What is Cross-Platform Development?
Cross-platform mobile development is a term that has been gaining popularity in recent years. People who are interested in developing an app quickly come across content related to explaining it and presenting the advantages it brings. If you are looking for information on whether it is worth implementing cross-platform development in your app, you’ve come to the right place.
In this article you’ll find a description, some pros of cross-platform app development, technologies used to create cross-platform apps and information about the requirements it meets so that you can determine whether taking this path is right for your business.
Definition of cross-platform development
What is cross-platform app 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. 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. We’ll make it through more advantages and disadvantages of cross-platform development, but that’s the general insight.
Cross-platform app development languages and frameworks
- In 2021, Flutter overtook its predecessors to enter the first place of the most popular cross-platform development frameworks. Based on the survey, 42 percent of software developers used Flutter. The language used to write in Flutter is Dart.
- Another popular tool for creating cross-platform apps is React Native, launched by Facebook in 2015, which was the most often used framework before 2021.
- 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 apps, you can read about them here, but these are the most popular and valued by developers.
Advantages and opportunities
Maximized reach on multiple platforms
By reaching multiple platforms at the same time, you simply don’t have to wonder whether your target group is more into iOS or Android. Your reach is maximized and your app can target all the groups when you develop a mobile app for all of the users at once.
Rapid mobile app development and reduced Time-to-Market
Cross-platform development enables developers to save much time thanks to writing a single reusable code instead of separate codes for each platform. Then, each of the widgets can be modified according to their proprietary operating system, but it’s not as much as building the whole app from scratch for iOS and Android.
Of course, this also means that the app is released to the public sooner and can start generating profits faster.
Cross-platform mobile development is 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 naturally. No matter if it’s an in-house team or the work was outsourced, developers spend less time on writing the code.
Again, of course writing one codebase for both platforms makes developers’ jobs much easier. They can add specific widgets and adjust features for each platform. Also, after the app is launched in mobile app stores, developers can still implement improvements and transformations with each update.
Attractive app design
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. For widgets, there are two sets that match the language of the operating system – the Material Design widgets use Google’s design language and Cupertino widgets imitate Apple’s iOS design.
The widgets not only help make your UI more attractive, but they will also still look the same on older versions of Android and iOS. (source)
Great app performance
With cross-platform apps you can discover nearly the same performance as in case of native apps. From a user's point of view, the differences between native and cross-platform mobile apps are basically imperceptible in terms of how they work.
All the above-mentioned advantages apply not only to the initial implementation of the app, but also to its 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.
Disadvantages and challenges
Difficulties for UX designers
Customers are used to native mobile apps on operating systems they’ve worked with for years. A cross-platform app is created to work on all of them, so it might be hard to adjust the UX for all of them to be intuitive. It’s a matter of features, buttons placed in the app and UI (user interface) designs as well.
Native user interface (UI) provides positive user experiences thanks to a design style that matches the operating system, as well as system-specific libraries, components, patterns and others.
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. 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.
Limited access to latest system features
Cross-platform 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.
Variability of devices
The variety of devices on which a cross-platform app can run is both an advantage and a disadvantage. Why? Because 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. It’s not an easy task.
Should you consider cross-platform mobile development for your app?
Let’s focus on cases in which it’s good to consider cross-platform app development. This will be a practical guide for you to see if you should choose this path for your business. Are you in one of the situations listed below? You should consider building a cross-platform app.
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. It’s also very cost-effective as only one developer is enough to build a functional, cross-platform app.
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. They can use just one codebase for both platforms which makes their job easier and faster.
Read our article Creating a mobile app with low budget to learn about other ways and hints on how to build a profitable app with a limited budget.
Creating an MVP to test the idea
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. You can build a minimum viable product (a mobile app with a minimum set of features) to save money and to see if the product idea was a good one. It’s not much different from any other mobile app. It’s just that it’s not fully finished, having only the core features for the start. Usually when building a minimum viable product you aim to expand it later. Of course, if the first version met your expectations.
That’s why it’s so great to choose cross-platform mobile development for this kind of solution – to save time and money at the first release and continue the development later, as well as to test the product on both iOS and Android platforms.
You can learn more about MVPs from this article.
Running out of time
You need to release the app for multiple platforms ASAP? Investors want to see the first results? Some agreement obliges you to finish the project in a fixed period? No matter what reasons you have, it’s understandable that you might be in a rush. There are things that cannot be speeded up but cross-platform development is definitely a way to go if you have little time. Again, MVP should be also considered in this case. If you need a mobile app for iOS and Android, and you want to do it fast, choose cross-platform development. When creating a cross-platform app, developers only write one codebase for both platforms.
No complex features in your app
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. What would be best in the situation where you’re not sure about that is reaching out to experienced developers who will be able to tell you if features you’d like to see in your app are possible to implement in a cross-platform environment.
Let’s stop for a minute to focus on the most popular framework for cross-platform app development – Flutter.
Flutter is an innovative technology for creating applications on mobile, desktop, and web platforms. It’s a free, open-source UI framework from Google which has hit the market in 2017. Actually, Flutter is a collection of tools, libraries, documentation, APIs and frameworks. It provides everything needed to build cross-platform apps.
Here you can find 10 Flutter mobile apps examples built in FiveDotTwelve.
The framework is written in Dart. It incorporates design-specific widgets to create graphics, text, shapes and animations. You can combine simpler widgets together to perform more complex tasks.
Flutter’s most attractive feature so far for many developers is its support of hot reloading. Any changes to the source files are immediately incorporated. Even to an app that is currently running. It doesn’t require a restart or any loss of state like live reloading.
If you want to learn more about Flutter, jump to this article.
All in all, cross-platform development is an extremely time-saving solution for those who decide to create an app that doesn't need to use any system-specific features, and is especially useful for MVPs and startups.
If you’re hesitating on whether to choose cross-platform or native app development, see our article: Native vs cross-platform mobile app development. Which one to choose?. That should help you make that decision.