Native or cross-platform application development – What to Choose?

As a rule, the process of transferring any business to the Internet happens according to the following scenario: first, the company launches a website, then it is adapted for mobile devices, and if traffic increase is observed it makes sense to gain a foothold among the owners of mobile gadgets, and the company releases an application.

It makes no sense to compare the mobile site and the application — the latter definitely wins due to the breadth of its capabilities and responsive interface, which is much more comfortable to interact with via phone or tablet.

There are two main approaches to application development: native and cross-platform. Each of the approaches has its own specifics that critically affect the final result. And in order to facilitate mutual understanding between the customer and the developer it is important to analyze advantages and disadvantages of both of them, to break down stereotypes about the development and to answer the main question: how to make a choice in favor of a particular approach on the principle of profitability.

Native application development

A native application is a software program that is developed for use on a particular platform or device that’s why it has the ability to use device-specific hardware and software. Native apps can provide optimized performance and take advantage of the latest technology, such as a GPS, compared to web apps or mobile cloud apps developed to be generic across multiple systems.

The term native app is used to refer to platforms such as Mac and PC, with examples such as the Photos, Mail or Contacts applications that are preinstalled and configured on every Apple computer. However, in the context of mobile web apps, the term native app is used to mean any application written to work on a specific device platform.

The two main mobile OS platforms are Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. Native apps are written in the code preliminarily used for the device and its OS. For example, developers write iOS applications in Objective-C or Swift, while they create Android-native apps in Java.

Pros of native app development

  • Application speed. Compiled project code is optimal for the native platform. The application gets full hardware support for the device and uses multithreading for complex tasks. In the process of developing an application programmers can measure the speed of all sections of code and optimize them if necessary;
  • Implementation flexibility. Native development uses all the features of the mobile OS;
  • New software and hardware functionality. It is available for implementation immediately after the release of updates.
  • Easy to test. In native development, extensive automated testing capabilities are available for any method in the app. For native projects, the remote error monitoring functionality is built in that allows you to see the error and its cause on the user’s device.

Cons of native app development

  • Price and time of development. Creating separate applications for each of several OS makes the development process much longer and more expensive. The same software code cannot be deployed on different platforms, and programmers will need more time to convert and rewrite the code.
  • Incompatibility with other mobile OS. When an application is developed for a specific OS its developers use a language specific to this operating system (Objective-C or Swift-for iOS, for Android – Kotlin and Java). A native app that is originally written for iOS will not be compatible with Android-based devices and vice versa.
  • Missed opportunities. Developing applications that are oriented to only one platform can lead to missed opportunities. Deliberate reduction of the target market can be the reason for loss of income.

Cross-platform application development

It is important to understand why the application is called cross-platform. In fact, the application developed for one of the mobile platform can’t work in another OS. I. e. if a cross-platform app was developed and compiled for Android, this does not mean that you can take a file with the extension “.apk” and run it on an iPad. The main goal of cross-platform development is not the convenience for the user but the optimization of mobile application development processes. Therefore, a cross-platform application is a solution designed to be able to compile source code for execution on multiple mobile platforms with minimal effort but the result of each separate compilation will be separate executable files. For example, in iOS the executable file has the extension “.ipa”, in Android – “*.apk” etc.
Pros of cross-platform development

Pros of cross-platform development

  • Budget and time savings. Using one technology and a set of graphics saves project budget and reduces the amount of working hours;
  • Support and product updates. Adding functionality or fixing bugs for all platforms at one and the same time is possible;
  • Mobile version. Most cross-platform solutions allow you to generate a mobile version of the site from the application;
  • Unified application logic. Application logic will work in the same way for all the platforms. Written and debugged logic contains fewer errors and discrepancies in its work.

Cons of cross-platform development

  • Less flexible. Although the application tasks will be implemented on all platforms it is likely that you won’t be able to adapt the finished application to make the most of each platform.
  • Loss of efficiency. Using a single universal technology stack influences its flexibility. However, the loss of flexibility in development will lead to the loss of the ability to improve performance.
  • Inconsistency with the UI in different platforms. The application interface and the correct setting of the UI to match the functionality in both systems can cause problems. For example, each system has its own design requirements for UI elements. In certain cases, these requirements may be mutually exclusive.
  • App distribution difficulties. The requirements for adding your cross-platform app to the Apple App Store and Google Play Store will be different. Sometimes it can cause some difficulties.

Conclusion

The choice of a particular strategy always depends on individual circumstances and none of the articles give a universal answer. The final decision should be made after consultation with the developers. The more arguments you have about this or that approach, the better. Native development has more advantages but there are areas where cross-platform technologies are more profitable: the gaming sector and test projects. Modern games are written overwhelmingly on cross-platform technologies, the use of special graphics frameworks (Unity 3D) greatly accelerates development without compromising quality. For non-game projects aimed at long-term development, native development is the only option to choose.