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Cross-Platform or native mobile app? how do I decide?

Mustafa Muhsin
Mustafa Muhsin
Table of Contents
person holding smartphone

Developing a mobile application for multiple platforms can be a challenging task. On deciding whether to develop a mobile app us a cross-platform application or separate native mobile applications both the businesses and the development often have to weigh the pros and cons to make an informed decision. The choice between these two options can impact the development cost, time-to-market, user experience, and maintenance efforts. I will try to explore some of these factors to consider when deciding between developing a cross-platform application or separate native mobile applications.

Factors

Code Reusability

Cross-platform mobile app development tools like Xamarin or React Native provide developers with the ability to write a single codebase for multiple platforms. Developers can write the code once and use it for iOS, Android, and other platforms. This results in significant cost savings and faster development times. However, the code reusability comes with certain limitations. Some platform-specific features and functionalities may not be available, and developers may have to write platform-specific code to incorporate those features.

On the other hand, developing separate native mobile applications for each platform allows developers to take full advantage of platform-specific features and functionalities. However, it requires developers to write separate code for each platform, which can increase the development cost and time.

Deployment Size

Cross-platform mobile applications can have larger deployment sizes due to the inclusion of platform-specific libraries and frameworks. This can impact the user experience, especially in regions with slow internet connectivity or limited storage space. Native mobile applications, on the other hand, can have smaller deployment sizes as developers only need to include platform-specific libraries and frameworks for each platform.

Performance Factors

The performance of a mobile application is critical to the user experience. Data-intensive and processing-intensive applications may require platform-specific optimizations to achieve optimal performance. Cross-platform mobile applications may not be able to take full advantage of platform-specific optimizations, resulting in suboptimal performance. Native mobile applications, on the other hand, can take full advantage of platform-specific optimizations resulting in optimal performance.

Third-Party Library Support

Third-party libraries play a critical role in mobile application development. Cross-platform mobile app development tools like Xamarin provide access to a wide range of third-party libraries. However, not all third-party libraries may be compatible with cross-platform mobile app development tools, resulting in limitations. Native mobile applications, on the other hand, have access to a wide range of platform-specific third-party libraries.

Version Control

iOS and Android have different release schedules, and each platform may have different requirements for version control. When developing separate native mobile applications for each platform, developers must maintain separate version control for each platform. Cross-platform mobile app development tools allow developers to use a single version control system for the entire application.

Release Complexity

Releasing a mobile application can be a complex process. Developing separate native mobile applications for each platform can increase the complexity of the release process, as developers have to release each application separately. Cross-platform mobile app development tools simplify the release process by allowing developers to release a single application for multiple platforms.

Development Team Structure and Available Skills

Developing separate native mobile applications for each platform may require a larger development team with specialized skills for each platform. Cross-platform mobile app development tools like Xamarin allow developers to use a single development team with shared skills for multiple platforms.

App Size

The size of the mobile application can impact the user experience. Cross-platform mobile applications can have larger app sizes due to the inclusion of platform-specific libraries and frameworks. Native mobile applications, on the other hand, can have smaller app sizes as developers only need to include platform-specific libraries and frameworks for each platform.

Testing

Testing is a critical part of mobile application development. Cross-platform mobile app development tools like Xamarin allow developers to write automated tests once and use them for multiple platforms. Native mobile applications, on the other hand, require separate automated tests.

Hardware Access

Hardware access is another factor to consider when developing a mobile application. Some applications require access to hardware-specific features such as camera, GPS, or accelerometer. Cross-platform mobile app development tools may not support all hardware-specific features on all platforms, while native mobile applications can take full advantage of the hardware-specific features on each platform.

User Experience

User experience is critical to the success of a mobile application. Cross-platform mobile applications may have limitations when it comes to providing a platform-specific user experience. Native mobile applications, on the other hand, can take full advantage of platform-specific design and user experience guidelines, resulting in a more intuitive and familiar user experience.

Integration

Integration with other systems or applications may be required for some mobile applications. Cross-platform mobile app development tools may have limitations when it comes to integrating with other systems or applications. Native mobile applications can take full advantage of platform-specific integration capabilities, resulting in more seamless integration.

Maintenance and Upgrades

Maintenance and upgrades are critical to the long-term success of a mobile application. Cross-platform mobile app development tools may require updates and maintenance for the codebase and third-party libraries to remain compatible with the latest platform updates. Native mobile applications may require separate maintenance and upgrades for each platform, but developers can take full advantage of platform-specific updates and improvements.

Development Cost

The cost of mobile application development is a critical factor for businesses and developers. Cross-platform mobile app development tools can result in significant cost savings due to the ability to reuse code across multiple platforms. Native mobile applications, on the other hand, require separate development efforts for each platform, resulting in higher development costs.

Platform Testing

Testing on multiple platforms is critical to ensuring the quality and performance of a mobile application. Cross-platform mobile app development tools may have limitations when it comes to platform-specific testing. Native mobile applications require separate testing efforts for each platform, but developers can take full advantage of platform-specific testing tools and capabilities.

How do I decide?

Mobile apps vary in functionality, size, and pretty much everything, so there is a need for an approach to weighing each factor. One simple approach is to isolate each factor, assign it a weight. The weight is based on how important that factor is, whether to the business or the development team. I generally like to go with a value system of 1 to 5. This can totally be up to you, with greater ranges used for more complex breakdowns. Then add a column for a value with going with the cross-platform route and a value for the native route. Each route’s score is a product of the weight and the value assigned. A total sum of all the factors helps give a better view to as to which path to take.

This is a sample of a good starting point of the scoring table that I like to use. Each of these factors could further be broken down into more detailed definitions, as well as other ones added.

Some final thoughts

The decision to choose between developing a cross-platform application or separate native mobile applications depends on several factors such as code reusability, deployment size, performance factors, third-party library support, version control, release complexity, development team structure, available skills, app size, testing, hardware access, user experience, integration, maintenance, and development cost. Developers and businesses must carefully evaluate these factors to make an informed decision that meets their specific needs and requirements. Since each circumstance is unique and the values do shift it is impossible to cover them all in one blog. I will in the future explore the decision making for specific types of mobile apps and the factors that affect them

Mustafa Muhsin

Mustafa Muhsin

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