What Is Multi-platform Mobile Development?

 

Multi-platform mobile development – also known as cross-platform mobile development – refers to mobile app development that is designed to be compatible with multiple mobile platforms. When building an app, you can develop the original app on a native platform, e.g. iOS, Android, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry/RIM, etc., or in an environment specifically for app development that will then allow the app to be sent to many different native platforms. Multi-Platform apps are usually apps designed with a single code base, which can function on different operating systems.

Notwithstanding the fact that it is time consuming and expensive, many developers prefer building an app that is native to a particular mobile operating system as it is easier. But the drawback to building a native app is that the code isn’t scalable and generally can’t be repurposed for another operating system. This is a big no-no in today’s business environment, especially since most employees now bring their own personal mobile devices to the workplace to access company systems and data. This trend, called Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), is rising steadily and shows no signs of waning anytime soon. This has prompted more and more businesses to design proprietary mobile apps that can be used on different mobile devices running on different operating systems. It’s also worthy to note that with some proper planning, around 50%–80% of code written for multi-platform mobile apps can be reused, which allows for faster mobile app development and cost reduction.

According to Al Hilwa, program director for Application Development Software at International Data Corporation (IDC), “cross-platform mobile development tools will continue to drive growth in developer tools markets”. The world’s leading information technology research and advisory company IDC had in 2014 forecasted that the market for multiplatform mobile app development would see a compound annual growth rate of over 38% reaching US$4.8 billion by 2017. Also, American market research, analysis and advisory firm Gartner expects over 20 million enterprise apps to be developed by 2018. This would mean that businesses are well placed to design mobile apps that support Android gadgets, Windows phones, BlackBerry devices and of course, the ubiquitous iPhone.

Which is better?

These days, programmers have it much easier when developing multi-platform mobile apps, thanks to new mobile app development and app design approaches such as hybrid mobile app development, rapid mobile app development (RMAD) and Windows universal apps. In the hybrid mobile app development approach, the core of the app is written as a HTML5 or JavaScript mobile app and subsequently, a native device wrapper is placed around it. RMAD, on the other hand, uses code-free programming tools to quickly build and manage internal apps designed to adequately address specific business problems. In building a Windows universal app, one codebase is used for all Windows devices. This means that a Windows universal app can run on any Windows device such as the PC or a Windows phone.

That said, there has been much debate among mobile app development and app design aficionados on whether it’s better to develop apps on their native platform or go for the multi-platform approach. Looking at it from a neutral perspective, this debate could go either way.

Available multi-platform mobile app development tools are useful because they are cost efficient – there is no need to hire a developer specific to the ecosystem. These technologies are also relatively easy to use and consequently, building an app becomes a faster process. Multi-platform mobile app development tools are as user-friendly as they come since they are based on common scripting languages such as CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), HTML (Hypertext Mark-up Language) and JavaScript. One area where it might make more sense to use a multiplatform approach would be in mobile gaming. For example, game development ecosystems such as Unity are equipped with intuitive tools and swift workflows that allow you to create interactive 3D games.

However, cross-platform mobile development is not without its drawbacks. HTML-based apps designed with for multiple platforms suffer from performance problems. You may design a mobile app’s user interface with HTML, but it will be quite a different story to match the performance afforded by native platforms. There is also the issue of mobile operating system updates to consider. Because mobile operating systems are constantly updated, multi-platform apps that run on these operating systems must also be updated to avoid compatibility issues. One would imagine that updating each platform is quite a tedious process, and this is compounded by the lengthy rendering process for multi-platform apps because of the need for separate sets of codes per operating system.

In making the case for developing native apps, you would be interested to know that many successful apps are apps designed on native platforms (either Android or iOS) because it is much harder to use a multi-platform mobile app development tool to create a platform-specific user experience. All platforms come with their own user interface guidelines, so it would be difficult to support these platforms using a single code base. You would also want to keep the features, performance and capabilities of the app intact across all the platforms, and this is more easily managed for an app developed on its native platform.

Consumer apps, for example, are best developed on their native platforms. Sometimes, the best efforts don’t always yield the best results – an app designed with multi-platform mobile app development tools may fall short in terms of giving the user an incredible native experience. It would be such a waste to come up with, at best, a mediocre app, because of a poorly made choice in terms of the development platform. Consumers are a demanding lot, and with millions of users per platform, it would make good business sense to build apps that exceed their expectations by a mile.

What’s next?

By and large, businesses are fast realising the need to adapt to the mobile world, and they are doing so by rolling out their own proprietary apps. The pace at which they need to develop apps provides vast opportunities for multi-platform development tools to thrive, and this will be more pronounced in the coming years. Both multi-platform mobile app development tools and native development tools are equally good, but for differing reasons. So, have a think about what’s good for the business and particularly, about what consumers prefer, when it comes to designing mobile apps that would appeal to the market at large.

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