A Beginner's Guide to Cross-Platform App Development

Aside from typical issues like aligning the core features and adhering to the client's needs, one significant challenge for developers is cross-platform app development. As if developing a functional and aesthetically pleasing app was not tricky enough, now you have to make it run on various platforms and devices.

While the premise may seem straightforward, the cross-platform app development process is easier said than done. However, despite the added difficulty of this approach, it has become increasingly popular among developers to the point it may soon become standard practice.

Its popularity is because the cross-platform app development approach saves developers time, effort, and resources. This approach eliminates the need to create and develop multiple versions of the same application to make it run on different platforms and devices.

This beginner's guide to cross-platform app development will explore all the basics you need to know about cross-platform frameworks. That includes various app development tools programmers utilize to build apps that function seamlessly across multiple platforms.

This guide will also cover the pros and cons of cross-platform development while providing tips on selecting the appropriate approach for your project.

It does not matter if you are a beginner looking to sharpen your app development skills or a seasoned developer. This guide will provide the fundamental knowledge you need to understand cross-platform development.

Key Takeaways

  • Cross-platform app development is a faster and cheaper way for companies to launch their app across multiple app marketplaces and platforms.
  • The advantages of cross-platform app development include reduced cost and timing, cloud hosting integration, and easier maintenance.
  • The disadvantages of cross-platform app development include speed issues, limited functionality, and difficulty in code design.
  • The best cross-platform app development frameworks include Flutter, React Native, Ionic, Cordova, and Xamarin.

What is cross-platform app development?

The days when most developers only had to master focusing on one leading platform like iOS, Android, Windows, or Apple are gone. The recent market statistics within the United States show that it has had an almost equal division between Android and Apple platforms.

As of January 2023, the market data revealed that iOS accounts for about 55% of the North American mobile operating system market. Android made a close second, accounting for about 45% of the mobile OS market. Additionally, the remaining operating systems in the same market outside of iOS or Android accounted for 0.35%.

Most people imagine that mobile app developers should not have much issue with including one new environment in their work. However, the reality is more complex for many reasons and processes in mobile app development.

Development costs, skills required, and timing can significantly influence the decision of a development company when it comes to choosing between native and cross-platform.

It might seem counterintuitive that mobile developers should face these decisions in a world with multiple platform technologies and devices. However, the requirements of the various native platforms entail meticulous analysis from both a business and tech point of view.

Generally speaking, cross-platform app development is developing software services and products that run across multiple platforms and devices. This approach entails incorporating various methods to accommodate the software product or the app on multiple operating systems.

As mentioned, the predominant operating systems on consumer devices like PCs, laptops, and mobile devices are Android, iOS, and Windows. However, some consumers utilize open-source technologies like Linux, which has caused the emergence of open-source, cross-platform development.

It is essential to understand the significant differences between native and cross-platform mobile development since most apps are mobile device and platform-specific.

Native and Cross-Platform Mobile Development: What are the Differences?

When it comes to comparing native mobile app development and cross-platform mobile app development approaches, there are two main principles you must understand. These principles are the mobile development tools used for the development process and the development costs for the app.

Analyzing the data and statistics is an excellent way to understand mobile application development from a cost perspective.

For example, in 2017, a statistical study for mobile application development within the United States and Canada was conducted. This study focused on determining the average cost per development hour using U.S. dollars as the standard currency.

The study revealed that iOS and Android averaged $95 per development hour. While this data is about six years old now, you can imagine how much it has increased with the recent boost in mobile app popularity.

Native mobile app development boosts compatibility with a specific platform and entails high expertise. For some companies, it might be more efficient to hire a specialist who has mastered a single codebase over cross-platform mobile development tools specialists.

There are more chances to find developers who can work with Kotlin or Java for Android apps or Swift and Objective-C for iOS apps.

However, hiring development teams to cover each code environment is crucial if your business strategy encompasses multiple mobile environments. Accomplishing this task is challenging for most businesses due to the need for more talented developers.

Assuming you finish assembling your development teams, it is essential to maintain separate codebases constantly. That ensures any changes in your business might also affect the functions of the native codebases that your teams produce.

Native development has its fair share of undeniable advantages as well. Each platform allows developers to build and design applications through unrestricted access to tools and APIs in a specific environment.

Since the app creator benefits from many resources and tools, its native-built products will likely be more scalable. Additionally, a native application ranks high in app marketplaces, like the Apple App store and Google play store, offering an improved user experience.

Pros of Cross-Platform App Development

Although most development companies prefer working with a native app development framework, approximately one-in-three mobile app developers today will choose a cross-platform framework. Here are some benefits of choosing a cross-platform app development framework.

Decreased timing and cost

One of the first advantages of cross-platform app development is the significant reduction of cost and timing. The hourly rate for a cross-platform mobile app development typically costs less than native mobile app developers.

A company that utilizes a cross-platform development approach will save money on not just one developer but the entire development team. These companies would only need to recruit and pay for one group of developers instead of the multiple teams that native app development typically requires.

Additionally, the cross-platform app development framework utilized to create a product accumulates less time than on a native platform. That is because this framework involves using a single development cycle.

Easier maintenance

Another benefit of cross-platform development is that it is easier to maintain than native app development. Applications built using a cross-platform development framework only require one code base because it only uses a single cross-platform tool.

With this method, it is easier for developers to maintain. That means it is also easier to sync platform updates across all platforms and devices.

Because the cross-platform application code is reusable, it makes the development process more efficient. For example, developers save considerable time during the in-app stage since they only need one code for all platforms.

Cloud hosting integration

Integration with cloud hosting is arguably the most crucial advantage of cross-platform application development. That is because it provides significant flexibility in managing the application with the assistance of extensions and plug-ins.

Extended consumer reach for tech products

Finally, cross-platform development provides the benefit of extending the consumer reach for tech products. Your app has access to a broader market since it can efficiently function on all available platforms and devices.

Access to a broader market boosts your application's exposure, increasing the chances of people interacting with your app. The higher the number of people interacting with your app, the more changes your app has to secure paying users.

Cons of Cross-Platform App Development

Despite how efficient and cost-effective cross-platform app development sounds, it has its fair share of disadvantages. These cons that come with the cross-platform app development framework could be detrimental to your app's success in the market.

It is critical to understand these disadvantages to determine if this approach is the best fit for your project or business model.

Code design difficulty

Arguably one of the most glaring disadvantages of cross-platform development is the significant difficulty of code design. Cross-platform app developers must often consider the different expectations that come with building the code that enables the app to run on all platforms and devices.

As you can imagine, building a single code compatible with many different adaptations can be overwhelming. A typical first hurdle in incorporating a cross-platform development framework is finding developers with the skills to handle that coding.

Most businesses that have an app idea but lack an in-house developer team employ the services of developer companies like Brain Box Labs. These developer companies already have a skilled team of developers specializing in cross-platform mobile app development.

That eliminates the need to search for developers tirelessly and saves you the time and money you would have spent building a development team.

Speed issues

Another disadvantage of a cross-platform app is that it typically functions slower than native ones. While there are no significant differences in speed, it could still be a critical argument for specific user clusters when deciding between competing apps.

Limited functionality

In some cases, cross-platform app development lacks certain functions typically available in native app development. These functions include geolocation, camera, and microphone.

Native app developers have the edge in functions due to the vast array of resources and tools the platforms provide for their respective devices. Typical reasons devices like smartphones make it more difficult for cross-platform developed applications to access some features is due to privacy concerns.

User interface and user experience restrictions

Cross-platform mobile apps must settle for somewhat restricted options regarding UX and UI components and tools. By comparison, a native app does not have this problem as it has many UX tools readily available to native app developers.

These restrictions could diminish the user experience for cross-platform applications, affecting how users receive your app. That is especially crucial for an SME or a startup starting to build an app since how potential consumers view it is a critical turning point.

Top 7 Cross-Platform App Development Frameworks and Platforms

Android App Drawer on Tablet
Image by xyz0 on Pixabay

Now that you understand how cross-platform app development works, it is time to delve into the various frameworks. Here are the top 7 most popular cross-platform app development frameworks and platforms.

1. React Native

React Native is arguably one of the most preferred and best cross-platform frameworks for application development. React Native allows programmers to write modules in popular programming languages like JavaScript and CSS and high-level programming languages like Python, Objective-C, and Swift.

React Native is an open-source, cross-platform app framework with a reusable codebase. It is the ideal choice for developing a prototype quickly since it can use covert the source code to the native elements fast. Additionally, the framework is compatible with agile software development practices.

2. Flutter

If React Native is what developers consider the top 1 preferred cross-platform app development framework, then Flutter is the next best choice. Flutter is a software development kit or SDK based on Dart, which is Google's in-house programming language that launched in 2018.

Flutter offers a variety of UI widgets and elements as well as a highly performant rendering engine. Additionally, the Hot Reload feature provides a live view of coding changes without needing to save.

3. Cordova

Apache Cordova is ranked third on the list of preferred cross-platform app development frameworks. Cordova is an open-source framework by Adobe, the same developer behind the PhoneGap computer program. Like React Native, Cordova also uses JavaScript, CSS, and HTML5. Additionally, it enables developers to use crucial phone resources such as geolocation, contacts, camera, and notifications.

4. Ionic

Taking the fourth spot on this list is the Ionic cross-platform app development framework is an open-source and free-to-use HTML5 SDK. It is an excellent choice for building engaging apps with high interactivity thanks to its vast library of gestures, themes, typography, UI elements, and other reusable tools.

Similar to Cordova, Ionic utilizes JavaScript, CSS, and HTML5. The APIs used by Ionic are TypeScript, JSX, async, and Virtual DOM, which makes the framework an ideal choice for Progressive Web APP or PWA and easy to use.

5. Xamarin

Firth on this list is Xamarin, a development framework backed by Microsoft and suited for .net code. Xamarin is a cross-platform development framework supporting programming languages like F#and C# and the Razor template engine.

Thanks to its easy-to-use and user-friendly interface, tackling particular client preferences becomes more manageable for programmers with this framework. The code is also completely reusable and has TestCloud, an automatic testing feature.

6. Sencha

Sixth on this list is Sencha EXT JS, which is a JavaScript framework that allows developers to build enterprise-grade and data-intensive mobile and web apps. The framework also enables developers to build high-performance and cross-platform applications for smartphones and PCs.

That means multi-platform app developers build with Ext JS function flawlessly across various platforms.

7. Angular

The list's last entry is Angular, a development platform built on TypeScript. For scalable web applications, the Angular platform includes a component-based framework.

It also includes a well-integrated library collection covering many features, such as forms management, routing, and client-server communication.

Did you know?

Many consider "Snake," the built-in arcade game included in the Nokia 6110 in 1997, the first mobile app. However, Steve Jobs was the first to envision the most basic concept for an app store back in 1983. Jobs’ original concept was a marketplace where applications were purchasable over phone lines.

Use Cross-Platform App Development

As mentioned, cross-platform app development is the ideal choice for companies that need a quick proof of concept or a minimum viable product or MVP. It is the fastest approach to making your product known to as many users as possible while covering every possible device.

It is also the best option for companies that do not want to employ multiple development teams specializing in native platforms. If your company cannot afford an in-house development team for cross-platform app development, you can hire a company like Brain Box Labs.

Hiring outside help to build your concept or project is significantly less expensive and eliminates the need to have any technical competencies in cross-platform frameworks. It also saves you considerable time and effort, so you can focus on marketing your app to users instead.

Need developers to help you build your new multi-platform mobile app idea? Brain Box Labs specializes in creating custom mobile and web applications for solving business problems. Contact them today to help bring your mobile app idea to life.


Frequently Asked Questions

The most famous examples of cross-platform mobile apps include Instagram, eBay, Airbnb, and Skype.

The most popular examples of native mobile apps include Spotify, WhatsApp, Pinterest, and Google Maps.

Cross-platform game development requires various software tools to create games from art assets and standard code. That means all developers work on a single code base. Software libraries, game engines, software development kits, and scripting languages build platform-specific elements required for a game to be released.