When you think of mobile app development, the first question that pops up in your head is which development approach to choose: cross-platform or native? The main factors taken into consideration when making such a decision have always been performance, codebase reusability, and, of course, the cost. Today, however, there are many more different aspects like user experience and access to features you should also keep in mind. For your mobile app to succeed, it’s critical to identify your target audience, understand the market you’re aiming at and choose the platform that serves your business goals best.
Before you get hands-on with cross-platform or native mobile app development, it’s important to go through some basic points and understand the difference between the two approaches. Both frameworks have their strengths and drawbacks. There are numerous questions to be answered and issues that may arise if you choose the wrong path. But no worries, we’re here to help you make an informed decision.
React Native mobile app development
React Native is the most popular open-source mobile application framework and your best option if you need to develop a cross-platform app quickly and with a low budget. The best thing about cross-platform mobile app development is that you don’t have to build the same app over and over again to cater to different platforms. Instead, using React Native, your developers can build one application that shares the same functionality, user interface and runs well across Android, iOS, and the web at the same time. The most famous mobile apps built with React Native are Facebook (the very company that created the framework), Instagram, and Airbnb.
React Native strengths
Cost-effective development. It is much cheaper to develop one cross-platform app with a single codebase than building a native app for each platform. This enables a company to reach multiple audiences for the price of reaching one.
Reusable code. Single codebase makes the development of an app a lot quicker than rebuilding one from scratch using a different language. This also means a faster time to market.
Hot reload. Developers don’t need to reload the app every time they make changes to it. React Native saves the file and the edits are immediately seen on the device.
Easy and fast deployment, maintenance. Single codebase makes deployment much faster. It also means you can introduce features fast and roll out updates to multiple platforms simultaneously, without making individual changes on each platform.
No performance differences across platforms. Common codebase enables any changes introduced to the app to have no impact on its stability and performance across different platforms.
React Native drawbacks
Unified UI and limited user experience. It’s impossible to follow both Google and Apple guidelines at the same time when building a single cross-platform app. Varying approaches to UI/UX and all the little differences between platforms make it truly hard to implement and adapt complex features. You have to compromise with a unified UI which, in turn, may fail to deliver a desirable user experience.
Average performance and poor scalability. Cross-platform applications are slower than native ones and harder to scale because they are developed using different programming languages that have to be interpreted, translated into the native languages of the platform.
Limited functionality. Common codebase comes at the price of having limited or even no access to native APIs, which means you cannot implement certain native-only features.
Always online. In most cases, cross-platform apps require an Internet connection and will not work offline.
Challenging integration and performance issues. Cross-platform applications are harder to integrate with their target platform and can sometimes result in failures and performance issues related to bad communication between native plugins and non-native code.
Native mobile app development
Native means that your app is developed exclusively for a particular platform using the specific programming languages and tools offered by the owner of that platform. For example, iOS favors Objective-C and Swift while native Android apps are written in Kotlin or Java using tools like Android Studio. Native mobile app development is a solid choice if you’re looking for your app to have great scalability and be able to deal with high traffic. Great examples of such are Google Maps, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Going with native mobile app development lets you make better use of the platform’s innate, system-specific features and APIs. Native apps are significantly more reliable and their great performance can hardly be surpassed by cross-platform ones. They also provide more enjoyable user experience which you wouldn’t be able to achieve using the cross-platform approach. They do, however, take significantly more money and time to build. And it’s important to remember that you can’t run an Android-native app on iOS and vice versa. Going native also means adhering to the strict guidelines and the design language provided by the platform you’re aiming at—if you don’t want your app to be rejected by the platform’s marketplace.
High performance and great scalability. Developing for a particular platform in a language specific to that platform means your native app integrates seamlessly and runs significantly faster. Therefore, native apps are easy to scale and have lower risk of crashes, freezes, and downtime.
Excellent user experience. Native apps follow strict platform-specific guidelines which results in excellent user experience. This includes everything from ease of navigation to perfect layouts and aspect ratio.
Broad functionality and access to features. A native mobile application supports all the APIs and has direct access to all of the operating system and device features. The integration of native apps provides more opportunities and makes them significantly more powerful than the cross-platform ones.
Offline accessibility. Even the most complex native apps can be accessed without Internet connection and work with no issues.
Store’s support and better positioning. Quality user experience and high performance are crucial criteria for any app store. Therefore, native apps are likely to be positioned better than cross-platform ones.
Large community and third-party libraries. Community support, a large number of available resources, and access to a variety of third-party libraries enable developers to be more flexible and creative in building robust, highly scalable applications.
High cost. Native mobile app development is very costly and time-consuming. Native developers are harder to come by, and the cost of development doubles if you’re aiming at two platforms—you need two development teams.
No reusable codebase. Native code cannot be reused for another platform with different languages. If you aim at both iOS and Android, you will have to create two separate native mobile apps from scratch.
Difficult and costly maintenance. Two separate native apps written in two different languages on two different platforms make it truly hard and expensive for you to manage deployment, feature updates, and support on both at the same time.
What mobile app development approach is best for you?
In this article, we highlighted the biggest strengths and tradeoffs you should consider when deciding between native and cross-platform mobile development frameworks. So let’s see which one is most suitable for your business goals.
Cross-platform frameworks, and React Native in particular, are indeed powerful and provide some considerable benefits like hot reload and fast deployment. However, considering the sophistication of today’s mobile platforms and a huge variety of frameworks to build for, cross-platform apps don’t really boast best performance. Making a unified cross-platform UI look “sexy” and provide the desirable user experience can be pretty challenging and requires guidance from senior native designers. In addition, cross-platform apps don’t have the tools to utilize the latest capabilities of most devices. The biggest strengths of cross-platform development, however, will always be reusable code, lower development costs, and significantly faster time to market. So if you’re looking to build a solution that has a reasonable level of complexity, you’re in a highly competitive market where time is of the essence or your budget is a bit short for two separate development teams building for two platforms at the same time, consider using React Native. It serves best for small apps with no complex features and B2B solutions where faster deployment is crucial.
In turn, despite the higher cost of development, no reusable codebase, and costly maintenance, you simply can’t go wrong with native mobile app development. Native frameworks provide better performance, scalability, and device utilization which already makes them a winner. But most importantly, native apps feature the unrivaled excellence of user experience that simply cannot be achieved with the cross-platform approach—this also gives them a considerable advantage of better positioning on the platforms’ app stores. However, the choice truly depends on the goals you’re chasing. If you’re looking to impress, be a step ahead and take advantage of the latest technologies, platform- or device-specific features, build your app using a native stack. If you’re building a complex mobile application aimed at a large audience, you definitely want it to scale well—go with native.
Turn your most ambitious ideas into a great future-proof app!
While going with the best-fitting mobile app development approach will most definitely play a major role, it’s important to remember that the biggest driver of success will always be the development team you choose. We at QArea, are a dedicated and truly agile team of customer-obsessed professionals with more than 18 years of experience in mobile application development. Just share your ideas with us and we’ll help you turn them into a great future-proof app.