Native vs Cross-Platform App Development: what is the right choice

 min read
15 September 2022
Marcin Śpiewak
Marcin Śpiewak
CTO
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Contents

  • Intro

The demand for mobile applications is now higher than ever due to the growing contribution of mobile devices to website traffic. Hence, investing in such a solution might be a major step forward. But which technology should you choose to meet the level of quality, security, and performance required for your product? Taking thoughtful steps at the beginning of this road can benefit your business from the very start and prevent unnecessary costs.

The choice between native vs cross-platform may not be so simple, since both of these technologies are well-developed and practical. Yet, each has different qualities that may apply to diverse needs and expectations, so individual demands and the scope of your project are crucial factors here.

Based on your budget, planned features for the app, its purpose, and the audience you are targeting, it might be better to go with one development method over another. But which one? 

Let’s look closely at the main differences between native and cross-platform mobile app development, and the pros and cons of each to decide which one might be best suited to the goals of your project.

Native vs. cross-platform mobile apps

The mobile app industry is booming. In 2021, mobile users downloaded 230 billion mobile apps to their devices, and in 2025, app spending is forecasted to reach $270 billion. That said though, it isn’t easy to convince people to download and use your app looking at the fierce competition in the market. 

Currently, the Google Play store has over 3.3 million apps in their store, while the Apple App Store has over 2.1 million. That means it’s now more important than ever to think carefully about how your app should look and work if you want it to be successful.

Let’s first look at the key issues emerging in the native vs cross-platform development clash, together with the pros and cons of each method as well.

Native apps development

Native app development is creating a mobile app exclusively for one specific platform or device type – typically either Android or iOS. That means an app designed for the Android platform can’t be used on iOS and the other way around – simply because both platforms use entirely different programming languages and technologies. Native Android apps are typically built using Java or Kotlin language and with the help of Android Studio development tools. 

For iOS apps meanwhile, native app developers would instead use Swift or Objective-C and applications such as AppCode, Xcode, or Atom. Thus, if you want to build a native app that works well on both platforms, you would have to create two different apps. Such a solution usually requires separate teams of developers for both technologies. This, in turn, extends the duration of the development process and increases its cost, which is a significant drawback of the native solution. 

However, native development has a long list of benefits that makes this development method popular with companies:

  • Offers better User Experience Since native apps are built for a specific system, they can use all of the main system’s features and capabilities. Thanks to this, native apps typically are much faster than cross-platform ones and have far fewer issues related to lagging, bugs, or app crashes. And even if these problems occur, it is much easier to fix them. App design and user interface can also be polished to make the app easier to use and this way, more appealing to the users. 
  • Higher security – Making the app as secure as possible is now pretty much a priority for all app developers, as neglecting even one small part of the security measures can have terrible consequences for the app owners and users as well. Native apps are winning here as well as they can use all built-in security features a given platform and device has – from a fingerprint scanner to face ID recognition. The API security level is also better in native apps as they have more control over the API calls to and from the server.
  • Can work even offline – A massive advantage of native apps is that they can run well and give the user access to most of the features even if there isn’t a stable internet connection nearby.
  • The ability for future development – Native technology has been developed for years, so it is already a well-checked and reliable solution that is less prone to be swept away from the market overnight. Besides, native apps are supported by Tech Giants, such as Google and Apple which are constantly working on their systems. Therefore, your native app stays updated and might be a better solution in the long run.
  • Adding new platform features is easy Whenever there’s a new system update, both Apple and Google update their programming languages so that developers can quickly add the new features to their applications. That makes it easier to keep the app up-to-date.

As for the cons of native applications:

  • They are expensive to create Developing one native app can already be pretty costly, but if you want your app to be available on both iOS and Android devices, then the costs are double as you will need two development teams working on each of the apps.
  • Development, testing, and updates take more time A native app has to be created from scratch, and thus, the development of such an app may require more time compared to cross-platform apps. If you are looking at creating two separate native apps, then the development process might take even longer as all app elements must be coded separately for each platform. The same unfortunately goes for testing, maintenance, bug fixing, and adding updates.

Native apps are best for complex applications that need device-specific hardware like GPS, camera, and so on.

pros and cons of native apps

Cross-platform development

Where native applications work on one supported platform only, cross-platform applications are designed specifically to run on multiple systems. That way, one application can be installed and used on Android and iOS or any other platform you need to add. 

Javascript, C#, and Dart are most often programming languages used for cross-platform app development, together with React Native, Xamarin, and Flutter technologies. Flutter is the most popular cross-platform mobile framework out of the three, as it’s used by 42% of software developers (for React and Xamarin, that’s 38% and 11%, respectively).

The following are some of the significant benefits and reasons why people choose to develop cross-platform mobile applications.

  • Lower costs With cross-platform development, your team only needs to create one copy of the application that will run on several systems rather than develop a stand-alone app for each system. You also won’t need to hire two separate teams for the new project but just one familiar with the cross-platform framework. That obviously brings the development costs down – on average, you can save 30% of your budget if you go for cross-platform apps.
  • Time savings Cross-platform apps can run on multiple platforms using the same code, so your developers can deliver a ready cross-platform app much faster than native apps. They might need some extra time to adjust the elements like app navigation, but still, the ratio of native development time compared to cross-platform apps is more favorable for the latter.
  • Greater market visibility – The time and cost of creating two separate native apps can be a pretty big hurdle to overcome if you want to publish your apps both on Apple and Google app stores. With cross-platform development though, you can build one app for both platforms and then publish them at the same time in both marketplaces. This can increase your app’s visibility on the market and, as a result, boost your revenue.

There are a few cons to cross-platform development, though:

  • Limited functionality The lower cost and much faster development speed of cross-platform apps come at a price, as the functionality of cross-platform apps is, unfortunately, lower than native ones. Some of the Android/IoS dedicated features might also be unavailable.
  • The performance might be worse Since the cross-platform app code is made to fit different systems and devices, it requires more workload to make it run as smoothly as a native app would. In addition, using the app on different devices may result in compatibility issues or bugs, so it’s recommended that developers spend more time testing the app.

Cross-platform apps are ideal for simpler applications that have to be delivered quickly or built on a limited budget.

pros and cons of cross-platform apps

Does the industry matter when you are making a choice?

So as you can see, each platform has its pros and cons in the cross-platform vs native app development discussion.

Since all native development tools for a given platform are regularly updated to give developers access to new features or functionality, native apps are usually the first to take advantage of them. When it comes to cross-platform apps meanwhile, some of the new features might either take time to be available on those apps or not work at all. The development of a cross-platform app also usually means compromising some aspects of the app to make it run smoothly on multiple platforms.

On the other hand, cross-platform applications (especially those built with the help of the Flutter framework) are gaining more fans as Flutter can offer performance and security sufficient for simple apps but is substantially more affordable. Also, the development process is quicker than in the case of native apps.

Thus, looking at the choice of technology through the prism of the industry in which you operate may be an additional clue. Some industries are more demanding in terms of the complexity of mobile applications. Below are our conclusions from projects implemented for clients from various industries.

iGaming apps

Betting and gambling apps require fast processing of data concerning match results, wagers, or odds coming from multiple sources. In addition, such applications are more demanding in terms of security, as users have to upload their IDs or other personal data to start using the app. In such cases, native apps perform better than cross-platform apps and turn out to be a safer choice.

FinTech apps

Financial applications need security on the highest level as well because they collect and store confidential data such as payment information. Although cross-platform technology offers security solutions, they might not be as advanced as those applied in dedicated applications and insufficient code protection might result in data leakage. That’s why native technology may be a better option also in relation to FinTech apps.

E-commerce apps 

Let’s say you want to create a simple application for your customers that would allow them to gather points and check the newest store offers. With a cross-platform framework, you can build such an app much faster and for a fraction of the native app costs. You can also have (almost) the same design for Android and IOS apps.

Healthcare apps

As in the cases of iGaming and FinTech apps, the security of the healthcare application is a priority since the app has plenty of sensitive data concerning, for instance, the health state inside it. Cross-platform apps are somewhat limited when it comes to security in comparison to native ones. It means some advanced native features may be more difficult to code, and their implementation in a cross-platform solution might be overly time-consuming. So, if you want to add multi-level authorization or fingerprint login to secure the application, then native technology is a more practical choice.

What should you choose?

Overall, native development is generally a better choice if high security and performance are important to you or if you want to add support for new technologies shortly after they are released. Nevertheless, there are also cases where cross-platform development makes more sense.

If you aren’t sure which option would be best for your new FinTech or betting app, then you should reach out to development companies and ask for their opinion. After analyzing the features your app will have and its main purpose, they will be able to tell you whether you should opt for cross-platform or native technology.

Kotlin, Swift, and Flutter – overview

Now let’s look closer at the languages that are mainly used for native mobile app development and cross-platform one. A platform native application is usually written in Swift (iOS) or Kotlin (Android). Most commonly used cross-platform app development frameworks, on the other hand, include React Native and Flutter with Dart as a programming language. Why those languages? Let’s take a quick look at each language and its main benefits.

Kotlin

Kotlin is a cross-platform, statically typed, and general-purpose programming language designed by Czech company JetBrains and initially developed to be interoperable with the Java virtual machine, Java libraries, and Android. In some ways, Kotlin has been considered a replacement for Java as the code is much simpler to write, has several features that make debugging easier, and also can be used to update projects previously written with Java.

In 2019, Google announced that Kotlin is now their preferred language for Android applications development – but the language can be just as useful for back-end programming. Here are the main benefits of picking Kotlin:

  • The code is much easier and faster to write than Java’s
  • Kotlin language has full support for Java, meaning developers can switch between both languages as they need
  • Kotlin’s “Require, check, assert” function helps developers spot all bugs in the code and fix them at an early stage
  • Thanks to the large community around the language, Kotlin gets regular updates
benefits of Kotlin

Swift

Swift is a general-purpose, multi-paradigm, and compiled programming language developed by Apple, used to create applications for iOS and macOS. Thanks to being a beginner-friendly, intuitive and robust language, Swift regularly appears in the “Most popular programming languages” rankings – currently, it is ranked 11th in Tiobe’s index.

Main benefits:

  • Swift is easy to read and write, thanks to clean and more natural-looking syntax.
  • The language uses one main file for the entire code, which makes the code much easier to maintain
  • Swift’s syntax and language construction eliminate some of the mistakes that could appear when using different languages (like Objective C). As a result, the ready code will have far fewer bugs and issues.
  • Swift is up to 2.6x faster than Objective-C and 8.4x faster than Python, according to apple.com.
benefits of Swift

Flutter

Flutter is an open-sourced UI software development kit (SDK) officially released by Google in May 2017. This open-source framework allows you to develop native-looking iOS and Android apps using the same codebase and also offers several features that were earlier only available for native apps.

In fact, Flutter is slowly pushing the cross-platform mobile development vs native battle in favor of the former. That’s because it solves many of the issues that cross-platform apps previously faced, while still keeping development costs lower than with native apps. For example, the UX can now be tailored to specific operating systems, meaning the new app can use OS-specific interface elements or features (like gestures) and use the device hardware as well. What’s more, they also have numerous security features available for developers to make, like encryption API or biometric authorization. 

And Flutter benefits don’t end there: 

  • With Flutter’s hot reload function, developers can write the code or add changes to it and then check how it works immediately.
  • Has a customizable kit of widgets inside the framework that makes it easier to create applications for both operating systems.
  • Dart is very simple to get started anyone familiar with JavaScript or other C-like languages should have no trouble understanding how Dart works.
benefits of Flutter

So when should you go for Native or Cross-platform development?

Deciding to go with one development method over another will have a considerable impact on how much your new app will cost, how long it will take before it’s ready, and how the users will react to it. So, to make the decision a bit easier for you, let’s quickly sum up when you might want to develop a native application and when a cross-platform solution is worth a thought. 

Native apps are the better option when:

  • You need exceptional functionality, security, and performance for your app.
  • The app should work offline.
  • The app must use specific hardware/operating system capabilities.
  • Your audience mainly uses one platform.
  • You can spend more time and budget creating an app for a dedicated system. 
when you should choose the native solution

Cross-platform apps are the better option when:

  • You want your app to support multiple operating systems.
  • The app needs to be simple, and you don’t plan to use complicated graphics, animations, or built-in device features.
  • You want to create an MVP of the app first to test the audience’s reaction to it.
  • The app needs to be completed quickly and on a limited budget
  • You want your app to look the same across all platforms and devices
when you should choose the cross-platform solution

Summary

So which development method wins the native vs cross-platform battle? Well, that all depends on you and your newest app project requirements. Brands looking to create apps that use the latest technology and perform as well as possible may prefer native app development. However, they need to be prepared that those apps will cost more and take longer to be deployed.

Cross-platform apps, meanwhile, are ideal for those brands who want to “test the waters” with an MVP of their app first or build an app on a budget. Here though it might be needed to spend more time adjusting the design, User Experience, and performance of the app. 

Have you already decided which development approach  (native app development vs cross-platform) is the better option for you? Or maybe you need an expert’s help before you pick one over another? Our team can help you in both cases – whether you have a ready idea for your new app and know how you want it to be made or only have a rough draft. Let us know your needs, and we will do our best to help you decide if native or cross-platform mobile development methods would be better, faster, and easier on your budget.

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