Cross-Platform App Development: Best Platforms and Tech Stack

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In our day and age, software development can be approached from numerous angles. This allows companies and entrepreneurs working on projects of completely different scales and purposes to find the most fitting development methods. In particular, there are three major market-defining approaches — native development, cross-platform development, and hybrid development.

While native is a classic approach that focuses on building proper software based on the target platform and hardware specifics, its two counterparts offer more universal opportunities. E.g., hybrid is about creating a single solution compatible with several platforms while cross-platform has the same goal but goes for a more in-depth native functionality.

And it just so happens that cross-platform mobile app development may come in as the most flexible, universal approach in mobile software building today. 

In a nutshell, it allows avoiding all the costs and efforts related to hiring two separate mobile development teams and enables a single dev team to cover multiple target operating platforms at once. But advantages on one side can often spawn respective drawbacks on the flip side. So let’s dive deeper into the concept and discuss the top dedicated platforms and technologies.

Table of contents:

Pros and Cons of Cross-Platform Technology Stack for Mobile App Development

Cross-Platform App Development: Best Platforms and Tech Stack

Cross-platform development is a natural counterpart to native development. Whereas the native approach focuses on a particular OS or platform, the cross-platform method is about creating one piece of software that fits two or more target operating environments. The most standard instance is developing an app that is compatible with both Android and iOS at the same time. However, some cross-platform mobile application development technologies are already capable of desktop and web app development as well. The further growth in multi-platform capabilities is yet to be seen. 

Cross-Platform Technology Pros

  • Quicker time-to-market — you need 20-40% less development time with a single cross-platform app instead of developing 2 native ones.
  • Lower app development costs — cross-platform development allows reusing up to 80% of code, which makes the app development budget 20-40% lower due to a narrower project’s scope.
  • Platform scalability — ability to reuse the app code to create desktop, web apps, and even apps for TVs and wearable devices in the future.
  • Cost-efficient maintenance — it is easier and faster to update a single universal app instead of two separate code bases.

Cross-Platform Tech Cons

  • Certain functionality sacrifices — a cross-platform app cannot access some platform- and device-specific features. However, these features are accessible with some native code injections. 
  • Lower app speed and performance — cross-platform apps ensure near-native performance. However, with native apps, you can achieve higher performance. 
  • Higher device resources consumption — modern cross-platform apps are capable of comprehensive graphics and animations; however, drawing complex interfaces takes more of devices’ memory in comparison to native ones.
  • Higher codebase complexity — due to the underlying functional differences between platforms, designing proper code takes more effort.

There is quite a wide choice of frameworks for cross-platform app development available in the market right now. Making the final decision on your own may be pretty difficult. Let’s take a look at the top frameworks that cover your cross-platform development needs in 2021. 

React Native

Cross-Platform App Development: Best Platforms and Tech Stack

Along with Flutter, React Native or RN for short is put among the best cross-platform mobile app technologies. It is an open-source framework spawned by the bright minds at Facebook. Its main unique feature and selling point is the intricate way it combines the best of both worlds — the native programming paradigm and the extensive capacities of React, which is an ultimate UI-focused JavaScript library. This provides the game-changer opportunity to write practically all the app’s code in JavaScript and reuse it across several target platforms. 

Let’s see why it is so widely preferred by the worldwide industry and what downsides it has.

Pros:

  • Time and cost savings — reusable code is the ultimate money- and time-saver across the board. Not only does this accelerate your usual time-to-market, but it also requires twice fewer expenses as opposed to full-on native development for two or more separate platforms. On top of that, the use of open-source libraries makes all development processes additionally smoother while you may reuse parts of your existing React-based solutions if you have any.
  • Rapid dynamic code editing — RN developers get to implement code changes in real time, right when the need appears due to the hot reloading and live reloading features. Thus, live reloading automatically reloads the whole application upon any code changes made, while hot reloading tackles only specific code changes (upon which the app is better reloaded for smoother results).
  • Native-like products — React Native truly allows achieving UI results identical to native visual experience. This opens vast horizons of optimizing, calibrating, and perfecting native-like cross-platform apps for developers. Another great thing is RN’s compliance with native development principles, which allows quickly creating and adding minor extensions to the existing native solution’s code.
  • Expansion with third-party plugins — yet another great thing about RN is its active expansion in community-made third-party plugins and additions. Thus, if you are looking for capabilities beyond what out-of-the-box React Native offers, you can easily expand the framework with both third-party and native modules.
  • Established community and industry position — community- and industry-wise, React Native is certainly “the favorite kid” around. It has a huge, active community, which automatically makes figuring out the issues and specifics of working with RN a breeze — just browse through some forum threads, and you will most likely find the answers you are looking for.

Cons:

  • Occasional guidelines flaws — as much as we may praise the global RN community for its size and involvement with the fate of the framework, the official React Native guidelines have major gaps here and there. This is the aspect of RN that we have yet to see being optimized and fixed.
  • Limited platform-specific functionality reach — unfortunately, RN cannot cover ALL the features and capacities native to iOS and Android platforms right out of the box. This may call for creating certain application parts additionally from scratch and coming up with custom functionalities.
  • Somewhat lower performance — yes, RN-based apps are very native-like in terms of the overall user experience feel. However, JavaScript is noticeably slower as opposed to the native performance. This is mostly because JavaScript requires extra resources to work jointly with React Native. Hopefully, this will soon be fixed with a new bridge update.
  • Poorer UI elements — the React Native development base doesn’t provide enough power for incorporating rich UI elements into your app. This means no complex animations, advanced integrations, and other dynamic elements.

Flutter

Cross-Platform App Development: Best Platforms and Tech Stack

Flutter is a very widely used solution considered among the best cross-platform mobile app development frameworks next to RN and is the offspring of Chrome developers’ efforts to ultimately optimize their browser’s capacities. As opposed to RN, it is based on an authentic programming language — Dart. Flutter’s main software creation philosophy is focused on building products brick by brick by simply manipulating various widgets. The tool is actively used by Google (mainly, to support Google Assistant modules).

Pros

  • Rapid coding — fast and smooth coding is achieved with hot reloading that allows checking all the code changes right after their implementation in real time and ultimately saves time, numerous readymade widgets that are backed by Google itself and can be customized, and Dart, which compiles directly into the ARM code of devices to speed things up.
  • Magnificent end product UIs — Flutter employs Skia as a graphics engine, a powerful open-source solution created by some of the brightest minds in the industry. Not only does it grant seamless, smooth UIs, but it also provides impeccable looks and customization opportunities.
  • Native-like performance — Flutter offers a powerful rendering engine and compiles the native code, which facilitates the bridge between Dart and native-like code, offering more rational resource-consumption rates in the long run.

Cons

  • Not much space to expand — due to Flutter being a relatively new framework to develop cross-platform apps, there are not many third-party libraries available for it, which could be most beneficially used for expanding the out-of-the-box capacities of the tool. 
  • Heavy end files — as opposed to what Java has to offer, files of applications based on Flutter take significantly more space on user devices.
  • Custom knowledge required — despite Flutter putting the ease of software construction among the major priorities, any dedicated specialist still has to master the authentic Dart language to work with the framework.

Appcelerator Titanium

Cross-Platform App Development: Best Platforms and Tech Stack

This open-source software creation framework isn’t as popular as the first two reviewed but offers great cross-platform capacities nonetheless. Although the SDK on which it is based — the Titanium Mobile SDK — is quite widely used in the cross-platform app development market. As a whole, this framework doesn’t bring anything completely new to the table, yet it certainly offers efficient pinpointed opportunities that may as well come in handy for your project.

Pros

  • Accelerated prototyping — the framework has a really convenient toolkit for flexibly elaborating a product prototype without getting buried in heaps of code and wasting tons of extra coding time.
  • Web app opportunities — Appcelerator Titanium puts a great focus on connectivity with web services, which allows for additional points of convenience for developers. For instance, JSON can be used to transfer data in a simplified manner.
  • Fast-expanding community — the current Appcelerator’s community makes up over 200,000 keen specialists and is actively growing. The tool has already been used to build around 35,000 apps, which says a lot about its potential.

Cons

  • Growing complexity — as your application becomes more and more complex throughout the development cycle, so do various development aspects become more difficult. Project costs grow accordingly as well.
  • Out-of-the-box expenses — there is no freemium version of Appcelerator, which would conveniently allow users to test out the framework before purchasing it. 
  • Performance hindrances — the framework has certain performance-hindering tendencies. This includes the Titanium API’s tendency to spawn:

    – behaviors that require multiple lines of code written in Xcode;
    – web-to-native code transformation residues.

NativeScript

Cross-Platform App Development: Best Platforms and Tech Stack

Now this one says it right in its title — NativeScript is all about helping achieve the native feel and performance of the end product. Despite it being a very young framework whose stable release took place in 2021, it has made its way to most lists and tops as the outstanding framework for cross-platform mobile app development. What stands out most is its high integrational potential, which allows for in-depth tech stack customizations.

Pros

  • Cross-technology opportunities — you can easily combine the powers of JavaScript, TypeScript, and Angular to achieve smoother, more flexible, high-performance results.
  • Access to native functionality — if used properly, NativeScript grants access to the native API of the device via custom-created native components, which can be a real game-changer in many projects.
  • Handy CLI for developers — NativeScript’s CLI enables developers to install plugins, handle app debugging, and do all sorts of minor and major tasks smoother and faster as a whole.

Cons

  • Limited UI components — you may have to employ non-standard UI components due to the lack of support for DOM and HTML, which complicates things in the long run.
  • Limited expansion opportunities — there are many available plugins that you can use to expand the out-of-the-box capabilities of NativeScript, most of them however non-verified, which means you cannot tell for sure whether they are reliable at all. 
  • Time-consuming testing — testing products created with NativeScript takes more time due to the close-to-native form of software. Testing can only be carried out via an emulator or an actual device.

Unity 3D

Cross-Platform App Development: Best Platforms and Tech Stack

A hugely popular game engine has found the widest application in the mobile app development market. At one point, it even became too hyped, serving as the core engine for Pokemon Go, among other games. Unity 3D is a versatile software development environment where assets can be both created and elaborately tested in one place. Add the precious ability to code once and use the result anywhere, as many times as you wish, and you got yourself a perfect cross-platform mobile game creation engine.

Pros

  • Accessibility at its finest — working with Unity 3D is a breeze and a pleasure for all seasoned and beginner developers out there alike. The whole software creation process is heavily visualized, which allows for the ultimate level of intuitiveness. Going further, even no-code games can be created with Unity, which certainly adds up to speed and cost benefits.
  • Great collaboration — Unity 3D brings joint cross-platform mobile app creation to a new level with a specialized Unity Teams feature. There are loads of collaborative features for the smoothest joint performance possible.
  • Thorough documentation — Unity’s official documentation combined with the expertise of the dedicated community provides the best support for figuring out all the ins and outs of the Unity system.
  • AR capabilities — Unity is designed to create applications with rich AR features via a number of frameworks, including Vuforia.

Cons

  • Subscription fees — like it or not, Unity poses quite expensive subscription fees, which spawns significant licensing expenses in the long run. And the universal tip is to work only with a full version of the framework.
  • Some outdated features — in a barrage of tools and features offered by the engine, some things don’t work the way they should just yet, like the Terrain engine, Movie Textures, and Mono.
  • Minor lags — minor lags can be experienced when working on complex terrains and spacious realms, as opposed to other big game creation engines like Unreal.
  • Game focus — the engine is focused heavily on game creation, but if you need to develop a regular app with its help, you may have to reinvent the wheel at certain phases of development. Ultimately, you’ll get a heavier, more resource-consuming app in comparison to a native or another cross-platform approach.

Kotlin Multiplatform

Cross-Platform App Development: Best Platforms and Tech Stack

This framework allows sharing the code written in Kotlin across a number of required platforms. For this, it employs a set of compilers and shared modules. Shared modules can be most efficiently added to native projects to make backend and UI developers’ lives easier. Thus, part of the code outlining the business logic of the app is shared while the platform-specific code, including the UI code, must be written separately.

Pros

  • Native for Android devices — Kotlin works as a full-on native app builder for Android devices and supports backward compatibility with Java.
  • Rapid development — strict distribution of technical roles in a project certainly gives its fruits in terms of project development of any complexity and purpose. The overall project cycle is accelerated dramatically by letting specialists handle specific details.
  • High code quality — the shared codebase, along with the inherent modularity of Kotlin Multiplatform, allow for a more consistent functionality with cleaner code.
  • Simple-to-grasp code — it’s easy to introduce new specialists to the development cycle and maintain the code as a whole when working in Kotlin.

Cons

  • Immature components for iOS — many Kotlin Multiplatform components for Apple devices are in their Alpha or Beta stage, so the framework certainly has to grow.
  • Cross-functional skills required — Kotlin developers are usually specialized in Android, which means that additional upskill or consultation may be needed for efficient iOS development and their respective APIs setup. 
  • High costs — the overall cost of creating a project with Kotlin can be quite high in the long run.

Pros and Cons of Hybrid Technology Stack for Mobile App Development

Cross-Platform App Development: Best Platforms and Tech Stack

A hybrid development approach is focused on creating a single codebase for multiple reuses across different target platforms. But as opposed to cross-platform methods that may still rely on chunks of native code and certain native aspects, hybrid is all about creating an app that is fully separate from the native environment, yet it runs there just fine. In practice, this means the ability to save even more time and resources while getting a high-quality solution with but one nuance — very limited access to the native OS and device specifics.

Hybrid tech pros

  • Cost savings — this may repeat the first pro we have for cross-platform development, however, hybrid enables even lower development costs — up 30%. This is due to hybrid’s ultimate hassle-free philosophy where the range of tasks is narrowed down and the app is created within a single framework.
  • Fast development — this one is, once again, shared with the more advanced cross-platform approach.
  • Cloud opportunities — the Exchange Integration Code allows hybrid frameworks to easily integrate with cloud technologies.

Hybrid tech cons

  • Slower performance — unfortunately, you have to sacrifice performance in order to employ time- and cost-savings of the hybrid approach.
  • OS updates issues — the product of the hybrid development may be difficult to maintain and keep in line with all the updates released for the OS it runs on. For compliance with every major update, manual efforts will be required. 
  • Strict limitations — there are even fewer opportunities to unravel the potential of OS- and device-specific functionality than in cross-platform.

Although we are reviewing hybrid frameworks to fully clarify how to choose technology for cross-platform apps, we do not recommend hybrid app development for a few reasons. First, it is the most budget approach that puts optimal development conditions and business goals above the quality of end results. The second is that the efficiency of hybrid frameworks, such as Xamarin and Phonegap, is seriously inferior to what RN and Flutter have while posing equal overall costs. Third, the hybrid technology itself is depreciated and the vendors tend to stop their support, for instance, Adobe had stopped the PhoneGap development on October 1, 2020.

Ionic

Ionic follows the hybrid-web approach to mobile development and has a large library of tools, compatible components and plugins, and modules that enable access to native functions. The apps created with Ionic are executed in special shells (UIWebView for iOS and WebView for Android) that allow showing HTML as well as executing JavaScript. It looks like an app working in a web browser.

Pros

  • Browser development — practically whole projects can be developed exclusively in a browser.
  • Rich UI assets database — there are tons of available UI elements to choose from for your project.

Cons

  • Out-of-the-box instability — many native plugins can conflict and show unstable performance in the framework.
  • Challenging debugging — error messages are quite unclear, and debugging may take more time as a whole.
  • Crashes — frequent sudden crash reports are a norm.

Xamarin

Built by the minds behind Mono, Xamarin is an open-source, cross-platform development framework based on C# and Microsoft technology stack with a huge community of over 1.4 million developers. The main gist of this one is boosted end-performance due to the natively compiled nature.

Pros

  • Performance — Xamarin is widely preferred for great end performance results, with a whole stack of Microsoft tools backing this up.
  • Hardware functionality — Xamarin allows reaching for device-specific features and building solutions that actively employ them.
  • Full out-of-box performance — Xamarin comes in as a complete package for hybrid app development that may as well not be expanded with a single plugin.

Cons

  • The poverty of UI — there is a very limited set of UI elements, and they are made according to the guideline of mobile platforms, which means more time and effort for more custom elements.
  • Animation — very few animation integration methods.
  • Native libraries — Xamarin has mechanisms for using native libraries, but only small libraries for Android can be used rationally — for iOS, it’s all challenging and expensive.

The Best Cross-Platform App Frameworks: Flutter or React Native

Cross-Platform App Development: Best Platforms and Tech Stack

Flutter and React Native are deservedly considered the most popular frameworks for cross-platform development right now — the statistics are quite eloquent. Both solutions offer extensive capabilities for creating high-quality, smoothly performing apps in a convenient expertise-driven manner. Both Flutter and React Native share the benefit of accelerated time-to-market and smoother development processes. But let’s take a look at the major specifics of working with both to help you decide which one to pick in your case.

Using React Native

  • Performance — the native look and feel of the apps are possible due to the native APIs and components available in the framework.
  • UI — React’s library grants the UI as much similar to native as possible. However, iOS developers may face a certain inconvenience since they have to code everything via the JSX syntax extension.
  • Costs — The open-source nature of this framework implies using the majority of the available libraries for free. It means the total cost of development depends on the hourly tariffs of hired developers.

React Native certainly stands out as the tool to reach the fastest time-to-market. But it spawns more costs at the same time. However, these may as well be scaled by using the right extensions at the right time, so it’s more about the expertise and approach when it comes to RN. 

Using Flutter framework

  • Performance — apps created with Flutter are fast and reliable because they are compiled in machine code by graphics and rendering engines inbuilt in C/C++.
  • UI — since there is no need for interactive bridges between native components, developers can create smooth UIs.
  • Costs — Flutter is also open-source, and even though it uses Dart language, many JavaScript developers can easily possess the necessary skills thanks to the well-arranged learning base of Flutter. 

We can say for sure that Flutter beats RN in terms of the overall performance if it is employed properly, it makes reaching smooth compatibility easier, and it may help you save some software engineering costs. However, it may not offer the fastest means of product completion. Take a look at the summarizing table below to make your search for the best language to develop cross-platform mobile apps for your specific case easier.

Property

React Native

Flutter

Appcelerator Titanium

NativeScript

Unity 3D

Kotlin Multiplatform

Ionic

Xamarin

Native

Performance

Great

Top

Good

Great

Okay

Good

Good

Good

Best

Accessibility

Great

Good

Good/Shifting

Good

Top

Good

Great

Okay

Good

Expandability

Top

Poor

Good

Poor

Okay

Okay

Good

Poor

Best

Time-to-market

Top

Good

Good

Poor

Okay

Great

Okay

Good

Good

Savings

Good

Top

Poor

Shifting

Poor

Poor

Okay

Poor

Good

Platform-specific functionality reach

Poor

Poor

Poor

Good

Poor

Poor

Poor

Good

Best

The Final Decision — How to Choose Technology for Cross-Platform Apps Creation

It can be challenging to make the final decision as to which platform to pick. To make the best choice, you should clarify some underlying questions. Here’s your standard checklist to make your life easier.

  • Are you targeting several platforms with your app simultaneously?
  • Are you looking to achieve the fastest time-to-market on the lowest budget?
  • Are you okay with not having the fastest app launch speed and overall app performance?
  • Your app won’t intensively use device-specific modules, like Bluetooth, camera, GPS?

If the answer to all the above questions is yes, cross-platform is definitely an app creation approach you can rely on in your particular case. You may also keep in mind that the following types of apps are usually best made cross-platform:

  • eCommerce apps;
  • E-learning apps;
  • Banking apps;
  • Customer loyalty apps.

On the other hand, the following types of apps are best-left native due to the factors we’ve covered in the article:

  • Social media apps;
  • Taxi apps;
  • Telecommunication solutions;
  • Delivery apps, etc.

NIX United Experience in Cross-Platform Mobile App Development

NIX United has been providing specialized cross-platform mobile software development services for years. We offer smooth implementation of the best practices and professional support at all stages of the development lifecycle. In terms of practical field experience, our portfolio is rich with successful cross-platform developments. In particular, we’ve created the following two apps based on RN and Flutter, respectively.

Case Study: React Native-Powered App for Landlords

We used the combination of RN and Golang to create a business automation solution meant to make the property management routine a breeze for landlords. What came out is a full-on all-in-one platform built out of multiple modules that offers:

  • convenient rental situation dashboards;
  • handy communication features;
  • digital paperwork;
  • metrics, statistics, and reporting;
  • billings, financial accounting and reporting;
  • further expandability with plugins.

As a result, we got a sturdy solution that allows landlords to easily plan out expenses, digitally communicate with residents, automatically resolve many tasks, manage parking spaces, etc.

Case Study: Flutter-Powered Lifestyle Services Mobile Marketplace

Based on Flutter, we built a whole mobile marketplace to distribute various lifestyle services, like fitness, styling, nutrition services, etc. The powers of Flutter allowed us to create a sturdy solution with handy features like: 

  • high-quality video calling;
  • built-in chat;
  • integrated Stripe for convenient in-app purchases;
  • elaborate search filters, and more.

In the long run, we’ve achieved a user-friendly eCommerce application with all the necessary elements of hassle-free app use and nothing excessive.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to choosing the best cross-platform mobile app framework, there is no single definitive “best of the best” solution — your final choice should depend on your specific needs and many other underlying aspects (like budget, desired project terms, complexity, etc.). There are, however, two leaders in the niche of cross-platform development, and the bottom line for picking between them is as follows:

  • Choose React Native if you prioritize time-tested solutions supported by a large community of JavaScript professionals.
  • Opt for Flutter if the highest performance ever is crucial for your project while Dart is no intimidating factor at the same time.

Going by plain numbers — React Native holds a stable 40% of global market share right now while Flutter boasts 30%, and it’s growing. But don’t let statistics drive your final choice — analyze solutions in-depth yourself or contact a team of profiled specialists to make the best pick.

FAQ

How Do I Choose Technology for Cross-Platform Mobile Applications?

There is a wide range of options available online, and it can be easy to get confused in the barrage of offers. You may do some research on your own, plowing through ratings, reviews, and “top” lists, but keep in mind how cumbersome this process can be, and you may achieve only minor results. And even if you decide to go for the industry’s top solution, you still will have to pick between React Native and Flutter. This is where expert input is truly precious. However, in the long run, it is your decision exactly how to choose technology for cross-platform mobile applications.

What Are the Best Cross-Platform Mobile App Frameworks?

The major candidates for the title of the best cross-platform app framework right now are React Native and Flutter. There are also many great solutions in this niche that lag behind these two in terms of popularity yet offer efficient capabilities. We’d recommend figuring this question based on your particular project specifics, with a qualified professional by your side.

Is it Important to Use the Newest Technology for Developing Cross-Platform Mobile Applications?

New and progressive technologies are great. But their novelty and “young age” may as well immediately turn into a disadvantage. Thus, immature solutions have poor community support, limited expansion boundaries, and all sorts of things to yet perfect and improve. On the other hand, a well-tried-and-tested framework with strong community support, an extensive range of plugins available, and honed algorithms may be a much better choice overall.