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Cross-platform development:
How it can save BIG on development time and cost

What is cross-platform development?

Say, you want to create an app that works on both iPhones and Android phones. Traditionally you would use both platforms’ respective tools (Xcode and Android Studio) and programming languages to create the app. The problem is, Xcode can only create apps that work on iOS devices and Android studio can only create apps that work on Android devices. After all, an Android device does not understand an iPhone’s programming language and an iPhone cannot understand an Android’s programming language either. So you would have to create the same app twice, once for every platform, and when all is said and done, hope that both the apps work in the same way.

Single-platform-development

As you can imagine, this pretty much doubles the workload. You’ve got to make the same thing twice. Wouldn’t it be great if we could write an app just once, in a language that everybody could easily understand?
Well, good news! because we CAN do that. Well not directly, but we can write an app and have a translator for iPhone translate it into something the iPhone understands, and have a different translator for Android that translates it into something Android understands. That’s exactly what cross-platform development is: write the code once and translate it to every platform you want to run it on.

Cross-platform-development2

Advantages

Faster development times
Since you are only writing everything once, it’s a lot less things to type, resulting in the programmers finishing the app faster.

Apps work exactly the same on all platforms
Give two people the same instructions and you will end up with two different results. The same applies here: create two apps based on the same spec and there will be differences. If you use cross-platform development, you are sure that the app will work exactly the same on all platforms.

Much lighter test load
Because the app is exactly the same on all platforms, it will contain the same bugs. Instead of having to do full rigorous testing on all platforms, you can do these strict tests on one platform and give all the other ones quicker run-throughs.

Extra platforms can be added with little extra effort
Because the code is already written, having your Android and iOS app work on a Windows computer is quite easy to do.

Cross-platform-development

New features can be added to all platforms simultaneously
Additional features are made once and then they work on all supported platforms at the same time.

Disadvantages

Your app might not feel native
Since different platforms have a different ‘look and feel’ and style guides, making one app for multiple platforms won’t be able to adhere to multiple style guides at the same time. You can of course make separate looks and feels for every platform but this increases development time again and needs to be done for each platform.
There is also an advantage to having a single design for all your platforms, namely that all platforms look and feel the same and embody your company’s style the same way. Therefore cutting the need to make a difference in platform-specific tutorials or guidance for the user – making the app the same experience for every user.

Not everything can be made common
Sometimes things just work too differently on your target platforms that you’ll end up with having to write that particular part twice. For example, communication over Bluetooth works very differently on iOS, Android and Windows, so if you want an app that makes use of that feature, you will still have to write the Bluetooth part of the app separately for iOS, Android and Windows. Still better than writing the entire app three times though!

You are dependent on what platforms are supported by your technology
If you want to bring your app to a new platform, but the technology you’ve used for cross-platform development doesn’t support this platform, you are going to have a very hard time getting it to work.

Conclusion

When making an app, going down the cross-platform development road can slash the costs and time required in half. Most of the disadvantages can be prevented by increasing the required time a bit. Still, writing “one and a half” apps is still going to be cheaper than writing two apps.