Native vs. cross-platform app development - Things to consider when making your decision

August 6, 2021

Native development has long been the first choice for developing high-performance apps. Now, however, more and more companies are turning to cross-platform solutions, which offer significant advantages in terms of cost and development time. Which factors should the decision between the two approaches to app development be based on? Learn more in our latest blog post. 

What are native apps, and how do they differ from cross-platform technologies?

Native apps are mobile applications that have been explicitly developed for one operating system (OS), i.e., in the mobile app space iOS- or Android. Here, the code is specifically adapted to the OS and fits perfectly into the resulting system of different software. Compatibility with, for example, the camera and GPS or access to data are particularly relevant here, as many applications interact directly with these components and require smooth access. 

In contrast, cross-platform apps are not explicitly developed for one operating system but consist of a uniform language that works on both platforms. Large parts of the code thus work on both operating systems. Cross-platform technologies represent the bridge between a common code base and the respective native operating system. As a result, all native features can be accessed smoothly in most cases.

Shortage of skilled workers and high development costs: These are the disadvantages of native apps

App development is dependent on developers who have the necessary expertise and experience to turn mobile applications into success. Particularly in iOS development, capacity bottlenecks in specialist personnel are the order of the day. According to the annual "Developer Survey" by Stackoverflow, only around 5.9% of developers had knowledge of the Swift programming language in 2020. However, that is currently the recommended standard language in the development of iOS applications. Due to the low supply and the extremely high demand, the search for iOS developers becomes a competition from which not every company can draw success promptly. Thus, building a skilled team to create a native application can take months and incur considerable costs in addition to time. According to a 2018 statistic from Stripe, shortages of skilled workers are a more significant threat to businesses than lack of capital, for example. In the worst-case scenario, this can lead to companies temporarily not having qualified staff to maintain the native app, perform bug fixes or develop updates. 

Cross-platform solutions are developed in languages that are mastered by a significantly larger group of developers. For example, React Native and Ionic are based on JavaScript, one of the most popular programming languages in the world. According to Stackoverflow, around 67.7% of developers were proficient in it in 2020 - making talent in cross-platform development much easier to recruit. The risk of a staff shortage is thus significantly reduced, as is the cost and time involved in finding suitable employees. 

Since, in many cases, the applications must be available on iOS and Android, there is also an additional time and cost factor since two completely different codebases must be created for both operating systems and maintained as they progress. This results in a higher workload, which can be reduced by developing cross-platform programs.

Why do companies still choose native development?

Despite the high costs and the lack of human resources, many companies still choose to develop their applications natively. This is due to the aforementioned smooth interaction with the device's internal soft- and hardware and the resulting flawless user experience. Especially for complex applications requiring unrestricted and fast access to sensors, native development is more convenient. Especially for hardware-dependent apps development, the native approach is also recommended.

Cross-platform apps - rapid development on a small budget 

As already noted, cross-platform apps can be developed much faster with a smaller budget. This makes them particularly suitable when relatively simple apps need to be completed in the shortest possible time, for example, as a proof of concept for the further course of the project. This means that enormous amounts of resources don't need to be invested in developing two native apps, which may not even be marketable. 

Cross-platform apps also tend to be less expensive to maintain, primarily due to lower labor costs resulting from a higher supply of skilled professionals. 

Especially when it comes to a simple application aimed more at occasional users, cross-platform development is ideally suited. Due to the simplicity of the workflows within the application, there are usually no noticeable differences to native apps during use. 

Due to the continuous development of cross-platform frameworks, they have become a serious alternative for most app projects.

Updates, plug-ins, maintenance - everything you need to keep in mind when working on cross-platform projects

Like native development, cross-platform projects also involve disadvantages and challenges that you should be aware of before deciding. These include, in particular, compatibility with updates to the respective operating systems. Providers of cross-platform frameworks must catch up here just as quickly as developer communities that offer plug-ins for the respective framework. If there are delays here, compatibility problems arise rapidly. The communities here include developers who work on the plug-ins in their spare time, companies that support open source libraries, or the first-party support of plug-ins from large companies. It is essential here that the required plug-ins are available for both operating systems to be able to offer the desired range of functions on both platforms. 

The increasing popularity of cross-platform frameworks is also reflected in Scanbot's customer base. Within the last three years, the ratio between natively and hybrid developed apps has evolved as follows: 


Our experts look forward to hearing from you 

Of course, no general answer can be given to the question if a project should be developed natively or using cross-platform frameworks. However, our experts are looking forward to discussing your individual use case with you and would like to share best practices with you. Do you prefer to test the integration of the Scanbot SDK into your app right away? Our 30-day trial license offers the optimal opportunity for this.

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