With Apple and Android platforms being more competitive and enterprises starting to know more than ever the importance of having mobile applications, cross-platform app development is becoming a trend in 2020. In 2018, the cross-app development was a $7.5 billion market.
This is set to grow in the coming days.
What is Cross-Platform App Development?
Cross-platform app development refers to developing mobile applications that can be used on multiple platforms. This means cross-platform applications can be used in multiple operating systems such as Android and iOS.
Cross-Platform vs Native Mobile App Development
There are two ways of building apps for an operating system. One is native development, and another is cross-platform development.
Native apps are applications built for a specific platform, using a particular programming language. For building iOS apps Objective-C or Swift is used and for developing native Android applications Java and Kotlin is used.
Native development lets us create an app for a single platform. This means apps built for iOS devices won’t work on Android smartphones.
On the other hand, cross-platform app development allows developers to create mobile applications compatible with more than one OS. For instance, if someone wants to develop a game for Android and iOS, they won’t have to write the code twice for the platforms if they opt for a cross-platform framework.
The cost of developing a cross-platform app is lower as compared to native apps. But cross-platform applications will have hardware compatibility issues, whereas native apps can seamlessly integrate with the OS for which they are built.
There is another type of applications called hybrid apps that combine the elements of both web and native apps. Simply put, they are web applications placed inside a native shell.
Advantages of Cross Platform Development
1. Time and Cost-Effective
Since the application code can be reused for multiple platforms, you don’t have to worry about hiring separate developers. This will make the mobile app development process more cost-effective and also will reduce the time of development.
2. Reach a Wider Audience
Being able to publish an across multiple platforms at once also means that you can reach multiple groups of target audience with ease.
3. Easy to Maintain
Since only a single app runs on multiple platforms, making changes and deploying it will be a lot easier. If a component of the mobile app design needs to be changed, it can be modified once in the common codebase and reflected to all platforms.
4. Uniform Design and User Experience
Since the same app runs on multiple platforms, users will have an uninterrupted user experience if they plan to migrate from a device to another. UI elements will also be similar and recognisable throughout every platform.
Challenges of Cross-Platform App Development
1. Limitations in Accessing Native Components
Both Android and iOS smartphones have numerous components like battery optimization, location management, security features, and memory optimization that adds to their user experience. While developing cross-platform apps, these features may not be easily accessible as compared to native apps.
2. Not Suitable for Novice Developers
Developers who are new to app development may have a hard time learning the trade of cross-platform mobile app development. We recommend you to try out no-code app builders if you’re just starting out.
3. Performance-Related Glitches
Cross-platform apps are often known to experience performance-related glitches due to their inability to fully integrate with the operating system and device. Depending on the recurrence and nature of such glitches, they may tamper the user experience of the app.
What are Cross-Platform App Development Tools?
Now that you know what cross-platform app development is, we discuss this. Cross-platform development tools allow you to create apps for different platforms. There are various cross-platform tools on the market, and you choose one depending on the required features, programming language, and the price.
The Best Cross-Platform App Development Tools in 2020
Here are the most popular Cross-Platform App Development Tools you can use to create mobile applications in 2020:
Xamarin is from Microsoft Visual Studio. Similar to Adobe Phonegap, you can use it to create apps for Android, IOS, and Windows.
Xamarin uses C# and Ruby for coding. With its ease of usage and compatibility, it is no wonder that big companies like Foursquare, IBM, and Microsoft itself use this tool for coding. Moreover, it has a large community, and as you can share your code on the go, it helps group development and learning.
The apps that use Xamarin look like native apps because the tool uses native interfaces. Despite that, no matter what platform you are building your app, the code will be about 80% the same for all.
The downside is that even if the tool is free for individuals and startups, established enterprises need to pay for it. Other than that, developers strongly recommend using native app development for applications rather than Xamarin if they make extensive use of graphics.
2. React Native
React Native is another one of the most popular cross-development apps in the world right now. It is owned by Facebook. React Native is open-source and can be used to develop apps for Android, iOS, macOS, tvOS, Windows, and web.
You can share about 80% of code between platforms. With some native features and APIs, the final app will look very much like a native development, making your apps ‘feel’ natural for every platform. There is a preview screen where you can see your progress.
Ionic is an open-source SDK extensively used for cross-platform mobile development. It has a strong community of more than five million developers and is ideal to develop robust native and progressive web applications.
It’s free to use and offers a vast library of reusable app UI design components and tools. Since Ionic’s UI components are built using web standards, mobile app developers who are familiar with web development can easily use this framework.
With its feature called the Hyperloop, Appcelerator gives users direct access to Android and iOS APIs. The company claims code reuse of 60% to 90%, and the designer tool is mostly drag and drop. The UI also consists of a preview window where developers can see their work progress.
Appcelerator is free only for solo developers. There is a fixed price for growing businesses, and established enterprises need to ask for a quote. The features and support increase depending on the price you pay.
Apart from numerous core plugins, Cordova allows developers to use third-party plugins during Cordova app development. You can develop an app as lightweight as just 50 MB or go up to 1 GB and beyond. Also, while using Cordova, you can work with additional frameworks such as Kendo UI Core, jQuery mobile framework, and Bower.
Google first released a beta version of Flutter on May 27, and it took more than a year (December 2018) to make the first stable release. It is a cross-development tool allowing users to build Android and IOS apps with the same coding.
Google Flutter is similar to Xamarin and React Native in a way that it compiles source code to native code. So, the apps built for all the platforms on Flutter look like they were built on a native IDE.
Furthermore, the tool is based on Dart, a very simple programming language to learn. There are various features and the one that stands out is ‘Hot Reload.’ With it, you can make changes to the code and it will be executed in seconds (even during the runtime).
Thus, it offers a lot of flexibility for the coder.
Alibaba, Google Ads, Tencent and Birch Finance are Flutter app examples. And yes, it’s open-source and you don’t need to pay for the core functionalities.
Fun Fact: Ever heard of Fuchsia? It is an OS currently being developed by Google. By the way, all the applications on Fuchsia will be created using Flutter.
Solar2D is a free, cross-platform app development kit which was originally developed by Corona Labs Inc. It was formerly referred to as Corona SDK and is free to use. It can be used for mobile game development, mobile app development for iOS, Android, and Kindle, and desktop apps for Windows, macOS, and Linux.
Solar2D uses a Lua based game engine that can build applications with high-level graphics. Solar2D allows you to quickly monetize your app with a number of ad formats and can also create games with higher frame per second (FPS) as compared to other mobile SDKs.
8. 5 App
5 App is a cross-platform tool with a very specific niche. It is for companies developing apps for their employees.
The idea of the tool is a little different here; instead of helping coders make apps for different platforms, they want to help companies ensure better communications with their employees.
The main focus of 5App is security. Companies like Zurich, Detect ED, Greystar use the platform.
Your company can first request a demo before paying for the tool.
We can’t miss out on QT when talking about cross-platform mobile development tools. This tool lets you code in C++.
QT has its own Integrated Development Environment (IDE), which runs on Android, Windows, OS X, Linux, and some other systems. The IDE has an integrated help system consisting of some very important information and tips, intelligent code completion feature, syntax highlighting, debugger, and more.
As you will be coding in C++, you will be doing object-oriented development, making your program more compliant with the real-world entities. This will make your coding effective and easier.
Some developers complain that the UI is not very smooth. Moreover, even if it allows cross-platform development, apps developed in QT don’t necessarily have the native feel like in Xamarin and PhoneGap.
You can try the tool before buying it. Also, there are some other plugins that you can download for free or a fixed price for additional features.
Sencha also gives you the ability to arrange the app content and decide how the app displays content on different screen sizes, browsers, and devices.
Unity is a cross-platform game development tool used to develop both Android and iOS games. This tool has 2D and 3D development features and is approachable, even if this is your first time developing a gaming application.
You can also export your app to 17 platforms, including iOS, Android, Windows, PlayStation, Wii, and Xbox. Unity has features for app analytics and also has a network for developers called Unity Connect.
Cocos2d is again a cross-platform game development tool used for developing 2D games. It’s open-source and is continuously updated and improved by developers.
Depending on the programming language you are familiar with, you can choose between different variants of Cocos2d. If you’re familiar with Objective-C and Xcode, go for Cocos2d-Swift. If you’re familiar with C#, then consider Cocos2dXNA. If you like to code using C++, go for Cocos2d-x.
Kony, now acquired by Temenos, is a mobility platform suitable for developing cross-platform enterprise mobile apps from a single codebase. It is driven by a low-code platform called Kony Quantum and lets you create secure and innovative applications.
You can use Kony to develop chatbots and even augmented reality applications. It also has a component called Kony Studio, which offers visual development tools.
14. Alpha Anywhere
It has an enormous storage capacity and can securely connect to SQL and noSQL databases. Using this tool, you can also easily integrate calendar and GPS features into your app.
The concept of Cross-Platform App Development is straightforward; it means creating the same application for different operating systems without having to rewrite the code for each of them. There are various cross-platform development tools, and the one you choose depends on your expertise in programming language and your feature preferences.