August 25, 2023

Unified vs Unique: The Dual Paths of Mobile App Development

Mobile applications can be developed using native tools for each individual platform, as well as through cross-platform tools.

For most traditional businesses today, it's evident that the only effective strategy to remain competitive is digital transformation. If a company isn't online and doesn't leverage the latest advancements in the IT industry, it's either nonexistent or will soon fade away.

Digital transformation is accessible for any business today. For instance, to capture additional user attention, Triforce Construction, which specializes in residential renovation, commissioned Focus21 to create an AI-based mobile application for design visualization named RoomRenderAI.

A distinct future venture for the medical company XLabh Innovations should be the mobile application Xtract One, designed for rapid and convenient training of medical staff. Interestingly, it will also harness the capabilities of the incredibly relevant AI technologies in the future.

Mobile applications are incredibly relevant today, so there's no question about their necessity for a wide range of tasks. The real challenge is determining the path of development. The frequent decision to make is whether to use native tools for each distinct platform or cross-platform tools that cater to all at once.

What are native development tools?

Xcode and the Swift programming language for creating iOS applications | Source: Apple Developer

Native mobile applications are developed specifically for one operating system—either for iOS or for Android. Accordingly, specialized native development tools are used, which are often supported by the manufacturers of the respective devices.

Native apps for iPhone and iPad are most commonly developed using the Swift or Objective-C programming languages. For smartphones running on the Android operating system, Kotlin or Java are usually employed. Popular native apps include Pinterest, WhatsApp, and Spotify.

Advantages of native development tools

The most significant advantage of native apps is typically their performance; they often run faster than cross-platform apps. However, this only becomes crucial when creating genuinely resource-intensive software with a plethora of features and complex tasks.

Since native apps have a direct connection between the source code and the device's fundamental resources, they typically take up considerably less space on the gadget. For the same reason, they are often more stable, and this stability tends to improve with iOS or Android updates.

User data confidentiality also plays a significant role. As the built-in security tools of the operating systems are used, there's less cause for concern. Additionally, native apps have easier access to specific features of the mobile devices for which they are designed.

Disadvantages of native development tools

The main downside of native apps is the labor-intensive process of developing different versions for multiple platforms. For iOS, one development team is usually required, and for Android, another. Furthermore, this complicates ongoing support and the implementation of any new features.

Developing separate applications for different platforms takes considerably more time and demands substantially more financial investment. Therefore, native tools aren't always the first choice. If apps aren't expected to be highly resource-intensive and aren't targeting millions of users, developers often opt for cross-platform tools.

What are cross-platform development tools?

Flutter and the Dart programming language for creating cross-platform applications | Source: Honeypot

Cross-platform mobile application development utilizes a shared code base, which can later be deployed for both iOS and Android. In this case, common SDKs are used, and work is essentially conducted on the same project.

The tools most frequently used for cross-platform mobile app development include React Native, created by Meta and based on JavaScript, as well as Flutter, developed by Google and based on the unique Dart programming language. Both are equally adept at accomplishing their tasks.

Notably, cross-platform tools for mobile development are used in Skype, Instagram, BMW, Walmart, and so forth. The Focus21 team used universal tools to create mobile applications RoomRenderAI and Xtract One, for which Flutter was employed.

Advantages of cross-platform development tools

The key benefits of cross-platform development are the high development speed, ease of future software maintenance, and the relatively low cost of these tasks. This is made possible due to the use of a shared code base for both iOS and Android.

All changes made in the code are instantly available on all mobile platforms, simplifying the addition of new features and fixing any potential errors. Typically, only one team works on such projects, so communication issues are also minimized.

Cross-platform development tools are particularly useful for creating MVPs to test a hypothesis and ensure a solution is indeed needed by users. If there's no need to interact with specific hardware capabilities of gadgets, this approach is often preferred.

Disadvantages of cross-platform development tools

Cross-platform apps tend to be less performant. This can be quite noticeable when many complex features are used. For instance, universal development tools will never be used for creating photo, video, or audio editors.

Another significant concern is the functional limitations of cross-platform apps. They often can't utilize specific hardware capabilities of mobile devices, or support for these capabilities might take too long to arrive following the release of a new model.

How to choose between native and cross-platform tools

Both native and cross-platform development have their strengths and weaknesses, so it's impossible to choose just one option and use it for all future projects. The decision is made based on a specific request and the technical task set by the client.

The choice between native and cross-platform development depends on the time to market, available resources, testing capabilities, the functional load of the future mobile application, and the need to use any unique hardware capabilities of devices.

Moreover, it should also be taken into account that the client might be interested in releasing a mobile application only for a specific platform. In this case, the choice will not always, but more likely, be in favor of native development tools.

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Mykola (Nick) Hrytsaienko



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