Technology stack defines the future of your product: how easy it will be to build it and shoot troubles, what functionality it will have, how much time and money will be spent on development. Technologies compete for making developers’ lives easier and winning product owners’ trust. It can be a dilemma about whether to build a cross-platform app or native or web app. In the article we will go through the best technology stack for mobile app development, reasons why software companies use them, and which technologies suit which business needs the most.
Native app development. When are native apps the best choice?
You are surely familiar with native apps. Native apps are built for a particular device and a particular operating system (Android, iOS). Examples are Uber, Pokemon Go, Trello. They can be downloaded on mobile devices from the app marketplaces like the App Store or Google Play. On each platform, they have common user interface features (buttons, fields) established as a standard by the manufacturer. An example of a famous native app is Whatsapp with its interface different for iOS and Android devices. From time to time, users receive updates for their native apps and have to install new versions of the product which usually go with improved performance, better user experience, new features, etc.
Each operating system has its official technologies for native development. The technology stack for a mobile native iOS app would be Swift or Objective-C, and for Android native apps – Java or Kotlin. Let’s go deeper into each of the app development technologies and what potential they hold.
iOS native development
Building iOS native apps, engineers can choose Objective-C or Swift programming languages.
Objective-C is a high-level language with a lot of third-party libraries. It is a well-known and tested language, compatible with C++ and has an expressive code syntax. However, Objective-C is dying out as it is almost replaced by Swift.
On the contrary to an old, error-prone and slow Objective-C, Swift is more functional and robust. Swift boasts of a huge community and high performance which is 2.6 better than Objective-C according to Apple’s official website. Swift is also simpler as it requires less code to write. One more winning side is that Swift offers a highly reusable code which Objective-C lacks.
Android Native development
Kotlin and Java for Android are the same story as Swift and Objective-C for iOS: Java is left for the old code in the projects and the dominance in android app development is Kotlin’s now.
Java is a high-level language that ensures high security, scalability, and vast functionality. It stands out with a lot of open-source tools and libraries and automatic memory management. However, Java code extends to a lot of lines which increases proneness to errors. It also has limitations in API design implementation. Developers struggle with its verbose and complex code.
In 2017 Google announced support for the new technology in its Android Studio IDE, which is Kotlin, and called it to be its preferred language for Android development in 2019. That year there were already 90% of Kotlin apps. It didn’t mean Java and C++ had to be left aside. Java still ensures 13% faster speed than Kotlin. Plus, Android SDK is built with Java.
Despite lower speed, Kotlin, as an official app development technology for iOS, is way more scalable than Java. Almost every new Android project uses Kotlin and there are some of its key advantages:
- Fewer lines of code and thus, faster development
- It’s becoming universal and also integrates with Java
- Less error-prone and money efficient
- It’s easy to maintain
- It’s a solution to some of the java’s challenges and flaws
Benefits and barriers of native apps
Native app development is an old good way to build high-quality and secure mobile apps at minimum risks. These apps integrate with the device’s native features, hardware, and information, for example, camera, geolocation, media, etc. Native apps have access to 100% of the functions of iOS and Android. This minimizes worries and risks in developing complex functionality and ensures that 99% of problems and challenges can be easily solved.
One more plus, native apps typically win with higher performance. If you have a request to develop a game or photoshop similar app, the performance question is the one you should care about and think about in advance. The choice for such an app would be native as it automatically eliminates performance critical issues.
However, when required each native app has to be updated independently, sizes have to be adjusted to each specific device as well. That’s why engineers have to maintain multiple code bases for different platforms and update code separately. Besides, there is always an app store approval process so native developers have to think about the quality, data protection, and necessary permissions before pushing the app into the market. Native apps will cost more to develop and will need further maintenance and code enhancement. If you want to develop native iOS and Android apps for your business, you’ll need to hire two separate engineers, one specializing in iOS and the other in Android. Before deciding what kind of app will be built, think about your budget capabilities and consult with your team in terms of costs and time.
Cross-platform app development
A cross-platform app is a solution that compiles source code from a single code base to execute it for iOS and Android platforms simultaneously. The cross-platform approach saves a lot of money, effort, and time as you can hire one engineer who will deliver two apps at the end. Cross-platform apps can reach large audiences since they are running at several platforms at once.
Benefits and barriers of cross-platform apps
Having one code written but two apps delivered at a pretty short time sounds very alluring for product owners and software companies. Cross-platform apps come beneficial in many projects. They are cheaper and faster to develop. However, cross-platform will never have such a great performance as native apps have.
Developing specific functionality for iOS and Android can force engineers to invent the wheel themselves. Challenges can also take more time to be solved as cross-platform apps do not have 100% access to the device’s hardware. However, it does not mean the cross-platform is worse than native development. It all depends on business needs, requirements of the system, clients’ wishes and priorities. Cross-platform development will suit projects with a limited budget and strict deadlines. Projects where performance issues are not critical also benefit from cross-platform apps.
Cross-platform technology is the framework that allows running code on multiple platforms, iOS, and Android as an example. Statista surveys say that React Native is the most popular cross-platform technology in the world. 42% of software developers use React Native in 2020. Very closely comes Flutter with 30% in 2019 and 39% of developers who use it in 2020 – which is definitely a huge jump for such a new technology. Cordova, Ionic, and Xamarin follow behind as most used software development tools for cross-platform development.
- React Native
React Native reduces development time and budget due to its cross-platform capabilities. React Native structure is fine for different developers to join and have a look at what’s going on in the code. The flexibility of this technology allows cooperating, updating whenever there’s a need, and testing scenarios easier. React Native’s hot reloading function enables developers to make changes and view them instantly in a preview window.
With React Native you can build almost any type of mobile app. The technology excellently copes with a variety of functional features and leaves no space for worries that some requests for a mobile app can’t be implemented.
Engineers love it for high productivity and performance achieved mainly by using Dart language as core for flutter framework. New, but fast and verified, Flutter allows simultaneous application development. Product owners will enjoy a lot of perks hiring flutter teams. The reason is one engineer can build iOS and Android apps from a single code base. Reduced time for development and testing is very alluring and hopefully, it works according to numerous feedback for flutter by software developers. Some advantages of Flutter development:
- Beautiful UI
Flutter was mainly created for building beautiful UI that would feel like a native. Widgets are key building blocks, which can be reused and created from scratch for creating custom UI.
- Hot reload
Engineers can view the code as they build it which enables them to drive UI changes quickly and edit what they need on the spot.
- Dart language
Dart language reduces the time of compilation a lot. Supported by Google, Dart is targeted at solving engineering problems quickly and easily.
Flutter is said to be killing React Native. Both programming technologies are very similar, though React Native keeps being more traditional and standard, while new Flutter mesmerizes even old engineers with amazing widgets, fast development, and easy code. Flutter is the best technology stack for startups especially when you need to develop the app within strict deadlines to present a fully-functional and quality product to investors or end-users.
Web application which run across different OS and devices are progressive web apps (PWA). Such apps offer improved performance, offline viewing, and responsive design methods that will sizes and layouts to the screen devices automatically. Native apps are almost always more efficient and faster than HTML5 apps. HTML5 apps can not interact with mobile hardware which can be a barrier in implementing necessary functionality. However, they are cheaper to develop and there are a lot of world-known companies that invest into their web applications:
- Twitter Lite
The technology stack for mobile applications has to be cost and time effective and non-restrictive in developing desired functionality. The choice for mobile app development technology heavily depends on requirements, requested time frames, and the client’s budget and wishes. For excellent performance, it’s recommended to choose Swift for native iOS apps and Kotlin for Android native. The cross-platform app with React Native or Flutter will cost you less time and money, but there can appear risks in developing some functional features. Though cross-platform becomes better and stronger keeping up with the native approach, it’s always beneficial to consult experts and have your requirements analyzed by professionals.