cross-platform app development

18 things you should know about cross-platform mobile development – FAQ

Have you heard about cross-platform development? Would you like to know more about this method of mobile app development? 

In this article we present you with the basics of cross-platform mobile development, frequently asked questions, some interesting facts about it and its benefits. You’ll also get to know whether cross-platform development is a way to go in your project and if not, what technologies you should use. 

Basically, if you’re asking yourself a question: What do I need to know about mobile app development in terms of cross-platform technologies? – this is the place for you. 

Table of contents:

  1. What is cross-platform mobile development?
  2. What is a cross-platform project?
  3. What are some cross-platform development frameworks and programming languages?
  4. What is the best cross-platform framework?
  5. What is Flutter?
  6. What is React Native?
  7. What are some popular cross-platform mobile apps?
  8. What are the benefits of cross-platform mobile development?
  9. What are some disadvantages of cross-platform development?
  10. What are the limitations of cross-platform development?
  11. What are the differences between cross-platform mobile app development and native mobile app development?
  12. When to choose cross-platform mobile development (and when to choose native)?
  13. What is more secure – native or cross-platform mobile development?
  14. Is cross-platform mobile development worse than native app development?
  15. Is cross-platform mobile development right for you?
  16. Is cross-platform mobile development more cost-effective than native?
  17. Will the end-user distinguish the difference between native and cross-platform?
  18. What are the commercial risks of choosing cross-platform over native development

Conclusion

1. What is cross-platform mobile development?

It means to develop apps for multiple platforms (operating systems) or devices with one code base, at the same time, instead of building separate apps for each one, as happens when building a native app. This way, one developer can develop iOS and Android apps, which is the most common reason why people choose this method, and for multiple devices, like for smartphones and smart watches. There are different methods of building such an app.

Generally, cross-platform app development enables the app to be made available to a wider audience in a shorter time. On the other hand, some say that customers are used to native mobile apps on operating systems they’ve worked with for years and cross-platform apps are non-intuitive for them. . We’ll make it through more advantages and disadvantages of cross-platform development, but that’s a general insight. 

Find out more about it in What is Cross-Platform Development?

 

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2. What is a cross-platform project?

Cross-platform project is a project based on cross-platform technologies and tools. 

Sometimes it’s about compiling different versions of the same software for different operating systems, sometimes it concerns building apps for different devices at the same time, but mostly it’s about creating an app for Android and iOS at the same time and at lower costs.

 

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3. What are some cross-platform development frameworks and programming languages?

Most popular cross-platform app development languages and frameworks:

  • Flutter 
  • React Native 
  • Apache Cordova 
  • Ionic 
  • Xamarin 
  • Unity
  • NativeScript
  • PhoneGap
  • Kotlin Multiplatform
  • Apache Flex 

In 2021 Flutter overtook its predecessors to enter the first place of the most popular cross-platform development frameworks. Based on the survey, 42% of software developers used Flutter. The language used to write in Flutter is Dart. It was launched in 2017 by Google. 

React Natvie is another popular tool for creating cross-platform apps, launched by Facebook in 2015, which was the most often used framework before 2021. 

Apache Cordova wraps your HTML/JavaScript app into a native container which can access the device functions of several platforms.

Ionic is an open source UI toolkit for building performant, high-quality mobile and desktop apps using web technologies – HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

Xamarin from Microsoft allows you to write cross-platform applications in C# using Visual Studio.

There are more tools and frameworks used to build cross-platform mobile apps, but these are the most popular and valued by developers. 

 

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4. What is the best cross-platform framework?

The most popular frameworks for cross-platform mobile development are Flutter and React Native. The second one was the most popular for many years but in 2021 Flutter has reached the first place as the most popular cross-platform framework among mobile developers. 

We can’t say there is one the best framework for mobile cross-platform development. The choice of technologies, frameworks and tools for development always depends on the specifics of the project and requirements. The best idea is to always listen to the development team’s advice and let them make that choice. Sometimes it’s also a mix of a couple of frameworks. 

Flutter is now the most popular framework and is still gaining popularity. This is how it looked over the past few years:
  • In 2019 30% of mobile developers used Flutter for cross-platform development and 42% used React Native,
  • 2020 brought 39% of mobile developers using Flutter and 42% using React Native,
  • In 2021 42% of mobile developers used Flutter and 38% used React Native

Remaining 20% of mobile developers used other technologies, including Ionic, Xamarin and Cordova

 

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5. What is Flutter?

Flutter is an innovative technology for creating mobile apps, desktop apps and web platforms. It’s a free, open-source UI framework from Google which has hit the market in 2017. To create an app they use a language called Dart, also developed by Google. Actually, Flutter is a collection of tools, libraries, documentation, APIs and frameworks. It provides everything needed for cross-platform mobile app development. Since its release in 2017, it has gained popularity pretty quickly, but creators don’t stop innovating and improving Flutter. 

Find out more about this technology from other articles on our blog:

It’s predicted that Flutter will remain the most popular cross-platform app development framework for the next few years. 

 

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6. What is React Native? 

React Native is an open-source JavaScript framework for writing natively rendering mobile apps for multiple platforms, e.g. iOS and Android and web apps. It was brought to life by Facebook in 2015 based on React, a JavaScript library that was very popular before. That’s why it’s been a really successful framework. Just like in case of Flutter, React Native lets you create cross-platform mobile apps with one code base

 

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7. What are some popular cross-platform mobile apps?

Let’s take a look at some popular cross-platform apps examples. 

Here are some apps built with Flutter:
  • Alibaba – one of the world’s leading B2B ecommerce marketplaces. The app allows you to source products from global suppliers, all from the convenience of your mobile device,
  • Google Pay – a quick and easy way to pay online, in shops and other places,
  • Google Ads – it’s an app that helps you supervise your campaigns using your smartphone from any place,
  • Ad Stats for AdMob – an app to check your revenue from Google AdMob
  • Reflectly – a journal utilizing artificial intelligence to help you structure and reflect upon your daily thoughts and problems,
  • eBay – an app for one of the most popular e-commerce platforms in the world,
  • iRobot – an app connected to your iRobot hoover to configure a map of your home, create cleaning schedules and much more,
  • ABOUT YOU – e-commerce mobile app of the German online fashion store.

Here’s an open list of apps built with Flutter and here you’ll find 10 examples of Flutter mobile apps built by FiveDotTwelve. 

And here are popular React Native apps:
  • Facebook – a well known social media platform which actually brought React Native to life,
  • Instagram – another photo hosting social network app everyone already knows, 
  • Skype – Microsoft's cloud-based instant messaging service, 
  • Pinterest – an American social network for sharing visual content, 
  • Bloomberg – the world's largest news agency and a news app,
  • UberEats – a service enabling ordering meals from local restaurants via a mobile app.

Find the showcase of React Native mobile apps here.

 

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8. What are the benefits of cross-platform mobile development? 

Some advantages of cross-platform app development are:

  • Maximized reach on multiple platforms

Cross-platform mobile app development enables building apps for multiple platforms and devices at the same time so you don’t have to choose e.g. between iOS and Android users. 

  • Great performance

The performance of a cross-platform mobile app is no worse than a native app – from a user's point of view, the differences between native and cross-platform mobile apps are basically invisible in terms of how they work. 

  • Fast & cost-effective development

Cross-platform development enables developers to save much time thanks to writing a single reusable code instead of separate codes for each platform. Cross-platform app development is also a time and money-saving solution for those who need to release the app fast and who want to avoid unnecessary costs. By reducing the development time, the costs also decrease automatically. Also, only one developer is enough to create a mobile app with a cross-platform framework. 

  • Attractive app design

The app’s UI/UX design will be great, especially if you consider cross-platform app development with Flutter. You’ll quickly find out that all of the app’s design aspects fully comply with the standards of each operating system. 

  • Easy maintenance

Thanks to the compatibility of the app on all platforms, any subsequent changes in updates are easier to implement. Updates are also synchronized, so you don't have to worry about changes separately for iOS and Android. 



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9. What are some disadvantages of cross-platform development? 

Cross-platform mobile app development also has its drawbacks. That’s why it’s not the best decision for absolutely every mobile app although it can be chosen for most mobile apps without any losses. 

Challenges for cross-platform app development are: 

  • Variability of devices 

The variety of devices on which a cross-platform app can run is both an advantage and a challenge as developers need to focus on making a product built on a single code work equally well on all platforms and mobile devices, and designers on making it usable and intuitive for all users at the same time.

  • UI/UX issues

Customers are used to native mobile apps on operating systems they’ve worked with for years. Cross-platform mobile app development is supposed to cover multiple platforms and devices so that the app works on all of them in the same way. That’s why it’s hard to make the UI and UX intuitive for everyone.  

  • Features limitations

Cross-platform mobile apps might not have the ability to take advantage of all the system-specific features, such as the compass, storage, GPS, list of contacts, etc. Cross-platform apps also aren’t the first to take advantage of the new trends in their features.

 

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10. What are the limitations of cross-platform development? 

There are some limitations that might change your decision concerning the choice of technology for your app development.

Limitations for cross-platform mobile app development are:

  • Features

Cross-platform mobile apps can’t take advantage of some system-specific devices’ features, like compass, list of contacts, GPS, storage and others. If your app requires the use of these, you should first consult these options with the development team. There might also occur issues related to inconsistent communication between the native and non-native app components

  • Latest trends

Cross-platform mobile app development also means: limited access to the latest system features. These apps aren’t the first to take advantage of the new trends in their features. This can cause problems when you want your app to include innovative elements that are just being explored. 

  • Limited UX possibilities

It’s also quite hard to adjust the UX so that it’s intuitive for both iOS and Android users as on these operating systems, native apps look rather different and users have certain habits. It’s a matter of features, buttons placed in the app and the UI (user interface) designs as well. Native user interface provides positive user experiences thanks to a design style that matches the operating system, as well as system-specific libraries, components, patterns and others.

 

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11. What are the differences between cross-platform mobile app development and native mobile app development?

The main difference between native and cross-platform mobile app development is that native apps are adjusted specifically for a particular operating system or device and cross-platform apps are created for multiple platforms or devices with one code base. 

Cross-platform apps

So, all in all, cross-platform mobile app development means developing apps for multiple platforms (operating systems) or devices with one code base, at the same time, instead of building separate apps for each one. This way, one developer can for example develop mobile apps for Android and iOS. There are different methods of building such an app.

Sometimes it’s about compiling different versions of the same software for different operating systems and sometimes developers build one code to then make minor changes to it for each platform with the use of APIs

Generally, cross-platform app development enables the app to be made available to a wider audience in a shorter time. On the other hand, it can be inefficient as it can require redundant processes or file storage folders for the various systems that it's supposed to support (source).

Native apps

Native app development is creating a software program for the use on a single platform (Android, iOS) or device written in language that is native to that platform. A particularly important benefit of native apps is that they can take full advantage of the device features and latest system updates. Additionally, native apps have an extensive list of libraries that are made specifically for a given platform so that you can make the most of it. 

Learn more about native apps from this article.

cross-platform vs native app development


 

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12. When to choose cross-platform mobile development (and when to choose native)? 

The choice between native and cross-platform mobile app development should always be consulted with mobile app developers who will be creating the app. No matter if it’s an in-house project or it’s commissioned to an app development company. 

Here’s an article concerning cross-platform vs native app development.

What factors should I consider in deciding whether to build a cross-platform application or not?

  • Time

Cross-platform mobile app development is an extremely time-saving solution for those who decide to create a mobile application that doesn't need to use any system-specific features. 

  • MVP

Choosing a cross-platform solution is ideal for those who have decided to make a quick MVP release to test the idea and the product. 

  • Startups 

Startups usually choose cross-platform apps as their aim is to launch the product as soon as possible and check if there's a market fit for them. That’s why cross-platform app development is a good way to go for them. The app is built faster and owners can check its viability to decide whether they should continue or not. 

  • Budget

Cross-platform development is often also a good choice for those who struggle with a low budget for the project at its start. As mentioned in the advantages above, cross-platform development is usually a cheaper choice than native app development, when it comes to mobile apps. In general, developers (or one developer) spend less time building this kind of app, so the cost is also reduced.

  • Features

If you do not intend to implement highly complex features, such as using the built-in GPS,  in your app, again cross-platform development may be a better option for you. Cross-platform technologies allow you to build a fully functional app with many different features and capabilities. However, it is often difficult to implement system-specific features, so if you need them, it’s probably better to choose native development. 

Find more insights and hints in Native vs cross-platform mobile app development. Which one to choose?.

 

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13. What is more secure – native or cross-platform mobile development?

It depends on the project.

When it comes to security issues, there’s no rule confirming that cross-platform mobile app development can be more or less secure than native app development. It is said that it’s more possible to implement in-build security features is native apps, such as file encryption and intelligent fraud detection. 

The truth is, it all depends on your product specification. There’s a lot of cross-platform e-commerce apps in which data protection and secure payments are priorities and it simply works. So you can’t say that cross-platform mobile app development ensures less security, but you can say that only native apps can contain some of the security features. 

 

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14. Is cross-platform mobile development worse than native app development? 

No. It’s not like cross-platform or native mobile development can be worse or better. In section number 12 “When to choose cross-platform mobile development (and when to choose native)?” you’ll find some hints on when each technology should be chosen. 

You’ll find lots of sources and lots of mobile app developers saying that cross-platform applications are worse or less effective than native apps, but it might be a matter of personal preferences. The app development process in cross-platform projects looks quite different than in case of native apps. That’s why, having some old habits, it might be hard for developers to switch. But it doesn’t mean it’s worse. 

 

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15. Is cross-platform mobile development right for you?

Cross-platform development is probably a good choice for you if you: 

  • Want to create an app for more than one platform or mobile devices
  • Aren’t sure about your app’s target audience
  • Run a startup
  • Decided to build an MVP
  • Want to create an app with a low budget
  • Are in a little bit of hurry 

If you want to know more about when to choose cross-platform development, jump to this article.


 

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16. Is cross-platform mobile development more cost-effective than native? 

How cost-effective is it to choose a cross-platform application over native application? What is the price difference between native and cross-platform development? Is there a difference in development time when using cross-platform?

Well, the only correct answer is: it depends

Usually, cross-platform development takes relatively less time and requires only one developer, and thus costs are lower than in native development, but it’s not a fixed rule and it depends on the project. If your app doesn’t require the implementation of complex, system-specific features, cross-platform development will probably be a cheaper option, but it’s not possible to specify the exact costs of this development. Each project should be treated and estimated individually, so if you need a cost estimate for your product, prepare your idea and present it to a mobile app development company

You might find our article about a product roadmap helpful and check also: How to choose the outsourcing mobile app development company.

 

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17. Will the end-user distinguish the difference between native and cross-platform?

No. It’s very unlikely that any user will distinguish differences between a cross-platform and a native app, especially a non-technical one. 

The only visible difference is that cross-platform mobile applications look the same on all operating systems, so some elements may seem illogically placed from the point of view of a user who is familiar with the native apps on their smartphone. 

 

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18. What are the commercial risks of choosing cross-platform over native development?

Some companies indicate the following risks related to choosing cross-platform over native development: 

  • Not providing customers with the best possible user experience 

Some say that cross-platform mobile applications will never be as good as native in terms of user experience (UX). Well, maybe they’re right at some point, but let’s not forget that cross-platform development technologies, frameworks and tools are constantly evolving and from the user point of view, it’s practically impossible to distinguish the difference between a cross-platform and a native app.

  • Lack of experts available on the market

Again, there are voices saying that there’s a lack of experts in the field of cross-platform mobile development as it’s still a new thing. This happens because cross-platform frameworks are replaced by new technologies quite often. Ionic was replaced by React Native a few years ago and soon later Flutter became the most popular one. But does it mean there’s a lack of developers for this kind of mobile app development services? The truth is, once a developer knows two or three programming languages, the next ones just come much more easily. For example, for an experienced specialist, learning Flutter and Dart was just a matter of several exercises and tries to get it and start building apps with it. 

  • Lack of experience and case studies 

Just like in the previous example, these concerns seem to be invalid this time. Most mobile app development companies already have lots of cross-platform projects in their portfolios as this way of development became the most popular one in the past few years, so you don’t have to do endless research to find the ones that already have lots of experience in this field. 

  • Fast evolving technologies

Every newborn cross-platform framework reports a very fast evolution and is offering more and more solutions in terms of libraries, features and UI design. When deciding to create a cross-platform application, you have to take into account rather frequent updates and changes made in your product to constantly satisfy users. 

 

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Conclusion

If you’re still hesitating whether you should develop a cross-platform application or a native app, or even wondering if building any mobile application is a good idea for your business, these are other articles that might help you: