December 3, 2021
Cross-platform frameworks have become one of the most useful tools available for app development. Acting as our starting point and foundation, these frameworks can bring greater efficiency, functionality and reliability to an app project.
Native app development uses the technology or language of the platform, for instance Objective C or Swift for iOS, and Java or Kotlin for Android. While this option is still regarded as delivering high quality performance and user experience, the advancements of cross-platform frameworks have made the latter a viable option for many.
Harnessing a single code base for iOS, Android and web, teams can save time, effort and cost. Cross-platform frameworks are well suited for projects that require speed, have a clear set of requirements or use cases, have a smaller development team at the helm, or are budget-conscious. We’ve taken a look at the top app frameworks of today, sharing insights and their most notable features.
Flutter, launched in 2017 by Google, is also a top choice for developers looking to ship apps quickly while still catering to customer demands and business goals. Many have voiced the fact that while both Flutter and React Native are similar in terms of what they offer developers, the former does present more complexity and a steeper learning curve. This is partly due to the fact that it uses Google’s Dart language.
On the positive side, Flutter offers high reusability of code, a comprehensive set of built-in widgets, customisation of native UI components, and a good number of open source plugins. This framework bodes well for 2D mobile and interactive apps due to its pixel rendering functionality, which manages every pixel of the screen and ensures widgets are uniform across different devices. Another stand out feature of Flutter is ‘Hot Reload’, which enables developers to make changes to an application and see results immediately. This makes it easier to fix bugs and add features, further enhancing the user experience.
Originally launched by Progress in 2014 and later taken over by nStudio in 2019, NativeScript enables developers to ship apps that look and function like native apps. This is because teams use the same APIs as they would when developing in Xcode or Android Studio. Teams can also utilise third party libraries from the likes of CocoaPods, Maven and mpm.js.
Overall, with NativeScript, developers are able to reuse much of their code, with many components automatically compiling to their native codebase with no need for additional styling. NativeScript offers a good number of open source plugins and ships with a decent number of UI components that adapt to the underlying platform. However, this option is less comprehensive than the likes of Flutter or Ionic, and may require developers to create their own additional widgets.
Originally appearing on the scene in 2013, thanks to the trio behind Drifty Co., Ionic is an open source development framework created for both web and mobile apps. It offers developers tools to build hybrid mobile, desktop and progressive web apps based on modern web development technologies and practices, using the likes of CSS, HTML5, and Sass.
With a library of adaptive components that are automatically styled for the platform the app runs on, Ionic puts added emphasis on the look, feel and user interface of an app experience. It includes pre-built and pre-styled components, and is useful for developers that are working with limited time and funding.
Founded in 2011 and acquired by Microsoft in 2016, Xamarin is a framework with a C#-shared codebase. Developers can use the framework to write Android, iOS, and Windows apps with native user interfaces, and share code across multiple platforms, including Windows, macOS, and Linux.
With a complete UI toolkit and native UI components for both platforms, this is a good choice for C# developers wanting to shift into mobile app development. Form components make it easier to reuse code than with React Native or Flutter, with some surveys reporting that developers can reuse up to 96% of their C# code. However, developers may still require platform-specific codes, and Xamarin doesn’t have as much community support when compared to other frameworks. To combat this, Microsoft offers free courses and learning paths.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, there’s no silver bullet when it comes to mobile application frameworks and technology solutions in general. In every instance you must first understand what your primary objective is, and then work towards that, adopting tools as required.
First, clarify your needs, wants, budget and timetable. Ask yourself specific questions around what type of app you want to build, what modules you require, how much you’re willing to spend and when you need to ship the final project. This will help to refine your focus. From here you can align this with the framework that makes the most sense to you.
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