TABLE OF CONTENTS
Cross-Platform vs Native App Development: Choosing the Right Solution
Why is the choice between Cross-platform and Native Apps so important?
What are the differences between these solutions?
When to choose Native technologies and when Cross-platform?
The choice between cross-platform and native apps is a question that every mobile app developer has asked themselves. The answer to this question will vary in each case because it depends on the required functionalities and, in some cases, native technologies may be the better option, while in others, cross-platform may be more suitable. To understand the origins of this problem, it's worth considering the differences between cross-platform and native technologies, as well as examining the advantages and disadvantages of both solutions.
Cross-platform development is the process of building a mobile application that can be run on multiple operating systems, such as Android and iOS, based on a single source code. Most businesses and startups want their app to be available on various devices with different operating systems to cover a larger portion of the market.
The main characteristic of cross-platform technologies is that the codebase of the application works on multiple platforms simultaneously, with minor differences in code between iOS and Android. This means that only one development team is needed to work on a single application. This is made possible mainly through cross-platform frameworks such as React Native or Flutter. Cross-platform development can be summed up as "One programming language that works on major platforms."
Advantages of Cross-platform Application Development
The choice of cross-platform technologies has its own advantages and disadvantages, just like native technologies. It should be a business-driven decision that suits your application and the functionalities it will include.
Same codebase for iOS and Android
The main advantage of the cross-platform approach is that a single codebase works on multiple platforms. This significantly reduces costs and development time. In the case of native apps, the code needs to be written using two different technologies (usually Swift and Kotlin), resulting in duplicating the same functionality. In reality, developing native apps means creating two separate applications that require different specialists in the project teams.
Shorter app development process and faster time-to-market
Cross-platform development requires writing only one version of the code that slightly differs between platforms. Therefore, many apps do not require the implementation of two separate projects for Android and iOS. The entire development process is much faster because the entire team, from front-end and UX/UI to back-end, works together on a single codebase.
Cost-effectiveness of app development
Since cross-platform technologies do not require a separate team for each system, building an application is cheaper compared to native technologies and building separate apps for iOS and Android. Additionally, by using frameworks like React Native, developers can reuse some of the code for web versions as well. As a result, cross-platform app development is simpler, more cost-effective, and faster.
Consistent UX/UI across platforms
App handling and user experience may vary between systems and devices. In native apps, this often results in additional work hours for UX/UI designers. Cross-platform frameworks offer a certain solution, although not without some issues.
Differences between iOS and Android system requirements cause UX/UI designers to consider certain limitations and "rules" specific to each system. A good example is the native device interface, which differs between practically every system.
Cross-platform solutions are not perfect and have their drawbacks. However, achieving consistent UX/UI in cross-platform apps is somewhat easier and faster than
in native apps. Creating one version of the app with minor changes between platforms requires less effort compared to building dedicated native apps for each system.
Reaching a larger user base
Since cross-platform apps work on multiple systems, they are cheaper to develop and can be brought to market faster. This allows you to validate your business model more quickly and start working on product-market fit with a broader audience. Cross-platform solutions are particularly suitable for startups testing their ideas or having limited budgets, time, and the desire to build apps for multiple platforms.
Still not sure if you need a cross-platform application? Let's discuss your situation and find the right solution for you!
Drawbacks of Cross-Platform Development
App size: Cross-platform apps tend to have larger file sizes than native apps. This is because cross-platform apps need to work on multiple devices and require additional abstract processes. This is mainly due to the fact that the compiled code from React Native to Kotlin, for example, often contains a lot of libraries or code parts needed to implement specific functionalities. Although these differences are not significant in today's context, they can still be considered a drawback.
Simplification of certain features: Developers may need to address the differences between devices and systems individually. In the case of complex functionalities that utilize native tools or APIs (Application Programming Interface), such as AR (Augmented Reality) applications, it may be necessary to use native mobile technologies. There may be situations where React Native does not have a ready-to-use library for a specific functionality, while the same functionality can be readily implemented using Kotlin/Java (Android).
Longer QA process: If an app needs to run on all platforms, more time should be dedicated to testing each platform in parallel.
Native App Development
Native apps are built specifically for a single system. In practice, this means that at least two practically separate apps need to be developed, one for iOS and one for Android. This requires additional resources for development, usually happening simultaneously and resulting in higher costs.
Advantages of Native App Development
The main advantage of native app development is the absence of code limitations imposed by cross-platform frameworks. For example, in React Native, some modules necessary to perform specific functionalities may be unavailable, while in native technologies like Kotlin, they would be readily available. Native apps often take up less device memory and operate faster than cross-platform apps. Although the difference is not significant, it can be crucial in healthcare or AR applications, where even a small percentage difference can have a significant impact on the UX.
App speed and optimization
Native apps are usually faster and easier to optimize. Unlike cross-platform apps, native apps are built specifically for certain operating systems. Native apps can easily utilize native APIs and other components optimized for specific screen sizes and system versions.
Native apps have more tailored and robust security measures compared to cross-platform apps. On one hand, this is due to built-in security features of each platform. On the other hand, cross-platform apps are more susceptible to web attacks, but this vulnerability can be mitigated by implementing additional security measures. This doesn't mean that native apps are immune to vulnerabilities; it simply means that in native apps, we have greater control over the libraries we use.
Leveraging device capabilities
Native apps make it easier to utilize mobile device functionalities such as the camera, GPS, and others. For example, apps utilizing AR functions perform better as native apps compared to those built using cross-platform frameworks. This is partially due to the native APIs provided by iOS and Android to developers.
Drawbacks of Native App Development
- Higher costs and longer development time: Native apps typically require two separate dedicated teams building the same app for Android and iOS, resulting in higher financial investment. Additionally, since two teams work simultaneously, coordinating a larger number of people is necessary to maintain UX/UI consistency and thoroughly test
One codebase per platform: Unlike cross-platform apps, native apps cannot reuse code between platforms. Building two separate native apps means developers cannot share source code, and everything needs to be built from scratch.
Double maintenance and update costs: Another costly and time-consuming aspect is the app's servicing and updating cycle. Because the code needs to be written separately for each platform, maintaining the app may be more expensive than with a cross-platform app, assuming the app is intended for multiple platforms.
Which solution is best for your next project?
Choosing between native and cross-platform technologies requires careful analysis and planning of each app's functionalities. In practice, most mobile apps could seamlessly use cross-platform technologies without significantly impacting their UX, while achieving a lower cost of app deployment. On the other hand, in some mobile app projects, using a cross-platform solution may be completely unjustified.
Documenting the project specifications and functionalities will be helpful in making the decision. If you notice that the app you want to build frequently relies on physical device components (e.g., camera, GPS, AR API) or if achieving the best possible UX and performance is critical, native technologies like Swift or Kotlin may be the better choice.
In cases where you want to transfer popular solutions from web applications (data display, login, messaging) and the app project does not involve complex functionalities, technologies like React Native or Flutter can be a better fit.