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Cross-platform app development: when, why, and how?

A Picture of Jonathan Lazo
April 26, 2016 | Topic: Cross Platform   Mobile   Mobile Apps  
Cross-platform app development: when, why, and how?

Last month Microsoft announced some big news, including in particular the acquisition of Xamarin. If you´ve never heard of them before, they are one of the most important companies developing tools for cross-platform mobile development. That explains Microsoft´s interest.

They have over 5 years developing Xamarin products and can already include big-name clients using and developing cross-platform apps, such as Jet Blue, Kimberly-Clark, Dow Jones and Coca Cola.

Which is what brings us to today´s theme. Why is cross-platform development so interesting for companies? When and how should we consider using cross-platform development for an app?

One of the main factors is of course time and money: when you develop an app or any other project, the two main factors are how much time you have to deliver your product, and how much money you are going to spend. If your budget is limited, this may be your best option.

With native development you need to have a team to design and develop a different app for each platform (or at least iOS and Android). That means more people to pay and probably more time to wait to deliver the final product, since you need to wait for both teams. But with cross-platform development you could deliver a first version of your idea with just one team designing and coding for just one app, that runs on any mobile device.

Using a common language to code is another benefit of cross-platform development. As most cross-platform development tools use popular languages such as JavaScript + HTML5 or C#, it typically makes life easier for developers.

However cross-platform development is not perfect. For example, if you want your app to have stunning graphics and a powerful mobile user experience, then this can be simpler to achieve with native development. In addition, if you need to rely on the security provided by the operating system, native development is the best choice.

Let’s check out two of the most popular tools to build cross platform app:

  • Apache Cordova or Phone Gap. This is an open source tool and probably the most popular right now in the market, as it lets you develop beautiful apps using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. This is really nice when you’re trying to use common languages and also lets you use some cool web JS frameworks like Angular or Ionic and there are a lot of plugins to let you access native APIs. But on the other side it does have some blind spots, it can be confusing, and there is still much that could be improved.
  • Xamarin. As I mentioned earlier, this is a popular tool. It’s a really good tool that lets you use C# to code for all platforms and the performance is much faster compared with tools like Cordova. It also lets you use code to use native controls for every platform and you can use an integrated development environment (IDE) like Visual Studio if you are into Microsoft technologies. But it´s not cheap and there is also a learning curve involved in using it.

So at the end of the day cross-platform development is a really good choice to deliver fast and beautiful apps for many platforms with less effort, lower cost, and greater simplicity. But make sure to analyse upfront if it will suit your particular requirements.


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