What are the best approaches for cross-platform mobile app development?

The advent of the smartphone has revolutionized how everyday life happens. You can now communicate, shop, apply for jobs, book tickets, bank, search for information, entertain, and more with just a single device in your hands.

Smartphones are capable of all of these things because of their ability to run software applications or apps which enable such functionalities.

The smartphone market is headed by two major Operating Systems: Android and iOS. While customers swear by their preferred platform, everyone wants the same apps. Different mobile app development approaches have enabled the required cross-platform functionality of these apps, including web-based approaches.

The best way to cross paths for apps

Evolving technologies have stepped up to cater to cross-platform development demands through specialized tools, and varied mobile app development approaches.  Each app’s specific requirements dictate the best approach to take, as each has its unique strengths and weaknesses.

Favouring frameworks

Cross-platform mobile app development frameworks are tools that developers write code for an app to convert the code to be suitable to run on the preferred platform.

Common examples of frameworks are Flutter by Google, React Native by Facebook, Native Script, Xamarin, and NoCode.

They offer flexibility and compatibility while reducing costs and time. They are however, plagued by the inability to match code performance to that of natively developed apps.

Native-first approach

When it comes to sheer performance and compatibility, nothing beats the native platform-specific approach. The advantages offered by this are so good that it’s still pursued in many circumstances despite cross-platform incompatibility.

However, there might be instances where native app development will be the requirement, like when the device’s hardware and APIs are to be accessed. The app is then first developed for the specified platform natively before being reworked to be used on others. In other cases, web-based and hybrid development may take place instead.

This gives the advantage of testing the algorithm’s full capability while ironing out any errors that could’ve gone undetected otherwise. Such an approach can also help optimization.

Hybrid cross-platform development

Hybrid app development is the type that brings the best of web-based and native app worlds. Though it might seem similar to cross-platform development with frameworks, the only commonality between them is the feature of code-reusability.

Hybrid apps are developed with web technologies like JavaScript, HTML, CSS, etc. While deploying on specific platforms, they use certain tools called “wrappers” that package the entire code in a manner that the platform can read and use.

The biggest advantages of hybrid development are time and cost reduction, low initial learning curve, extensive reach and cross-compatibility due to common and simple web technologies, accessibility of native API/hardware via plugins, and the ability to be self-contained.

The last one means that a server is only needed to supply or maintain data within the app and not launch and run it.

The major downside of hybrid apps is the speed and performance limitations imposed by the web container on every device.

Progressive web app approach

This approach aims to leverage the full advantages of native development in web apps. It streamlines web apps to such an extent that there won’t be any difference between operating a native app and its web version.

Adding to that effect is the availability of push notifications, offline mode, access to device hardware and API, loading to the home screen, and more.

This has the advantage of seamless cross-platform compatibility as every one of them has a browser, which is all that will be required. It can also sidestep the platforms’ app marketplaces, often having a stranglehold on consumers and app developers alike.

The future will only see a more diverse uptake of smart technologies, so mobile app development approaches have to align to best suit cross-platform compatibility for ease of use and development.