It's traditionally been a long and complicated process to create mobile apps, exacerbated by the need to develop separate builds for Android and iOS. Cross-platform app development makes things easier.
Cross-platform mobile development enables a broader scope of company the ability to build mobile apps, while also cutting down the resources larger organizations need to ship apps for wide audiences. For this reason, the traditional method of OS-specific native development may soon be a relic of the past.
Read on for everything you need to know about cross-platform mobile app development, why many companies are choosing this approach over native development, and finally to learn the best cross-platform development tools available today.
What is Cross-Platform App Development?
Cross-platform app development is the practice of developing apps that function on multiple operating systems using primarily a single codebase.
This term is generally used in mobile app development to describe apps built to run on Android and iOS devices. Unlike native apps, which are coded in specific programming languages native to a single operating system, cross-platform frameworks or tools allow developers to write once and deploy their code across multiple platforms.
Differences Between Native and Cross-Platform Mobile Apps
To the user, there’s often very little difference between a cross-platform app and native mobile apps. It’s another story under the hood.
Each operating system has specific programming languages that allow apps to run on that platform. Android apps use Java or Kotlin, while iOS apps are usually written in Objective-C or Swift.
Cross-platform apps are coded using more generalistic frameworks or web programming languages, and use special tools or frameworks that enable this code to work on popular mobile operating systems.
This is beneficial for app developers who want to launch on both Android and iOS, as it cuts down the time and cost required to do so.
It does, however, mean that cross-platform apps may perform slightly worse than native apps, and functionality may be limited somewhat, with some native features only possible with native code.
It may also be tough to meet the intricacies of each platform’s design specs with one codebase, leading to a slightly suboptimal design.
These are concerns, but realistically only more complex apps are likely to run into any issues, while simple to moderate-complexity apps can achieve more or less everything they need to do using cross-platform development.
Learn more about each step in the app development process in this post.
Cross-Platform vs Hybrid App Development
Hybrid development is a close sibling of cross-platform development.
A common example of hybrid app development is apps that display content using webviews, a self-contained browser window showing web content within a mobile app. Using webviews allows developers to reuse web code for an app’s core functionality, requiring only a small amount of mobile code to let the app function on Android/iOS.
Hybrid apps tend to be a little worse in performance and functionality than cross-platform apps, which in turn are behind native apps in these two categories. But the payoff is a significant decrease in cost and time to build, especially for converting existing web apps to mobile apps.
It should be noted that hybrid development is often used interchangeably with cross-platform, with hybrid apps often being used to describe cross-platform apps, and vice-versa. For that reason, some of the tools and frameworks we’ll talk about in this post may technically be considered to be hybrid app frameworks.
Want to learn more about native, hybrid, cross-platform and web apps, and the differences between each type of app? This article is the deep-dive you need.
6 Reasons Why Cross-Platform is the Best Way to Build Apps Today
Cross-platform app development is not a shortcut - many large organizations today build cross-platform mobile apps or hybrid apps that are virtually indistinguishable from custom native apps.
Uber, Gmail and Meta apps are just a few examples of apps that use cross-platform or hybrid technologies.
Here are some of the reasons why cross-platform development is so effective, and why you should consider building cross-platform or hybrid over native app development.
- Saves Time and Money
- No Need to Choose Between Different Platforms
- Consistency Across All Platforms
- Easy and Cheap Maintenance
- Reduced Time to Market
- Reuse Existing Code
Cross-Platform Saves Time and Money
The biggest benefit of cross-platform app development is how much you stand to save on time and money invested.
Due to the high cost of mobile developers, native apps can cost $150,000+ per platform. That means it could cost you $300,000 to launch an app for Android and iOS, if you build natively.
The time investment is steep as well (and related to the cost, as this comes from the length of time you spend paying expensive mobile developers). Most apps take 6 months to build, or longer for more complex apps.
Cross-platform app developers are still not exactly cheap, but going cross-platform allows you to cut the amount of work approximately in half, thus saving half the time and half the money. And if you build hybrid, working from an existing web codebase, you can save even more (as much as 90% of the time and money).
No Need to Choose Between Android or iOS
Companies with limited resources may feel the need to choose one platform or the other when first launching their app, if building natively.
This severely limits your reach, as the split between Android and iOS is relatively even in most developed markets.
In the US, iOS has 57% market share vs 42% for Android.
This split is 51% vs 48% in the UK, and 61% vs 39% in Canada.
That means you’re sacrificing roughly half your potential audience if you don't build for both the top mobile platforms.
When you create cross-platform apps you can cover >99% of the market with essentially the same time and cost of building a single native app. And this benefit is even stronger for hybrid apps, as they allow you to reach mobile users on all devices, while your app is also accessible via the web.
Consistency Across Platforms
An underrated difficulty of developing multiple apps for multiple platforms is maintaining consistency across each.
It can be a headache trying to manage multiple development teams and keeping them all aligned and on the same page.
You may also find you have certain features on the web or on one operating system that can’t be replicated on another platform, leaving an inconsistent UX that reflects poorly on your brand.
All this is much easier with cross-platform development, as you’re building each platform together, with the same team.
Maintenance is Cheaper and Easier
Consistency across platforms and a single codebase also saves a huge amount of cost and effort long-term when it comes to keeping your app up-to-date and bug-free.
Many don’t realize how much the long-term cost of maintaining an app adds up. Maintenance is generally estimated to cost 15-20% of the initial cost each year.
This means if you’re spending $300,000 on your apps, you’re also on the hook for $45,000-$60,000 per year to keep them running.
Each time you need to update your app, whether it’s a new feature, bug fix or security update for a new OS version, you’ll need to pay developers to do it. If you need separate teams for your Android and iOS apps, that’s double the price, not to mention the complexity of coordinating both teams to keep everything consistent.
Reduced Time to Market Allows Companies to Test App Ideas Easier
Due to the extremely high cost and time investment necessary for native apps, a lot of research is necessary to justify the decision to launch an app.
This means many potentially successful apps get sidelined because the cost presents too high a risk.
When the investment is cut in half (or more) as it is with hybrid and cross-platform apps, companies can go to market with riskier ideas with higher upside.
You Can Reuse Existing Code
The ability to reuse code presents a lot of advantages. It cuts down the investment required for an app, for one, but also means you don’t need to waste time and energy rebuilding features that already work for you on other platforms.
For example, when converting a web app or website to mobile apps, you’ll usually want to replicate what you already have instead of building a whole new experience in the app.
There’s also a chance that what you’ve built for the web won’t be compatible with native code, and you’ll need to ditch some of the things that make your website great.
Cross-platform or hybrid development lets you take custom features, such as a custom checkout for your ecommerce store, and replicate it in your mobile apps without having to figure out how to rebuild this in another programming language.
Tools and Frameworks for Cross-Platform Mobile App Development
If you’re thinking about building a cross-platform app, you’ll need to use a cross-platform framework to bridge the gap between operating systems. Luckily, there are some really powerful tools today that allow developers to build cross-platform apps or hybrid apps that are indistinguishable from native apps.
Here are some of the top cross-platform development frameworks and cross-platform or hybrid app platforms to consider for your project:
Flutter is an open-source UI toolkit created by Google. It enables the development of natively compiled applications for mobile, web, and desktop from a single codebase. Flutter uses the Dart programming language and offers a rich set of customizable widgets, providing a visually appealing and responsive user interface.
Xamarin, owned by Microsoft, is a cross-platform app development framework that uses C# and the .NET framework. It allows developers to create native-like apps for iOS, Android, and Windows using a shared codebase. Xamarin offers a robust set of tools and libraries for building efficient and high-quality applications.
MobiLoud is not a framework, but one of the top tools for building hybrid mobile apps. It converts any website into Android and iOS mobile apps, and allows you to manage the majority of the user interface and functionality for each platform from a single web codebase or CMS.
MobiLoud is perfect for anyone with a successful website or web app who wants to convert what they already have into mobile apps, allowing you to get in the app stores, use push notifications and boost user retention, without giving up or rebuilding what you’ve built for the web.
MobiLoud is not only a tool, but a tech-enabled service, meaning the MobiLoud team helps you set up and maintain your app, rather than being a self-service tool you need to master yourself.
You can get a live and interactive preview of what your website will look like as an app in MobiLoud’s free Preview Tool. The conversion process is extremely smooth, and with MobiLoud you can get your apps live in the app stores in as little as a month (for minimal investment).
Ready to Build Your App?
If you want to launch mobile apps for Android and iOS, working from an existing website or app, and you don’t want to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and slug through a year-long development process, hybrid or cross-platform app development is the way to go.
The simplest and most effective option, particularly for non-developers or those who don’t have a huge tech budget, is MobiLoud. MobiLoud lets you build apps for less than four figures upfront, with all the technical work, testing and app store submission done for you.
As mentioned before, you can use the Preview Tool to get a look at your site as an app right now. Most site owners will find that, as long as their site is optimized for mobile, there’s very little tinkering required to build a great-looking mobile app.
If you’re interested in learning more about the process and how it fits your needs, book a free, personalized demo now.
In this demo we’ll walk you through what it takes to create your app, what we do for you, and answer any questions or address any specific requests or requirements you have.
MobiLoud is perfect for sites built on any CMS or web framework. You can take everything that already works well for you to the apps, including custom features, plugins or themes. And best of all, you don’t need to worry about keeping your apps up to date - we handle that for you too.