Native and cross-platform development practices are two opposing sides of the same coin.
In designing, developing, and finally deploying a digital product, the choice between native vs. cross-platform mobile development options comes down to goals, requirements, and resources. Once you’ve identified your goals, figured out your requirements, and determined what resources you have available to work with, choosing which development path to take is fairly easy to do.
Read on to learn more about both cross-platform and native development approaches, as well as when you should choose one over the other:
Native mobile development
When you need to develop a solution that’s both stable and deeply tailored to a specific device or architecture, native development is ideal.
Native development is less cost-effective than cross-platform coding, but it provides a few important benefits worth considering:
Use of device-specific features
Accommodating special features that only exist on one platform typically means you’ll need to use that platform’s native development tools.
An example of this would be an app that works with Siri on iOS or Google Assistant on Android. These system services exist only on their respective platforms and need to be integrated into your application by way of their dedicated SDKs. This limits the number of compatible languages and tools you can use in development.
Maximum hardware performance
Besides making use of device-specific features, getting the best possible performance on a single device can usually only be done with native development.
Modern tools like Flutter make it easy enough to achieve great performance on different devices that this might not be especially important for most projects. However, applications that demand top-notch platform-specific performance benefit most from the use of that platform’s native APIs, resources, and languages.
Cross-platform mobile development (Flutter)
Cross-platform development for mobile devices is a great option for projects with a need for iterative speed and efficiency.
Cross-platform development offers up a variety of technical benefits worth considering, such as:
For maximizing code reuse and consolidating your application’s codebase as much as possible, cross-platform development with Flutter is hard to beat.
Going the cross-platform route makes accommodating leading platforms such as iOS and Android simultaneously possible without doubling the amount of coding work required from your team.
Developing with Flutter, in particular, allows for your application to leverage either just-in-time or ahead-of-time compilation (as you see fit). This makes it easier to achieve fast runtimes and take advantage of different devices’ features with machine code, while retaining the experimental flexibility that just-in-time compilation affords developers as they iterate.
Flutter also helps simplify development by consolidating languages, frameworks, and libraries into a single set that can be maintained more easily over time.
Ease of testing/experimenting
Flutter lets developers bring design concepts to life faster through the use of Dart’s sophisticated VM technology.
This has clear advantages for projects that must adhere to tight deadlines and rapid iterative development sprints. Working with code that can be compiled quickly or “hot-reloaded” in the ways that Dart can allows developers to refine new features much faster and ultimately deploy them with far less fuss.
This relative ease of development makes it possible to improve your go-to-market speed substantially, allowing for more effective MVP planning and improvement.
Saving money is a worthy goal for companies contemplating a reasonable development path for their next digital product. However, using cross-platform practices and tools to accommodate two platforms at once doesn’t necessarily translate to an exact 50% in savings on mobile app development costs. A more nuanced assessment reveals the complexities of multi-platform development cannot be expected to fully vanish, even with great tools like Flutter.
A better cost estimate for most cross-platform projects would be 75% of what you might expect to pay two separate developer teams to do.
The reason for such nonlinear savings despite narrowing your project’s focus centers on the details each version of your app will need to handle when running on separate operating systems and device types. Consolidating your development goals to a single cross-platform target still entails testing on multiple systems, architectures, etc.
Optimizing for multiple devices at once is inherently more cost-effective than developing for each separate device individually. But a cross-platform approach isn’t entirely a one-size-fits-all solution, and adjusting the code for each version of your application contributes additional costs to the project.
Native or Flutter?
Choosing between native vs. cross-platform (Flutter-based) mobile development really comes down to knowing the core goals of your project and product.
This means asking yourself who your product is meant to serve, how it should serve them, and what timeframe it needs to be completed in, all while keeping your budget in mind.
If you’re not yet sure where you stand, consider the following:
When native is best
Go for native development if the app you’re creating needs to work especially well with limited types of devices.
If your app is meant to run on Android or iOS—but not both platforms—then a native approach is probably ideal.
When cross-platform is best
Go for Flutter if the app you’re building would benefit from a flexible codebase more than it would need to accommodate niche device features.
Most apps intended to run on multiple platforms do well with this approach.
For additional information on our digital product development process and how VeryCreatives can help you handle it, reach out to our team today.