With over 6.3 billion smartphone users worldwide, it's no surprise that the mobile app industry is booming. App usage and smartphones continue to rise steadily, with 88% of time spent on apps. This popularity is fueling the growth of cross-platform app development - the process of creating software that is compatible with multiple mobile operating systems.

Cross-platform apps' ability to run on multiple mobile platforms allows businesses to save on costs and decrease development time. But what really is cross-platform app development, and how can you implement it in your app development project?

Let’s look at how cross-platform app development works, which frameworks, languages, and tools you can use, and its main benefits.


Table of contents

What is cross-platform app development?
    ➤  Types of cross-platform apps
    ➤  Benefits of cross-platform app development
    ➤  Cons of cross-platform app development
Best languages for cross-platform app development
Top cross-platform app development tools and frameworks
Conclusion


What is cross-platform app development?

Cross-platform app development focuses on developing mobile applications for both Android and iOS, as well as desktop applications for Windows and macOS, from a single shared codebase and user interface (UI).

Cross-platform development helps you lower costs and save time and is an attractive solution for clients with limited budgets and the desire to launch their apps quickly.

Types of cross-platform apps

Native cross-platform

Each mobile operating system has its own Software Development Kit (SDK) and technological stack: Android apps use Java or Kotlin, while iOS apps use Objective-C or Swift. Cross-platform app developers leverage a uniform API built on a native SDK, native IDEs, and the same codebase to build iOS and Android apps. Xamarin, React Native, and Kotlin Multiplatform are commonly used to create native cross-platform apps.

Hybrid

Although mobile apps are built for smartphones and tablets, the back-end layer handles their business logic. Because both the iOS and Android SDKs have powerful web components, HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript may be used to design sections of an application's graphical user interface (GUI). The code is then wrapped in WebView, a browser built within a mobile app that showcases the contents like a traditional website. Some hybrid apps can even interface with the hardware on a smartphone. However, the capability is often limited. React Native, Apache Cordova, and Flutter are the most promising hybrid app development frameworks.

Benefits of cross-platform app development

  • Faster app development - Using one code base for different platforms will help you trim the time, helping your client achieve their launch date.

  • Reusable code - Writing unique code for every platform is unnecessary. Instead, the same code can be customized for all other platforms. You need to develop one program, which you can then use for all operating systems the mobile app is to be used on, and by making slight edits to the code. Similar code can also be used for future projects.

  • Increased market reach - For business owners, it is possible to reach a larger audience because your app will be visible on multiple platforms through which they can easily increase their business. Your mobile app will be available on Windows, iOS, and other operating systems.

  • Reduced development costs - Most businesses are not yet building apps because of the cost. However, cross-platform app development is significatively inexpensive since only one code base is used to develop the mobile app.

  • Simplicity - Changes, and customization to cross-platform apps are easier, and if there are any updates, it automatically syncs across the platforms to ensure a smooth operation. Note that you still need to deploy to each platform with the updated code. However, the process is much simpler.

Cons of cross-platform app development

  • User experience - Providing a seamless user experience between platforms may be difficult since each platform behaves differently and provides different features. However, based on our experience using React Native, developers can leverage open-source packages that provide the means to use platform-specific features.

  • Vendor lock-in - Platforms can provide support for many languages, but some of the target platforms may not support the same language when developing cross-platform apps. For example, JavascriptCore is an open-source engine for WebKit, bundled with iOS and macOS, which React Native leverages to run its apps. But since there is no JavaScript bundled with Android, there’s the need to bundle a JavaScript engine with the app itself, which ends up increasing the app bundle size.

  • Integrations - Integrating services in cross-platform apps can be difficult since many may not provide support with the framework on which the apps were built, thus requiring developers to find other integration alternatives or create their own wrappers to enable integration which will cost development time.

  • Feature availability - Since each platform behaves differently and provides different functionalities, some app features may not be available across all platforms. Frameworks like React Native are updated regularly and follow the most recent functionalities provided by platforms. Still, frameworks cannot ensure that these features are available across platforms since each platform follows its own agenda.

  • Code quality and performance - Since there are features that aren’t available across platforms and there is only one code base, there is the need to provide UI/UX alternatives to compensate for these inconsistencies. This can lead to a bigger code base which is more difficult to maintain and debug.

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Best languages for cross-platform app development

1. Swift - Designed by Apple, it applies a modern approach to performance, safety, and software design patterns. Any Swift project aims to build the best possible language for use and is meant to be scaled to cloud services.

2. C# - Object-oriented programming language that enables users to create complete solutions and allows developers to create mobile applications, desktop apps, games, and web apps very easily.

3. Java - Allows ease of portability when creating apps for multiple operating system environments and hardware types.

4. JavaScript and TypeScript - Facilitate developers’ work with NativeScript, Ionic, Cordova, and React Native frameworks.

5. Kotlin - Aims to express an improved version of Java that is cleaner, simpler, faster to compile, and entails a mix of object-oriented and functional programming.

6. Dart - A client-optimized language for fast apps on any platform. It powers frameworks like Flutter that provide tooling and UI libraries to build UI experiences that run on Android, macOS, iOS, Linux, Windows, and the web.

7. Objective-C - Used by Apple to create scalable and healthy apps. It's also a powerful programming language for macOS apps and operating systems.

Top cross-platform app development tools and frameworks

1. Xamarin - Provides app store delivery, performance testing, virtual testing, and monitoring. It is efficiently used to design native apps for multiple platforms, but developers can use the same IDE, API, and language for cross-platform. It is highly suitable for Ruby and C# and allows code sharing enabling faster app development and lower costs. It was adopted by Foursquare, Microsoft, and IBM.

2. Flutter - It is a UI framework for building apps on iOS, Android, the Web, and desktop. It combines a high-performance graphics engine with the Dart programming language, helping developers build reliable apps quickly.

3. React Native - Built on JavaScript, developers can build native-like cross-platform apps, including various tools and best practices. It is cost-effective and has a great reach once launched.

4. Ionic Framework - Open-source mobile UI kit that uses JavaScript, React, Angular, or Vue to build the application. It offers pre-designed UI components with a native style for iOS and Android.

5. Solar2D (used to be Corona) - Used for building mobile, television, and desktop game apps through a single codebase. It allows developers to update the code, save changes, improve code speed, and show instant changes reflected in real devices. It is optimized for performance, and it has lightweight scripting. It is primarily used in 2D gaming apps for high quality and high-speed graphics performance in game application development.

6. Qt - Offers features that improve the app’s quality, creating fluid interfaces and embedded devices with the same code for all platforms. It is a subscription-based tool that allows coding in C++. It’s easy to use and enables app export to different platforms.

7. Sencha Touch - Ideal for developing apps in HTML5. It is one of the main tools used by app developers. It provides developers with customizable and reusable themes. It can be built on ExtAngular, Ext JS5, Ext React, and iOS. It also offers data visualization to easily track the app’s information which helps organize the content and display it on the device and browser of varied screen sizes. The pre-built components help save time and speed up the development process.

8. 5App - A unique tool specifically designed for companies developing an app for employee use. It focuses on data security while used in JavaScript coding and HTML5 and exporting iOS and Android apps.

9. Unity 3D - Used to improve graphics quality for enhanced results. This tool allows you to export games to various platforms such as PlayStation, Linux, and many others. It is used to track down user analytics and share apps on social networking sites. It also has huge community support, making it easy to connect with other developers.

10. NativeScript - Offers native APIs and supports Angular.js 2 and Typescript.

11. Kotlin Multiplatform Mobile - An SDK that allows seamless integration of native code without restrictions.

Conclusion

Cross-platform app development is a bold approach to mobile and web development. Working with a single codebase speeds up the software development process. It enables you to obtain the tactical benefit of code shareability because you only need a single language to develop UI/UX across platforms. Thanks to that, you can use reusable code components in numerous other projects. Another key reason why cross-platform app development is used is that it allows developers to have a futuristic approach in a short amount of time.

There are a few drawbacks when developing multi-platform mobile apps because they can sometimes have slower response times, a poor user interface, and may not support hardware capabilities.

But if you’re looking for cost-effective and faster development, cross-platform development is your way to go.

Before developing a mobile app or any software development project, you need to know what goals you want to achieve and what technologies will help you get there.

Check our mobile development services here.

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