Native vs Cross Platform
In computing, cross-platform software (also multi-platform software or platform-independent software) is computer software that is implemented on multiple computing platforms. Cross-platform software may be divided into two types; one requires individual building or compilation for each platform that it supports, and the other one can be directly run on any platform without special preparation, e.g., software written in an interpreted language or pre-compiled portable bytecode for which the interpreters or run-time packages are common or standard components of all platforms.
For example, a cross-platform application may run on Microsoft Windows, Linux, and macOS. Cross-platform programs may run on as many as all existing platforms, or on as few as two platforms. Cross-platform frameworks (such as Codename One, Kivy, Qt, Flutter, NativeScript, Xamarin, Phonegap, Ionic, and React Native) exist to aid cross-platform development.
Platform can refer to the type of processor (CPU) or other hardware on which a given operating system or application runs, the type of operating system on a computer or the combination of the type of hardware and the type of operating system running on it. An example of a common platform is Microsoft Windows running on the x86 architecture. Other well-known desktop computer platforms include Linux/Unix and macOS – both of which are themselves cross-platform. There are, however, many devices such as smartphones that are also effectively computer platforms but less commonly thought about in that way. Application software can be written to depend on the features of a particular platform—either the hardware, operating system, or virtual machine it runs on. The Java platform is a virtual machine platform which runs on many operating systems and hardware types, and is a common platform for software to be written for.
A hardware platform can refer to an instruction set architecture. For example: x86 architecture and its variants such as IA-32 and x86-64. These machines often run one version of Microsoft Windows, though they can run other operating systems as well, including Linux, OpenBSD, NetBSD, macOS and FreeBSD.
The 32-bit ARM architectures (and newer 64-bit version) is common on smartphones and tablet computers, which run Android, iOS and other mobile operating systems.
Software platforms can either be an operating system or programming environment, though more commonly it is a combination of both. A notable exception to this is Java, which uses an operating system independent virtual machine for its compiled code, known in the world of Java as bytecode. Examples of software platforms are:
As previously noted, the Java platform is an exception to the general rule that an operating system is a software platform. The Java language typically compiles to a virtual machine: a virtual CPU which runs all of the code that is written for the language. This enables the same executable binary to run on all systems that implement a Java Virtual Machine (JVM). Java programs can be executed natively using a Java processor. This isn’t common and is mostly used for embedded systems.
Java code running in the JVM has access to OS-related services, like disk I/O and network access, if the appropriate privileges are granted. The JVM makes the system calls on behalf of the Java application. This setup allows users to decide the appropriate protection level, depending on an ACL. For example, disk and network access is usually enabled for desktop applications, but not for browser-based applets. JNI can also be used to enable access to operating system specific functions.
Currently, Java Standard Edition programs can run on Microsoft Windows, macOS, several Unix-like operating systems, and several more non-UNIX-like operating systems like embedded systems. For mobile applications, browser plugins are used for Windows and Mac based devices, and Android has built-in support for Java. There are also subsets of Java, such as Java Card or Java Platform, Micro Edition, designed for resource-constrained devices.
For a piece of software to be considered cross-platform, it must be able to function on more than one computer architecture or operating system. Developing such a program can be a time-consuming task because different operating systems have different application programming interfaces (API). For example, Linux uses a different API for application software than Windows does.
Software written for a particular operating system does not automatically work on all architectures that operating system supports. One example as of August 2006 was OpenOffice.org, which did not natively run on the AMD64 or Intel 64 lines of processors implementing the x86-64 standards for computers; this has since been changed, and the OpenOffice.org suite of software is “mostly” ported to these 64-bit systems. This also means that just because a program is written in a popular programming language such as C or C++, it does not mean it will run on all operating systems that support that programming language—or even on the same operating system on a different architecture.
Web applications are typically described as cross-platform because, ideally, they are accessible from any of various web browsers within different operating systems. Such applications generally employ a client–server system architecture, and vary widely in complexity and functionality. This wide variability significantly complicates the goal of cross-platform capability, which is routinely at odds with the goal of advanced functionality.
Basic web applications perform all or most processing from a stateless server, and pass the result to the client web browser. All user interaction with the application consists of simple exchanges of data requests and server responses. These types of applications were the norm in the early phases of World Wide Web application development. Such applications follow a simple transaction model, identical to that of serving static web pages. Today, they are still relatively common, especially where cross-platform compatibility and simplicity are deemed more critical than advanced functionalities.
Pros & Cons of Native Applications
When it comes to native versus cross-platform and making a choice, it is paramount to learn about the pros and cons of each of these frameworks. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of native applications first.
Pros of Native App Development
Native built apps offer extremely high performance in terms of speed, responsiveness and operational efficiency. This is possible as these platform specific apps are programmed using core programming languages and APIs. Moreover, they are able to leverage the device’s processing speed to its full potential, hence ensuring lower load time.
As highlighted earlier, the biggest advantage of native over cross platform is the former’s ability to access all the features of the platform it is made for. This ultimately results in faster execution & better user experience. Additionally, native apps can function without internet connectivity making it the best solution for complex mobile applications.
To create apps with robust and intuitive user experience and consistent look and feel, native technology is your best bet. Developed using native software development kits (SDKs) and destined for a particular operating system, native mobile apps deliver a more natural flow to its users.
Moreover, sticking to specific guidelines allows familiar actions & gestures for users and maintaining aspect ratio ensures better visuals and better control over the user interface.
Higher Security and Reliability
Native apps are better poised to provide protection against security violations over cross-platform apps. How? Native apps are programmed using the core language of the platform, which makes them more secure and reliable.
Also, features such as proactive security upgrades, multi-factor authentication and remote management controls ensure the strictest data security and privacy.
It is easier to launch native apps in the app store as they comply with iOS and Android guidelines by default. Native is considered to be preferred both by Google & Apple as they mostly feature native apps on their store. And ofcourse, getting featured on an app store reinforces your brand and gives your downloads a quantum jump.
Cons of Native App Development
The biggest drawback of Native development is its cost. There are two primary reasons for this high cost – first, native app development is complex due to which professional development and support consumes a lion’s share of the project budget. Note that, native mobile developers are more expensive compared to cross-platform ones. Second, in order to cater to two different sets of audiences i.e., Android and iOS, it requires two distinct native apps, leading to setting up two development teams, and ultimately soaring the total cost.
Difficulties with Updates and Maintenance
Maintaining separate builds for separate platforms that require regular maintenance & support is challenging. You may face difficulty in collaborating several teams or in rolling out feature updates or new features.
Slow Development Speed
The speed of development is yet another downside of mobile native vs. cross-platform app. It consumes significantly more time to develop a native app than its cross-platform counterpart does. There’s also no chance to repurpose the native code of one operating system for another, resulting in slower development.
What is Cross-platform app development?
Cross-platform app development provides you the flexibility of building mobile applications using a universal language, making this single app compatible with more than one mobile platforms. The key advantage of cross-platform is code reusability, thereby simplifying the entire development process.
Native apps are developed exclusively for a specific platform. These apps are developed in a language compatible with the platform. Apple, for instance, prefers Objective C and Swift for iOS while Google favors Java for Android. Using these acceptable languages, developers can make better use of the innate features of these platforms. A native app developed for Android will not function on iOS and vice versa.
Cross-platform apps are compatible with multiple platforms. Due to the market share of Android and iOS, most cross-platform apps are limited to these two operating systems. These apps are developed in HTML and CSS since these standard web technologies are platform independent. There are several cross-platform application development tools that allow developers to create these apps with little trouble.
Now that you know the difference between cross-platform and native apps, let’s see how they compare.