One of the first questions for a person interested in a mobile app development project is whether to go for a native or cross platform app development approach? And if cross platform approach is decided as the way to go, the next big question is which cross platform app development approach is the best- Xamarin or others?
The fact that more than 28% of fortune 500 companies prefer Xamarin for app development proves that Xamarin is quickly finding its way in the market.
Facing the scrutiny of countless corporate dramas ranging from license issues to funding issues, Xamarin turned over all odds and by 2014 emerged as the most funded cross-device app development platform. Xamarin on its own has successfully changed the way how people look at the cross platform app development approach for an app. It provides a fresh optimistic view and seems very promising. Let’s find out why!
Cross Device coverage: Native approach, Write Once and Work All approach
The term cross-platform mobile app development is often misleading and till now there are no concretely defined parameters as to what app can be called cross-platform exclusively. Traditionally, an app is ‘cross platform’ if it works on all mobile device platforms such as Android, iOS, Windows, etc. However recently the term cross-platform is applied more towards those approaches that facilitate sharing of a single code base on multiple devices. So for someone looking to achieve the objective of launching an app which works on various platforms, or cross-platform, there are three approaches to achieve this:
A Native App for every platform
As the name suggests a native mobile app is a smartphone application that is coded in a specific programming language designed for a particular platform such as Objective C for iOS and Java for Android operating systems. This means you will need to design and develop apps for all the desired platforms individually. While the advantage here is that it gives a better user experience, it turns out to be expensive. To simplify this, developers produced write-once-work-all magic box solutions.
The write-once-work-all solution (Approach 1: Web Application wrapped as Native Applications)
This approach uses a web browser and web-view concept to create an app that runs on all devices.
This approach requires the developer to write the code in one language and then a pre-built cross-platform tool will create app for all other platforms. However it ends up stripping away all the look-and-feel inherent with a native app of that platform. This happens because the process requires creating a web application wrapped in native shell. While this is great for some types of applications, in most cases it just irritates the users who are used to their own phone’s native UI. In this approach you don’t have the flexibility to set individual views for the app corresponding to the app platform. This approach has also failed to work successfully with Cyanogen and other Android mods anyway. Maybe it’s because of the mod’s infancy. But then that is just a maybe.
Frameworks like PhoneGap and Sencha follow this approach.
Which brings us to the second cross platform approach.
The write-once-work-all solution (Approach 2: Cross Platform Native Applications)
This approach involves creating native apps using different UI for different platforms and is followed by Xamarin and Titanium. This approach follows the concept of dividing the Mobile development into two main areas – Core and platform specific. Core of the mobile development is common across various platforms and thus the core API’s can be normalized across platforms and developers need to work in way such that they reuse this part of their code. The platform specific API’s, Features and UI conventions need to be developed when developing for a particular platform. Therefore, this type of cross platform approach that delivers native apps is more of an attempt towards write-once-work-all.
Xamarin has taken this attempt a step further and with Xamarin Forms launched they have truly achieved write-once-work-all solution. Xamarin basically provides an abstraction over different native apis and allow developers to create a cross platform app with almost 100 percent code reuse. Also, unlike Titanium and PhoneGap, Xamarin uses C# as its main coding language and a .NET framework based Xamarin Studio as its main coding environment. It also comes with a plugin for Visual Studio, so a .Net developer can easily code for a Xamarin app and code management is absolutely hassle free.
Another advantage with Xamarin is that you can design your app in such a way that your UI is consistent across platforms. You can have your own UI standard and that being rendered on all the platforms. This though might not have exactly similar native look and feel, but would be consistent across platforms. Therefore, it makes sense for Enterprises to build on such a platform from the branding and ease of use perspective.
Other Xamarin Feature Highlights
- .NET development environment: Coding for Windows Phone and Windows 8 comes naturally. Using Portable class library and an appropriate application architecture, you are able to share the same code for all platform apps.
- Integrated SDK: Xamarin comes up with an integrated software development kit(SDK) for various mobility platforms which means you can benefit from the powerful native controls for each platform yet on a single code base! You get full API coverage, a shared code base, and exactly the same business logic.
- Xamarin Test Cloud: Through Xamarin studio you can test all the apps in the same environment. In addition, Xamarin Test Cloud lets you test your app for multiple devices. You can generate test reports for all apps, for fragmented as well as integrated modules- all on a cloud based platform.
- Code reusability: No other cross device coding platform allows code management better than Xamarin. Code revisions, version control, code sharing, code reusing, and maintaining code library is a piece of cake. Code reusability through code library also means that your development time for subsequent app projects reduce significantly, and you can use pre-built code modules for your project.
Summing it all up
Along with a community of 700,000 Xamarin developers and a device coverage of 2.5 billion devices, enterprises would be happy to know that Xamarin has integration features with SAP and Salesforce.com platform. The platform is also backed actively by Microsoft itself, and has huge collaborations with companies like IBM and Samsung in the field of enterprise mobility.
Xamarin is a standardized and tested platform to create cross-platform applications. It’s made for enterprises and startups alike with robust code management, app logic sharing, and application testing features that are crafted to meet all needs. C# coding and .NET framework environment also make it easy to port the mobile application from existing web app platforms or even vice versa. So if you are planning to go for app development with multiple platform support, you might want to evaluate Xamarin once, after all there has to be a reason why close to a third of Fortune 500 companies chose it.