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6 Best Tools for Building Cross-Platform Mobile Apps
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6 Best Tools for Building Cross-Platform Mobile Apps

December 29, 2020, 10 Mins Read.
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The demand for cross-platform mobile app platforms is rising at an unprecedented rate.

Search interest data for cross-platform software from Google Trends says the same.

Google trends data Cross platform software term
Global search interest data for cross-platform software for the last five years.

For app developers and freelance app builders, this is excellent news!

When built with a cross platform app development tool, a mobile app would be compatible with multiple platforms (Android, iOS, Windows etc.).

Furthermore, app-building companies and freelancers would be able to release apps much faster. That means greater revenue in a shorter time. However, there is a catch.

Not all such tools are suitable for all app developers. You would need to know which one is the best fit for you.

In this discussion, we would talk about six cross-platform mobile app builders. Do stick with me. You may find one which would help unleash your creativity and skill.

A heads up for you

Before we dive into the meat of the discussion, I should inform you about something.

I am going to use the following format to talk about each of the six app builders:

  • Introductory sentences
  • Search interest data from Google Trends
  • Pros
  • Cons
  • Rating by developers
  • Link to the platform website

Let us begin.

1. Xamarin-A .NET and C# based open-source tool

Xamarin-A .NET and C# based open-source tool

Acquired and enhanced by Microsoft, Xamarin is a free and open-source cross-platform tool for building mobile apps. 1.4 million developers-from indie ones to large app development companies currently use it as their go-to solution for mobile apps. With almost 90% of code reusability, Xamarin is a force to reckon with.

Search interest data from Google trends.

Google trends data Xamarin company
Global search interest data of Xamarin.

The image above shows the global search interest data of Xamarin for the last five years.

Even though the search volume is on the decline, the native-like feel that you can deliver in the apps built with this tool is of enterprise standard. That’s the reason big businesses and corporations prefer Xamarin.

Pros

Let us have a look at the advantages of Xamarin:

  • The C# codebase is compiled to native components of the Android and iOS platform. Thus, speed and performance are ensured across platforms.
  • It comes with robust and meticulous testing capability. This feature drastically lowers the chances of issues occurring later on.
  • It gives you access to cloud testing facility of Visual Studio App Centre.
  • The number of hardware issues is next to zero for apps built with this tool.
  • Cross-platform update deployment is easy and fast.

Cons

Xamarin is not free from cons.

Some of those are:

  • Xamarin-built apps tend to occupy more device memory compared to native versions.
  • Its code cannot be used for HTML5.
  • The prototyping feature only supports basic UI elements
  • The Professional and Enterprise versions are expensive.
  • When using Xamarin. iOS and Xamarin. android, you would need to be proficient in Objective-C/Swift and Java/Kotlin respectively in addition to C#.

Rating

Xamarin has received a 4.4 out of 5.0 based on fifty-five reviews (from g2 review).

The image below shows an extended rating of this tool based on various aspects.

Break-down of Xamarin review

Website: https://dotnet.microsoft.com/apps/xamarin

2. React Native-A JavaScript-based open-source tool

React Native-A JavaScript-based open-source tool

Since Facebook released it in 2015, React Native has managed to secure its place among the tier-1 comprehensive cross-platform app frameworks. No wonder it is in the arsenal of over 40% of mobile app developers according to a survey by Statista.

Search interest data from Google trends.

Google trends data react native search term
Google search interest data of React Native

Global search interest data for the last five years correspond to the growing user base of React Native. Businesses catering to a diverse range of customers such as Bloomberg, Pinterest, UberEats, Wix, Tesla, Walmart, Shopify, Microsoft and Khan Academy have chosen React Native as their app solution.

Pros

Some of the critical advantages of React Native are:

  • It comes with fast refreshing capability. Thus, any change or update would be deployed across devices with speed.
  • It has a significantly high number of GitHub contributors.
  • Time to build apps is significantly shorter because of the extensive package ecosystem of JavaScript.
  • Over 95% code for the Android platform can be reused in iOS and vice versa.
  • It is a very well-documented platform.
  • Allows web developers to develop mobile apps as well because of its JavaScript framework.

Cons

React Native, like Xamarin, has its own set of drawbacks as well.

Some of those are:

  • It has a steep learning curve.
  • CPU usage when scrolling down is almost twice than that of Swift iOS.
  • It lacks custom modules.
  • Surprisingly, it’s still in beta.
  • For complex projects, native platform developers would still be required.
  • Since JavaScript is fragile, additional security measures need to be implemented for apps that handle sensitive customer data.

React Native rating

React Native has secured a 4.3 out of 5.0 from forty-four reviews (based on g2 data).

The image below shows a detailed review of this tool.

The G2 on React Native
Extended review of React Native

Website: https://reactnative.dev/

3. Flutter-An open-source multi-platform tool

Flutter-An open-source multi-platform tool

Developed by Google, Flutter is the newest player in the cross-platform mobile app builder arena. It is a C, C++ and Dart based tool that is quickly gaining traction among development companies and freelancers.

Search interest data from Google trends.

Google trends data Flutter software
Search interest data of Flutter.

As you can see, Flutter is gaining popularity fast. This data is consistent with the rising number of stars Flutter is receiving on GitHub.

Pros

Let’s look at some of the benefits of Flutter:

  • It has its own set of widgets that make the dual-platform app development process more straightforward.
  • Its “hot reload” feature allows you to see any changes you make in milliseconds.
  • Installation and configuration of Flutter are simplified, letting you get started faster.
  • The same code base is used for both the front and back-end of an app. As a result, the development time is significantly reduced.
  • Since everything is a widget in Flutter, delivering excellent UX is simplified for both android and iOS platforms.

Cons

Before you start building mobile apps with Flutter, have a look at its drawbacks:

  • Because it’s a new platform, it doesn’t yet have a large community. Thus, resolving issues may be tricky.
  • Flutter apps occupy relatively larger memory space and are slower to download.
  • Since it’s built with Dart (a new programming language), the learning curve would be higher for developers.
  • The evolving nature of this young platform makes writing stable and scalable code difficult.

Flutter rating

Flutter has received a 4.5 out of 5.0 based on seventeen reviews (based on g2 data).

Do have a look at this broken-down review of Flutter in the image below.

The G2 on Flutter
Aspect based review of Flutter.

Website: https://flutter.dev/

4. Apache Cordova-A web-dev language-based tool

Apache Cordova-A web-dev language-based tool

Apache Cordova is an open-source mobile platform app building tool. You would need to be proficient in languages like HTML, CSS and JavaScript to build iOS and Android apps using this app solution.

Search interest data from Google trends.

Google trends data Apache Cordova
Search interest data of Apache Cordova.

Even though this tool has a declining search interest, it is the preferred multi-platform mobile app solution of about 85% of small businesses.

Pros

Some of the most notable advantages of Apache Cordova are:

  • Unlike native apps, it bypasses the operating system update. Thus, apps built by this wouldn’t need upgrades every time a new update of iOS and Android is rolled out.
  • If you are a competent JavaScript developer, you would be able to develop multi-platform mobile apps as well, thanks to Apache Cordova.
  • It is straightforward to use, i.e. its learning curve would be lower.
  • High customizability is one of its top benefits.
  • Adding packages to it from third-party repositories such as GitHub is easy for developers.

Cons

  • The developer support is not adequate.
  • Since it needs the command line, using it for hybrid app development may be complicated.
  • There is still room for improvement when it comes to compatibility with mobile machines.
  • Its emulators don’t always perform as fast as required.

Apache Cordova rating

It has received a 4.4 out of 5.0 based on thirty-six reviews (from g2 data).
Here is a detailed review to give you a better idea about this tool:

The G2 on Apache Cordova
Detailed review of Apache Cordova.

Website: https://cordova.apache.org/

5. Ionic-A JavaScript-based multi-platform app builder

Ionic-A JavaScript-based multi-platform app builder

Since its release in 2013, Ionic acquired traction mostly in the US and UK. When it comes to hybrid mobile app development, Ionic is among the top ten frameworks.

Search interest data.

Google trends data Ionic
Global search interest data of Ionic Frameworks.

Unlike the other hybrid mobile app builders in this list, Ionic had experienced rising search interest for a couple of years before it started to decline. However, Ionic boldly claims to have powered one-tenth of all apps in the world.

Pros

Let’s look at some of the benefits of Ionic:

  • It is capable of integrating with a broad range of technologies. Thus, building complex apps with it are easily manageable.
  • Prototyping with Ionic is fast. As a result, the development cost is reduced.
  • You would be able to test the apps you build with this tool in your mobile browser. This feature significantly simplifies the testing process.
  • The documentation is extensive. Thus, the time taken to resolve issues is lower compared to other platforms.
  • It has a strong community of more than five million developers and an active forum. When toying with its components, good advice is always close to you.

Cons

Some of the drawbacks of Ionic you should be aware of are:

  • iOS deployment of apps built with this tool is not very easy.
  • Some of the community-developed plugins have bugs that are not addressed in a timely fashion.
  • The UI doesn’t render very fast because of WebView deployment.
  • Functionalities of this tool are less extensive compared to native mobile apps.

Rating

Ionic has received a 4.3 out of 5.0 based on eighty-eight reviews (from g2 data).

Have a look at the extended rating to get a better idea of what other developers think about it.

The G2 on Ionic
Extended review of Ionic.

Website: https://ionicframework.com/

6. Appcelerator-A JavaScript-based open-source tool

Appcelerator-A JavaScript-based open-source tool

A multi-platform app development that boasts about one million registered developers, Appcelerator is hard to be unheard of. Back in 2013, Business Insider reported that about 10% of all the apps in the world were built with this tool.

Since then, that percentage has grown significantly.

Search Interest data.

Google trends data Appcelerator
Global search interest data of Appcelerator.

Despite the downward trend in global search interest, Appcelerator has acquired an impressive 5.21% of the cross platform app development market.

Pros

Benefits of Appcelerator you should be aware of are:

  • It offers rich code modules. Because of that, the number of lines of code required would be less.
  • Since it’s JavaScript-based, the existing skills of developers can be utilized.
  • It lets you use native UI components. Delivering impressive performance is thus relatively more comfortable.
  • The interface is intuitive, which catalyzes the app creation process.
  • It provides fantastic support to developers. So whenever you face issues (which you will), the tech experts at Appcelerator would help you out.

Cons

Let us cover some of the drawbacks developers have faced while using Appcelerator:

  • Apps built with it tend to face memory leakage issues which usually need to be addressed manually.
  • Animations in apps built with it tend to lag. This is something you have to keep in mind if your app is going to be animation-intensive.
  • Upgrading to the new SDK would require all old codes to be upgraded as well, which can be complicated.
  • UI components are not highly improvised, which raises dependence on external modules.

Appcelerator rating

It has received a 3.9 out 5.0 based on thirty-nine reviews (from g2 data). Here is the break-down of its rating:

The G2 on Appcelerator
Detailed rating of Appcelerator.

Website: https://www.appcelerator.com/

A quick recap

Let us go through the cross platform apps development tools we have discussed here:

  1. Xamarin
  2. React Native
  3. Flutter
  4. Apache Cordova
  5. Ionic
  6. Appcelerator

If you have chosen or are already working with one of the above app builders (or any other one), there is one thing you must keep in mind.

Developing amazing apps would require continuous learning and unheard of experimentations.

If you already knew that, great! If you didn’t, well now you do. I wish you all the very best with your app ideas!

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