Over the past decade or so, mobile app usage has seen exponential growth. Grand View Research estimates the global app market size to reach $206.73 billion in 2022 and even traditional website analytics platforms from Google are focusing more on mobile app integration.

Earlier this year, it was announced that Google’s Universal Analytics platform was being phased out in favour of GA4 which boasts cross-device tracking between website and app. For many businesses, apps are becoming an essential part of their customer offer.

If you decide to integrate a mobile app into your business, there are some key considerations you need to make. The first thing to decide is whether you want a native app (where your app is created to work on specific platforms like iOS or Android) or a cross-platform app (where a single app is built to be compatible with multiple platforms). Both options have their pros and cons, which we’re going to break down in this article to help you make that choice.

The choice between a native app and a cross-platform app is one of your first and most essential decisions. Choosing the right one is important, particularly when it comes to making your app functional and keeping costs on track. 

Native mobile apps

Native mobile apps are the best choice if you want to develop for a single platform like iOS, for example. This way, you can ensure that the app is optimised for and take advantage of special, platform-unique features like iMessage or AirDrop.

Another feature you may want to utilise with a native mobile app is home screen widgets as these cannot be easily achieves using cross-platform technology. Native apps can use very precise code specifically designed to maximise usability and features on a particular platform.

The benefits of native mobile apps

  • By coding for a specific platform, you can optimise and enhance your app’s code to take advantage of all features available on that platform.
  • This coding also allows you to have a more granular level of control of the app’s look and feel. This can result in an improve user interface and overall user experience.
  • Building native apps tends to result in less bugs during the developer process because you’re not testing code across multiple platforms and having to create fixes for each one. This can mean a shorter build time and less unexpected delays.
  • You can fully access the features of the host operating system, giving greater freedom during the design and build process.
  • When new features are made available on the operating system, the software development kits (SDKs) can be used to immediately update the app, rather than having to apply multiple updates across numerous platforms.

The limitations of native mobile apps

  • Code that’s written for a specific platform cannot be pushed to another platform, so if you do decide later that you want your app to be available on another platform, you’d need to build a new app. Let’s say you created an app specifically for Android devices because the majority of your customers were using it. If you later wanted to expand your market and have your app available on iOS, the existing app code couldn’t simply be pushed to Apple devices.
  • Platform-specific coding requires slightly more effort so may come with slightly higher upfront costs.
  • Similarly to the previous point, developers with the skills to code native apps are rarer than cross-platform developers and so tend to charge higher rates.
  • Native mobile apps generally cost a bit more and take a bit longer to create the cross-platform mobile apps, so this will need to be factored into your build plans.

Cross-platform apps

These apps are created using a single code that can run on multiple platforms. There are different platforms and technologies available to build on and which one you use may be your choice or a recommendation of your dev team. For example, at Software Solved we use Xamarin. The best platform for you can depend on your requirements so be sure to get advice if you’re not sure what to use.

The benefits of cross-platform apps

  • Cross-platform apps typically have low maintenance costs when compared to native mobile apps.
  • Cross-platform developers tend to be more common than native coders and so charge a bit less for their servicers. This means your developments costs are likely to be lower as well.
  • Because the app is built to function across platforms, the code can be reused. If you want to make your app available on a new platform, you can simply use your existing code.
  • You’ll have a broader market reach and a larger potential audience by offering your mobile app across as many platforms as possible.
  • There is a strong community support base for cross-platform coders and your app code can be worked on by a larger pool of engineers.

The limitations of cross-platform apps

  • While SDKs are often published quickly for specific platforms, there is often a lag time before the are available for use on cross-platform frameworks.
  • You have less granular control over the user interface and look of the app.
  • Because the code needs to be functional on multiple platforms, cross-platform apps tends to have much larger file sizes than their native counterparts. This means users need more storage space on their device in order to download it.
  • While native mobile apps allow full access to the features of the system, there is less creative freedom when build a cross-platform apps. Developers may be slightly restricted by the limited features available.

When it comes to creating your own mobile app, there are benefits and limitations to native and cross-platform variations and which one is best for your business will depend on a number of factors. Whichever option you decide upon, mobile apps can be a huge boost for your business and offer a seamless customer experience between devices.

Shona Wright

Shona covers all things editorial at TechSPARK. She publishes news articles, interviews and features about our fantastic tech and digital ecosystem, working with startups and scaleups to spread the word about the cool things they're up to. She also oversees TechSPARK's social media, sharing the latest updates on everything from investment news to green tech meetups and inspirational stories.