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May 30th, 2014

Looking for a cross-platform solution that works for mobile apps

Do you plan on developing an app across multiple platform OS such as Android, iPhone and Windows Phone?  If yes, are you considering a cross-platform solution such as Kony, Titanium or Antenna? If so, then this blog will answer many of your questions.

Which is the best way of developing one app for use on multiple operating systems without necessarily having to review the code for each native?

With over 1500 apps and mobile websites developed in the past 8 years, we’ve tried out just about every standard and platform.  This includes native apps across all platforms (Android, iOS, J2ME, Blackberry, Symbian, WebOS, Windows, Tizen, Bada), Hybrids based on web technology (Senche and Phonegap/ Cordova), Cross Platform Tools (RhoMobile, Unity, Kony, MoSync, Corona Appcelerator and Xamarin) as well as others such as Worklight, SAP Mobile and Adobe Air. We event built Tino Mobile, our very own cross-platform tool.

All have their pros and cons, and advantages and disadvantages, but the full review of options has led us to one conclusion: for the majority of developers, the only cross-platform solution that works is web-app development with PhoneGap as an app wrapper.  Here is how and why.

Cross-platform tools

Cross-platform tools enable developers to write one codebase for the app that can be built, downloaded and used across a number of various operating systems.  A true cross-platform tool utilizes a single code base which then generates native code to be used on the different platforms. While Appclerator uses neither CSS nor HTML, but only JavaScript, Xamarin uses c# to build cross-platform applications.

Why does this not work?

For some developers it does indeed work, but for most, it doesn’t. The reason for this is  that to optimize the user interface requires considerable effort, and the user experience falls short of what you get on a native app.  Bearing in mind that the development effort is almost as great as for a native app, the work put into it does not seem worth the while if the user experience still feels lacking. Furthermore, you need to handle the cross-platform struggle to keep up with native platform roadmaps which can wreak havoc on your timing plan. For example, Window Phone 8 won’t be supported by Appcelerator until the end of 2014 at the earliest.

Web Hybrids

Web Hybrid apps essentially run web code in webview, but the developer is able to add native plug-ins. Using PhoneGap, the app is developed using HTML, CSS and JavaScript. The resulting assets function in a ‘WebView’ inside a native application container on the target platform.

Why does this work

It is not an entirely flawless solution but it strikes a good balance between effort, functionality, user experience and maintainability for developers who may not be able to afford native development. All businesses need a good cross-device web experience so this could be a good way to distribute your service across the appstores as well. PhoneGap doesn’t guarantee a native performance, and it does perform slower than some of the cross-platform tools- but it does offer perhaps the best overall option.

Conclusion

To conclude, our recommendation to clients looking to develop an app is either to:

A)    develop native apps for each platform required

B)    develop a HTML5 app or responsive design website, wrap with PhoneGap, adding native functionalities as required

There isn’t a single solution for all requirements, which means that plenty of cross-platform tools have a very real place for developers, but our opinion is that the only cross-platform solution which works is PhoneGap.

For more information about our experience across each of the platforms please e-mail or call us and in the meantime, good luck!

– Magnus Jern, President of Mobile Applications Solution division

Tags: development DMI enterprise mobility mobile app development Planning & Ideation UX UX/UI Design Web & App Development

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