Full access to all available hardware capabilities
It- Expensive because creating native UI requires learning different languages and app architecture styles - Several cross-platform technologies are available. Still, they're more suitable for simple apps that don't require intensive graphic processing or complex data processing.
- Updates may be time-consuming because you need to redeploy the app in the respective store (App Store, Google Play). Advantages of Hybrid Mobile Development Technologies
What is cross-programming?
- Common web technologies are accessible, so the learning curve is lower than for native languages - Allowing different building versions of a single app in various OSes at once
- Only partial access to device features due to security restrictions of each platform
What is the best cross-platform mobile development?
There's no easy answer because mobile app development is a complex process. A lot depends on your business goals and project requirements. Developers must consider that some mobile devices have low-end hardware/OS, whereas others are more powerful or meet a specific standard (like iOS).
What's more, cross-platform development doesn't solve all problems of mobile fragmentation – you still need to support at least two different platforms (iOS and Android). For example, both technologies can allow creating smooth animations between views, but they're highly dependent on platform specifics like resolution, memory usage, etc. This means that technologies like HTML5/CSS3 can perform well in one environment but badly in another.
Is it possible to develop apps for iOS and Android simultaneously using only one codebase?
Yes, but this is possible only in theory. Native languages won't work because they don't support the same programming paradigms. The most popular technologies for cross-platform app development are Ionic and Xamarin, which allow the creation of apps for both platforms. If these aren't suitable for your project requirements, you may consider tools like React Native or Flutter from Google.
A native app requires a lot of time and effort to create an interface that's adapted to each platform's guidelines (iOS vs Android). A hybrid solution allows you to reuse web UI, but it doesn't give you access to all device features. This means that you can easily create a working app with standard features, but it will have limited device capabilities.
What is a hybrid mobile development app?
Hybrid apps use web technologies to create frontends that behave as native ones. They're built using frameworks like Ionic or Xamarin, which allow HTML5/CSS3 developers to access device features via plugins and custom components.
How does a hybrid mobile development app work?
- WebView component behaves like an actual browser environment where web applications can be executed.
What is the difference between compatibility and fragmentation issues in mobile devices?
Compatibility problems appear when you need to support different versions of OSes, while fragmentation is a more general term that describes the variety of devices and their capabilities.
For example, some mobile phones can perform complex operations (like GPS) while others have limited functionality. Another example of fragmentation is the usage of different screen sizes and resolutions. A compatibility problem can be resolved by making an app work only with the most popular versions, but this won't solve all your problems because you'll need to support an actual range of mobile devices (not just one or two).
What are the advantages and disadvantages of hybrid mobile development?
- A single codebase for both Android and iOS apps;
- Low costs because there's no need for platform-specific skills;
- Easy to learn because web technologies are commonly used;
- Easier for small teams (every team member can easily manage the same codebase);
- Cross-platform support (a single codebase doesn't need any changes on other platforms).
- Limited access to device features. For example, a hybrid app won't be able to display notifications or use Bluetooth connections;
- Heavy apps because they have to load a browser engine and an app wrapper inside it;
- No access to deep system integration. Platform capabilities depend on device APIs, which means that you'll need to use specific plugins for different tasks (e.g., GPS). It also affects performance and battery life because some operations will require additional computing power or radio modules, which drain the battery quickly;
- Poor realization time – windows mobile app engineering may take more time than expected due to limitations and miscellaneous errors caused by using third-party tools;
- Lack of support for offline usage. Hybrid apps are primarily web applications, so there's no way to continue working without an Internet connection. What is more, even if your app can manage offline tasks (like Google Docs), it will sync data with a server every time you get back online;
Problems with updates may sound strange, but native apps can be updated without users' participation. In contrast, hybrid mobile development requires an actual update via an external store (Google Play or App Store). If you want to make changes on your own, you'll need additional skills and time to edit the codebase manually;
- Compatibility problems depend on OS versions. A new version of iOS or Android may not be fully compatible with old apps;
- Poor scalability – you can't expect hybrid mobile apps to run on future platforms and devices. It's possible, but you'll lose the main benefit of using such a solution (building an app for different platforms). You may still use web technologies that will work across future versions, but it doesn't solve compatibility issues.
What are the disadvantages of native mobile development?
It- Expensive because there's no free codebase;
- Fragmentation problems – every platform has its own set of features, so you'll need to learn everything from scratch and use a specific set of tools for each one;
- Time needed to build high-performance applications – iOS requires more time because developers have less access to the system;
- Limited support for web technologies. Native apps have better interaction with the user, and they use the full power of a device, but it's hard to make them as good as a website or hybrid solution;
- Problems with updates – you'll need updates that will interact with people who have already installed your app. In most cases, users don't agree to update immediately, which means that you'll end up losing some users;
- Difficult scalability – new platforms require additional work from developers, which means more time and money spent on development. It also means worse performance and stability, which will lead to high support costs.
What are the advantages of HTML5?
- The most significant benefit is the ability to create cross-platform apps with one codebase that runs on desktops, iOS, Android, Windows Phone, or Blackberry;
- Less expensive than native development because there's no need to build additional tools for Apple's and Google's stores; it can be published in an external marketplace without any additional fees (like Amazon App Store);
- Easy UI merging with desktop applications;
- Great animation/design possibilities using CSS3;
- Powerful web technologies including JavaSript, HTML5, and CSS3 allow the creation of powerful apps like many desktop ones;
- Autonomous updates;
- Loosely coupled architecture that scales well and supports offline usage;
- Good support for mobile browsers ("mobile-first" approach);
- Ability to work on different devices (desktops, tablets, smartphones).
What are the drawbacks of HTML5?
The most common disadvantage of this cross-platform solution is that it's not as user-friendly and smooth as native apps. If you want to build a high-performance app with good UX, you'll need more time and money than when building a hybrid or native one;
Web technologies can be used only for building web and mobile applications. It means that most HTML5 tools don't support building desktop ones, so you can use such an approach only for creating cross-platform solutions;
It requires additional knowledge of web programming languages (HTML, CSS), which is limited compared to native development, where developers have ready code libraries for working on iOS and Android. Using web technologies may take longer than using something like C++. On the other hand, there are plenty of highly-skilled web developers, so you don't need to spend much money on training.
Many people think that HTML5 apps are less user-friendly and stable than native ones because it's a relatively new way of building cross-platform applications. They can be slower because there's no access to low-level features like Android or iOS. That's why using this technology is more about design than performance which can cause problems for some users;
HTML5 isn't the perfect solution if you want to create 3D games with rich graphics. It requires additional resources, time, and effort, so many game developers choose other options.
What are the disadvantages of hybrid mobile development? - You'll lose compatibility with future versions of iOS and Android, which can cause you to lose some users;
- Poor performance due to the use of web technologies;
- Security issues connected with updating mean that you may lose some users because they don't want to update the app immediately after the release. What is an app? "An application or software program is a computer program designed to help computer users perform specific tasks." ( source ) As you can see, this definition doesn't say anything about operating systems like iOS, Android, Windows Phone, or Blackberry. So what's an app for our purposes? It's any piece of code that allows users to get information, perform tasks, or entertain themselves on mobile devices. That's why an app can be a game for iOS and Android and a business solution designed for Blackberry and Windows Phone.
There's another difference:
- Native apps can be used on different devices but don't run everywhere; for example, an iOS app won't work on Android and vice versa, so you'll need additional tools to build a cross-platform solution no matter what technology you choose.
What do I mean by "native" development? It's an approach where developers use programming languages supported by particular OSes, so an app built with Java won't be available to run on an iOS device. It almost means that you should rebuild your app for every OS if you plan to reach as many users as possible. What are the primary purposes of development? - Building business tools for different companies; you'll need different apps only if you want to create different processes or use platform-specific features like Apple Pay which Android doesn't support; it makes native development a good choice here because it will allow using other valuable features like double-click home button for faster task switching, multitasking menu, and so on (iOS) or widgets (Android). - Developing games with 3D graphics; games require more resources than essential business solutions.
Top cross-platform app frameworks
1. React Native
Even though React Native uses JS for developing cross-platform solutions, its primary purpose is to speed up development time; it's essential for companies that need to release apps for several operating systems (two or three) because it will save time and money. It can be used in many scenarios like games, business tools, or social media apps; for example, Facebook has released its Instagram client built with React Native, which works fine on iOS and Android.
This Framework is relatively new (most critics appear during the first days after its official release) but offers great potential because it allows for building real native-like applications, which means that you can expect better performance than hybrid solutions. However, you should also note some limitations when using this technology, so choose wisely before investing time/money into it, even though you'll get rid of other problems related to one OS.
Ionic is a popular framework among web and mobile developers who want to create cross-platform apps without any difficulties; it uses AngularJS, which means that you can also add resources like third-party components (for example, Google Maps or Bootstrap). It's relatively easy to start because there are plenty of tutorials available on the internet, plus everything will be more accessible if you've already built some single-page applications using AngularJS, so you'll see how this Framework works in less than an hour.
Unfortunately, Ionic isn't entirely free for commercial use, so even though it demonstrates excellent performance with simple apps, more complex projects may not suit it. A basic version is currently offered for free, but they're planning to charge for Pro support which is crucial in large-scale apps because it will allow the creation of applications with more features.
Phonegap belongs to the most popular mobile development frameworks that offer excellent performance and stable work on multiple devices; it allows building real native applications using HTML5/CSS/JS codebase or Apache Cordova - a cross-platform shell that can be used to access available hardware components like camera, file storage systems, etc. However, it has one significant disadvantage because you won't get better results than Cordova when working with UI elements, while some functionality may even be limited compared to traditional solutions. It's also worth noting that Adobe isn't updating this Framework anymore, so you should only choose it if you're planning simple projects and don't need access to some beneficial hardware components (calendar, file explorer, etc.).
4. Titanium Mobile
Xamarin is an important technology that has been developed for several years by Microsoft; it allows building real native apps using C# so that you can expect excellent performance on all target devices. This Framework is used by big companies like Amazon, eBay, Freelancer, etc. Suppose your budget doesn't allow paying hundreds of dollars for Titanium or other aforementioned tools. In that case, this solution may be the best choice because it's cheap despite offering great functionality. Also, Xamarin offers advanced debugging options while providing access to different hardware components, which means you'll get the highest optimization level without any problems.
6. Ivolgamus Svar Framework
At the moment, Svar Framework includes 14 products that can be used together with each other to create complex apps; they're also constantly improving functionalities and adding new options, so if you already know C#, then this tool may suit you perfectly because of its stability and speed even though there are no tutorials available at the moment (only one is coming soon).
Xojo is an easy-to-use framework that has been used for making various types of apps since 2001, including games, business solutions, etc. Hence, it's worth mentioning that more than 1 million developers are using this technology because it provides outstanding performance on all devices and allows coding similar to Visual Basic or other popular languages. Xojo is only suitable for simple projects with basic requirements but can also be combined with other technologies if your budget allows it. Furthermore, you can use the existing codebase from older projects when building new ones because many online tutorials are available.
8. Framework 7
9. Appcelerator Titanium
10. Cordova + Ionic Framework
Cordova is one of the most popular cross-platform technologies thanks to its power and flexibility together with a vast community focused entirely on building new plugins; however, there are still some limitations when it comes to complex projects, so you need to use this Framework together with another tool like Ionic which is an excellent library providing custom mobile components for frontend development (Framework itself is not based on AngularJS).
11. Appcelerator Alloy
12. Onsen UI
Onsen UI is another excellent framework allowing building cross-platform apps using HTML5/CSS3 without difficulties because Japanese developers created everything so that you won't have any problems with app localization. Onsen UI is not as popular as Ionic, so that you won't find many tutorials and examples. However, it's still worth trying, thanks to the clean and straightforward codebase with essential custom elements every developer should know.
Monaca is a good solution for beginners because they offer free services, including Cloud IDE, which allows building, running, and debugging apps on various devices without downloading/installing additional tools; that means you can deploy your apps in just a few seconds - this tool also has an integrated marketplace with apps created by other users who decided to share their work for free. There are some limitations in performance if we compare this Framework to the previous ones included in our list. Still, there are lots of tutorials and other guides available, so you should be able to solve any problem without difficulties, even if you're new to mobile app development.
Appery is an online platform with lots of interactive lessons based on real projects as well as some basic features necessary for building apps; this tool allows connecting your existing databases or creating a new one from scratch along with some custom tools like push notifications, geolocation, and others which you'll need during the process - they also have an open marketplace where you can find plugins and libraries created by other users and published for free use (just like on Monaca). I would recommend using this web-based solution for learning purposes because it's much easier than setting up local servers, but there are some limitations in project complexity.
15. Quasar Framework
A potent tool based on VueJS allows customizing almost everything - you can create apps not only for Android/iOS but connect them with other technologies like Electron, Phonegap, Meteor, or React Native. Quasar is a pretty new framework, so it's still in the beta version released last year. Still, even now, you'll find lots of tutorials and guides available to help you learn this technology relatively quickly because documentation is one of the best I've ever seen during my experience working with various tools - just don't forget that this is an open-source project without any official support from developers.
16. Xam + Ionic Framework
Codenameone is an open-source tool released last year by Ephox Corp; it uses standard HTML5/CSS3 language to create mobile apps with native components like push notifications, geolocation, or app localization. This platform has one of the cleanest codebases I've ever worked with, so don't be afraid - it will take some time to learn how everything works together. Still, you'll be able to create apps quickly and with almost no errors (I didn't find any issues in my projects). Keep in mind that this is one of the least well-known solutions because it isn't well-documented, and not too many developers recommend using it; there's also a commercial version (paid) along with some addons/plugins created by other users.
19. Future Ad Pro For Mobile
Future Ad Pro for Mobile is a web platform that uses HTML5 language to create cross-platform mobile apps; they support Android and iOS devices, including iPhones and iPads, WP8 smartphones, etc. This tool provides a pretty clean codebase, so you shouldn't have problems understanding how everything works together - I did find some minor bugs during my tests. Still, developers are constantly working on new releases, so it shouldn't be a problem in the future. Documentation is pretty good because you'll find information about features, architecture, getting started guides, etc.
20. News Feed for Mobile
News Feed for Mobile (completely free) is an open-source solution created by Matt Kruse which allows customizing almost everything: from iOS/Android app designs to backend communication using technologies like PHP or Ruby along with MySQL - this web platform supports all popular databases and communication protocols making integrations easy and fun to work with. I would recommend this platform mainly because of its simplicity and clean codebase; there's also a paid version (with more features) available if you want to use it for commercial projects.
21. React Mobile
22. Telerik AppBuilder
Tiggzi is a web-based platform for creating cross-platform iOS/Android apps using HTML5 language. This solution supports iOS 8+, Android 4.1+, Windows Phone 7+, and Blackberry 10 devices allowing you to create almost every type of app quickly and easily. It uses a responsive layout, so your users should be able to use your apps on any device without problems; backend communication can be done through languages like PHP, Ruby or Java, so integrations are easy to complete. Documentation is pretty good because you'll find information about features, getting started guides, platform integration guides, etc. Remember that this tool doesn't support building Windows Store apps, which might be necessary for some developers.
Appery.io (completely free) is a cloud-based solution created by Appery Inc; it allows customizing almost everything, including project creation, design/theming options, backend servers using technologies like ASP.NET, PHP or Node JS along with Mongo DB or MySQL databases - I would recommend this platform because the list of features available for app development is pretty long (I can't mention them all here); there's also a more advanced tool named Appery Box which allows further customization of your apps during development. Documentation is excellent if you're already familiar with similar platforms, so keep in mind that this web tool might be difficult to learn without some training.
25. Mobile Angular UI
26. Apache Cordova
27. Ionic Framework
30. AppGyver Hero
AppGyver Hero is a cloud-based platform created by the same company. Still, this one allows creating native iOS/Android apps using web languages without any limitations - this tool has been designed specifically for non-developers, so anyone can create an app since there's no need to write code; it doesn't require installation because all development is done through cloud servers which are available 24/7. Like the previous solution, check pricing plans because they start at $99 per month (per project), which might affect your business decisions. Features are essential here because you'll find tons of them from backend integration, custom home screen design, offline mode support, etc. Documentation is pretty good here, but check tutorials/webinars if you have some particular needs.
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