One of the first things you need to determine before you start building your mobile app is who your target users are. And, in this determination, you will also determine whether they favor an iPhone, an Android phone or a Windows phone. If you determine an overwhelming preference for a certain mobile platform, the decision is simple: you build a native mobile app for that specific platform.
Native Apps vs. Cross-Platform Apps
However, if your target users have a mixed preference for the three main mobile operating systems, your choice is more complex and with financial and logistic consequences: do you build an app for each platform, or a cross-platform app?
The answer may be, at first sight, quite obvious: you go with the cross-platform app. However, the answer is not so cut and dry. There are many issues to take into consideration when making this decision. These are:
- Are graphics and animations a big part of your app?
- Is your app complex, with many functions and complex user interactions?
- Will you release frequent updates on your app?
- Do you plan to integrate third party widgets or services into your app?
These aspects will decide whether you should have a cross-platform app or a native app for each platform. When you make the final decision, you must balance the following key aspects: costs, time for deployment and user experience. If any of these aspects is visibly out of balance, then you risk either spending a disproportionate amount of money on your app compared to its benefits, or to put out a mobile app which arrives too late after your initial announcement and does not meet the users’ expectations in terms of functionality.
Cross-platform apps, because this is what we will be focusing on in this article, have strong and weak points. Understanding them and corroborating them with the aspects mentioned above will help you make an informed choice for your organization’s mobile app.
Pro: Fast Development Using Existing Pool of Talent
Cross-platform apps are built using HTML5 language, a common skill among most professional web developers. These developers can work on a mobile app, using their existing experience, and create the app in a relatively short time. The existing library of codes and the large community of programmers sharing knowledge are among the most important aspects which favor the timely development of your mobile app.
Con: Difficult Third Party Integration
If your app needs to use services, widgets or pieces of code from third parties, these could be difficult to integrate and to guarantee perfect functionality on all platforms and devices. These third party integrations are also difficult to maintain over time as your app receives updates and upgrades and they may conflict with the third party widget, or its owner does not offer further updates.
Pro: Most of the Code Can Be Reused
Between 50% and 80% of cross-platform app code can be reused between platforms. This means less time and work, and a significantly lower final cost of the app.
Con: High Resource Consumption
Cross-platform apps are known as great consumers of phone resources, especially battery and CPU. Users with older or entry-level smartphones will notice their phone battery draining quickly while using the app or even sluggish functionality as they navigate through the app.
Pro: Simpler Testing
A cross-platform app significantly reduces the time and number of operations for testing it before release. The time saved in this manner can be used to fix bugs, improve functionality and correct errors which may be observed during testing.
Con: Poor 3D and Animation Experience
Cross-platform apps are not high performers in terms of video rendering. Complex animations and 3D graphics are supported only partially, resulting in an average to low user experience.
Pro: Great Support for Cloud and Enterprise Solutions
Cross-platform app development platforms offer excellent integration of cloud and enterprise solutions, a big plus for business apps and dedicated apps for employees.
Con: Platform Limitations
Each mobile platform has its limitations. When you create a cross-platform app, all these limitations will be brought together and shape your mobile app in terms of functionality, complexity and level of user experience and user interface.
The final verdict on this issue is not clear-cut: indeed, cross platform apps have undeniable benefits, mainly in terms of cost and time spent developing the app. However, if you aim for high quality graphics and animation or if your app is complex and has a wide range of functionalities and user interactions, cross platform apps definitely have their limitations and you should consider upgrading your budget for a native app.