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10 approaches to multi-platform app development

Amit Ashwini
March 11, 2015

Everything needs an app. There are now more mobile devices in the world than there are people, and every business knows it is vital for their website or product to have a user friendly mobile face. Native apps are unquestionably the most user friendly, secure, and performant, but the resources necessary to develop and maintain native applications for multiple platforms is often out of reach for small businesses and cumbersome for startups. Though a true native experience is the end goal, there are a number of hybrid options and new approaches that continue to improve the quality of cross platform app construction that can be a great option for small businesses or for proving out an idea. In this article we outline 10 multi platform development options.

1. Responsive App development

The most straightforward and least effort intensive approach to mobile development is responsive web design. The main difference between responsive web and native or hybrid development is that responsive web pages will always be websites that a user accesses through a browser, instead of an app that users download to their phones. This is a great option for meeting mobile needs that require very little user interactivity.

2. Progressive Web Apps

This is a development approach, rather than a software or service.  Fairly new to the field of mobile answers, progressive web apps are a step above responsive design, offering app-like user interactivity while still being entirely internet based. By making use of service workers and the most advanced web actions, progressive web apps shine where responsive design fell short, with features such as connectivity independent functionality, a downloaded icon on your phone's home screen, and even push notifications.

3. PhoneGap

The most popular multi platform tool among developers, Phonegap is Adobe's open source distribution of Cordova that allows developers to create hybrid mobile apps for any OS using plain old HTML, CSS, and Javascript.  With updated developer tool sets, the ability to compile in the cloud, and the added benefit of 3rd party tools available from the open source community, PhoneGap is one of the most stable and easily accessible multi platform tools available.

4. Ionic

Launched at the very end of 2013, Ionic strolled in as the new kid in school with all the right swag, and was instantly popular.  An open source cross platform SDK for mobile devices, it has all the modern conveniences and spoke the words you wanted to hear if you needed to create an app but didn't necessarily have the skills for native or hybrid development. Featuring magic like drag and drop app construction, Windows Universal compatibility, AngularJs connections, and open source plugin sharing. Under the hood it actually uses Apache Cordova, and all Cordova plugins are available to use with it.

5. Appcelerator Titanium

Appcelerator appeals to the Javascript crowd by allowing developers to create native mobile apps from a single javascript code base. A favorite among startups, appcelerator is focused on data and analytics more than other multi platform services. It comes with a ready set of dev tools and analytics built in, allowing you to glean the most information from your app and users as well as to monitor your app's performance.


A conglomeration of four open source mobile game development frameworks, they allow developers to play to their strengths to create quality mobile games. You can choose to create your game in many languages, including Objective-C, C#, and C++, Javascript, Lua, and others. Games are OS agnostic and function across all devices, making the Cocos2d library one of the favorites for mobile game development.

7. Qt

Open source and free (to start with), Qt specializes in cross platform user interfaces for mobile apps, as well as for all sorts of other devices, such as cars and your in-flight entertainment system. A single code base is written in QML (apparently similar to CSS/Javascript), which can utilize graphics/UI/animation components written in C++, as well as a wide variety of C++ libraries.

8. Xamarin

Xamarin uses a shared C# code base to offer native iOS, Android, and Windows apps. Their mobile lifecycle products offer many powerful development tools, emulating the functions of an entire dev team for your mobile app. From the ability to test for bugs automatically before you ship, to a Dev Ops program that can collect live user feedback and crash reports, Xamarin packs a lot of functionality and offers free basic level services.

9. Sencha

Sencha is a start to finish multi platform app dev tool that has built in elements to help you design, develop, test, and deploy your application. As with Cordova, apps are web applications, packaged in a native wrapper to look and feel like native apps. Sencha also offers templated design and UI components that are pre-tested and multi platform ready, to help you deploy your app as soon as possible.

10. Alpha Anywhere

Alpha Anywhere is a multi platform app tool that is the first to boast connection independent apps. Geared towards business applications and mobile friendly form creation, the Alpha Anywhere tool set includes the ability to securely integrate with existing databases and web services.

The tools for multi platform app development are undoubtedly improving to meet the demand for better mobile experiences without the expense of native development. Tools and new capabilities are constantly being developed, and though they will never reach a true native level, some of them stand out as nothing to sneer at either. Despite what has been achieved however, no tool is perfect and many mobile developers will find themselves using more than one cross platform tool for any given app.  If you decide to go with any of these cross platform development options, make sure you do your research to understand the pros and cons of each before jumping in.

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