Native vs. Cross-Platform Mobile App Development: An Ultimate Comparison
Oct 19, 2023
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One of the most common dilemmas in mobile app development is the decision between a cross-platform or a native approach. Both options have their pros and cons, as well as ideal scenarios to fit. Keep reading for a comprehensive comparison of cross-platform and native mobile development, as well as the list of ideal use cases for both approaches.
What Is Native Mobile Development?
Native mobile development is an approach in which developers write a codebase specifically tailored for a particular mobile operating system (OS), usually, iOS or Android. They use the platform’s native programming languages, tools, and APIs to build apps that leverage all capabilities and features of the targeted OS.
The most popular native mobile development technologies are Kotlin and Java for Android and Swift and Objective-C for iOS. Java and Objective-C are sometimes regarded as legacy mobile development solutions, whereas Kotlin and Swift are currently at the height of their popularity.
- Kotlin is a statically typed programming language widely used for developing Android apps. Its concise code, security features, and interoperability with Java facilitate the fast and efficient development of native Android applications.
- Swift is a high-performing programming language powered by Apple. It is the ultimate solution for building iOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS applications. As the most popular technology for native iOS development, it provides fortified security, productivity, diverse libraries, and flexibility to iOS developers.
What Is Cross-Platform Mobile Development?
In brief, cross-platform mobile development is an approach that allows developers to create mobile apps that run on multiple mobile operating systems, including iOS and Android, using a single codebase.
There is a solid list of tools and frameworks applied in cross-platform mobile development, which includes the names like React Native and Xamarin. However, Flutter and .NET MAUI are the frontrunners in popularity.
- Flutter is, by far, the most rapidly developing cross-platform development framework. With its constant upgrades, Flutter offers a rich set of features for creating visually appealing native-like programming. In addition, it is perfectly compatible with different back-end technologies, including .NET and Node.js., and offers a rich set of best practices, pre-designed widgets, and templates for fast cross-platform development.
- .NET MAUI (Multi-platform App UI) is Microsoft’s cross-platform development framework known for its perfect compatibility with .NET libraries and allowing developers to build mobile apps for Android, iOS, and Windows using a shared codebase.
Native vs. Cross-Platform Mobile Applications: A Comparison
Let’s get right to the point and compare cross-platform and native mobile development approaches based on their most crucial business parameters.
Time to market
Speed matters in a highly competitive business environment. Even if you have a great software idea, chances are high that someone will implement it faster, thus taking a solid user base from you.
Native mobile development implies the development of different app versions using a platform-specific development stack. In most cases, you should allocate different teams with iOS and Android mobile app development expertise. Even though the teams can work simultaneously, sync-ups, planning, and optimization may take some time.
Faster time to market is one of the main selling points of a cross-platform software development approach. A single codebase can be applied to different operating systems without the need to develop different versions simultaneously. The app built with a cross-platform software development approach can be launched on different platforms simultaneously instead.
Cross-platform mobile application development is an evident leader when it comes to building a mobile application in the shortest terms possible. However, if fast release is not your top priority, native development, with its numerous advantages, will also be a viable choice.
Good performance is another essential factor determining the app’s success, as poor performance can disrupt application flows and significantly degrade the overall user experience.
Native mobile apps are developed with specific platform requirements in mind. Therefore, they show excellent performance on the platforms for which they have been intended.
Notably, cross-platform mobile development technologies are rapidly evolving to reach the performance of their native counterparts. For example, Flutter provides a rich list of best practices and suggestions for performance improvement, which includes tips on using the saveLayer() or controlling the build() cost. However, cross-platform apps tend to be slower compared to native apps due to the need for an additional abstraction layer and rendering process.
Despite the rapid progress of cross-platform mobile development technologies, native mobile development is still a more reliable solution in terms of performance.
One more factor that really matters in mobile development is the ability to reach a broad audience with a mobile app. And, preferentially, this audience has to be reached in the shortest terms possible.
The native development approach requires separate development flows for different platforms. In most cases, you should bear a specific market in mind while developing an app. Building a separate version of an application for a non-priority operating system just to collect public responses can be rather costly. That’s why native mobile development is not very popular when it comes to businesses aiming to expand to new markets in the short term.
On the contrary, cross-platform application development is a dream solution for businesses aiming for a big market outreach. With a single codebase, a team can easily adapt the app to different platforms. For example, a mobile app MVP (Minimum Viable Product) built with cross-platform software development technologies can be easily launched on different platforms to test the public interest in the product.
Cross-platform mobile development is preferred over native mobile development in projects aiming at a solid market outreach, especially, in the short term.
Any mobile app should change over time to fit market demands, address your changing needs, or just evolve through upgrades. That’s why customizability becomes just another critical point for mobile app development.
Native mobile development frameworks allow platform-specific customization. The developers can apply native customization features to upgrade the existing native apps. All the upgrades can be completed without regard to app dependencies.
Modern cross-platform development solutions offer greater flexibility for application customization. However, there may be additional customization challenges. They appear when it comes to adding more platform-specific advanced features to cross-platform solutions. Also, cross-platform apps may be challenging to integrate with 3d-party services and libraries.
Native mobile development offers better customizability than the cross-platform approach.
To save money and avoid overspending, you should opt for cost-efficient solutions. While too much depends on specific project properties, the choice of mobile development approach is also decisive for your final project bill.
In particular, in most native development projects, you should allocate different native development teams with expertise in distinctive technologies. The search for new specialists and the need to handle a few teams simultaneously, almost inevitably, grows your project cost.
Meanwhile, cross-platform development often becomes a great way to save costs. A single development team can build an app with a great outreach in the short term.
Cross-platform development proves to be more cost-efficient than the native approach. However, mind that customizations of a cross-platform app may bring you additional expenses in the long run, while native apps are, often, easier and cheaper to customize.
Security is a must in modern software development, and it usually depends on best practices and safeguards implemented by a mobile development team. Development approach also matters because it largely determines the set of security features and services applied to fortify an application.
The native development approach allows software engineers to access more mature security features that are native to specific platforms. While both approaches allow mobile developers to leverage native security practices, configuring safeguards and monitoring application security may be more convenient with native mobile development frameworks.
Cross-platform frameworks offer basic sets of security features. While the most advanced cross-platform development solutions, such as Flutter, provide solid security measures, protecting a mobile app from threats is still less convenient than with native development frameworks. At least, enhancing security measures in cross-platform apps typically requires more time than in native solutions due to the uncertainty surrounding when cross-platform frameworks will receive updates.
Native mobile development may be more reliable in terms of security than the cross-platform approach. However, it is more a matter of convenience and skill because, with the right practices, cross-platform solutions can be fortified as well.
UI/UX design of an app is essential for user satisfaction, and it largely depends on the development approach.
Native mobile development offers a wide array of features for building platform-specific UI/UX. It allows you to adapt your solution’s UI/UX design to the requirements and branding of a specific platform. For instance, you can create a visually appealing UI that seamlessly integrates with the iPhone’s form factor and color palette using Swift.
Meanwhile, cross-platform development also has some benefits in terms of UI/UX. Apart from rapid design development, we can mention simply achievable UI/UX consistency across different platforms.
Native UI/UX development is, generally, more reliable and flexible than cross-platform design creation. However, much depends on project needs. In certain situations, particularly those characterized by tight deadlines, opting for cross-platform UI/UX design development may prove to be the most practical solution.
Building your ideal app using one of the discussed approaches is a good start, but it’s important to think about the long-term perspective. It is crucial to consider the maintenance opportunities and challenges associated with both mobile development approaches.
If you opt for the native approach, every update to your app aligns seamlessly with the updates to your operating system or tech stack. Managing updates is relatively straightforward and well-planned.
Meanwhile, with a cross-platform approach, you are maintaining multiple app versions as a single entity. On the one hand, some updates arrive with a delay. On the other hand, you can maintain your app for different platforms as a single entity.
Both native and cross-platform development approaches have their strengths in terms of maintenance. Since determining a clear winner in this context is challenging, it seems fitting to conclude this round as a draw.
Native vs Cross-Platform Mobile Development: Use Cases
Both native and cross-platform mobile development approaches have their pros and cons. Let’s dive into the ideal use cases for both sides in the cross-platform vs. native mobile development rivalry.
When to choose native development
Opt for a native mobile development approach when:
- You are working on a high-performing app with significant productivity requirements and loads of dynamic content
- You aim to build an app that will evolve over time through upgrades
- You want to launch an app with strict security demands
- You would like to fully leverage the mobile phone’s hardware features, such as its camera
When to choose cross-platform mobile development?
Now, let’s outline the cases in which cross-platform mobile development would be a perfect solution for your business:
- You want to build an MVP or an experiment app that should be developed in short terms and collect responses from different user groups
- Your time for developing an app is limited
- Your budget for app development is limited
- You would like to get a maximum outreach for your app in the shortest terms possible
In summary, it’s challenging to definitively declare whether native or cross-platform development reigns as the superior mobile development approach. The choice depends on your specific requirements. If you’re aiming for a more straightforward solution that can be developed relatively quickly, exploring cross-platform mobile development could be an excellent option. However, if you seek an app that has complex features and evolves over time, the native mobile development approach might better suit your needs.
The crucial first step is finding an experienced mobile development team that can assist you in bringing both concepts to life. At Leobit, we are well-prepared to be that team for you. We boast an exceptional native mobile development team and a prime illustration of their proficiency is the dynamic live sports video streaming app. It features an iOS version built with Swift and an Android version developed with Kotlin.
You can also explore our expertise in cross-platform mobile development by examining our mobile dating app, built with Flutter. This serves as a compelling showcase of our cross-platform mobile developers’ skills.
Regardless of your needs, contact us and harness the results of our multi-year expertise in developing mobile apps with the world’s best software development technologies.