When Flutter, a commercial cross-platform app development kit created by Google, launched back in 2017, one of Intellectsoft’s clients wanted to develop an MVP (or “minimum variable product”) using the kit. An MVP serves as a proof-of-concept for software, where developers create an early version that demonstrates the app’s core features. The purpose was not to speed up the project or reduce costs, but rather to show off to competitors.

As a brand new development platform, Flutter still needed the app development market to catch up. We, of course, did our best to convince the client the development language was still raw, the project would be difficult to scale and too few specialists were trained in Flutter. The client, despite our suggestions, stood their ground and decided to take the risk. While we did make an MVP, our earlier prediction regarding scaling problems quickly came to light, resulting in a difficult project that sucked time and money from other business priorities.

The moral of the story? Don’t use technology for the sake of technology. Choose a development strategy based on your specific needs and use tools that grant real benefits to your team. Native and cross-platform tools are exactly that — tools we use in order to achieve specific business objectives.

Native VS. Cross-Platform App Development: What's the Difference?

  • Performance. There’s no question that native apps are more responsive and perform better than cross-platform apps. This is because native code directly interacts with the device’s internal resources.
  • Development Time and Cost. The trade-off, of course, is that native apps take a lot more development time compared to cross-platform apps. They also cost more.
  • Product Lifetime. Native development is the safer option for long-term projects since tools and frameworks are more stable.
  • UI/UX Design. Native development also wins this round, as cross-platform apps usually lag in terms of UI/UX design and overall experience.
  • Security. There is more work involved in securing the cross-platform apps. In native apps everything can be coded into the infrastructure of the app, encrypted and obfuscated.

 

What Is Native App Development?

Native app development is about building apps with a platform’s native language and using APIs/frameworks specifically designed for accessing device features or functions. For Android, it will be Java or Kotlin with it's JDK and for iOS, Obj-C or Swift on iOS SDK.

Developers typically prefer native app development for custom, high-performance apps that allow for the best user experience. When building an app natively, developers have access to all features across multiple devices, allowing them to use more complex functionalities, which means these solutions are usually more stable, secure, high-performing and tailored to the environment and peculiarities of use.

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Advantages of Native Development

Smooth Performance

Since apps are built with the native technologies, they take the full capacity of the device's functionality and deliver steady work, quick operating speed and smooth performance.

Seamless Operation and Compatibility

Native apps are easily integrated with the device’s hardware, ensuring seamless operation. The app automatically works with hardware such as the camera, touch screen features, calendar, GPS and the like.

Reliability and Security

The security risks are higher for hybrid apps. The more layers, languages and technologies your application has, the more likely it is for vulnerabilities to creep in.

Great UX

Many of the greatest, most popular apps on the digital marketplace have become successful because of their excellent UX (user experience) design — which can be stretched even further with native app development.

Native apps support complex layouts, allow full customization of interface elements, provide more possibilities for complex animation and also offer broader options for optimizing the interface and interactions.

SDK for Developers

Native development readily provides operating features that make app development faster and more cost-effective — SDK or “software development kits” are perhaps the most important part of this process. These comprise a suite of tools and programs that aid in app development for a specific platform.

SDKs can also be streamlined with pieces of code and libraries that are frequently updated and (usually) ready for implementation, complete with technical guides and documentation.

Not only will you find a dedicated community of developers to collaborate and discuss ideas with, you’ll also find that case scenarios and app projects are well-documented, making your research tasks less tedious.

Efficiency

Native apps use less battery power, as they don’t require multiple layers of processing. As they’re easier to optimize, users can enjoy using their devices longer, and without stressing their processors too much.

Easy to Update

Every good app needs an easy, straightforward way to be updated over time. Native apps excel in this — they’re much easier to update as time goes on, and can take advantage of features such as AI, IoT connectivity and more, over the product’s lifetime.

Disadvantages Of Native Development

Despite a long list of perks, native development has its drawbacks as well. Here are the main ones:

Higher Initial Cost

Because native apps are dedicated to a single platform, you will have to make a choice: Do you pay for multi-platform development in a single sum, or do you spread out releases to make your development spend a bit easier? The total cost is usually 30-40 percent more expensive than cross-platform development, so choose wisely.

Time to Market

Native app development can be time-consuming, so you’ll need a longer lead time to develop and test the app before launching it. Due to high project complexity, it will also require different teams to develop one app and ensure it’s running smoothly by the time the app launches.

Separate Codebase

Since developing apps for Android and iOS are separate, this means they will also have a separate codebase. Developers have to be prepared to implement each new app feature twice since the platforms are different. Not only that but the necessary tools  and even the specific developers required to complete these tasks will be different across operating systems.

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Examples of Native Apps

There’s no surprise that a large number of mobile applications available on the market are native ones — all tuned to perform at maximum efficiency for their respective platforms.

From games to messaging apps, navigation programs and streaming platforms, here are five examples of native apps you might already be familiar with:

  • Spotify 

  • Waze 

  • LinkedIn (LinkedIn previously used HTML5 for its mobile app but has shifted to native native. By transitioning to native platform development, LinkedIn has seen its app performance improve tremendously in terms of rendering and speed.)

  • WhatsApp 

  • Pokémon Go 

 

What Is Cross-Platform Development?

Whereas native apps operate from separate codebases, cross-platform apps share a single codebase. They can also run simultaneously on multiple platforms and devices.

Cross-platform development typically allows for faster (and cheaper) app development, as developers can repurpose about 70 to 95 percent of the code for different platforms. In other words, instead of developing two separate codebases for Android and iOS, you’ll only need one.

Although some parts of the code still need to be developed natively, the majority of development can be done with the help of tools such as React Native, Flutter, Ionic and Xamarin.

Statistics show that, among global developers, Flutter is the most popular cross-platform mobile framework. 42 percent of software developers use Flutter, while 38 percent use React Native, which is the second-most popular mobile framework for cross-platform development. 

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Here are the other mobile frameworks software developers use:

native vs cross-platform app development
Source: Statista

Advantages of Cross-Platform App Development

Reusable Code

As I mentioned before, on average, developers can reuse and repurpose 80 percent of existing code to adapt to various devices. This makes development simpler and faster compared to native app development. 

Cost and Time Efficient

Adjusting existing code for various platforms can make development incredibly cost-effective and can save developers a lot of time.

Smaller Team Size

Since the process is much more streamlined across platforms and devices, there’s no need to hire a separate development team for different platforms. 

Broad Audience Reach

Cross-platform apps allow brands to reach new markets and broader audiences due to their versatility and wide availability.

Disadvantages of Cross-Platform App Development

Of course, time and cost efficiency comes with certain limitations. Here are the main drawbacks of the cross-platform approach:

Performance Delays

Since code is not highly specified according to device or platform, users may experience some performance delays.

Limited UX

Cross-platform apps do not have the same UX that native apps can deliver. Some native elements may also be unavailable on cross-platform apps. As a result, it’s important to plan out a cross-platform UI (user interface) early during development, as changing it can be quite difficult later on.

Dependency on Third-Party Libraries

Because there is typically limited support of SDKs and other libraries, developers may have a hard time searching for ways to integrate new features into the app.

More QA Testing Required

As cross-platform apps need to be compatible with a wider category of programming languages and hardware platforms, they also need very extensive periods of testing for bugs, exploits and other quality assurance concerns.

Examples of Cross-Platform Apps

The availability of various platforms also calls for apps that can handle operating on various systems. A lot of companies take advantage of cross-platform development especially when it’s not an option to concentrate on a single platform alone. 

Here are some great examples of top-performing cross-platform apps that have also become indispensable to everyday life:

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So Which Do I Choose?

Deciding which mobile development approach to adopt can be challenging. Fortunately, you now have the information to make a proper distinction between both types of app development.

Choose Native App Development When:

  • Your service is largely mobile

  • Your app is going to generate its revenue

  • You own a huge company that can handle the cost

  • You plan to develop a game with complex designs and interactions

  • Your niche is competitive and you can gain an edge through better performance

  • Your app will use most of the device’s resources, such as the GPS and camera

  • You need utmost functionality and complexity for building your app

Choose Cross-Platform App Development When:

  • You need the app to work on two platforms (Android and iOS) on a minimal budget

  • Your startup needs to build an MVP quickly

  • The app is not going to be a core unit of your business

  • You need to quickly test an idea and launch to market

  • Your app doesn’t need too many complex or logical functions

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