Native vs Cross-platform: Which one should you choose?

By PlaysDev
Published: Jun 28, 2024

In 2024, mobile apps have become an integral part of the daily lives of billions of people around the world. Generation Z cannot imagine their day without using their phone. Applications span a wide range of activities, from communication and entertainment to work and education, significantly influencing how we interact with the world.

According to the latest data, the number of smartphone users in the world will exceed 7.5 billion in 2024. That is, more than 90% of the world’s population have access to mobile devices and use them quite often. The average user spends about 4.5 hours a day using a smartphone, which is a 20% increase compared to 2020. Now, check your screen time over the past week and see for yourself the importance of mobile apps in the modern world.

So what is this article about? The fact that with the growing demand for mobile applications, developers were faced with the question: which approach to creating applications to choose – native or cross-platform?
Today we will try to talk about both approaches so that each mobile developer can decide: Swift/Kotlin or React Native/Flutter?

A little about mobile development

Mobile development is about creating applications for mobile devices so that you and I can use the phone, because without applications, our gadget is essentially useless. Even to access the Internet, we use mobile versions of applications of major browsers (Safari, Google Chrome, etc.).

Applications range from games and social networks to mobile banking and online learning platforms. There are two main approaches to mobile app development: native and cross-platform.

Мобильная разработка: в чем разница между нативной и кроссплатформенной разработкой?

In the article about mobile development trends in 2024, we mentioned the growing popularity of cross-platform development and other important trends in the mobile application market.

What is native mobile development?

Native development is the creation of mobile applications for iOS or Android.

Each platform has its own set of languages ​​that it supports. For example, for iOS it is Swift or Objective-C, and for Android it is Java or Kotlin. Developers write code in these languages.

To create native applications, specialized integrated development environments (IDEs) are used, such as Xcode for iOS and Android Studio for Android. These tools provide capabilities for writing code, debugging, building, and testing applications. Natively developed applications usually provide high performance and optimization because they are fully tailored to the specifics of the platform. This may affect the app’s speed and responsiveness. What does this mean?

Benefits of native development

  1. Direct access to the operating system API allows developers to use all the capabilities of the device (camera, sensors, geolocation, etc.) at the highest possible level of performance.
  2. Native application developers can optimize their code directly to the characteristics and requirements of a specific platform. For example, they can take into account different processor architectures, memory levels, and other device-specific features. This allows you to achieve more stable operation of the application.
  3. Native apps have direct access to device hardware resources such as CPU, GPU and RAM. This is especially important for applications that require high performance, such as games or media processing applications.
  4. They consume less RAM and energy due to optimization for the specifics of a particular platform and do not require extra resources to run abstractions or virtual machines.
  5. Thanks to all of the above, native apps are often faster and more responsive than apps developed using cross-platform technologies. This is important for applications that require instant response to user actions.

Main disadvantages of native development

  1. If you need to support your app on multiple platforms (for example, both iOS and Android), this can increase the complexity of development and support by requiring you to write and maintain two separate codebases.
  2. Changes to native app code require a review and approval process in the appropriate app stores (App Store for iOS, Google Play for Android). This may slow down the rate at which fixes and new features are implemented.
  3. Changes to the operating system or API may require significant effort to update the existing native application so that it continues to function correctly and take advantage of new features.

What is cross-platform mobile development?

Cross-platform development is the creation of one app that runs on different platforms.

How it works? Developers write core code once, using common programming languages ​​and tools. This code is then adapted for each target platform using specific frameworks or tools.

Frameworks (React Native, Flutter, Xamarin, etc.) allow developers to create applications that can run on both iOS and Android. These frameworks provide access to native device functionality through a single API, simplifying the development process.

The main advantages of cross-platform mobile development:

  • Lower development costs
  • Code changes can be made simultaneously for all platforms. This speeds up the development process and makes it easier to release updates.
  • Since the application uses the same code across multiple platforms, testing also becomes more convenient. Tests can be written once and applied to all target platforms.
  • Cross-platform development frameworks usually offer tools for creating interfaces that can automatically adapt to different platforms while maintaining a consistent style and operating logic.
  • Cross-platform applications can be launched not only on mobile devices, but also on the web.
  • When an application runs on multiple platforms, a company can respond faster to changes and adapt to new market demands.
  • Cross-platform development is ideal for quickly bringing a minimum viable product (MVP) to market or for rapid prototyping and proof-of-concept applications.

Disadvantages of cross-platform development

  1. Despite the fact that most cross-platform frameworks provide access to basic device functions (camera, geolocation, etc.), access to some specific features may be limited or require additional configuration or development of specific plugins.
  2. Performance issues (especially for graphics-intensive or performance-intensive applications).
  3. Some advanced features or integrations may require the use of third-party plugins or libraries, which may add complexity to dependency management and support.

An interesting example of native development

One of the striking examples of a successful mobile application is the Uber taxi application. Uber was developed using native technologies. For iOS development, Uber uses Swift, providing a convenient and attractive implementation of notifications, geolocation and interaction with other applications on the device.

For Android development, Uber used Java and Kotlin, which allowed the use of Material Design, lifecycle management of activities and fragments, and access to various APIs.

The idea was simple: to create a service that would allow users to order a taxi directly from their smartphone. Today, Uber operates in hundreds of cities around the world and is an integral part of the daily lives of millions of people. The secret to Uber’s success is ease of use: the app is easy to download, just register and start using. It shows where the nearest car is, how much the trip will cost and how long the wait will take.

What influences the choice of approach to developing a mobile application?

  • Application type;
  • Performance requirements;
  • Development time;
  • Budget.

If your app requires high performance, full access to device hardware resources (such as camera, geolocation, sensors), or uses complex features that are updated frequently (for example, ARKit on iOS or machine learning on Android), then native development is a logical choice . Native development may require more time and resources due to the need to create and maintain two separate codebases (iOS and Android), but for large projects with high budgets this is usually offset by higher performance and better user integration.

If you need to get your app to market quickly, or if you have limited resources (both in terms of time and money), you’re better off using cross-platform development. Write code once and use it to create applications on multiple platforms, what could be more convenient?

For simple applications (e.g. calculators, games with simple gameplay, eCommerce), cross-platform development can offer a fairly good user experience at lower development costs.

Cross-platform development is especially suitable for startups and MVPs.

To sum it up,

It’s safe to say that the choice between native and cross-platform development in the mobile field depends on the specific needs of the project and its goals.

Native development is attractive because it offers the highest quality user experience and access to all the platform’s capabilities, while cross-platform solutions provide a quick start and reduce costs at the initial stage of the project.

Choose the approach that will provide your customers with the highest quality product and remember, high performance is not a panacea.

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