“What’s the point in creating a native Android app from scratch if I can get two thanks to the cross-platform development tools?”
Of course, this isn’t a new question. Business owners from all walks of life ask it – both when they talk with the Android development services providers and discuss the project internally. But why is there no consensus on the matter even among developers themselves?
At the end of the day, it’s not as black-and-white as the climate change or dangers of smoking. There are plenty of nuances and variables to this story. Let’s break them down.
First Things First: What’s a Native Android App?
If you’re not too tech-savvy, here’s one way to understand what these Android development services are about. Your app will be communicating with the phone’s hardware and software using its native language – like you would if you were talking to a French person in French.
When it comes to Android, there are two native languages you can choose for your project: Kotlin and Java. In a nutshell, Kotlin is usually a better option: it’s praised for its cleaner syntax and ease of use. Plus, Google made it the preferred programming language for Android apps back in 2019.
3 Ways It Still Trumps Its Alternatives
So, what are the main decisive factors that lead business owners to opt for these Android app development services?
Performance Is Smoother
The app executed using Kotlin will have a higher processing speed and responsiveness. That’s because it can tap right into the in-built hardware and software ecosystem, taking less time and using the device’s resources more efficiently.
Think about WhatsApp. Or Spotify. Or Waze. Or Pokémon GO. All of these apps were created using – you’ve guessed it – Kotlin or Java. And what do they have in common? A huge workload.
User Experience Is Better
When it comes to the UI, it’s 100% native. That translates into intuitiveness and ease of use, which is a big win in and of itself.
Factor in satisfying performance without lags or freezes and here you have it – the reason why native Android development services are considered the best choice for UX.
And keep in mind: Google Play Store is home to 3.48 million apps. The competition is cutthroat. That means that you have to pay extra attention to your users’ experience to woo them.
There Are No Limits on Functionality
Cross-platform apps can’t include every feature imaginable – but native apps can (within the boundaries of the current technological progress, of course). Kotlin and Java allow developers to use any software or hardware, OS tool or API, with no exceptions.
It’s not just virtual reality or the Internet of Things that only Kotlin or Java apps can handle. Integrating more trivial technologies like camera, GPS, and Bluetooth is more efficient this way – and, sometimes, it’s the only way.
…But It’s Not Without Its Challenges
They aren’t plentiful, but they prove themselves to be a good reason to abandon the idea of using Kotlin for many. These challenges boil down to:
- Time. The absolute majority want to get their app to all of their potential and current customers. Since 99% of devices run on either Android (73%) or iOS (26%), launching an app for both is essential. Creating two apps doubles the time-to-market.
- Money. You can also multiply the costs by two if you opt for getting two native apps. The sad truth is, not every business can afford it.
So, What About Its Alternative?
Let’s decipher what cross-platform means first. In a nutshell, developers write around 80% of the code in a non-native language (Dart, C#, etc.) using frameworks designed for this particular task. It’s one codebase for two apps. The rest of the code is OS-specific and isn’t shareable.
There are plenty of tools for cross-platform app development, all of varying quality, ease-of-use, and cost. According to a 2021 developer survey, the 5 most popular frameworks are:
- Flutter (its popularity skyrocketed from 30% in 2019 to 42% in 2021);
- React Native (38%);
- Cordova (16%);
- Ionic (16%);
- Xamarin (11%).
Why Business Owners Opt for Cross-Platform Development
The reasons behind its popularity stem directly from its alternative’s two cons.
It’s More Affordable
A simple Android app with under 10 screens, basic features, UI and security level, and no user signup will cost you between $15,000 and $20,000 (if you outsource to Eastern Europe).
All things equal, the same cross-platform app will cost you around $15,000 – but keep in mind: you’ll be getting two apps at the price of a single native one.
Note: these estimates are for illustrative purposes only. Your development costs can vary wildly based on:
- the company’s location;
- the functionality you want your app to have;
- the complexity of the design and the number of screens.
It’s Faster to Launch
As mentioned above, most of the codebase is shared between both apps. That leads to a somewhat counterintuitive result: it takes as much time to develop a cross-platform app that can be launched on both iOS and Android as it does to create just one native app.
Let’s take the example from the previous section. An Android-only app will require between 320 and 370 hours of work to get made. Its cross-platform counterpart is estimated to take up to 350 hours – but it’ll be ready for launch in both Google Play Store and AppStore.
But Here’s Why It’s Not a One-Size-Fits-All Solution
Of course, if it were so perfect, there’d be no competition between cross-platform and native Android app development services.
Limited Access to Device Hardware
Even though tools like Xamarin and Flutter can compile the final product into Kotlin or Swift (for iOS) code, don’t expect full access to certain device capabilities.
For example, let’s talk about sensors. Flutter doesn’t support heart rate monitors, while Xamarin does – but only for iOS and macOS. So, your fitness or health Android app that requires this data just has to be native. The same goes for the thermometer, hygrometer, and most other sensors.
Less Satisfying Performance
Cross-platform apps aren’t always capable of taking the fastest shortcut to make the most out of the device’s processing power.
Most often, it’s because developers have to compromise when they write the code to make it fit two platforms. Where one approach would be terrific for an Android app, the same thing would slow down its iOS counterpart.
So, Is Android-Only App Development Still Worth It?
Will native Android development services go completely obsolete? That’s highly unlikely. There will always be those cases where it’s the best choice – and there’ll always be business owners that can afford to invest in it.
Of course, it isn’t going to “kill” cross-platform either. The latter will keep its popularity thanks to its advantages: low upfront costs and the prompt delivery of not just one but two apps.
If one had to generalize, native Android app development services will remain the best option if:
- Your app doesn’t fall under the “simple” category (for example, messengers).
- It requires integrations with hardware features and OS components (for example, utility and IoT apps).
- It’s going to handle a large workload.
- You want the user experience to be top-notch and intuitive and feel familiar.
Yet, cross-platform tools will remain a viable (and more attractive) alternative for those who:
- Know that all they need is a simple app with basic features and design.
- Have a constricted budget and simply can’t afford to get two native apps.
- Want to launch their app on both Android and iOS at the same time – and as soon as possible.