Guide to Cross-Platform Mobile Development
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Software development is no exception to a commonplace and misleading conception of the binary of choices. You can either have an Xbox or Playstation, you can have an apple or an orange, you may take the bus or your bike, you can choose either yes or no, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Choose a side and stick to it, basically, but you can’t really straddle the middle and have more than one option.
Obviously, any layman can look at these choices and proclaim, “Well, of course I can have both of those!” And that layman would be right, even if it isn’t really that simple. Why we pidgeon-hole ourselves into this binary is subtle because people don’t tend to look critically at it, and so it mostly goes unnoticed. Binary blindness is an easy and unnecessarily limiting pattern to fall into.
These are made up rules that you don’t need to follow, which leads us into cross-platform mobile development. You may feel like you’ll need to choose a single operating system to use, but not only can you work with multiple, you should. Mobile development shouldn’t force you to develop for either Android or iOS; pursuing both is, in fact, the productive route to take.
Developing for both systems can lead to great results in this day and age and that, as a developer, the best options can likely be to develop for both major operating systems. You’re essentially tapping into two distinct markets that might otherwise be left out. If you work with iOS, you’d be losing all the Android customers - vice versa. There are plenty of tools and different options available for developing cross-platform mobile apps.
iTexico is an excellent source for learning more about software development of any color. If you’re interested in this particular topic, our “Benefits of Cross-Platform Development” article is your starting line. However, for here, we’re hoping to guide you through everything you need to know about how to develop a cross-platform app.
Choosing the Type of App to Develop
Now, there’s a myriad of different kinds of apps out there, each having their own nuances, capabilities, and impacts on where they’re developed. Depending on the type of app you’re building, there’ll be different steps to be made during development. For instance, very few changes are necessary between operating systems when developing web apps between platforms. However, native and hybrid apps are more complex, requiring significantly more work to make cross-platform functionality… functional.
These apps aren’t going to be found in an app store. While that does make them somewhat less accessible to customers, considering they won’t be able to easily find them, it does provide a measure of convenience without chewing up a device’s memory storage. Web apps provide their services through the browser of a phone, so long as you have internet access available. Easily managed with a few strings attached so to speak.
As web apps are only available through your browser, and stored on a remote server elsewhere, making it cross-platform shouldn’t be any trouble. You can and should look into optimization between browsers and operating systems, as in general web apps are easier to make and require less conversion between platforms.
Hybrid Cross-Platform Apps
By creating a native shell for what is, essentially, a web app, it can then be accessed and downloaded as if it were a native app. These enhanced web apps have an interface built for each unique OS using their respective browser components. Not only do these apps retain the same functionality as web apps do, they’re easier to find due to their app store placement.
Of course, full functionality is still contingent on access to internet. Unlike web apps, however, hybrid cross-platform apps can still be accessed even without a wi-fi connection, since it’s still downloaded onto your phone. The limited accessibility provided won’t be able to give you all the information you might want, but it’s better than nothing at all.
Native Cross-Platform Apps
Everything up until now has required some form of internet connection for full app functionality. Native cross-platform apps differ from their peers by being completely independent of internet connection. These apps are built to run directly from the phone’s storage, retaining every function and service available by the app whether you’re in the middle of a city or lost in the desert.
Without a design incorporating internet usage, however, specifications become more complex. These can be some of the more difficult applications to build, as a result, since different operating systems have different code you’ll have to reconcile. Thankfully, there are tools that are capable of translating code between operating systems, easing the burden for your cross-platform development process.
Tools for Developing Cross-Platform Applications
The larger a toolbox you have, the better. You won’t go to a construction site and expect to get everything done with a single hammer, even if you have a long history with that hammer and everything it’s fixed for you. We know you built an entire shed with that hammer, you told us, but it won’t build this house.
Cross-platform app development is about compatibility, which means different developer tools will bear significant importance for a successful app development process. You may not use all of them, and you may wind up only needing one, but using just one won’t give you the results you need. There are several tools that do this, each using different programming languages and having their own pros and cons for development.
Everyone recognizes Adobe, it’s a staple for artists, programmers, and would-be animators around the world. Remember Adobe Flash? We all do. The Adobe PhoneGap tool is one of the more popular, well known cross-platform development options, due to its ease of use and recognition from a reputable company. Even if you don’t have experience with software development, PhoneGap provides guides leading you through the steps.
While Adobe has a greater hand in the world of software development, it’s still arguable that Microsoft’s name alone still carries more weight. Between it and Apple, there are no two bigger tech giants. Microsoft also has its own set of software development tools at its disposal, this product known as Xamarin.
A rise in complexity means an improvement to functionality, so long as you can figure it out for yourself. People familiar with C# and .NET already will have a little trouble getting used to the tool and it doesn’t have the same guides provided as PhoneGap does. The good part is that developing your apps through Xamarin results in a better overall performance.
Xamarin apps exist as a compiled software package on the phone’s hard drive, not as a web app. This means that, even though you may be building a cross-platform app, it will run as if it were native. It’ll be smoother and faster than other tools may be able to achieve. Your code between different platforms will remain about 75% the same, and the 25% left over will be identified by Xamarin and expedited for translation.
This type of software development tool is ideal for native cross-platform apps. The hardest part of bridging an app between two different operating systems is working out the differences in their programming language. Xamarin may not be as user-friendly as PhoneGap, but its capabilities and results speak for themselves.
Native cross-platform apps are a challenge unto themselves, so having a tool designed for an average programmer to easily use is handy. However, while its straightforward design is a part of its charm and strength, it also lacks the same versatile design power that Xamarin offers while possessing less language functionality than PhoneGap.
Developing a cross-platform mobile app can take a bit of planning and forethought to get right. Choosing the type of app to develop may be the first step, but then you need to ensure that the developer team you’re assembling has the skills to carry out your ambitions. User retention percentage rides on how well your app works and how much the users like using it. That starts here.
When choosing the type of app you’d like to develop, where do you start first? Do you want something fairly easy but effective, so long as you have internet? Wi-Fi is available most anywhere these days, so if your service doesn’t have much in the way of functionality without it, you may want to stick to safety. However, hybrid cross-platform bear a certain appeal with their limited functionality without internet connection. Finally, native cross-platform apps are a bit harder to build, but deliver better overall performance.
Once you’ve settled on the app you’re interested in designing, ensuring you have the right tools is paramount. Adobe PhoneGap, Xamarin, and React Native are only a few of many possible selections to choose from, but they represent a fair portion of what your average developer tool options may look like.
PhoneGap can ride on the reputable name of Adobe alone, but still prides itself on a robust but beginner-friendly system. Xamarin, by comparison, is notably more challenging to use, but delivers highly tuned results with faster, smoother apps. React Native isn’t quite as powerful as either of these two alone, but makes building a native cross-platform app a bit easier.