The discussion around whether native mobile apps perform better than cross-platform apps is ongoing for a while. As mobile apps have become a predominant way that most business adopted to interact with the users, more and more enterprises attempt to crack this niche with the aim of searching for new revenue streams. According to the research of mobile apps usage conducted by Statista in 2016, the mobile app downloading times reached 102,062 million worldwide, which is estimated to be hitting 268,692 million in 2017.

The huge potential sheds some light on the ideas that using various unique mobile apps will be able to conquer a new niche market. In line with these market opportunities, enterprise, startups or even entrepreneurs put all innovative ideas together and focus on critical mobile app development. Without any doubt, the rugged competition leaves a tight schedule for those “market disrupters”. As a result, they are prompted to push the app to the market as fast as they can with minimal expenses.

Developing a cross-platform app is something that many companies are keen on because the application needs to be developed only once and it is able to work on different platforms with customisable code. Cross-platform fits for those enterprises who want to have a quick win with less cost. Let’s go through the types of cross-platform mobile app before we discuss the merits and drawback development methods…

Cross-Platform App Types 

Hybrid apps mainly refer to a mobile website with native app shell for each platform. The mobile site is usually written with JavaScript and embedded within a native app. As both iOS and Android support JavaScript without a web view, developing this type of app seems more attractive.

Mobile Website

With the help of HTML, CSS and JavaScript, a mobile website looks like a mobile app. Users can access the app via a web browser. Mobile website is also called mobile responsive. The most common platform serving for this app type is PhoneGap. However, as JavaScript components are too slow for mobile, this cross-platform app may suffer from poor performance in terms of user design and in-app user interaction. Therefore, it is not an ideal option from a user experience perspective.

Why Cross-Platform App? 

There are a couple of reasons that drive product team to develop a cross-platform mobile app. The most notable or persuasive factor is that it saves cost by creating one set of code which can be shared across different platforms. In other words, all the resources including the JavaScript library, the HTML template, along with the model to organise and store the data will be reused. These mature web-based technologies enable the connection between web apps and mobile devices to be achieved and free developers from building a complete ecosystem which is unnecessary to the mobile apps.

But Wait, There Is Something Missing Here

While we are talking about the biggest benefit of adopting the cross-platform method, we actually kind of ignore the vital role that user experience plays in this process. While building a cross-platform mobile app, you probably end up spending more money on improving the user experience in the long term. Each operating system has its own unique interaction flow. For instance, when users interact with the same feature on different devices, they probably scroll down to check the information on iOS platform but need to click the tool bar in order to see information on Android platform. As one-fits-all solution does not take in-app user behaviour into consideration. It is not capable of providing the same experience as native platform does. In general, you need to spend a few months accommodating platform-specific user experience.

Key Differences Between Mobile Platforms 

Programming language – Though most mobile platforms release their own SDKs, enabling developers to build apps in the platforms’ supported programming language, these languages generally belong to one of a few root languages. For instance, C# is supported natively by Windows 8 platform whereas C and C++ can be used in BlackBerry, Windows and Android mobile apps.

UX and UI – One of the biggest difficulties the cross platform development approach needs to tackle is the implementation of different user interface and user experience patterns unique to the individual platform. While creating a uniform design pattern compatible with all platforms, design principles and design philosophies should, on no account, be ignored. A typical example is the app design for Windows Phone. Whilst most platforms strive for an app design that looks and feels like a counterpart of the them in the real world, the Windows Phone apps seek for imposing authentic digital experience as much as possible. Another major challenge in uniform design is that the UI design may look completely different across each platform. Sometimes, development team will use the tactic mimicking UI elements that look but do not work the same on each platform. But once users switch devices owning different operating system, they will be probably suffering inconsistent user experience. Therefore, rather than spending much effort mimicking a native control, it is comparatively easier to create an elegant design on a single platform which makes the app becomes very intuitive.

Multitasking support – Multitasking makes it possible to run some apps at the same time. This feature may behave differently across each platform. Taking Android as an example. There are a few background services and you can run a couple of apps at the same time. Users do not have to exit apps as it will be done by the OS automatically when resources run low whereas on iPhone, users always need to double click “Home” button and swipe up the windows in order to totally stop running the app. Otherwise, with limited selection of background tasks, those iOS apps will continue to do tasks even if users exit apps. If background services could help improve app offerings, it is highly recommended to evaluate cross platform strategies carefully to ensure that it gains full access to the capabilities of mobile phones.

In-app activities – In-app purchase, in-app advertisements and in-app push services are considered as three principal aspects whilst evaluating payment features of a platform. Moreover, the former two factors play an extremely essential role from mobile app monetisation perspective, particularly, in terms of game apps monetisation. For instance, the in-app advertisement mechanism works differently on each platform and there are some independent third-party vendors providing platform-specific payment solutions. Considering the security and convenience of the transaction process within the app, these in-app activities definitely add value to a better user experience and higher revenue.