Up until a few years ago, cross-platform development was considered an inferior development practice and a compromise to native development. For publishers it was a no-brainer to offer their applications as web wrappers rather than native containers.
While an application built with the native SDK will always trump the one developed using a third-party tool, the idea of developing a single application that runs on every platform and device has always enthralled the developer community. They never gave up trying to build a tool that brings the best of native applications and cross-platform applications to one place.
The downside of native applications
Native development means you have to target multiple platforms with your application and allocate dedicated resources to each of them. With development on each platform acting as a separate project, the cost can rise exponentially. Even once the project is over, you may have to retain a subset of the team on each project to maintain and take the project further.
Such project teams tend to work in silo with little to no overlaps despite building the same set of functionalities. These deficits may elongate the development time from idea to conception.
For smaller publishers with limited time, resources, and capital, native development may not make sense in the long run.
In many cases, cross-platform development isn’t even an option because device platforms severely limit what an application developed with a third-party tool can do. Most importantly, APIs linked to core device functions are limited to applications natively compiled for the device.
However, some applications don’t need advanced device functions such as access to the device’s precise location, push notifications, camera, microphone, email, messaging, etc. Then again, if the application doesn’t need these features what’s the point in developing a native app when you can achieve everything within a web app or a web view inside an app. The problem is that app stores are unwilling to approve apps that act as mere web views.
Cross-platform development in 2021
When cross-platform development tools first came along, they were severely limited by their capabilities. However, that’s not the case anymore. Modern cross-platform tools give you the ability to code in the language of your choice, allows applications to share a common codebase across multiple platforms, and recently they can cross-compile the code as a native application for each platform.
Cross-platform tools have come a long way from the days of web-wrappers and hybrid applications to cross-platform applications that don’t just look and act like native applications but actually are.
If you tried developing mobile applications on Adobe PhoneGap (or Apache Cordova) and Ionic but gave up because of the limitation in terms of feature-set and performance, you should give one of the modern cross-platform development tools a try. Cross-platform development tools such as Facebook’s React Native, Google’s Flutter, and Microsoft’s Xamarin have shown a great deal of promise.
The rebirth of cross-platform development with React Native
The current state of cross-platform development can’t be attributed without a reference to React Native. The go-to tool for developing cross-platform applications, React Native powers 42% of applications not developed in their native SDKs.
At one point in time, Facebook realized that it had too many applications to take care of in addition to the website. Frequent updates when you’re serving millions of concurrent users with your apps were pushing the application stack to its limits. One of the frustrated developers came up with a solution in the form of React Native.
Now developers at Facebook could employ the codebase from Facebook’s web application and extend it to the mobile apps with little modifications and some additions. This means they don’t have to write separate code for each application. A growing number of popular mobile apps such as Instagram, Pinterest, Uber, Discord, SoundCloud, Skype, and Apple Music are partially or completely rewritten in React Native.
The rise of Flutter as an alternative
Flutter cross-platform tool is developed by the team at Google and allows you to build cross platform mobile applications on Android and iOS using a cross-platform compatible language called Dart. Flutter cross platform technology uses cross compatible libraries so that it's easy to share the cross-platform code between Android and iOS applications.
Flutter cross-platform technology is a great solution for cross-platform mobile application development, if you’re looking for cross-purpose solutions with high performance, as it allows cross-platform development with cross platform components for cross-compatible native applications.
Xamarin is still going strong, but…
Xamarin cross platform framework was developed by Microsoft in 2016 to build cross platform mobile apps using cross compatible technologies like C# and .NET. Xamarin cross platform compatible coding technology allows you to reuse cross-platform compatible code for cross platform application development.
Even though Xamarin cross platform framework is a great solution for cross-platform mobile application development, it has several limitations such as your cross-platform apps will be built using cross-compatible libraries instead of native components. This cross-platform framework is a great choice if you’re looking to reuse cross-compatible code for cross-platform application development.
Which cross-platform development tool is for you in 2021?
React Native is an open-source framework with good documentation and community support. Flutter is Google’s answer to creating high quality apps quickly across multiple platforms. Xamarin has been around since 2011, but still holds its own in 2021 as one of the best options for C# developers that are looking to create cross-platform applications. However, it employs cross-compatible libraries instead of native components unlike Flutter and React Native.
There are many tools for cross-platform development, and each of them have their pros and cons. It's worth investing some time to understand which one is the best choice for your needs before committing a lot of resources to it.
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If you're struggling with this decision or need help getting started on any part of web development in general, be sure to contact us! Rare Crew have experts ready to answer questions about app design and launch strategy as well as how to use these three types of cross-platform Development tools (React Native, Flutter, Xamarin) in order to ensure your product will be successful from day one.