What is cross-platform app development?

11 minutes to read • Last updated 10 June 2021 • Published 4 January 2021 • App development

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    When you create an app for your business, you will undoubtedly want people to install and use it. While it’s great to be proud of your work, it’s all for nothing is it does not make a splash in the marketplace.

    You will want to ensure that your app is accessible to as many users as possible. That means embracing cross-platform development, ensuring that an app can be downloaded from any app store, on any device. (more on app marketing here.)

    Contents

    What is cross-platform app development?

    Cross-platform app development means using building one central version of an app which is compatible with more than one mobile operating system (commonly iOS and Android)

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    What are the differences between iOS and Android apps?

    The main difference between native and cross-platform app development is the programming language that you’ll use

    What’s better, native app development or cross-platform app development?

    The short answer is, it depends on your specific requirements and app features.

    What tools are available for cross-platform app development?

    Two of the most popular tools are Flutter and PhoneGap, but many other competing products exist.

    What is cross-platform app development?

    When building an app, you have two main choices:

    You could adopt a native approach, designing an app exclusively for iOS or Android. This means that the app will work flawlessly on your chosen platform, as you’ll use distinct coding tools designed with the platform in mind. Essentially, you’re placing a square peg into a square hole. A native iOS app will not work on Android though, and vice versa.

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    Alternatively, you could practice cross-platform app development. This technique is essentially hedging your bets. By embracing cross-platform app development, your app will be usable on both platforms. Cross-platform app development is the Esperanto of the app development world. It’s a universal language understood by all appliances.

    Is cross-platform app development a good solution?
    When utilised correctly, cross-platform app development means that your app will look and feel virtually identical on any tablet or smartphone. Whether a user is running iOS, Android or even, whisper it quietly, Windows, cross-platform app development ensures a virtually identical user interface and UX.

    It’s not flawless, and there will be a handful of kinks to be ironed out before you really make a fist of it. Overall though, cross-platform app development can be the most time- and cost-efficient way to get your app in front of as many eyeballs as possible.

    What are the core differences between iOS and Android apps?

    The main difference between native and cross-platform app development is the programming language that you’ll use. Each of the big three (OK, the big two-and-a-half) have their own programming language of choice.

    iOS apps are commonly programmed using Objective C or Swift
    Android apps are often programmed using Java
    Windows apps are programmed using other languages such as C# or XAML
    App development programming languages

    There are a handful of other differences that must also be taken into consideration though. Sorry Windows users, but this is where we leave you behind. From now on, we’ll be focusing on the fundamental differences between coding for iOS or Android. After all, iOS and Android control 98% of the world’s app store market share between them.

    Study these differences and you’ll start to see the real benefits of cross-platform web development. Making an app that meets the strict native criteria of one platform means you’ll have to do a lot of work to repeat the trick with the other.

    Integrated Development Environments

    iOS and Android use different integrated development environments (IDEs). Android programmers typically use Android Studio, alongside IntelliJ IDEA. iOS programmers use XCode. 

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    Both IDEs are locked into their respective operating system. Conversely, many coders consider XCode superior. It has been active for much longer and is onto its umpteenth update. Studio will likely catch up in time.

    Expense

    It’s much cheaper to list an app on the Google Play store. Here, the registration fee is US$25. For iOS, it could be as much as US$99. You’ll also need a range of Apple hardware and peripherals to create an iOS-friendly app. That can cost quite a pretty penny if you’re not already appropriately equipped.

    Acceptance to an App Store

    iOS is much stricter than Android when it comes to listing an app on their store. To qualify for the app store, you’ll need to join the Apple Developer Program. Once beta testing is concluded, Apple will review your app and tell you if it is ready for listing. This review could take up to 3 weeks. If your app contains any bugs or imperfections it will likely be rejected, and you’ll need to resolve these before reapplying.

    Android is far less restrictive. Typically, once an app is submitted to the Google Play store, it will be available for download the next day. This is a good news/bad news situation. The good is that you can start attracting downloads and reviews immediately. The bad is that, due to this lack of stringent testing, those reviews may not be positive. You need to ensure your app is flawless before uploading it to Android. If there are any bugs or negative UX issues, you may learn through harsh feedback. This will impact your app store optimisation strategy.

    What’s better, native app development or cross-platform app development?

    The short answer is, it depends on your specific requirements and app features. If you’re determined to build a native app, that’s great. You can sleep soundly at night knowing that it works flawlessly on some devices. It’s just that some businesses will find it more beneficial to work on all devices.

    Every generation lives through a platform war of some description. With the march of technology, these are becoming increasingly commonplace. This relates to apps, as cross-platform development means that your app can be used by iOS or Android users alike. The ongoing war of attrition between Apple and Samsung makes this highly advisable.

    Cast your mind back to tech battles of the past, and there has been a very distinct winner and a loser. VHS roundly defeated Betamax when home video rose to prominence in the 1980s. Tom Anderson, aka MySpace Tom, was abandoned by his millions of friends when Facebook rose to prominence. Next time you settle down to watch a movie on Blu-ray, spare a thought for those that backed the HD-DVD horse back in the mid-00s.

    See also →  How an app can give your business a competitive edge

    Apple vs. Samsung (and other, associated manufacturers that use Android applications on their gadgets) is a much tougher battle to call. On paper, it’s simple. Android boasts 84.8% of the app store marketplace, with iOS lagging with 15.2%. This suggests that app developers should focus on Android. They’re clearly leaving iOS choking on their fumes. After all, the numbers don’t lie. 

    In this instance, however, the numbers don’t tell the full story either. The Android share of this marketplace is skewed by the fact that iOS is locked into Apple products. Android can be used on all manner of smartphones and tablets. Ask yourself though, how many people do you know with a Huawei, Acer or LG appliance? We’re willing to wager that the vast majority have an iPhone or iPad, or a rival from Samsung’s Galaxy range. 

    This is where things get much tighter. It is claimed that, in the fourth quarter of 2020, Apple shipped 72.9 million iPhones and Samsung 70 million Galaxy phones. This points to the fact that, despite the numbers we discussed earlier, the market for app users is closer to a 50/50 split.

    See also →  What is a prototype? Getting started with UX prototypes

    This all suggests that cross-platform app development is a rapid way to ensure that you are not alienating 50% of a potential customer base. You could build a native app for iOS then convert it to Android, or vice versa. Doing so takes a lot of time, effort and money, though. It’s cheaper and more time-efficient to create a cross-platform app from the get-go – though you still risk facing issues with this practice. To get into the weeds, let’s discuss the pros and cons of this approach. This will help you make an informed decision.

    Pros of cross-platform app development

    By far the biggest potential advantage of cross-platform app development is the potential saving of time and money it affords. When you set your budget for app development, you likely had one app in mind. If you use multi-platform app development, that can remain the case. If your app is designed for a native platform, you’ll need to painstaking recreate the entire process from scratch.

    Cross-platform app development also gets your app to market faster (iOS quality control measures notwithstanding). You can get your app on the Google Play store in the meantime, theoretically immediately attracting installations and recouping your development costs. This is also a great way to market-test your app. Be wary of bad reviews – they can be fatal to your app’s success – but at least you will have immediate feedback.

    Finally, consider the fact that the market share of Apple and Samsung is so evenly split. While each manufacturer has its die-hard, cultist followers, this suggests that others may flit between iOS and Android between smartphone upgrades. With cross-platform app development, your app will be intuitive and user-friendly on all handsets, ensuring that users are likelier to reinstall it on a new phone than turn to a rival.

    Cons of cross-platform app development

    As discussed, native apps use different programming languages and IDEs. Cross-platform app development uses a universal approach – usually HTML, CSS and JavaScript, all built within a web browser. This is a compromise, and as the old saying goes, if you try to please everybody you risk pleasing nobody.

    If you use native development, especially in iOS, you can be assured that it works like a dream. Your app would not be accepted to the app store otherwise. Cross-platform, universal coding is likelier to work quite well on all platforms, rather than flawlessly on one platform. 

    The more complex the functionality of your app, the likelier you are to tun into performance and UX issues. Factor this into your decision as to whether to utilise cross-platform app development

    Battery drain is also a UX concern for customers that install a cross-platform app. Smartphones are hardly famed for their battery performance. If you utilise cross-platform app development, the appliance will need to work harder. This means your app can become a battery power vampire.

    Consider this when designing your app. If it’s something that users will hop in and out of briefly, that’s not a significant concern. If you’re designing a game or an information-heavy app though, which demands prolonged periods of use, you may find that your app is deleted to conserve phone battery for more critical uses.

    What tools are available for cross-platform app development?

    If you feel that cross-platform app development is the way to go, you’ll need to make sure you have the right tools for the job. Here are some of the finest that we recommend you explore. Which tool you use depends on the nature of your app, and what you are hoping to achieve.

    App development toolGood to know…
    Alpha AnywhereAmong the most diverse and flexible coding tools on the market
    Cocos2dIdeal for 2D gaming apps. Some of the biggest mobile games on market are coded with Cocos2d
    PhoneGapAn Adobe product, so ideal for programmers that know their way around Photoshop, et al
    SenchaAn HTML tool with a host of time-saving pre-built settings
    TitaniumA great open-source all-rounder that utilises JavaScript within a web browser
    Unity3dAn alternative to Cocos2d for the design of 3D games
    XamarinHighly recommended due to the ability to test apps on your app store of choice before uploading
    FlutterMade by Google. Rapidly becoming one of the most widely-used app development tools
    Tools to create mobile apps

    Different developers will have their preferences, which may not include any of the above. We find these tools hugely helpful though, and recommend them to anybody feeling their way into the cross-platform app development process.

    As you’ll see, there is a lot to love about cross-platform app development – but also a handful of concerns that must be taken into consideration. If you’d like to discuss further whether cross-platform app development is right for your business, or gain more insights into building an app, contact us. We will be delighted to assist you further.

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