From banking solutions to health care, mobile applications have revolutionised the way we use our smartphones. With over 2.5 million apps on the play store and 1.8 million on the app store, the mobile development industry is growing at an exponential rate.
When it comes to creating apps, each of these operating systems has its development platforms. Android offers Android Studio, which uses either Java or Kotlin as a programming language, and Apple offers Xcode, which uses Swift or Objective C to create apps. Due to the difference in programming languages, a developer has to create the same app twice using two different platforms.
Although a lot of companies have different teams for both Apple and Android development, it increases the investment required to create an app. Not only this, maintaining the same material design for both Android and iOS with two different teams can be a big issue. This is where cross-platform development comes into the picture, which allows a developer to create an app for both Android and iOS using a single code base.
Due to the advantage of having a single code base for both Android and iOS, cross-platform development has been all the rage these days. To cater to this high demand, a large number of cross-platform development tools are available in the market. Each of these tools has its advantages and disadvantages. In this article, we will be comparing four of the most popular cross-platform development tools — Flutter, Xamarin, React Native and Ionic — to help you decide which one fits your needs the best.
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Created by Google, Flutter is one of the newest in the cross-platform development domain. It is open-source and uses the Dart programming language. At its core, Flutter uses Skia, a 2D rendering engine that draws the UI on the canvas provided by the device. It does not use any OEM widgets; instead, it creates widgets that look and feel like native widgets. Due to this, the Flutter framework does not have to communicate with the system to render OEM widgets, which increases the performance of the framework. Working as a game rendering platform, Flutter uses the GPU to draw the widgets on the screen allowing the framework to create smooth animations.
Flutter’s use of Dart provides it with two different ways to compile its code, namely AOT (Ahead of Time) and JIT (Just in Time).
Using the JIT compilation, the framework creates a virtual machine on the device, which runs the code and renders the UI on the screen. The Dart source code is not compiled to native binaries during the development phase of the app. Due to this feature, a new Dart code can be injected into the system at faster speeds (hot reloading). In the case of AOT compilation, the dart code is compiled to native binaries, which creates better performing apps. This mode is used when the app has to be released on platform-specific stores
To communicate with native libraries, Flutter uses message passing and allows developers to use code written in native development tools. It also offers asynchronous programming, which allows faster rendering for the app when a request is made for data from servers or from APIs on the system.
The Flutter community provides a lot of libraries and widgets which are customisable, offering faster time to market. All that being said, Flutter uses Dart, a programming language that isn’t as popular and due to this, a developer has to learn a new language, which is not the case for other alternatives.
Apps created using Flutter have a larger size as the app is bundled with the rendering engine and the framework, which is essential for running the app. As the framework does not use native widgets and creates widgets on its own, the look of the app could be a little different when compared to frameworks that use native widgets.
Not only this, but a developer might also have to create a custom widget or wait for the community to develop the same when an Android or iOS update is rolled out,
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Not only this React Native builds a native app and not a web view, which is mostly the case for cross-platform tools using web technologies. Due to this, apps created using React Native looks like apps build using native development tools.
To solve this problem, developers try to break computational tasks into smaller chunks to provide a fluid experience. This is mostly useful for creating smooth animations at up to 60 FPS
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Created by Max Lynch, Ben Spenny, and Adam Bradly at Drifty co, Ionic is an open-source SDK that uses web development technologies for creating cross-platform applications.
The Ionic framework can easily integrate with user interface libraries like Angular, Vue and React, which allows the developer to create reusable web components, making the development process that much easier.
Testing apps developed using Ionic is really easy as it uses web technologies. However, a developer has to keep in mind the security constraints for mobile development when testing an app.
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Acquired by Microsoft in 2016, Xamarin is a cross-platform development tool that uses C# along with the .NET framework to create platform-specific applications. With Xamarin. Forms framework developers with experience in C# can develop apps for both Android and iOS using a single code base.
Xamarin Forms is a UI toolkit that allows the creation of native apps. Equipped with XAML, developers can create beautiful user interfaces with native functionality.
To achieve this native functionality, the Xamarin framework runs the code written in C# in a Mono virtual machine that compiles the code to Microsoft Intermediate Language (MSIL), which is then compiled to native code using a JIT compiler in the case of Android apps and iOS simulators.
In the case of iOS devices, the code is compiled using an AOT (Ahead of Time) compiler as Apple does not allow dynamically generated code to run on its devices due to security reasons.
With Xamarin. Essentials library developers can access platform-specific APIs using C#, allowing the developer to have a single codebase to access system-specific information like battery percentage or app information. This increases code reusability, which is great for any developer.
All that being said, the performance of apps build using Xamarin.forms could be slower when compared with other frameworks. To improve performance, the Xamarin framework offers Xamarin.Android and Xamarin.iOS, which allow developers to create high-performance apps using C# and the .Net framework but requires two different codes for both Android and iOS. This will enable developers to use the same logic and language, but when it comes to code reusability, this would not be the best solution.
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Which cross-platform development tool should you choose?
When it comes to choosing the best cross-platform development tool, the answer might not be the same for everyone. As each platform has its pros and cons, choosing the right platform depends on the needs of a business.
Flutter might be the right choice for building high-performance apps with animations. Also, this framework can be used for developing a minimal viable product due to easy development phase and testing tools provided by the framework.
Ionic might be the best solution for a company with a lot of developers who are familiar with web development technologies, and the same workforce could be used to build a cross-platform tool.
Xamarin could be a great solution for creating enterprise apps due to its automated testing features and its use of base class libraries.
While all of the aforementioned cross-platform development tools are competitive and bring different features to the table, it really comes down to your needs when selecting one of them.
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