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Why cross platform mobile app development tools deliver subpar user experiences

Ben Obear

Over the last few years, the mobile cross-platform development app business has skyrocketed. Companies are now recognizing the necessity to offer their consumers multiple platform options from which to download their app, including tablets, smart watches and different kinds of smartphones that are available on the market. Thus, development cross-platform apps and the tools used to develop these apps has become a multi billion dollar market in a fairly short time frame.

What is Cross-Platform App Development?

Cross -platform mobile app development is the development of a mobile app that can be used across multiple mobile platforms. The process is such where an app is either designed specifically for one type of platform and then crossed over to multiple ones, or the development of the initial app is done so in a more generic manner, where it can be sent off to multiple platforms to launch as well.

Cross-platform mobile apps can run into a lot of problems along the way. Bearing in mind that mobile operating systems across the board are constantly updated, the app will have to keep up with those regular system updates- across each platform the app is available on. Also, each separate operating system will require a different set of code in order to work properly, so the rendering time will more than likely be longer. This is where utilization of the proper cross-platform development tools will come in handy.

What are Cross-Platform Development Tools?

Cross-platform development tools are tools that are use to decrease the overall cost and increase the development speed of an app. They are often easy to use, as they speak basic scripting language- including JavaScript, HTML and CSS. Cross-platform apps can have a lot of limitations in terms of delivery, glitches in code and user experience across multiple platforms. Thus, it's imperative to understand the different types of development tools that are available and how using each of them may lead to a sub par experience for your users.

What are the Different Types of Cross-Platform Development Tools Available?

There are three different types of cross-platform development tools available. They can be broken up into the following categories:

  • Codeless Cross-Platform Tools
  • Mobile Cross-Platform Web Tools
  • Developer Cross-Platform Tools

Further, the way that each cross-platform tool works is different. This is dependent on the structure and the complexity of the app that is being built.

HTML5 - Using this type of cross-platform development tool, the app can be written using HTML5 code. While there are some ways to write these apps so that there is offline data access available across platforms, the drawback is that it can take as much time to do as it will take to build two completely separate apps- both native and hybrid.

Hybrid Apps - Hybrid apps are developed using an HTML app originally. Then a cross-platform development tool will wrap the web app, giving the ability to app developers to add native features to the app. For a basically structured app, this kind of app development is good, but not for a more complex one.

Code Generator Apps - Various cross-platform mobile app development tools utilize this method for building a cross-platform app. JavaScript is used as a base language and then Native Objective-C (IOS) and Java Code (Android) code is generated to launch the app across platforms.

What are the Pros to Using Cross-Platform Development Tools?

There are several pros to using a cross-platform development tool to develop an app for multiple platforms.

Plugins are Readily Available - This is a  plus for a development tool, as it offers the ability to access other plugins and modules that can cross-integrate with other tools and platforms.

Reduces Overall Development Costs - Probably the biggest pro of using a cross-platform development tool is a decrease in the overall development costs. It also can cut out some of the guesswork and even the overall timing between development and launch- this depends on the complexity of the app.

Code is Reusable for the Developer - This feature makes it easy for your developer to write the code once, but have access to reuse it as necessary for other platforms, apps or projects.

Makes the Developer's Job Easier - Most frameworks are written in fairly basic code, giving the developer the ability to take on the project without too much guesswork and focus more so on the development and design of the app.

Cloud Based Tools May Offer Faster Turn Time - Frameworks are jumping on utilizing cloud-based features for their development tools. This often can lead to a faster turnaround from the design, development and launch of an app.

What are the Cons to Using Cross-Platform Development Tools?

While there are some good reasons to develop your app as a Cross-Platform app, you should be careful because of these cons:

Unsupported Features on Operating Systems or Devices - Just as in having to update your app to keep up with an operating system's frequent updates, the framework you use to develop your app needs to be updated to ensure that it can keep up with the features on the system, otherwise you will run into issues.

Limitations on Using Developer Tools - Most cross-platform mobile app development tools require that developers use the tools that are available on their framework. This means that a developer will possibly have to put their IDE preferences away and utilize what is available through the framework. There are some frameworks that are different and use native IDE for each separate platform.

Slow Running of Code - This can be frustrating for the developer and may require a separate app to correct.

Support for 3D Graphics May be Limited - Again, depending on the type of app that you are developing, you want to have the limitations for each in front of you. Gaming apps should be developed using game-specific platforms, which will lessen some of these issues.

Practice your due diligence when it comes to picking the specific framework that you will use for your app development. There have been a lot of issues with the Titanium Framework, including memory issues and instability on one platform vs another. The Iconic Framework has a lot of positive attributes, including a fast turn time and multiple user interface elements that can be used for the app, with the exception of the actual content. Find out the specific pros and cons of each framework you are looking at before deciding.

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Ben Obear
San Francisco