What Is Cross-Platform Application Development?

What Is Cross-Platform Application Development?

Written by Abirami, In Technology, Published On
December 16, 2023
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A decade ago, mobile operating systems were diverse. There were platforms like Windows Phone and BlackBerry OS alongside iOS and Android. This complexity challenged developers, requiring separate apps for each platform. Today, the mobile landscape is dominated by iOS and Android. This has further streamlined the lives of developers. But, an even more promising approach is cross-platform app development.

Are you wondering what is cross-platform development?

Cross-platform development enables the creation of a single app for both iOS and Android users. They even work well on devices like smartwatches and smart TVs.

It seems to erase OS boundaries, but are the benefits as great as they appear? Let’s explore cross-platform app development, its strengths, weaknesses, and real-world success stories.

What Is Cross-Platform Mobile App Development?

Imagine writing code once and deploying your app on both Android and iOS devices—a dream for developers, right? 

Well, that’s Cross-Platform Application Development in action. This revolutionary approach lets developers create apps that run seamlessly on multiple operating systems. It’s like having a universal key for iOS and Android. This streamlines development. Both time and money are saved. Also, a consistent user experience across devices is ensured.

What is cross-platform development? A short comparison of native and web apps

Now that we’ve set the stage for Cross-Platform Mobile App Development, it’s time to unravel how it stacks up against its counterparts: Native and Web Apps.

 1- Native apps

Native apps rule the app world with precision. They’re custom-made for a single platform, be it iOS or Android.

Native apps use languages like Swift, Objective-C for iOS, and Java or Kotlin for Android. They unlock a device’s full potential for a seamless, high-performance user experience. Native apps are fast, reliable, and leverage specific device features like GPS and camera. You can download them from app stores like Apple’s App Store or Google Play Store.

2- Web App Development

Now, let’s talk about web apps. They’re like websites but optimized for mobile devices. You don’t need to download or install them. Just open your web browser, and there they are!

Web apps use standard web technologies like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. They’re easy to develop and maintain. But they might not be as fast or responsive as native apps. Additionally, they rely on an internet connection and might not harness all the advanced features your device boasts.

 3- Cross-Platform App Development

Now, let’s explore Cross-Platform Application Development, offering the best features of web and native apps. In this approach, developers craft a single codebase for use on multiple platforms like iOS and Android. This codebase is then translated into native code for each platform, delivering a native look and feel while sharing core logic.

Cross-platform mobile application development ensures a consistent user experience. It also cuts down development time and costs, allowing a single team to collaborate on a shared codebase.

Two types of cross-platform app development

There are two main variations of cross-platform app development, including –

Hybrid development — all you need to know

Hybrid development lets you create one mobile app using web cross-platform technologies technologies like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. These web technologies run inside a browser embedded in a native app, like WKWebView for iOS and WebView for Android. To make your website code work in this embedded browser, you use a wrapper like Cordova or Ionic. These wrappers support plugins that enhance the browser’s abilities and provide access to platform-specific features. The great thing is you can distribute hybrid cross-platform applications through the App Store and Google Play Market.

One cool aspect of hybrid cross-platform solutions is that users usually don’t realize they’re using a browser. WebView and WKWebView mimic a native app’s look and feel seamlessly. Another plus is that users get software updates instantly without needing to install them from an app store.

But, there’s a drawback – maintaining a consistent design. It’s a bit tricky to follow both Google and Apple’s design guidelines when building a single iOS-Android cross-platform. However, hybrid apps still manage to look and feel quite native.

When is Hybrid App Development a relevant choice?

Several scenarios favor hybrid development:

  • For budget-friendly startup testing, opt for hybrid development to quickly launch and validate your idea with minimal risk. Once validated and attracting investors, consider transitioning to native cross-platform or multi-platform app development for enhanced results.
  • Choose hybrid cross-platform application development for simpler apps like weather, currency exchange, or habit tracking, where top-tier performance isn’t crucial but a high-level user experience is still valued.
  • Transitioning from a web app to a mobile? Hybrid multi-platform mobile app development is strategic, allowing the reuse of existing code. Hybrid apps for iOS and Android share approximately 80% of their code, making it an appealing choice for developers.

Cross-platform native development — all you need to know

When it comes to Cross-Platform Native Development, React Native, based on JavaScript, stands out as a leader. Flutter, on the other hand, based on Dart, is promising but catching up. For now, let’s delve into React Native.

These frameworks share a common goal: building custom apps for multiple platforms with the same technology stack. React Native and Flutter enable the sharing of a substantial part of the codebase for iOS and Android apps. However, some platform-specific code is still needed.

Why “native”? Cross-Platform Native Apps don’t need an intermediary like a browser to run on a smartphone. React Native compiles JavaScript into native code, be it Java or Swift, depending on the platform. This ensures a platform-specific user interface for a native look and feel.

When to Choose Cross-Platform Native Development

While hybrid cross-platform web app development covers most use cases and suits small businesses, Cross-Platform Native Development with React Native becomes the preferable choice when:

  • User experience is a top priority. So, tailor your app’s interface to match the distinct user interfaces of iPhone and Android, accommodating both user groups.
  • High app performance is crucial. Native applications outperform embedded mobile browsers, and React Native allows the use of platform-specific code (Java or Swift) for complex features.

What other platforms can you support with a cross-platform app?

Cross-platform app development is not limited to smartphones. They extend their capabilities to a diverse range of platforms, offering versatility and potential beyond mobile devices. Here are a few platforms you can target:

  • Smartwatches: Reach the wrist with platforms like Wear OS, watchOS (for Apple devices), and Tizen, providing wearable experiences.
  • Smart TVs: Explore Android TV, WebOS, Roku TV, Tizen OS, and Apple TV to make your app accessible on large screens for content, services, or entertainment.
  • Smart Speakers: Tap into voice assistants like Alexa and Google Home, creating voice-enabled applications for the growing smart speaker market.

Ending note

In the recent past, cross-platform app development was often considered a cost-effective yet low-quality compromise. It was primarily adopted by startups with limited initial investments. However, times have changed.

Today, major industry players like Uber and Pinterest opt for React Native to accelerate development without compromising on the quality of updates. Even in security-sensitive sectors such as banking, Ionic is chosen for its ability to meet rigorous requirements. Startups also turn to Ionic for its swift development capabilities and dependable reliability.

In essence, cross-platform app development has matured into a powerful and versatile solution for various application development requirements.

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