Cross-platform mobile app development may seem like the best approach for building an app that runs on both iOS and Android.
While it does allow you to build an app that looks and feels genuinely native for Android and iOS, it does have its drawbacks.
Do these frameworks’ drawbacks outweigh their advantages? It depends on your particular use case and goals.
We’re going to look at cross-platform mobile app development and talk about five advantages and disadvantages of using this approach for building your next mobile app.
What Is Cross-Platform Mobile App Development?
Cross-platform mobile app development (also known as hybrid mobile app development) is a software development approach that allows you to build a mobile app that runs on both major mobile operating systems and platforms—Android and iOS.
With a cross-platform app framework, you can develop apps for both operating systems from a single codebase. This approach can help you save time and increase productivity.
The top cross-platform mobile app development frameworks are:
- React Native
- Apache Cordova
Which framework best depends on the application you want to build. Each platform is built with efficiency and scalability in mind.
Pros of Cross-Platform Mobile App Development
Before discussing the downsides of cross-platform mobile app development frameworks, let’s look at the advantages.
1. Reusable Code
A shared code base eliminates repetitive coding tasks and makes development faster than building separate platform-specific apps. You don’t have to write native code for each OS and learn numerous development tools to support every mobile device.
A reusable code base also lets you fix bugs and add enhancements on all platforms at once, rather than doing it separately for each platform. Reusing the code source also reduces the development effort and, ultimately, the project’s cost.
2. Lower Costs
For native development, you need multiple teams with diverse skillsets. And that means committing a substantial chunk of your budget and time to hiring highly skilled developers and training them for your project.
With a cross-platform framework, your team shares common tools, making it less expensive and more efficient to build two apps simultaneously. Plus, building a cross-platform application requires a single, smaller team, which cuts development costs at least by half.
Cross-platform development can be a cost-effective way to test the market and see which platform gives you the best results, helping you make better business decisions.
3. Rapid Time-to-Market
Because it relies on a shared code base, cross-platform mobile app development can accelerate product development and time-to-market. Frameworks like React Native or Flutter can help you build and deploy your applications faster, reducing the development lifecycle.
Shorter development times mean you can be more responsive to customer feedback and market changes. Cross-platform applications make maintenance and support more efficient, too. You can synchronize updates and push them to all devices, regardless of the operating system—no need for separate support teams for each OS.
4. Greater Brand Consistency
Building separate iOS and Android apps increases the effort to maintain a similar look and feel for your brand and product.
With cross-platform mobile app development, you can create a consistent brand image and customer experience faster and easier. The navigation will differ on each operating system due to platform differences, but the overall interaction and brand image will remain coherent and predictable.
By maintaining greater brand consistency, you subtly communicate to customers that your business is authentic and reliable.
5. Broader Market Reach
Deploying an app on Android and iOS expands your market reach to cover 98% of the mobile device market. That kind of coverage boosts your business revenues far more significantly than an OS-specific app.
There are 5.2 billion smartphone users in the world right now. As of January 2021, 28% were iOS users, while 72% were Android users. But those percentages vary wildly by country; as of 2022 Q2, 48% of US smartphone users were on the iOS platform.
It may seem strategically advantageous to focus your development efforts on the Android OS, since it’s the more popular operating system overall. But then you’d lose nearly a third of global users and almost half of the users in the US.
Cross-platform mobile app development lets you multiply your revenue opportunities by serving both groups. You can reach a broader customer base to improve your brand engagement, strengthen your market presence, and boost your bottom line.
Cons of Cross-Platform Mobile App Development
While cross-platform mobile app development offers several advantages, it also has a few disadvantages.
1. UX and UI Design Quality
Native apps have all the UX/UI features for their respective platform. Because they use separate code for iOS and Android, they can take advantage of all the built-in features those mobile devices have.
Cross-platform mobile app development uses a single codebase for both platforms, which limits the features developers can access. Because they can’t use all features provided by mobile devices, the user experience can be poorer.
It isn’t always the case; your app may not need the features you can’t access. But if it does, it may benefit you to develop separate native apps.
2. Integration Issues
A cross-platform mobile app development can also raise integration issues. The cross-platform approach makes it challenging to integrate your app with local settings, notifications, and preferences.
You might be able to use a third-party cloud service to overcome your integration challenges. However, that approach can compromise your app’s security and is not recommended.
3. Update Lag
When an OS adds new features, it may not be immediately available on the cross-platform framework you use.
You can’t take advantage of those new features until the framework gets updated. That can frustrate your users, who often expect instant gratification with new updates and feature releases.
4. Missing Features
Sometimes, it’s not update lag but rather the fact that your development framework can’t support certain features.
You may run into a situation where the hardware functionality you want to take advantage of—notifications, camera, GPS, and so on—isn’t supported by your cross-platform mobile app development framework. It’s rare, but it is still a potential downside.
5. Performance Impact
Cross-platform development is an exercise in serving two masters. As such, you’ll get different issues depending on the OS and even the device. And you’ll never be able to take advantage of newer devices’ full capabilities because you have to make sure your app works on the older or less powerful versions.
Some issues will be unsolvable performance glitches that happen to a small percentage of the user base. For example, a button might be partially off-screen and therefore inaccessible on smaller or older devices but not on larger, newer ones.
For cross-platform to work, you need a dedicated QA team with keen problem-solving skills.
Is a Cross-Platform Approach Right for You?
You may think cross-platform is easy because it requires one codebase. But as we’ve seen, the advantages come with drawbacks.
And cross-platform mobile app development frameworks aren’t easy to use, especially for novice developers. You’ll likely need more senior developers with cross-platform experience on your team.
If your app must be consistent with a platform’s UI/UX, if you require certain hardware features, or if you need to utilize the latest mobile features and capabilities, a cross-platform technology might not be the best option for your app.
It won’t provide what your end users expect and need, which can be any app’s death knell. But if that’s not the situation you’re in, cross-platform development might be a good way to cut development costs, reach a broader market, and get your app to that market faster.