Over the years, cross-platform app development has become one of the most popular ways to build mobile applications. A cross-platform, or multiplatform, approach allows developers to create apps that run similarly on different mobile platforms.
Interest has steadily increased over the period from 2010 to date, as this Google Trends chart illustrates:
The growing popularity of the rapidly advancing cross-platform mobile development technology has resulted in many new tools emerging on the market. With many options available, it can be challenging to pick the one that will best suit your needs. To help you find the right tool, we've put together a list of the six best cross-platform app development frameworks and the features that make them great. At the end of this article, you will also find a few key things to pay attention to when choosing a multiplatform development framework for your business.
What is a cross-platform app development framework?
Mobile engineers use cross-platform mobile development frameworks to build native-looking applications for multiple platforms, such as Android and iOS, using a single codebase. Shareable code is one of the key advantages this approach has over native app development. Having one single codebase means that mobile engineers can save time by avoiding the need to write code for each operating system, accelerating the development process.
With demand for cross-platform solutions for mobile app development growing, the number of tools available on the market is increasing as well. In the following section, we provide an overview of the most widely used frameworks for building cross-platform mobile apps for iOS, Android, and other platforms. Our summaries include the programming languages these frameworks are based on, as well as their main features and advantages.
Popular cross-platform app development frameworks
This list of tools is not exhaustive; many other options are available on the market today. The important thing to realize is that there's no one-size-fits-all tool that will be ideal for everyone. The choice of framework largely depends on your particular project and your goals, as well as other specifics that we will cover at the end of the article.
Nevertheless, we've tried to pick out some of the best frameworks for cross-platform mobile development to give you a starting point for your decision.
Released by Google in 2017, Flutter is a popular framework for building mobile, web, and desktop apps from a single codebase. To build applications with Flutter, you will need to use Google's programming language called Dart.
Programming language: Dart.
Mobile apps: eBay, Alibaba, Google Pay, ByteDance apps.
- Flutter's hot reload feature allows you to see how your application changes as soon as you modify your code, without you having to recompile it.
- Flutter supports Google's Material Design, a design system that helps developers build digital experiences. You can use multiple visual and behavioral widgets when building your app.
- Flutter doesn't rely on web browser technology. Instead, it has its own rendering engine for drawing widgets.
Flutter has a relatively active community of users around the world. It is widely used by many developers. According to the Stack Overflow Developer Survey 2021, Flutter is the second most-loved framework.
Mobile apps: Skype, Bloomberg, Shopify, various small modules in Facebook and Instagram.
- Developers can see their changes in their React components immediately, thanks to the Fast Refresh feature.
- One of React Native's advantages is a focus on the UI. React primitives render to native platform UI components, allowing you to build a customized and responsive user interface.
- In versions 0.62 and higher, integration between React Native and the mobile app debugger Flipper is enabled by default. Flipper is used to debug Android, iOS, and React native apps, and it provides tools like a log viewer, an interactive layout inspector, and a network inspector.
As one of the most popular cross-platform app development frameworks, React Native has a large and strong community of developers who share their technical knowledge. Thanks to this community, you can get the support you need when building mobile apps with the framework.
Kotlin Multiplatform Mobile
Kotlin Multiplatform Mobile is an SDK developed by JetBrains for creating Android and iOS applications. It allows you to share common code between the two platforms and write platform-specific code only when it's necessary, for example, when you need to build native UI components or when you are working with platform-specific APIs.
Programming language: Kotlin.
Mobile apps: Philips, Baidu, Netflix, Leroy Merlin.
- You can easily start using Kotlin Multiplatform Mobile in existing projects.
- Kotlin Multiplatform Mobile provides you with full access over the user interface. You can utilize the latest UI frameworks, such as SwiftUI and Jetpack Compose.
- Developers have easy access to the Android and iOS SDKs without any restrictions.
Even though this cross-platform mobile development framework is the youngest on our list, it has a mature community. It's growing fast and is already making a distinct impression on today's market. Thanks to its regularly updated documentation and community support, you can always find answers to your questions. What's more, many global companies and startups already use Kotlin Multiplatform Mobile to develop multiplatform apps with a native-like user experience.
Create your first cross-platform mobile app with Kotlin Multiplatform Mobile.
Mobile apps: T-Mobile, BBC (Children's & Education apps), EA Games.
- Ionic is based on a SaaS UI framework designed specifically for mobile OS and provides multiple UI components for building applications.
- The Ionic framework uses the Cordova and Capacitor plugins to provide access to device's built-in features, such as the camera, flashlight, GPS, and audio recorder.
- Ionic has its own IDE called Ionic Studio, which was designed for building and prototyping apps with minimal coding.
There's constant activity on the Ionic Forum, where community members exchange knowledge and help each other overcome their development challenges.
Xamarin was launched in 2011 and is now owned by Microsoft. It's an open-source cross-platform app development framework that uses the C# language and the .Net framework to develop apps for Android, iOS, and Windows.
Programming language: С#.
Mobile apps: UPS, Alaska Airlines, Academy Members (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences).
- Xamarin applications use the Base Class Library, or .NET BCL, a large collection of classes that have a range of comprehensive features, including XML, database, IO, and networking support, and more. Existing C# code can be compiled for use in your app, giving you access to many libraries that add functionality beyond the BCL.
- With Xamarin.Forms, developers can utilize platform-specific UI elements to achieve a consistent look for their apps across different operating systems.
- Compiled bindings in Xamarin.Forms improve data binding performance. Using these bindings provides compile-time validation for all binding expressions. Because of this feature, mobile engineers get fewer runtime errors.
Xamarin is supported by many contributors across the globe and is especially popular among C, C++, and C# developers who create mobile applications.
Mobile apps: Daily Nanny, Strudel, Breethe.
- NativeScript allows developers to easily access native Android and iOS APIs.
- The framework renders platform-native UIs. Apps built with NativeScript run directly on a native device without relying on WebViews, a system component for the Android OS that allows Android applications to show content from the web inside an app.
- NativeScript offers various plugins and pre-built app templates, eliminating the need for third-party solutions.
How do you choose the right cross-platform app development framework for your project?
There are other cross-platform frameworks besides those mentioned above, and new tools will continue to appear on the market. Given the wide array of options, how can you find the right one for your next project? The first step is to understand your project's requirements and goals, and to get a clear idea of what you want your future app to look like. Next, you'll want to take the following important factors into account so you can decide on the best fit for your business.
1. The expertise of your team
Different cross-platform mobile development frameworks are based on different programming languages. Before adopting a framework, check what skills it requires and make sure your team of mobile engineers has enough knowledge and experience to work with it.
2. Vendor reliability and support
It's important to be sure that the maintainer of the framework will continue to support it in the long run. Learn more about the companies that develop and support the frameworks you're considering, and take a look at the mobile apps that have been built using them.
3. UI customization
Depending on how crucial the user interface is for your future app, you may need to know how easily you can customize the UI using a particular framework. For example, Kotlin Multiplatform Mobile provides you with full control over the UI and the ability to use the latest UI frameworks, such as SwiftUI and Jetpack Compose.
4. Framework maturity
Find out how frequently the public API and tooling for a prospective framework changes. For example, some changes to native operating system components break internal cross-platform behavior. It's better to be aware of possible challenges you may face when working with the mobile app development framework. You can also browse GitHub and check how many bugs the framework has and how these bugs are being handled.
5. Framework capabilities
Each framework has its own capabilities and limitations. Knowing what features and tools a framework provides is crucial to identifying the best solution for you. Does it have code analyzers and unit testing frameworks? How quickly and easily will you be able to build, debug, and test your app?
6. Consistency between different platforms
Providing consistency between multiple platforms can be challenging, given how much platforms like Android and iOS significantly differ, particularly in terms of the development experience. For example, tools and libraries aren't the same on these operating systems, so there may be many differences when it comes to the business logic. Some technologies, like Kotlin Multiplatform Mobile, allow you to write and share the app's business logic between Android and iOS platforms.
Security and privacy are especially important when building a critical mobile app for business, for example, banking and e-commerce apps that include a payment system. According to OWASP Mobile Top 10, among the most critical security risks for mobile applications are insecure data storage, authentication, and authorization.
You need to ensure that the multiplatform mobile development framework of your choice provides the required level of security. One way to do this is to browse the security tickets on the framework's issue tracker if it has one that's publicly available.
8. Educational materials
The volume and quality of available learning resources about a framework can also help you understand how smooth your experience will be when working with it. Comprehensive official documentation, online and offline conferences, and educational courses are a good sign that you will be able to find enough essential information about a product when you need it.
Without considering these factors, it's difficult to choose the framework for cross-platform mobile development that will best meet your specific needs. Take a closer look at your future application requirements and weigh them against capabilities of various frameworks. Doing so will allow you to find the right cross-platform solution to help you deliver high-quality apps.