How to Choose Between Cross-Platform Development and Native Development
When it comes to building a mobile application, you have to choose the strategy that best matches your return on investment (ROI) requirements. That said, while a strict budget may have you leaning toward the cost savings of cross-platform development, we almost always advocate for native development. If your business case for developing an app in the first place is sound, it will be worth the extra money (which is often less than you think). Here’s why:
Structure of an Application
In any application, including mobile apps, there are 3 layers that comprise all functionality: the data layer (holds the database), the middle layer (holds the business logic and algorithms) and the user interface (UI) layer (what the user sees on the screen). The data and middle layers can be shared between platforms and only need to be coded once, leaving the decision of whether to go with native or cross-platform to affect only the UI layer. Native app development is when the UI code base for an app is written twice in its entirety – once in Objective C/Swift for iOS and once in Java/Kotlin for Android. Cross-platform development is when some or most of that code base is written only once with a cross-platform tool that can serve both iOS and Android. A common mistake people often make is to think that cross-platform will save them 50% on the entire project, but as you can see already, we are only talking about a portion of one of three levels.
UI/UX Design and Development
When you design a native app, you use the software development kit (SDK) of the platform you’re designing for. These SDKs have different built in tools/controls that allow you optimize your app’s UI/UX for that specific platform. When you design an app with a cross-platform tool, you have to use the UI controls from the tool you are building with so while the app may look the same on both platforms, they won’t necessarily operate like a native app would which may frustrate users who have chosen a platform for a reason.
Now let’s zoom in on hardware. iPhones and Android phones have distinctly different designs. For instance, on iPhones there is one button – the home button (or no button at all on the iPhone X). Android phones, on the other hand, have multiple buttons right there on the hardware. This sets users up for a very different experience when navigating apps. iPhone users will expect the UI to include navigation icons on the screen, whereas Android users will expect to use the buttons on the actual phone. As you don’t want to confuse your users by dropping in code that doesn’t work intuitively on the UI, you’ll have to write three separate sections for things like this in the cross-platform language, Objective C/Swift and Java/Kotlin. Additionally, SDKs come with tools for hardware integration, whereas most cross-platform tools don’t integrate with native hardware features like cameras, geospheres, geofences, etc. So, if your app has sophisticated features that require integration with hardware (most custom software development projects do), you’ll need to code separately in all three languages for those as well. By now, your cost savings from going cross-platform are dwindling.
AppIt’s Key Three
There are a few key characteristics that we keep in mind throughout the software development process: security, scalability, and maintainability. They work together to offer long term protection for our clients’ products, minimizing future risk.
Security, in this case, refers less to imperviousness to hacking (though that is crucial and definitely also a focus of our development process) and more to making sure that your app doesn’t cease to exist one day when the cross-platform tool used to develop it goes out of business or sunsets support for that particular platform. You can’t copy and paste code from a cross-platform tool over to a native platform. You’d have to re-write the entire thing. Why risk something so costly and time-consuming.
When we say scalability, we mean both in terms of increasing the number of users as well as the number of features. If you build a native app, there are far more resources available to you outside of coming back to an expensive shop to help you scale. Because cross platform tools tend to come and go, it can be difficult to find a developer fluent in a particular one. Most build their careers on either Android or iOS and may simply dabble in various cross platform tools. If this side experience is drawn upon, the developer may charge you more for his work since he knows you may be hard-pressed to find someone else. In contrast, finding a developer to build on a native app is easy and competition helps keep costs reasonable. Additionally, when building on a native application, the developer can take advantage of features that come as part of an SDK for Android or iOS that may aid in scaling.
See: Is Your Application Scalable? An Ultimate Guide.
Finally, maintainability refers to the upkeep of code over the short and long run. For the same reasons discussed in the scalability section, if you have us build your app with a cross platform tool, especially an obscure or new one, you may be beholden to us to keep your app updated and running. There aren’t as many developers out there who can help with apps built using those tools. Having a custom software shop maintain your app can be an expensive and inconvenient option compared with, say, contracting a developer or having a developer on staff that can handle the maintenance for your app.
Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
Our core focus is to deliver clients a world class application, built to their exact specifications, that provides return on investment. We believe native development is the way to get you there, but If you still feel like the cost is prohibitive, consider this: many of our clients are entrepreneurs with limited resources, and building out the app of their dreams isn’t always a possibility right off the bat. They may need to prove out their concept or secure more funding from investors. The cool thing is, you don’t need a totally fleshed out app to get rolling – you can have a minimum viable product (MVP) built that may better help you show investors your vision and make them more apt to fund your project. Also, you can use the MVP, outfitted with only a core set of your mission critical features, to gauge consumer interest and let that guide the additional features that you add down the road. Advanced analytics and consumer driven insights are critical to building a successful app, and the MVP method offers lots of flexibility to build around what you’re learning from them.
Conclusion and Next Steps
In conclusion, while you ultimately need to choose the method that works best for you, we find that native apps, whether fully fleshed or built as an MVP, boast superior adaptability and are inherently the safer bet. If you’re looking to get started on a project of your own, we’d love to help. For more information and a complimentary project quote, contact us.
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