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Cross-Platform Mobile Development: Trends, Tactics and Tools

Cross-Platform Mobile Development: Trends, Tactics and Tools
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If you’re still contemplating opting for native mobile development or cross-platform mobile app development, you might want to consider some statistics before jumping on the bandwagon.

  — Android has captured 68.1% of the smartphone OS market share, up from 46.9% in 2011
— 60% of online traffic now originates from mobile devices.
— The number of enterprise applications optimized for mobility will quadruple by end of 2016.
— More than 80% of mobile time is spent within apps.
— 3 seconds is the average time a mobile user will spend waiting for a page to load before going elsewhere.
— By end of 2016, 50% of mobile apps will be hybrid.

Stay Informed– Native Vs Hybrid Vs HTML5 Mobile Apps: Which one is Best?

Is your techie sense tingling? Read between the lines and you’ll notice that more than revealing the market share, the figures talk about a slew of new entrants making headway into the smartphone OS space. This means sticking to one particular platform might not be a prudent strategy if you want your service or app to reach a bigger/wider audience base, that’s spread over various devices that employ these array of mobile platforms.


Mobile Development at ‘Cross’ Roads

With so many diverse platforms emerging in quick succession, 100% native iOS or Android app development for each mobile platform can become a cumbersome, daunting and a costly affair. The solution is Cross-platform mobile tools, which has come a long way to confidently take on the challenges posed by the multi-platform mobile environment. Having said so, you can easily bet that it wouldn’t be an easy decision to go the cross-platform way. Since cross-platform mobile development use third-party SDKs (development tools) to develop apps compatible with diverse platforms, before you go ahead, you need to be clear:

  — If you plan to have your service or app for multiple platforms; if so, you’ve the option to reuse the code, design or database that can save you a lot of effort at the same time maintain your app’s visibility across platforms.

  — About the extent to which you wish your service or app to be reusable. As mentioned above, the increased number of platforms requires you to focus, effectively, on few of them and build your service or app around them. And for the rest, you can have provisions in your code or design or database for extensions.

  — If usability and UI are your considerations. Creating a first impression through visual expression is the key. Cross-platform tools capable of producing identical UI designs and usability across platforms give your apps better acceptability.

If you’re still undecided, there’s nothing surprising because you’d need to consider your target audience, the content, the interface, etc. And most critical of all is, where your app is destined to run.


Three Important CORES of Cross Platform App Development 

Mobile development is the most happening thing in the recent times, mostly because of the tremendous technological advancement that has literally taken the mobile world by storm. All credit goes to the awesome trio – HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript which forms the core of most cross-platform development tools. They are easy to master, inexpensive as it’s open-source, and even if it has any disadvantages over native languages, it’s cross-platform abilities nullify the minuses. IOS uses Objective-C & C/C++, Android uses Java, Symbian and Blackberry use C++, whereas, Windows Phone uses ASP.NET framework.

While there’s no denying that native code is robust, have support in terms of developer base and toolkits, faster development due to reusing of existing codes; the flipside is finding and retaining the techies with the required expertise in the programming language used in native development. Native apps would mean that they are not cross-platform compatible, which lessens your apps’ reach thereby impacting your revenues. Cross-platform development and maintenance costs are nowhere near that of native development since native development requires QA testing and porting. On the same lines, native development to a large extent is outsourced which also adds to the cost factor.

If cross-platform apps are to be really banked upon, it should be capable of accessing the features as native apps, such as location, camera, accelerometer, NFC, contacts, calendar, etc. Going by the current scheme of things, we can expect this capability to be built into cross-platform apps in 3 years completely. This is made possible by mobile browser APIs.

Experts speculate that even if HTML5’s capabilities are enhanced multi-fold, variations in standards being implemented across devices and platforms can push the actualization of the desired results. Moreover, native apps employ revenue models that at times burn a hole in the pocket of the users and involve sharing of revenue for the use of it’s platform. On the other hand, with HTML5, a common click does the job; no App stores required.

Cross-platform apps, give you direct control over your marketing/distribution activities without external interferences such as approval from third-party vendors as well as enable these apps to be deployed quickly. After all when monetization of your apps is your intention, you got to be in control and cross-platform tools just do that for you.


Cross Platform Mobile App Development Tools That Rule:

 

Drawing inspiration from the revolution brought about by HTML and allies, a slew of cross-platform mobile development tools have begun finding favor with mobile developers. With a lot of makeover expected in due course, the 3 cross-platform tools currently ruling the roost, score in the following areas:

  • Open-source
  • Full array of development tools, supporting all aspects of cross-platform apps development.
  • Proven and tested code repository .
  • Decent development community and support groups providing active and passive support.
  • Fair documentation
  • Ability to access device capabilities such as Audio/Video Capture, Geo-location, PIM contacts, Native maps, Screen rotation, Native Menu, Barcode, SMS, Calendar, Ringtone, Storage, Bluetooth, etc.

Appcelerator Titanium

Titanium is based on the cross-compilation technique where JS, which is the main language, codebase is compiled into native code. A clear distinction between Titanium and other frameworks is the absence of a browser engine for UI, wherein it makes use of APIs to allow UI elements to be converted to native UI elements.

Absence of browser means near native experience such as enhanced responsiveness and fluidity. The developers have been able to provide detailed documentation and support for tablet and desktop development, enabling fast and easy setting up. Existence of a good user and developer community means a lot in the efficient roll-out of apps. The downside is, Titanium is yet to venture into large or diverse phone sets. An inherent disadvantage of cross-platform apps is the generalization; jack of all trades, master none. Additionally, too much dependency on API leads to inconsistency with standards at certain levels.

Titanium is currently compatible with Android, iOS and BlackBerry. In Android, Titanium doesn’t have access to Barcode, Bluetooth and Ringtones, and has partial access to SMS and Contacts. With iPhone it’s similar, except that it has full access to contacts unlike in Android.

PhoneGap

The crux of this tool is the JS API which gets access to device capabilities without going into the details of the platform. Built around HTML/JS/CSS, Phonegap is more of a hybrid than a cross-platform tool due to the fact that it works by setting up native app wrappers along with embedded browser for UI and interaction with device. The tool is highly flexible when it comes to customizing the apps according to the user needs since Phonegap doesn’t strictly ask the users to adhere to guidelines or instructions. Seasoned programmers would find Phonegap to be highly user-friendly due this factor. This is another reason why it’s compatible with almost all popular platforms out there. But, the less-experienced users can find this a bit tough to cope.

A major lacking is the non-resemblance to native apps. Too much effort into perfecting cross-platform capabilities have impacted it’s look and feel as well as consistency in access to device capabilities across platforms. However the ‘look and feel’ gap is plugged with the help of scores of other tools. Phonegap is compatible with almost all the popular platforms namely, iPhone, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, Android, Symbian, PalmOS, etc.

Xamarin

Xamarin is one of the most popular tools for development cross platform apps. With Xamarin you can easily avoid bugs; therefore, increase software quality. Probably the greatest benefit for users of apps developed with Xamarin is an increase in software quality due to code reuse. It stands to reason that the chances of introducing platform-specific errors can be dramatically decreased when app code is written once and shared on different mobile platforms.

Xamarin is fully integrated with the SDK of each platform. This allows developers to use the common API to access native controls that provide an authentic native experience. Xamarin compiles app code into native binaries instead of interpreting it on the fly, so you will not have to worry about your mobile app taking a performance hit.

Read More: Why Xamarin is Best Cross-Platform Development Tool?

Rhodes

Rhodes makes use of Ruby as programming language and follows an MVC architecture. HTML/JS/CSS is used to construct the UI. The whole system revolves around a runtime environment created to access device capabilities via abstractions. Again a cross-compilation technique, Rhodes applications are compiled into the respective codes of various platforms with the help of a virtual machine. An unique feature of Rhodes is Rhom – the storage system which is independent of any database.

Although Ruby being an open-source, it’s relatively unexplored and hence talents expert enough to do high-end programming is limited in number. A noticeable drawback is the need for full rebuilding of the code while updating the UI code. Rhodes is compatible with Symbian, Windows Mobile 6.5, BlackBerry, iOS and Android and can access almost all the device capabilities.


Wrapping Up:

The rate at which mobile technology is evolving makes it practically impossible to predict what’s in store. However, several industry analysts have come to a consensus that mobile development is non-exclusive of native and cross-platform and the emphasis should be on leveraging both options to render the maximum benefit to the user base. If you also want to develop your mobile app on cross platform, then contact PixelCrayons: A leading cross platform mobile app development company in India.    

 

Varun Bhagat is a technology geek and works in PixelCrayons as a Sr. Technology Consultant. He possesses in-depth knowledge of different web development technology and helps our clients to choose the best technology as per their needs.

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  • Kaitlyn Brewer

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    https://mlsdev.com/blog/117-mobile-app-development-trends-for-2017
    Give it a try!
    Cheers!

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  • Max

    Well written article on cross-platform tools. Concise but covers not just the tools alone. I find the blog and this article informative.

    Thanks,
    Max