When developing an app, there are a multitude of important decisions to make between “Let’s do this!” and “It’s launch day!”
One of these decisions is the application development approach. Is a native mobile app the right way to go? Or would a cross-platform app be a better fit for your needs and your organization? There is no one-approach-fits-all, so it’s important for organizations to avoid false starts and costly redevelopment time by having a solid understanding of their available options.
Let’s analyze these options.
A native app is one that has been designed specifically for one mobile platform (i.e. Android, iOS), with engineers leveraging the programming language used by the platform’s own operating system (Java or Kotlin for Android and Swift/Objective-C) for iOS. If you wish to have native apps made for multiple platforms, the developers need to make separate codebases.
Advantages to native app development are plentiful. Because the app’s UX is tailored to that specific platform, the app will deliver strong and smooth performance and can take advantage of the device’s full set of functionalities. This tends to result in much higher ratings and better visibility (read: more revenue) in app stores.
Additionally, if the platform OS is eventually updated (which often means bugs will appear), resolving the specific code for that platform is much more efficient and therefore less costly than needing to fix a centralized code base that will affect all the platforms.
So, while native apps do tend to require more time and resources up front, they can offer considerable savings long-term in maintenance and updating.
The Takeaway: Native apps are an investment, but a worthwhile one if you’re looking long-term with your app. The functionality tends to be much better and maintenance is significantly less complex.
Cross-platform apps are designed more as a one-size-fits-all solution …with modifications. A single codebase is written and can then be shared among the different platforms, either using web technologies or tools such as PhoneGap, Titanium, or React Native.
Cross-platform is a popular option among organizations with a tighter timeframe and lower budget, as it only requires one codeset to be written. This makes cross-platform a reasonable option for simple applications like games or single-purpose apps. Some organizations will specify the devices they want the code to work on, while others will make the app available to all users, whether they’re using an iPhone 3 or a Galaxy M30s.
The downsides of the cross-platform approach, however, can be summarized by the old adage, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” Because cross-platform has to be everything to every platform, its performance tends to be suboptimal. In addition, it can’t take advantage of each type of device’s proprietary features, thus limiting the potential.
Indeed, the Airbnb app initially used a cross-platform approach with React Native. But in June of 2018, they announced they were sunsetting their use of this tool and would be focusing on native app development, citing issues like developer experience, quality, and technical issues. Even the world’s most popular social media app, Facebook, made the switch from cross-platform to native in 2012, with Mark Zuckerberg announcing that “the biggest mistake we’ve made as a company is betting on HTML5 over native.”
The Takeaway: If both time and budget are short, cross-platform app development is a great way to get to market quickly … as long as you don’t mind sacrificing some performance.
A Third Option: No App
While apps are an excellent way to increase customer engagement and improve the user experience, they’re not a cure-all. If the app is providing a service that a user would only need once or twice a year for a limited number of functions, it may be better to focus instead on your mobile website experience. On the other hand, if you anticipate year-round use and wish to provide a rich, multifunctional experience, your users will be happy to have that app take up real estate on their devices.
Which Should You Choose?
If you have the time and the budget, native app development can provide you with a highly functional app that is not only tailor-made for the user’s experience and device but can also save you maintenance headaches down the road.
Meanwhile, cross-platform apps provide a viable option for smaller budgets and businesses that want to get a simple app out into the marketplace quickly.
Still not certain? The experts at Mobomo are happy to discuss options and recommend the best approach for you and your organization’s unique needs, so contact us today.