Best Cross-Platform Mobile Development Tools For Enterprises
The ability to develop robust, secure, performance-heavy, cross-platform mobile applications is one of the most sought-after mobile application projects and workflows amongst SMEs and larger enterprises. Cross-platform development is an essential and often critical endeavor that allows businesses to quickly engineer and deploy their mobile assets on a variety of platforms without recoding for each native Operating System (OS) and platform. As development firms seek to expand their digital business assets by engineering mobile applications, the time, resources, and monetary funds required for these projects are the most critical factors that executives deliberate upon. Next, the management requirements, time-to-market, and the overhead necessary to develop for each native platform are often the most significant aspects of the project. Cross-platform development gives companies the ability to cut development and maintenance costs in half by using a single workflow for a variety of platforms. As noted by HackerNoon, in 2020 alone, there is predicted to be a 72.97 percent increase in cross-platform development offshoring, while - within the total mobile app development market - cross-platform application development demand will surpass $7.9 Billion in 2020. TechBeacon also notes, “Forrester estimates that more than 60 percent of enterprises are already engaged in cross-platform development".
Cross-platform development is a software engineering process that produces a mobile application that works on various mobile OSs and platforms without recoding for each native platform. This decreased coding requirement lowers the timeframe, overhead, and money needed to develop the same app if it was engineered specifically for each native platform and Operating System.
Take a look at the major platforms and Operating Systems within the mobile platform/OS ecosystem:
- iOS: The iOS platform is Apple’s proprietary, closed-OS associated with Apple products, including the Apple iPhone, Apple iPad, etc.
- Android: Android is a Google-owned, fragmented, open-OS that is associated with a variety of smart-phones (e.g., Samsung’s phones), smart-watches, smart tech, and mobile systems.
There are a variety of different mobile application types that also must be understood to truly ascertain the power - and relevance - of cross-platform development tools:
- Native Mobile Applications: Native mobile apps are developed to be specific to a single platform or mobile O.S.
- Cross-Platform Mobile Applications: Cross-platform mobile apps are designed to run on various mobile platforms and Operating Systems without developers needing to recode for specific, native platforms.
- Hybrid Mobile Applications: Applications that look and feel like a native app but operate with web app technologies are hybrid mobile apps.
- Web/Mobile App: Seemingly “native” mobile apps that are opened from a mobile platform but execute in a web browser - while requiring an internet connection - encompass mobile web applications.
The two most critical mobile app development tools for engineering cross-platform mobile assets are mobile application development platforms, and mobile application development frameworks, the latter of which is typically used along with other tools to develop cross-platform mobile applications. Understanding the market for such development tools will help companies leverage these systems to engineer the most robust possible applications.
Our Recommended Tools
There are various best practices and toolkits, SDKs, platforms, and frameworks that can be utilized in the process of engineering powerful cross-platform mobile applications. This list of recommended tools includes known mobile development hybrid app frameworks such as Adobe PhoneGap and other typical mobile app frameworks such as Xamarin.
Several factors distinguish the best cross-platform development tools from those recommended, but not top-tier, including:
- Development Workload: Ultimately, the purpose of undergoing a cross-platform development project is to decrease the developmental workload and resource requirements. These cross-platform tools allow engineers to radically reduce workload requirements to produce the best apps, with the best value, while spending the least amount of time in the app’s developmental phases.
- Platform Compatibility: Clearly, cross-platform development tools must support a variety of platforms - or at least the major platforms (i.e., iOS and Android) - to qualify as top-tier development tools. While some frameworks support more esoteric platforms, most modern platforms support Windows, iOS, Android, macOS, etc.
- Usability: On the user side, a mobile app produced by a robust cross-platform tool must deliver a positive User Experience, and be equipped with all aspects of an excellent mobile application.
- Scalability: Enterprise Mobile apps that need to scale with a company - and even consumer apps that should meet the long-term goals of a company’s mobile strategic plan - should be developed (via cross-platform frameworks and tools) with scalability in mind. Such mobile apps should meet the long-term demands of a company’s strategy regardless of its deployed platform.
- Security: Robust cross-platform tools fill in all security vulnerabilities and holes that may be produced within a mobile business application, regardless of the platform it is deployed on, to protect both the consumer and the development firm from data breaches.
- Functionality/UI: The best cross-platform tools should provide a functional and enterprise-level UI for all mobile apps that they produce, regardless of the platform used for deployment. Such tools should also allow developers to include the best, most advanced, and necessary functions within the mobile app. They should enable the cross-platform mobile app to take advantage of as many native hardware functions as possible.
Xamarin is a cross-platform, C#, and .NET-based mobile application development platform for simplified Android, iOS, and Windows Mobile app engineering, development, and deployment.
- Features: Xamarin has a long list of robust features that make it a trendy choice among app developers:
o Uses C#, which is highly compatible with Visual Studio
o Supports Type-Checking
o Uses PCL for backend interactions
o Works with mobile SDKs to develop mobile apps (on Desktop systems) that will be mobile responsive
o A one-size-fits-all solution for mobile app developers
- Frameworks: As a robust, enterprise-level mobile development framework, Xamarin utilizes Visual Studio to allow developers to deploy complex mobile app development and design processes via C# and .NET. The toolkit is OSS development enabled and integrates with top-quality APIs.
Flutter is the Google-owned, open-source SDK that allows the creation of high-performance iOS and Android apps via cross-platform development.
- Features: Flutter is feature-rich and includes material design, seamless animations, flexible UI, and out-of-the-box SDKs. Additionally, Flutter includes:
o 2D mobile app support
o Robust Creative Designs
o Support for stock platform app development
o Support for native device features, such as camera, location, storage, etc.
- Frameworks: Flutter is used by mobile app developers to create robust mobile apps via the Dart language for iOS and Android.
3. Adobe Phone Gap
Phone Gap is a particularly powerful solution because it produces hybrid apps that are almost indistinguishable from native mobile applications. In addition to the standard functions of Apache Cordova, Phone Gap has extra features and functions.
- Features: As noted by Valuecoders, Phone Gap has a myriad of advantages and features, including:
o Robust back-end
o Native (platform) function support
- Features: Sencha offers many features, including:
o Customizable UI
o Large code and component library
o Uses hardware acceleration to improve performance and offer top of the line operating speed
o Uses robust data management and security processes to ensure optimal management of development workflows, and secure data operations.
o The use of the “infinite scrolling grid” feature allows developers to group various attributes for later retrieval.
6. React Native
React Native is a Facebook-created, open-source, lightweight, fast, robust cross-platform development tool that developers use to produce mobile applications for Android, iOS, Web, and UWP. The primary advantage of using React Native is the ability to allow cross-platform mobile apps to have native platform capabilities.
- Features: React Native comes with a long list of powerful features, including:
o “Write once and use everywhere” workflows
o UI Focused mobile app design and development
o Integration with third-party libraries
o Shorter development times
o NPM (Node Package Manager) for installation
o Dual-screen, live Reload mobile development
5app is a multi-platform app toolkit for the development of mobile enterprise applications on multiple platforms that offer real-time, reliable communications and other advanced features, such as built-in workflow and geolocation reporting.
- Features: 5App offers several critical elements, including:
o Built-in workflow reporting
o Geolocation reporting
o Development of cross-platform mobile apps that serve as extensions of backend business processes
o Data reliability
o Transactional integrity
While there are the top-tier cross-platform mobile development tools that any development firm can, and should, use, there are some other recommended tools to use, albeit tools that are not the top choice for cross-platform development. These include SDKs such as Corona and powerful gaming frameworks like Unity.
Kony is a robust, low-code, cross-development platform for enterprise-level applications while offering top-tier security, innovative functionalities, and the best user experience.
- Features: Kony offers a myriad of features, including:
o Visual Editing
o Streamlined Deployment and Updates
o Access Control
o Code Refactoring
o Collaboration Tools
o Compatibility Testing
o Debugging Tools
o Omni-channel development for native, web, cross-platform, and hybrid mobile app development
o Integrates with native OS and open-source frameworks
Corona SDK is a powerful 2D/2.5D gaming and mobile app SDK used by developers to produce cross-platform mobile applications for Android and iOS, along with integration for Windows and macOS. The SDK uses Lua, a versatile, fast, flexible programming language that allows developers to produce robust mobile games and apps. Its many features include:
- Features: As a cross-platform tool, Corona integrates with over 1000 APIs and plugins, allows developers to write code once for multi-platform deployment, and integrates with hundreds of global studios to give engineers a supportive community to work with. Additionally, Corona can call any native library and allows for real-time device testing. Corona also makes available a Corona Marketplace to explore tools and graphics from third parties and has automatic AEL-GS integration.
- Frameworks: Corona SDK is an open-source, cross-platform development framework - based on Lua - that uses OpenGL hardware acceleration for graphics/animation, and is also used for developing multimedia.
Qt is a robust, cross-platform mobile development framework, with a focus on design, that allows developers to produce powerful apps for multiple platforms, while only writing the app’s code once. The Qt framework will enable firms to accelerate their time-to-market while working less to create apps with the best User Interface and User Experience.
- Features: Qt utilizes its Qt Quick system (QML) for the creation of top-tier animations and a top-of-the-line user interface, while also allowing the creation of apps with very few lines of code and simultaneously offering a native-like experience. Qt gives developers the ability to access back-end APIs via WebSockets or REST/HTTP, add location and maps services, display HTML5 content, and access device sensors.
- Frameworks: As a cross-platform framework based primarily on C++, Qt focuses on customization, allowing developers to alter the Qt experience to align with their company’s strategic plan, while also allowing the framework to integrate with advanced, evolving technologies (such as mobile systems associated with the Internet of Things).
Unity3D is one of the most potent and popular gaming 3D engines/frameworks. It gives developers the ability to create compelling visuals in games and to engineer games for mobile platforms, along with gaming consoles.
- Features: Unity has many features that are useful for the development of games, including:
o GameObject Creation
o GameObject Destruction
o Physics Oriented Events
o Coroutine and Return Types
o Events for GameObject
o Access of the Components
o The ability to Deal with Vector Variables and Time Variables
- Frameworks: As a robust cross-platform game development framework based on C#, Unity allows developers to create games for PC, Microsoft Xbox, Sony PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, Android, iOS, Windows, etc.
Alpha software is a robust, low-code mobile development framework that enables developers to create enterprise-level, secure, cross-platform mobile and web applications quickly and seamlessly. The Alpha software package includes different toolkits and SDKs, including the Alpha Anywhere platform, and other related technologies.
- Features: The Alpha cross-platform development toolkit offers many robust, enterprise-level features to allow a business to capture data via mobile applications that can drive a business to scale and meet its strategic goals. Such functions are possible due to integration with databases, APIs, and workflows.
o Field Service
o Data Collection
o Resource Management (ERP)
o Safety and Compliance Management
o Work Order Dispatch
o Reporting and Analysis
- Features: The primary system within the Ionic framework is the OSS Framework - the single-codebase, open-source, cross-platform mobile UI toolkit for Android, iOS, and Web. The system includes the App Builder/Ionic Studio, a visual development environment used to build functional apps.
o Mobile DevOps
o Angular JS
Advantages of Cross-Platform Development
There are several reasons why cross-platform development of mobile applications and business assets is advantageous for a business, most of which revolve around a faster time-to-market, while simultaneously reaching a wider audience and market within the mobile ecosystem. Engineers can create mobile apps via a framework or programming language that they are familiar with, to work with platforms that they may be unfamiliar with.
- Provides Wider Market Research
The market share of iOS versus Android (the two most prominent mobile Operating Systems/Platforms), is essential to consider when discussing cross-platform mobile development. As noted by Statista, taking advantage of the total global market share of iOS and Android allows development firms to obtain more money for less effort when cross-platform development is utilized for mobile app engineering. Specifically, Statista notes that “smartphones running the Android operating system hold an 87 percent share of the global market in 2019, and this is expected to increase over the forthcoming years. The mobile operating system developed by Apple (iOS) has a 13 percent share of the market”.
While engineering a native mobile app for one of the two platforms is costly and time-consuming, such an endeavor would limit a company to only one market. Simultaneously, making the mobile application equally available for both android and iOS users results in the broader market reach and increased revenues.
- Cost-effective Deployment
While the development of a mobile application for any significant platform is an expensive and often difficult task, cross-platform development allows a company to potentially cut their development costs in half by developing an app once for two platforms. A singular platform development effort (i.e., for Android or iOS) would incur certain overhead, time, and financial costs. However, if the company wanted to engineer a native mobile app for iOS and Android platforms, developing such a native application for each platform would double such costs. Contrasting such a costly project, undergoing a cross-platform development effort for Android and iOS platforms simultaneously would cut costs drastically, making cross-platform development a more cost-effective approach for developing and deploying a mobile app. Ultimately, cross-platform mobile development is vital for reducing time-to-market while helping businesses to save a large portion of the project budget.
- Reduced Workload
Developing a mobile application for Android devices usually requires programming in Java, along with mastering the Android SDK and a variety of other Android/native-specific tools. Similarly, engineering a mobile application for iOS devices usually requires programming with Swift, while using a variety of iOS-specific tools and SDKs. Mastering both systems takes time to use a “write-once-use-everywhere” approach, which allows an engineer to write code for the most critical parts of the application’s functionality. Meanwhile, the platform/framework takes care of the platform-specific functions that would enable the app to run on a variety of native platforms.
By reducing engineering workloads associated with the mobile SDLC and maintenance and support, instead of hiring a full team of mobile software engineers, your business can employ a significantly smaller development team.
Cross-platform development allows engineers to work more with the tools and languages that they are familiar with. For instance, a Java engineer can develop an app for a platform that usually requires Swift development. Now companies can leverage whatever internal engineers they already have to develop apps for a variety of platforms, helping to cut costs and reach a broader market.
- Consistent Platform
One of the most vital aspects of cross-platform development is that the appropriate tools (i.e., frameworks and libraries) utilized to engineer the mobile app in question can handle all platform-based functions without the developer needing to worry about coding for a specific platform. This system means that, despite the evident disparities between the Android and iOS platforms (i.e., UI/UX design, functions, native procedures), all such inconsistencies are handled by the system, by default, which makes inconsistencies less likely to happen and creates a very consistent set of mobile applications, regardless of the platform.
Drawbacks of Cross-Platform Development
While there are many advantages and opportunities associated with cross-platform mobile app development, for firms that want to target only a single market (a native platform’s market), and who want to take 100 percent advantage of a native platform’s capabilities, native mobile app development may be the better choice. This advantage is because cross-platform development is a “one-size-fits-all” approach that doesn’t allow a developer to work with a single hardware system. Instead, it must develop an app for a broad market, not allowing any specificity in functions or mobile procedures.
- Inferior UX And UI
While there are some evident and more apparent drawbacks to cross-platform development, one of the most vital aspects of a native platform’s - and, thus, a native app’s - appeal, is the specific interface that a developer can play with to design a User Interface (UI) that is specific to the native platform, thus resulting in a unique and distinct User Experience (UX). But these two terms, despite often being used synonymously, refer to two different aspects of mobile app usability:
- User Interface (UI): The UI entails the overall mobile app design and its interface - how the mobile app looks with specific regard to how the user interacts and communicates with the app (via buttons, navigation functions, etc.). The Android and iOS platforms have apparent differences in the interface buttons and navigation functions.
- User Experience (UX): The UX is the resulting feel that encompasses the overall experience that a user has when working with an iOS device versus an Android device. Such a difference is typically a direct result of the differing platform User Interfaces. Thus, cross-platform development does not allow a developer or designer to create a unique UI/UX for a user, eliminating any device specificity that native mobile apps have by default.
This issue concerns the Graphical User Interface (GUI) - and its resulting feel regarding the differences between Android and iOS apps, such as navigation functions, buttons, layouts, etc.
- Possible Lower Performance
In addition to the above issues that cross-platform mobile app development creates, other critical issues are presented when developers do not develop a native mobile app for a specific mobile platform, including:
- Performance/Functionality: While cross-platform apps are faster to deploy, there are times when they may prove to work slower when compared with their native counterparts. This disadvantage occurs since developers cannot truly develop the app to align with native performance - since the app is not a native mobile app - and, similarly, the app cannot take advantage of unique native platform functions. This issue results in a mobile app that is consistent across platforms but may sacrifice uniqueness and native functions for easy development and deployment, creating the feel of a “cloned” app that isn’t as fully functional or performance-heavy as its native counterpart, which can take advantage of the latest and most significant functions of the platform.
- Security: Along with losing performance and functionalities, cross-platform apps do not usually take specific platform-vulnerabilities into account since the developer deals more with high-level abstractions and not with lower-level code, which is where security vulnerabilities often exist. Native app development allows the engineer to deal with all aspects of the app’s code - from the lower to the higher level - and often results in more secure apps when secure coding methodologies are used within the mobile SDLC.
A Direction Worth Considering
The use of cross-platform development tools to engineer cross-platform mobile apps and assets certainly has its drawbacks and advantages. It is up to company executives to align their overarching business model and corporate goals with the correct use of the appropriate tool(s), whether it be cross-platform mobile application frameworks/platforms, or native engineering systems. While cross-platform app development is worth considering because it will save both time and money, it will not deliver the best performance or UX/UI that is often associated with native mobile applications. However, depending on the scale of the business app project - and the associated market - cross-platform mobile development may allow a business to operate within the relevant mobile ecosystem among a myriad of platforms and OSs. All this will enable companies to save money, time, and overhead that can be re-allocated to other critical projects and processes.
Your pertinent target/market can help to determine whether cross-platform development is right for you. While external, consumer-based markets often want the full native experience of a mobile app, including features, functionalities, and performance, internal enterprise apps often benefit from the use of cross-platform development since the company needs to work with a variety of platforms and operating systems, without the need for enhanced, native-based functionalities. Thus, when deliberating on whether to use cross-platform development tools for mobile apps development, the direction that a company should take is entirely dependent on the business model, business strategy, and target market of the mobile application.