The mobile app sector is growing rapidly and is estimated to generate $582 billion through paid downloads and in-app advertising this year. It’s no wonder you’re considering developing a mobile application. When evaluating technology stacks for mobile app development there are several things to consider.
Aside from a great app idea, the mobile technology you choose to develop your app is also vital. The right choice can make your development project successful for both your teams and users. It’ll make your app maintainable, scalable, and committed to your tech requirements. You may also enjoy lower costs and shorter development times for your mobile apps.
Let’s take a closer look at the most popular mobile app development approaches and the tech stacks you’ll need to implement them.
Mobile App Technology Stacks and Development Approaches
There are three main types of mobile app development: native, hybrid, and cross-platform.
● Native development is development done for specific platforms (such as iOS or Android) using tools provided by each platform. Developers create separate apps for each platform individually, using platform-specific languages and tools.
● Hybrid development is a development approach that combines elements of native apps and web applications. Developers create one app and use hybrid tools to bridge the gap between it and the platform it’s being used on.
● Cross-platform development is development that uses some native development characteristics while maintaining the code shareability of hybrid strategies.
Hybrid App Development
Hybrid development uses standard web technologies to program a mobile application and packages a run-time framework to help communicate with the mobile operating system in real-time. The big advantage is that you can write your application using a consistent set of calls and libraries. Then you let the framework deal with the variances between how to engage the different mobile operating systems to perform the desired function. The framework makes programming less complicated by hiding the variances between how the different mobile operating systems function. However, the trade-off by going this route is the app’s reliance on the framework as a go-between to the operating system.
Hybrid apps have similar strengths and performance characteristics to web pages. They work particularly well for displaying formatted content and when you are looking to reuse or capitalize on web site assets that have been previously created. A Hybrid approach is best used for apps that primarily focus on information presentation or data collection, such as account information dashboards or small data input forms (think your mobile phone provider that has an app that displays your usage and billing information). Hybrid apps are relatively fast to develop and are easiest for web developers to create when developing their first mobile application.
Hybrid apps are less performant than other options because there is an extra layer of run-time processing between the application and the mobile operating system, and they are not compiled to the native operating system. Due to this extra processing layer, Hybrid apps are slower and may seem to “lag” to the user compared to other mobile applications. For simple information display, the lag may not be very noticeable but the more functional your app is, the more you’ll notice the slowness.
Hybrid is likely the least expensive option for app development due to the fact that there is often reuse of existing web assets. Another reason for this is because web development is mature enough that there are a plethora of great tools, libraries and components that can be used to shorten development time. At its heart, Hybrid development is really web app development, so the effort and cost of building these types of mobile apps are very similar to building a web app with a little extra time for deployment to the mobile app marketplaces.
Technologies Used for Hybrid Apps
Native App Development
When developing apps using the native approach, you’re using platform-specific programming languages, software development kits (SDKs), dev environments, and other tools provided by the operating system vendor. If you’re building apps for different operating systems, you’ll need to have the appropriate native solutions to do it.
The native approach costs more in the long run as you need to hire specialized resources and tools, and it may take longer for you to find resources with the native knowledge you’re looking for. That said, native development does provide a more integrated and consistent experience for the user and you can expect high levels of performance because the application is compiled to the specifications of the mobile operating system.
Native mobile app development is typically more expensive when developing for more than one mobile operating system. Native development for two mobile operating systems means creating and maintaining two sets of code. This will naturally take more time, effort and cost than maintaining a single codebase. It is possible that the same development team could develop and maintain both mobile applications. However, it is somewhat unusual for a developer to specialize in both iOS and Android. For this reason, you may find you have two different development teams maintaining different versions of the same application.
Technologies used for Native Apps
For developing native iOS apps, you’ll want to use Objective-C, Swift, Apple Xcode, and the iOS SDK. For Android apps, you’ll want to use Java, Kotlin, Android Studio, Android Developer Tools, and the Android SDK.
Cross-platform, Pre-compiled App Frameworks
The latest breed of mobile development platforms offers development teams the choice to use popular, non-native programming languages without the performance degradation experienced when using a Hybrid framework. With this approach, you can develop in a single non-native development language that can be compiled to work with multiple mobile operating systems. Unlike the Hybrid approach, there is no run-time layer between your app and the operating system. This means the development team will typically need to become more familiar with the native libraries and also know there are reusable components to help abstract some aspects of Native development.
The concept behind these newer frameworks is less about “write once, run everywhere” but rather “learn once, write anywhere”. The focus has shifted to allow development teams to take a language they already know and learn to apply it in new ways such as mobile app development.
The biggest drawback of using any framework is you now have a dependency on the framework. If you use React Native, for example, you are dependent upon Facebook to keep investing in and improving the framework to support it. If you choose a framework that isn’t popular then it may be difficult to find resources to support your app. Although, you can feel relatively certain there will always be support and resources for the native programming languages and frameworks. It’s also good to keep in mind that while these frameworks tend to work well for the majority of business apps, sometimes there are certain application features that don’t work well with the framework. Generally speaking, you may find other frameworks a better fit for graphically intensive applications or other applications that tend to have edge-case types of feature sets.
Cross-platform app development is typically cheaper than native development and maintenance may be more cost-effective since you don’t need to support two different programming languages. Yet, if you have to hire new resources to work with your chosen development tool, you’ll incur higher onboarding costs, or retraining costs if you decide to retrain existing resources. That said, there are plenty of community resources available for each of the cross-platform tools, so developers should be able to find help easily if they need it.
Technologies Used in Cross-platform Tools
There are a variety of technologies used in cross-platform development tools, including React Native, Xamarain and Appcelerator Titanium. Each tool has its own pros and cons. Some of which are the ability to reuse code between apps and platforms, integrations with APIs and other programming languages, and developer communities. Companies like Instagram, Skype, Slack, and Pinterest use cross-platform tools to build their mobile apps.
Which App Dev Approach Is Right for You?
Choosing the right mobile app development approach is essential for your business since it affects more than just the end delivery. Resourcing, training (or re-training), onboarding, scalability, maintenance, and security all come into play when you’re choosing a tool.
Here are a few factors to consider when choosing the right mobile app technology for your business.
What Does Your App Need to Do?
Since each development tool uses particular programming languages and frameworks, it’s vital to understand what your app needs to do. Does it use location services? What about integration with external APIs or databases? Is it animation-heavy?
What Is Your Budget For the Project?
The cost of developing an app varies from $15,000 to over six figures, so deciding on a budget upfront will help narrow your development approach.
What’s Your Timeline For the Project?
If you’re looking to push out an app sooner, rather than later, you’ll need to consider a framework with more ready-made solutions for common development tasks, or one that lets you re-use more of your code between projects.
Mobile app development frameworks and tools will continue to grow as more companies jump into the market. To earn a part of the nearly $157 billion that will be spent on the various app stores by 2022, your business will have to create a high quality, highly functional app. Choosing the right mobile app technology will play a significant role in how much success your app has.
Finding the right mobile tech stack is just the first step to creating your mobile app. Once you know what development approach is best for you you’ll then move on to planning out your project. We’ve created a checklist you’ll want to download to set your mobile app up for success. Get your checklist by downloading it below.