Native vs Cross-Platform Development: Choosing the Best Option for Your Project
With 1.96 million apps available for download in the App Store and 2.87 million apps available in the Play Market, it’s impossible to ignore the role that mobile apps play in modern society. For businesses across industries, mobile apps have become an obligatory asset that pulls customers closer and extends the range of services while facilitating many processes.
Thus, if your business does not yet have an app, it’s time to start thinking about designing one. And the big question here is what kind of app should you opt for? The dilemma lies in the native vs cross-platform application development. In this article, we’ll walk you through the pros and cons of each method and will explain the best use cases for both.
Native app development: what is it?
Native application development means building a mobile application for a specific platform (iOS or Android) by using tools that are “native” to this platform (in other words, intended to be used on it). In this way, a native app written for the iOS platform will not run on Android and vice versa.
When developing iOS applications, developers use either Objective-C or Swift programming language. While Objective-C is considered outdated, some iOS apps still run on it, so don’t dismiss this language - it’s just not so popular as Swift. In addition to using a specific programming language, developers also need to use a specific set of tools when building a native mobile application. Apple provides a native SDK (software development kit) called iOS SDK and requires the use of a native IDE (integrated development environment) which is Xcode.
As for Android, developers use either Java or Kotlin programming language. At first, Android applications were developed in Java but then Kotlin was released as a more efficient alternative. However, a great number of Android apps are still running strong in Java, so don’t think that Java days are over. And, same as Apple, Google also has a native SDK and offers Android Studio or IntelliJ IDEA as an IDE of choice.
The pros of native mobile applications
Native mobile apps are often the first choice when it comes to deciding the app development method. This is so because of a number of impressive benefits that they have:
- Great performance: due to a 100% compatibility of an app and a platform, native apps work blazingly fast and are highly responsive to user’s actions.
- Seamless UX: since native apps are built with specific guidelines in mind (the ones provided by Apple or Google), they offer a frictionless user experience and are highly appealing and user-centric.
- Security: native apps have access to the platform-specific built-in security features, which contributes to the overall security level of your app.
- Extensive functionality: native apps have access to all APIs and tools provided by the platform of choice - in this way, you have near-endless functionality possibilities.
- Low chance of bugs: when a native SDK is updated, developers instantly get access to it, thus being able to apply the needed patching and updates to the app.
The cons of native mobile applications
As good as they seem, native apps also have several drawbacks worth considering:
- Development costs: if you need to have apps for both iOS and Android, you will have to hire two separate teams - needless to say, it will double your costs.
- Time-consuming: this relates to the point above - since two separate teams work on two different applications, it will take longer to launch the app.
- Non-reusable code: the code written for iOS can be used only for this platform and the same applies to the code written for Android.
As you can see, the biggest drawback of native apps is their cost and development time - but in terms of performance and user experience, they excel. Now, let’s turn our attention to cross-platform applications and why you might want to consider them.
Cross-platform app development: what is it?
Cross-platform application development means developing a single application that can run on different platforms (on both iOS and Android). This can be achieved by using a single codebase that is then compiled natively for all needed platforms.
Cross-platform applications are created by using cross-platform frameworks and platform-specific SDKs (that we mentioned earlier). Examples of the most popular cross-platform frameworks are React Native, Flutter, and Xamarin.
Before the introduction of powerful cross-platform tools, cross-platform apps were limited in functionality and performance due to the lack of access to native UI elements. But modern cross-platform applications have full access to these elements due to correct compiling, and thus deliver the near-native level of performance and user experience.
The pros of cross-platform mobile applications
Even though native mobile applications offer a bunch of benefits, cross-platform applications are widely popular too and here are the reasons why:
- Cost-efficient: since there is a single codebase for two platforms, your development costs get reduced significantly as you will have to hire only one team to work on the app.
- Quick development: it takes less time to develop a cross-platform app than it takes to develop a native app and sometimes, short time to market is critical.
- Reusable code: a single codebase does not only mean faster development but also a more consistent business logic, which is a big advantage.
- Broad market reach: with a single app running on different platforms, you will be able to reach a broader target audience. This, in turn, positively impacts user engagement and increases your revenue.
The cons of cross-platform mobile applications
Same as any other software product, cross-platform applications have their drawbacks too. They include:
- Lower performance: in order to make your cross-platform app interact with a specific platform, you’ll need an extra layer of computation. This makes cross-platform applications slower than native ones.
- Limited functionality: unlike native apps, cross-platform applications do not have 100% access to all device’s functionality which may limit the functionality of the app.
- Limited design: same as with functionality, cross-platform apps can’t access all native UX components and hence, deliver a worse UX than native applications.
- Slower patching and updating: upon the release of new updates by Apple or Google, cross-platform developers have to make an extra effort to support these releases. This slows down the process of app updating.
A word on hybrid apps and how they differ from cross-platform apps
When talking about hybrid applications, many assume that this is a synonym for cross-platform applications. As you might have guessed, it’s not.
Hybrid and cross-platform applications share a thing in common: both can run on different platforms with a single codebase. But technically, they are not the same, so we hope we clarified that for you. Now, back to the topic of native app development vs cross-platform.
Factors to consider when choosing the app development method
Both native and cross-platform app development has its pros and cons. So how do you choose between cross-platform vs native without risking time and budget? Below, we list the core factors that will help you make the right decision.
Time to market
Time to market means the length of time needed to bring the product from its creation to market availability (or to the product release). And sometimes, businesses need to bring the product to market as soon as possible due to a number of reasons, such as a high level of competition, the right release date (in terms of promotion, etc.). In general, the sooner you release the product, the sooner you will be able to start collecting feedback. This is why so many startups prefer short time to market - in order to start adjusting the product as soon as possible.
If your business needs short time to market, cross-platform development will be your choice. Xamarin, for example, is great for building MVPs which are highly recommended for any startup to test their ideas. Native development, on the contrary, will be too time-consuming and won’t allow you to release the prototype fast.
This one is simple. If your budget is limited, it will be more cost-effective to develop a single app to run it on multiple platforms than to hire two separate teams for developing two different apps. Cross-platform app development allows you to have a small team of professionals to work on your product. Native development calls for two teams and thus, doubles the development (and maintenance) costs.
You might find the following articles interesting:
- The Best Android Frameworks for Mobile Application Development
- How to Find an App developer: Reviewing Available Options
- Mobile Application Development: A Step By Step Guide
Native or cross-platform app development?
Now that we’ve look at both native and cross-platform applications, their pros and cons, and main considerations, it will be easier for you to make the decision. Let’s sum up the points above in the following checklists.
Consider native app development, if:
- Your app requires full access to all resources and services of the intended device;
- You want to use the device’s hardware to its maximum;
- You want unparalleled quality of performance and UX;
- You want easy app maintenance and high level of security;
- Time to market and budget are not an issue.
Consider cross-platform app development, if:
- You need quick time to market and a limited budget;
- You need an MVP to quickly test your idea;
- Your application is not very CPU and GPU-intensive;
- You need code reusability;
- You need consistent performance across multiple platforms.
The choice between native vs cross-platform development will depend solely on your business goals, available resources, and time. But despite the method you choose, one thing remains the same for both native and cross-platform app development: it is vital to delegate the development process to skilled experts. The quality of your app will directly impact your business, so we highly recommend partnering with a reliable software vendor that has rich experience in app development. Contact us if you have any questions or if you want to discuss your app idea - we are always open for a chat!
Irina is a professional copywriter with over 7 years of experience in this domain. She loves creating compelling and informative copy that provides readers with all the needed information. Irina is also a frequent contributor to different blogs and websites across different domains.View all articles by this author.