There are many different types of mobile development platforms on the market today. Native applications, hybrid applications, progressive web applications, and cross-platform mobile applications all have significant market share. Each of these application types have its own development platforms and programming languages. Additionally, each type of application has a clear set of tradeoffs. For example, while responsive web apps are typically the least expensive for a business to create, they lack the performance and functionality of dedicated mobile applications.
With unlimited resourcing, native applications are always an attractive option for businesses. Native apps are typically built in programming languages denoted by Apple and Google, such as Swift and Kotlin. These applications compile down to native code and have access to all of the system functionality and user interface components provided to iOS and Android. Additionally, native applications tend to have the best performance of any type of mobile app.
Native applications, however, are imperfect. The fact of the matter is that no business wants to create the same mobile app twice. Doing so is an exercise in wasted expense, inefficiency, and frustration. This makes cross-platform solutions that allow you to utilize one codebase to write applications for both iOS and Android appealing.
Currently, Apple shows no sign of officially supporting a cross-platform framework. Google, on the other hand, created Flutter, which is meant for creating cross-platform apps. However, Flutter is still not the official framework for Android development, making it’s future unclear.
A full comparison of mobile frameworks will show the appeal for platforms such as Flutter and React Native. For most applications, React Native and Flutter have near-native performance. However, these solutions are lacking in certain areas. For example, they do not have strong support for every device (e.g. wearables) and they are not great for every application type, especially games and GPU-intensive applications. Additionally, at times they lag behind newly released operating system features since the maintainers typically have to wait until features are released before building them into these third-party solutions.
Rather than digging deep into what makes native development an attractive option, it is more fruitful to discuss the areas where cross-platform solutions currently need improvement. This is because, if cross-platform solutions filled the gaps between themselves and native development, no one would choose native development over a cross-platform solution. Some of the core areas that cross platform solutions like React Native and Flutter still need to improve include:
- Expanded device compatibility. Currently, cross-platform solutions are not very compelling for wearables and TVs as they are really geared towards mobile devices.
- Debugging. Because frameworks like React Native use a mix of many different technologies, it is not always easy to decipher where an error occurs.
While there are yet more areas for improvement in React Native and Flutter, the fact of the matter is that with time and dedication, many of these areas seem like they could be mitigated. Remember that while these cross-platform frameworks have been for a while now, they are not as mature as native technologies and still have room for growth.
It seems inevitable that cross-platform solutions will ultimately dominate the mobile development market. This is simply due to the added expense and waste associated with native development. For this same reason, Electron has gained popularity for it’s cross-platform desktop development features. Even a small percentage of the funds dedicated to duplicated mobile apps with native programming languages could fully fund the future development of cross-platform solutions. In the end, it is unclear if React Native or Flutter will be a winner in this space, yet the lack of appeal associated with creating one application multiple times for different operating systems is likely to result in the market dominance of cross-platform solutions. In the end, businesses have a sincere lack of desire to waste time and money building the same piece of software multiple times, which means that cross-platform solutions are not going anywhere anytime soon and are likely to continue gaining additional traction.