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Home Guide How to build Cross-Platform Mobile Apps

How to build Cross-Platform Mobile Apps

By Vivek Mannotra, Community Contributor -

Table of Contents

A cross-platform application is an app that uses a single codebase that can run on multiple platforms. A cross-platform framework is software that helps with creating a cross-platform app. Although it has not replaced native applications made by coding yet, cross-platform development has proven to be cost-effective. 

  • The low-code vs no-code application development market revenue will cross $47 billion in 2025
  • It can be deployed on multiple platforms such as the web, iOS, Android, Windows, etc. 
  • Easier for developers since they don’t have to code separately for each platform. 
  • Coding can sometimes be eliminated so the designers and business analysts can create applications/prototypes directly.

graph

Market share for popular cross-platform frameworks

Benefits of Cross-Platform Mobile App Development

  • Mobile App for Multiple Platforms: The most significant benefit of building on a cross-platform framework is that the output of the development process can be used on multiple platforms. This approach is best suited where business functionality is straightforward and a short time to market is the goal.
  • Reduced Development Cost: In a typical scenario, a tech product will need three separate development workflows – web, Android, and iOS. A cross-platform framework can bring down the required effort to less than half. 
  • Agile Development Process: Understandably, the development process will consume fewer human hours when a single code base is used. The flexibility of choosing between native, web, and hybrid allows for optimizing development loads across sub-teams. i.e. CPU-heavy or gaming applications will require more native development and optimization than an e-commerce app.
  • Simpler Code Maintenance & Usability: Having one code base for multiple platforms means that when it comes time to add or remove functionality from the application, only one set of updates is sufficient for updating the application across platforms. Also, having a single codebase to perform testing means that you don’t have to worry about horizontally scaling your testing efforts too much, and you can instead focus on test case prioritization.
  • Easy Cloud Integration: Since this is a relatively recent phenomenon, the tools, and platforms for cross-platform development are built keeping in mind the tech trends of the day, which means most of these platforms support modern development methodologies like CI/CD, automation, cloud-based deployments, visualizations, etc. Combined with cloud-based testing platforms like BrowserStack Automate and App Automate, you get a highly configurable and modernized workflow, weaving together DevOps and QAOps into an integrated setup.
  • Faster Time-to-Market and Customize: Because these platforms are built with the whole pipeline of mobile application development in mind, they come with tools, features, and extensions that support responsiveness, performance, and security—making the process more streamlined and efficient—resulting in a further reduction in the time to market for the product.
  • Uniform Design: Although hard to achieve in some cases, the design output of cross-platform development can be consistent and effective. Responsive design principles are incorporated into the essence of the program, using the hierarchy of components and micro-services to break down functionality at the front and back end, respectively.

Various frameworks are available for cross-platform mobile app development, which we will discuss further in this article.

Code-Based Cross-Platform Mobile App Development

Most popular cross-platform frameworks utilize a single code base to generate apps for different platforms. This means you must code on the programming framework supported by the platform of your choice. 

Since translating one code base into multiple applications is not a trivial task, many popular options have their own advantages and disadvantages regarding comparison. 

Here are some code-based cross-platform development industry leaders:

1. Xamarin

Xamarin is an open-source, cross-platform app development framework owned by Microsoft. It is used for creating native cross-platform apps for Android, iOS, and Windows using C# and . NET. Xamarin apps are built using native user interface controls and provide a high-performance user experience. 

Famous examples include apps for Fox Sports, Alaska Airlines, HCL, American Cancer Society, and BBC Good Food.

Pros of XamarinCons of Xamarin
Xamarin uses C# for coding, which works seamlessly for Android and iOS.

 

Xamarin is free for individuals and startups; however, enterprises must buy a license for Microsoft’s Visual Studio.

 

Has a strong community of over 60,000 contributors from more than 3,700 companies.

 

It not recommended for apps that demand heavy graphics because each platform has a different method for visually laying out screens.

 

Allows for sharing more than 75% of code across platforms, for “write once, run anywhere” ease.

 

Offers limited access to certain important libraries that the app developers need for mobile app development.

 

Consists of a single tech stack for faster development.

 

There is a decent overhead owing to the various layers and wrapping mechanisms used by the Xamarin engine. 

2. React Native

React Native is an open-source, cross-platform app development framework owned by Meta (prev Facebook). It is used for creating native cross-platform apps for Android, iOS, and Windows using JavaScript and TypeScript (a strongly-typed version of JS). 

React Native and Xamarin are at the top regarding user adoption and popularity. 

Instagram, Bloomberg, Pinterest, Skype, and Tesla are some popular apps built on React Native.

Pros of React NativeCons of React Native
Up to 80% of a codebase can be shared across platforms, depending on the app’s complexity. Code reusability significantly speeds the development process

 

React Native is not fully a cross-platform app framework. To use some functions as a camera or accelerometer there is still a need to use native components meaning there will be a separate code for Android and iOS

 

Allows for previewing results right away and offers ready-to-apply elements, thus shortening the developing time considerably

 

Since the framework is not built in conjunction with iOS or Android, it sometimes lags behind the native platforms. This is one of the reasons that led Udacity to stop investing in React Native for new features

 

The Hot Reloading feature enables developers to see changes made in code within seconds, not minutes, like when using native technologies

 

React Native lacks consistency when it comes to releasing updates

 

React Native focuses on UI to a great extent rendering a highly responsive interface

 

React Native improves the speed of development, but also increases the duration of the debugging process, especially on Android

 

3. Flutter

Flutter is an open-source cross-platform app development framework owned by Google. It is used for creating native cross-platform apps for Android, iOS, and Windows using Dart. Some examples are Alibaba, BMW, Google Ads, and Tencent.

Many ready-made solutions for native apps enable developers to work with Continuous Integration platforms like Travis and Jenkins

Pros of FlutterCons of Flutter
Hot Reloading feature enables developers to see changes made in code within seconds as opposed to minutes.There is limited support with apps built on the Flutter framework things like smart TVs and some popular third-party plug-ins.
Flutter is based on Dart, an object-oriented programming language that developers have found rather easy to acquire the skill for, and is almost twice as fast as JS.There are several libraries with ready-to-implement functionalities; however, Flutter still lacks when compared to native development because most native APIs cannot be accessed through it.
Flutter has a full set of widgets in Google’s Material Design and in Apple’s style with the Cupertino pack to help with the UI design implementation. Since Flutter-enabled apps use built-in widgets, not platform widgets, the app’s size is usually bigger.

4. Cordova

The Cordova platform by Apache is a tool that can be used to create mobile applications for s Android, iOS, Windows Phone, etc., using  CSS3 and HTML5 for rendering and JavaScript for logic. 

It provides access to device-specific functions through JavaScript APIs so that developers can build apps using web technology instead of the native programming languages ​​of each operating system (Java or Objective C). Since it is using web technologies, debugging is relatively easier.  

Pros of CordovaCons of Cordova
Cordova is an open-source platform, which means that it is free to use and distribute.

 

It is hard to avoid platform-specific quirks, which may or may not lead to bugs in the final application.

 

It can be used for building apps for all the major, also some discontinued mobile platforms, including Android, iOS, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, Firefox OS, Bada, and Tizen.

 

There is some grey area around functions being invoked by remote HTML. This adds to the overall concerns over security as JavaScript allows for manipulation of functional code during sessions.

 

Supports the use of a large number of libraries, including Single Page Application (SPA) development frameworks like React, Vue, Angular, etc.

 

It was earlier owned by Adobe under the title phone gap, later it was acquired by Apache and renamed Cordova. The transition might not be smooth, and there are some gaps in documentation and support for some plug-ins.

 

Moving on to the next category of cross-platform frameworks.

Low-Code/No-Code Cross-Platform App Development

With the increasing sophistication of language-to-code systems and different types of generative neural networks, it is becoming possible to build low-code/no-code solutions for many problems in the field of software development, including cross-platform development and software testing.

The main benefits of using AI/ML tools for cross-platform app development include:

  • Reduced Development Time: As we discussed in the previous sections that cross-platform development has the potential to cut down heavily on development efforts because, instead of coding for multiple platforms, only one code base is capable of generating app bundles for all. Imagine a technology that can reduce the amount of code you have to write even further, by generating parts of code, and app components using AI/ML-powered tools. That is exactly what low-code/no-code tools help you achieve.
  • Deeper QA Automation: Another upcoming trend powered by recent developments in AI/ML tools has been the increasing degree of automation possible in the domain of quality assurance or software testing. With the advancement in techniques like image analysis/classification, generative algorithms, etc., we are seeing a dramatic increase in the accuracy and applicability of automation systems. We now have systems like Percy, which can perform high fidelity visual regression testing, with minimum human intervention, on the cloud.
  • Reduced Costs: Since there isn’t as much coding involved in developing your app, you can save money by not hiring a team of developers or paying for expensive software licenses. Instead, you only need to pay for hosting services which are usually cheaper. You also won’t have a lot of ongoing costs since all updates are done on the platform itself.
  • Increased Efficiency: Because all aspects of your project can be managed through a few interfaces, it becomes much easier to track progress and make changes when necessary without having multiple people involved in each step along the way as traditional methods require (e.g., designers working separately from programmers who work separately from testers). 

This allows everyone involved with creating your application to work together seamlessly so that they can focus on what they do best while still being able to collaborate effectively with each other if needed!

1. Microsoft PowerApps

PowerApps is a web-based platform that allows you to build applications using several techniques, including a web editor and even the ability to turn hand drawings into actual application components.

powerapps

Microsoft’s ecosystem helps provide deep integrations with an already existing stack of Microsoft’s services like Azure cloud, Office 365 etc.​​ 

Pros of Microsoft PowerAppsCons of Microsoft PowerApps
Easy to use drag-and-drop interface, can be used by non-developers.New platform with limitations in terms of possible components, layouts, embeddings and layers.
Provides a great web-based paint canvas style editor to build application layouts.Limitations on the number of outbound requests and some integration features.
A dedicated section for database-related activity and managing connections, models, gateways, and Azure connections.No option for collaborations yet on canvas projects.
One-click chatbot creation and training.Disconnects completely from the ability to apply goal-specific optimizations and some post-production activities.

 

2. Oracle APEX

apex

Oracle Application Express (APEX) is a low-code development platform that enables you to build scalable, secure web applications. You can start building interfaces without having to code, using a dataset or one of the provided templates as the starting point. 

Pros of Oracle ApexCons of Oracle Apex
Provides decent support for beginners in terms of free location of hosting resources, guidance for setups and ways to extend the functionality.

 

Requirements for Oracle database prove to be a challenge when trying to deploy on hosting platforms that do not support it.
Apex has been around since 2004 in one form or the other, earlier being recognized as a rapid application development (RAD) tool, and has now evolved into a low code platform.Issues with pushing and versioning small changes without having to update the whole app.
Oracle’s experience with database technology has helped them deeply integrate SQL and database-related features throughout various layers of the application.The theme catalog could be broader, and there is a need for simpler ways to edit existing themes.
Provides themes and templates to help beginners set boilerplate components and visualize possibilities.Some parts of the application need to have better visualization for convenient monitoring and debugging.

Challenges in Cross-Platform Mobile App Development

It is a rapidly evolving field. These platforms and frameworks are going through changes routinely, and new tools and techniques are coming over the horizon. We need to keep in mind all the pitfalls and limitations of these technologies, not to shy away from adoption, but only to prevent any unnecessary business-related disruptions and issues. 

Here is the list of things to keep in mind when working with cross-platform technologies:

  • Performance hiccups because of inconsistent communication between the native and non-native components of gadgets is one of the most commonly reported issues with cross-platform applications. 
  • This could be avoided with a better understanding and implementation of the syntax or configuration parameters set during the definition of functions on the platform. Try testing web app performance with Speedlab

speedlab 1

  • Cross-platform app developers have difficulty maintaining cross-compliance of apps across devices and operating systems. A chance for the application to meet a new challenge arises whenever a new version is released. That’s why it’s a healthy habit to read up on new system-level changes and update the application to the best of its capability.

responsive

Check responsiveness on various devices with Responsive, Live, and App Live

  • Testing cross-platform applications is an inherently difficult challenge that is solved with the help of modern cloud-based testing infrastructure like BrowserStack.

Device Selection

  • Application behavior has to be tested and evaluated on real devices which basically means that every time you are building an application you have to find the latest versions of a number of physical devices and build testing infrastructure around it.

devices

Test On Real Device Cloud for Free

Closing Notes

With a streamlined application development process, it is natural to expect the testing infrastructure to have effective features and robust capabilities. Automation is among the top priorities for all QA teams.

While developing cross-platform mobile apps and testing them on such a wide range of test environments, you can recreate real user scenarios and device experiences. 

  • You can adjust real-world variables like network conditions and geo-location.
  • Test accessibility features like navigability and screen readers. 
  • You can test notifications on devices. 
  • Also, get access to the developer tools section of browsers on a range of operating systems.

Analysis and data visualization are the two post-testing activities that will help you understand, arrange, document, and visualize what happened during the test runs. Plus, it records the application behavior if captured efficiently in visual formats. 

Once you have achieved a healthy level of collaboration with the business teams on analyzing the results of the various levels of testing, you can make the most sound decisions for the future of your cross-platform mobile apps. 

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Mobile App Testing Mobile Testing

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