Cross-Platform App Development: Build Once, Reach Everyone

How Does Cross-Platform App Development Work? An In-Depth Guide!

Published datePublished: Apr 29, 2024 ViewsViews: 155
Shanal Aggarwal

Shanal Aggarwal

Chief Commercial & Customer Success Officer
Shanal is a passionate advocate for crafting innovative solutions that address real-world challenges and consistently deliver outstanding results for TechAhead's clients. As a strategic and creative leader, he specializes in driving revenue expansion, developing client-focused solutions, pioneering product innovations, and ensuring seamless program management.
How Does Cross-Platform App Development Work? An In-Depth Guide!

Users often juggle multiple devices and operating systems in today’s world. It makes the app development workflow a bit harder for developers. Developing native apps for a specific platform results in a lower reach than desired. Cross-platform or multi-platform app development is the most feasible solution in this landscape.

Cross-platform app development requires a clear understanding of the development criteria, development process, advantages, tools, and frameworks. Besides, a good cross-platform app needs to be sound in terms of design and optimization. In this guide, we will talk about everything from the basics of cross-platform app development to the emerging trends. Let’s begin.

What Is Cross-Platform App Development and Why Is It Necessary?

What Is Cross-Platform App Development and Why Is It Necessary

Cross-platform or multi-platform app development refers to the principle of building the same app for multiple operating systems. For example, you might want to build a dating app that runs both on iOS and Android, two major operating systems. These two operating systems have captured 99% of the market share, so we will be mentioning these operating systems frequently.

When an app is built to run identically on different operating systems, the app is known as a cross-platform app. The process of developing such apps is known as cross-platform mobile app development or multi-platform app development.

This process is becoming more popular due to the following reasons.

  • Developers can use a single codebase to build apps for multiple platforms. So, this process reduces the hassle for developers.
  • Native apps attract a smaller share of the target audience. On the other hand, cross-platform apps target a broader audience. So, these apps generally get more attention.
  • Small businesses might find it difficult to spend after separate apps for different operating systems. Cross-platform app development cuts the cost for them while being as effective.
  • Cross-platform apps enhance the user experience by providing seamless performance across all operating systems and devices. This makes cross-platform apps more desirable for users.

Different Approaches for Cross-Platform App Development

Different Approaches for Cross-Platform App Development

The following approaches are commonly used to develop cross-platform apps.

Building Discrete Native Apps

In this approach, developers use different languages, tools, and platforms to build native apps for different operating systems. The design language and the features of the apps are usually different in this approach.

Building Identical Apps for Platforms

Cross-platform app development mainly refers to this approach, where developers use various tools and frameworks to create identical apps for different platforms. They use shareable codes to build apps that work on both operating systems.

Building PWAs

Progressive web apps (PWAs) are like mobile apps in functionality but have the UI of websites. These apps usually run on the browser and don’t require any installation. So, they can be used on any device regardless of the operating system.

Combining Mobile Apps and PWAs

These are known as hybrid apps. Developers use a shareable codebase from native and web languages. So, these apps use HTML, CSS, etc., along with native frameworks.

What Are the Steps of the Cross-Platform App Development Process?

What Are the Steps of the Cross-Platform App Development Process?

Cross-platform app development process involves 6 major steps. Here is a quick breakdown of the steps, which will help you understand the process better.

Step 1: Analyzing the App Requirements

It involves understanding the needs of the client and identifying the target audience for the app. There might be some platform-specific requirements that a developer should keep in mind. The right approach for building a user-friendly app is also determined in the first step.

Step 2: Designing the App

In this step, the design team works on creating an attractive and effective UI/UX design. While creating the cross-platform app design, things like button placement, finger reach on different devices, and other factors are considered to deliver the best experience to users across platforms.

Step 3: Developing the App

Choosing the right tools and frameworks depending on the development approach is done in this step. Flutter, React Native, Ionic, etc., are commonly used to develop cross-platform apps. Besides, web development languages are used if the client requires PWAs.

Step 4: Testing Apps on Both Platforms

After developing the app, it needs to go through rigorous testing processes. The testing step has different phases, such as unit testing, beta testing, etc. In the preliminary steps, the unit test is done to ensure all the components of the app are functioning properly. Beta testing takes it to the next level to check the performance and compatibility of the app across operating systems.

Step 5: Performance Optimization for Cross-Platform Apps

Once the app passes all the tests, it is ready for deployment. Before releasing the app in the market, it needs to be fine-tuned in terms of design and performance. For example, the size of the icons or the position of the burger menu might be adjusted in this step. Performance-orientated aspects can also be optimized in this step.

Step 6: Cross-Platform App Deployment and Maintenance

The final app is published on respective app markets. Even after development, the app needs continuous maintenance to deliver a seamless experience to users who are yet to use the app.

Frameworks for Cross-Platform Development

Tools and Frameworks for Cross-Platform Development

Knowing the nitty-gritty of the necessary tools for cross-platform development is crucial for streamlining cross-platform development process and making it more efficient. Here are some popular frameworks for cross-platform apps.

1. Flutter

This Google-owned framework is one of the latest and most popular frameworks in the cross-platform development field. It is known for its versatile feature support, where you can build native features. Besides, you can write codes for unsupported features using this framework. 

When building apps with shared UI elements or with a heavy performance, Flutter is the right framework to choose.

2. Xamarin

This open-source framework uses C# programming language based on the .NET framework. It is used to build apps that can run on both iOS and Android. This framework comes with its own IDE.

3. React Native

React Native is probably the most commonly used framework for hybrid native or cross-platform development nowadays. Facebook launched this framework in 2015 and it is based on React JavaScript. This framework uses the JavaScript library to build apps that can run on both iOS and Android devices.

4. Ionic

About 15% of all the apps you see in the App Store are built using Ionic. This unique cross-platform development framework uses HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to build native, hybrid, cross-platform, and PWAs.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Cross-Platform Development

Like all other mobile app development approaches, cross-platform development has its pros and cons. Here is a quick overview of the benefits and drawbacks for your convenience.

Advantages of Cross-Platform Development

Benefits and Drawbacks of Cross-Platform Development
  1. Various portions of the codebase can be shared or reused in cross-platform development. It makes cross-platform development much faster compared to native app development.
  2. Developing apps, testing components, or optimizing apps require less repetitions in cross-platform development. 
  3. Building cross-platform apps requires much less resources than building separate native apps for different platforms. So, it is a preferable approach for small businesses.
  4. As cross-platform apps have fewer codes, the chance of having bugs is also low. So, these apps require less effort during testing and maintenance.

Limitations of Cross-Platform Development

  1. Having performance issues and glitches is the most common challenge in cross-platform development. Many apps fail to perform seamlessly on both operating systems.
  2. Over-optimization of cross-platform apps can lead to issues related to user experience.
  3. Building a cross-functional team for cross-platform development might be challenging.

How to Design Cross-Platform Apps?

How to Design Cross-Platform Apps

Cross-platform apps need to have the following design factors to provide the desired user experience.

  • UI Elements Dedicated to the Platform: The UI elements of the app should match the requirements of the platform.
  • Responsiveness on Various Devices: Cross-platform app compatibility means responsiveness on all available screen sizes and resolutions.
  • Navigation Patterns Should be Consistent: Each navigation pattern of the app should have consistency across platforms.
  • Keeping Scalability in Mind: Scalability in cross-platform development requires enough room for future changes or upgrades.
Trends in Cross-Platform App Development

With advancements in technology, cross-platform development is leaning toward heavy customization. Here are a few emerging trends in this field.

  1. AR and VR Apps: Giant tech companies are trying to capture the AR and VR market with cross-platform apps for these devices.
  2. AI Incorporation: Many cross-platform apps are being equipped with AI-driven features to enhance the user experience.
  3. IoT Integration: The increased use of IoT devices is leading to the development of cross-platform apps.
  4. Inclination to PWAs: More web apps are getting native-like features for better user experience.

FAQs

You might benefit from the answers to some commonly asked questions about cross-platform app development. Check them out.

Q: What is cross-platform app development?

The term ‘cross-platform’ is used for apps that run on multiple operating systems using the same codebase. For example, if an app is developed to run on iOS and Android using the same codebase, the process is called cross-platform app development.

Q: How does cross-platform development differ from native development?

Native development is platform-specific while cross-platform development is platform-independent. Native apps are available only on the app store of that specific platform, but cross-platform apps are available on app stores for multiple platforms. Another notable difference is native apps perform better than cross-platform apps.

Q: What are the challenges of cross-platform development?

Compatibility issues, performance issues or bugs, fragmentation, etc., are some of the major challenges of cross-platform development. Besides, cross-platform development requires more focus on UI consistency, which can make cross-platform development more challenging than native development.

Q: What are the performance trade-offs associated with cross-platform development?

Performance is the main trade-off associated with cross-platform development. Cross-platform apps perform slower than native apps. Limited OS and API access are also major trade-offs when it comes to cross-platform development. The University of Saskatchewan has a detailed study identifying trade-offs associated with cross-platform mobile development.

Q: How does cross-platform development handle platform-specific features?

Choosing the proper tools is the most crucial factor for handling platform-specific features. Whatever programming language or libraries are used for cross-platform development, they should be mutually compatible for error-free functionality. Using configurations designed to be modified for target platforms is also important.

Q: What factors contribute to the success of cross-platform app development?

Cross-platform app development gained popularity due to the faster development process and limited use of resources. These factors encourage small or medium businesses to choose cross-platform app development as a budget solution. Even large enterprises might choose cross-platform development as it helps them market their products faster.

Q: How do costs compare between cross-platform and native development?

Cross-platform development is noticeably more affordable compared to native development. The cost of cross-platform development is about $20,000-$60,000, depending on the features, design, functionality, etc. Native development might cost about $40,000 to $300,000. As you can already see, cross-platform development is about two to five times cheaper than native development.

Q: What are the main considerations for optimizing cross-platform development expenses?

A lot of factors impact the overall cost of cross-platform development. The main considerations should be choosing the right combination of development teams, the right tools and frameworks, and the integration costs.

JavaScript, C#, Python, etc., are some of the most popular programming languages for cross-platform development. Among the frameworks, Ionic, React Native, Flutter, Xamarin, etc., are commonly used to develop cross-platform mobile apps.

Q: How do Swift, Flutter, and React Native compare for cross-platform development?

Swift is specifically popular for iOS app development. Among these three, React Native is the strongest framework for cross-platform development with its rich support. The Flutter community is still not as large as the React Native community, but it is getting popular as well.

Q: What factors should be considered when choosing a language and framework for cross-platform development?

Platform compatibility is the most crucial factor for choosing the language and framework for cross-platform development. Besides, developers need to consider development tools, available resources, scalability, performance metrics, community support, security features, licensing costs, etc.

Q: What are the key takeaways from understanding cross-platform app development?

The key takeaways from this discussion are understanding different approaches and detailed steps for cross-platform app development. While keeping the benefits and challenges of cross-platform development in mind, businesses should focus on building the right team and optimizing the development cost.

Conclusion

With more efficiency, versatility, and cost-effectiveness, cross-platform app development is the thing of the future. It targets a broader audience and packs many native-like features to engage users from different platforms. However, building cross-platform apps comes with its own challenges that you need to overcome.

Once you have an in-depth understanding of the required tools, frameworks, and the development process, you can manage the resources better. It will help you reduce the time to market a cross-platform app and gain higher financial benefits. Opt for this cost-effective app development to provide users with a seamless experience regardless of their platforms.

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