Cross-Platform Tools: Are they Really Worth It?

Pros and Cons of Multi-Platform App Formatting Tools

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Android and iOS are the 2 mobile operating systems in the lead today. Each one of them comes with their own advantages and disadvantages for the app developer. These platforms can pose great issues, especially for developers who create apps for both these systems. Both these OS’ behave very differently. Hence, cross-platforming for Android and iOS would mean that the developer would have to maintain 2 different source code bases; operate with completely different tools – Apple Xcode and Android SDK; work with different APIs; use completely different languages and so on. The problem gets further compounded for developers creating apps for more OS’; as also for developers of apps for enterprises, each of which comes with its own BYOD policy.

In this article, we bring you an analysis of the multi-platform app formatting tools available today, also discussing the future of the same in the mobile app development industry.

Cross-Platform Formatting Tools

Making the use of languages such as JavaScript or HTML5 could be a viable option for developers, as it would help them design apps for multiple OS’. However, following this method could prove to be highly laborious and time-consuming, not to mention not showing up adequate results across a range of different mobile platforms.

A better alternative, instead, would be to work with some of the readily available multi-platform app development tools; many of which enable the developer to create a single code base and then compile the same to work on different platforms. 

Xamarin, Appcelerator Titanium, Embarcadero’s RAD Studio XE5, IBM Worklight and Adobe’s PhoneGap are some such useful tools available to you.

Issues of Cross-Platforming

While multi-platforming tools enable you to design your app for different systems, they could pose some issues too, which are as follows:

  • Unfamiliar Programming Languages: Xamarin may generally appeal more to Windows app developers. Using Visual Studio add-ins, developers can use the platform to build apps for Windows, Android and iOS. The case, however, is not the same for all other such programs. Embarcadero, for instance, works differently, as Delphi XE5 is not a standard or commonly used programming language. 
  • Building Platform-Specific Code: Furthermore, using a multi-platform environment does not automatically imply that you can successfully create apps for 2 very different platforms, without taking any extra effort for it. The problem is not so much if you are developing a simple app – if that is the case, you may get away with creating a single code base. However, you will necessarily have to use platform-specific code if you wish to take advantage of certain platform-specific features.
  • Inconsistent UI Elements: The bigger and more important issue with cross-platforming, as mentioned earlier, is that the UI elements may end up looking and behaving very differently in varying platforms. While you can adjust some elements to work normally across 2 or more platforms, there are bound to be some others that will be inconsistent with the OS in question. This will eventually result in end-users being dissatisfied with your app.

The Future of Multi-Platform Tools

The above-mentioned arguments do not automatically imply that multi-platform tools have no advantage at all. Even if you have to create platform-specific code to some degree, these tools still help you work with one single language and that is a massive plus for any app developer.

Besides, these issues do not really affect the enterprise sector. The reason being that enterprise apps focus mainly on functionality and not really on the appearance of the app across multiple mobile platforms. Hence, these tools can prove to be of great use for developers of industry-oriented apps. 

It remains to be seen as to how multi-platforming tools would fare while pitted against open Web technologies such as HTML5, JavaScript and so on. As these technologies continue to evolve and grow, they may well offer stiff competition to the former.