Cross-platform app development: what it is and why do we need it.
If we were to pick 10 random people from around the world, we would stumble upon unique mindsets, interesting personalities, and various likes and dislikes.
However, the one thing that these people will have in common is that each of them will probably own a smartphone filled with tens of apps and a stable internet connection.
Therefore, any business will benefit from a professionally-looking, cost-effective mobile app that can run on both Android and iOS.
This is where cross-platform app development comes in handy: it has been gaining solid ground on the native approaches, and it has been empowering a single team to develop an app that will satisfy all the users.
In addition, it takes advantage of faster and more intuitive UI development and reusable business logic.
There are multiple choices for developing a cost-effective mobile app that can run on both Android and iOS, each of them coming along with certain advantages and disadvantages. We are here to look into React Native and why it is a solid choice for a business that wants to develop a mobile app in 2022, but we will also explore the alternatives and what they bring to the table.
Why has cross-platform app development become so popular?
Before diving into any details about either cross-platform framework, we first need to understand why this approach has been gaining so much attention, stealing the spotlight from native technologies.
Native app development refers to creating an app that will run only on the target OS. Therefore, if your app should be downloadable both in Google Play Store and Apple AppStore, you would need to hire two separate teams, each of them working on an app.
While a native approach has its advantages, more points of view should be taken into account by anyone who wishes to expand into the mobile markets.
The most obvious (and the most painful one) is referring, of course, to the costs of such a setup. Two teams would work simultaneously on the same product (compared to a single cross-platform team that would develop an app that will run on all the platforms). Two teams are more expensive than a single one.
In addition, there might also appear inconsistencies between the platforms. Users want to see consistency, and they do not want to feel limited by their platform when they are going to use an app.
What is React Native?
It was developed by Facebook and released in 2015. It uses the same working principles as React: a component-based structure, hot reloading, and a large ecosystem of developer tools.
In the following paragraphs, we are going to look into some of the advantages (along with the disadvantages) of choosing React Native for developing a mobile app.
It is backed by a powerful community and it can greatly reduce the costs and the time needed for the development.
In addition, when starting with a monorepo approach, developers are going to think of the architecture in such a way that the code that would be common between a web application and a mobile app is going to be shared between the projects. Therefore, we are reducing the need of rewriting all that logic (networking calls, state management, models).
What are the alternatives to React Native?
Of course, we should point out that there are other cross-platform solutions that one could go for instead of React Native. Asking “which one is the best” is not going to lead to a definitive answer, since picking the suitable technology for developing a product comes with a lot to take into consideration.
A business will need to take into account the budget, the allocated timeframe, the complexity of the app, as well as the users that they are trying to reach, and what is important to those users.
Flutter is probably the most popular cross-platform technology that represents a solid contestant for React Native.
However, we are going to look into why it might not be completely ready for some scenarios, and why in those scenarios picking a more mature technology is going to bring the most advantages to the business and the users.
Other than Flutter, Xamarin is also worth mentioning, having been developed by Microsoft and featuring flexibility and scalability. However, it is not suitable for UI-heavy applications, and it lacks a strong and numerous community.
Is Flutter going to kill React Native?
Short answer: no, Flutter will not kill React Native in 2022.
Looking at the big picture, each cross-platform technology will more or less bring the same advantages to the table: lower development costs, faster pace of development, consistent user interface, and easier code maintainability).
Therefore, we need to look further when assessing which technology is suitable for a startup or a big business.
One of the most important aspects that should be considered when it comes to Flutter is how much support the development team will find online. One of the drawbacks of a smaller community – as well as a less used programming language – consists of the scarcer results when Googling a problem that is blocking the development.
Such a transition is performed easily and it reduces the costs and the overhead that is involved when bringing less experienced people into a team. Learning React Native is easy and the online resources are abundant for anyone interested.
Is React Native dying?
Therefore, since it benefits from strong backup from a numerous and dedicated community, the developers will easily find solutions for any problems, open-source packages that can be integrated into applications (thus leading to a better development pace), as well as the possibility of re-using the same business-logic codebase for developing a web application using React (using the monorepo approach).
Flutter is the biggest competitor of React Native, many being afraid that it will kill React Native in 2022. These concerns have their root in the recent popularity gain that Flutter has seen in the latest period.
Since I am not here to say that one technology is better or worse than another, I will stick to facts and present in an objective way the reasons why React Native still has much more maturity to offer, in addition to a helpful community and a countless number of open source packages.
Flutter’s advantages are pretty much the same as React Native’s: faster development time, beautiful UI design, and easy debugging.
On the other hand, Flutter apps might suffer from the fact that the size of the result is bigger, thus being more consuming for the memory and battery of a smartphone.
In addition, it is still immature, thus not being a safe choice.
Is React Native performant?
Before discussing the performance of this framework and whether or not an app will be able to deal with 2022’s expectations of a smooth and modern feeling, we need to understand how the user interface is being rendered and how it differs from other cross-platform technologies.
How does React Native work?
The first one will tell the second one what, where, and when each component needs to be rendered.
One of the greatest advantages of React Native’s UI system is that the UI is rendered using native views – whereas other technologies (such as Cordova) would generate the HTML for the UI and render it inside of a WebView.
It might not seem problematic, but something would always feel ‘off’ for someone who’d use an app that is developed using the second approach.
This bridged communication is the greatest concern of those critiquing React Native’s performance.
However, we won’t have any performance issues in normal usage scenarios — the bridge handles the communication pretty quickly.
Try this: how many times can you tap your screen in one second? Probably not enough to cause performance issues, that is for sure.
React Native can develop smooth and fast apps that can run at 60 FPS.
One scenario where performance might suffer involves a lack of attention from the developer.
React Native’s UI can be viewed as a tree-like hierarchy.
Let’s say that this website is the top-most component. Its leaves will consist of the header and the body of the website. The leaves of the header are the logo of the company, the website pages’ titles, and so on.
If the state of the root (top-most) component were to modify, every single leaf down to the last one would re-render. Even in this scenario, the naked eye will not notice anything, since these re-renders happen too quickly to be noticed. However, such mistakes are not advisable, nor are they endorsed by RebelDot.
Is React Native being used by any tech giants?
We can safely say that a React Native app will be performant. It will run smoothly and beautifully, and performance will not be a problem for most business requirements.
The popular crypto exchange platform Coinbase has decided to rewrite its app using React Native. Taking into account how important performance and maintainability are for a business that operates on the blockchain – and whose revenue is $1.8 billion for the first quarter of 2022 – we can safely say that React Native’s performance will satisfy everybody.
Wix is another household name when asking yourself what other big names are using React Native. This has led to many online React Native open-source packages that ease the lives of developers, as Wix engineers have decided to help the community with their solutions for some difficult (but common) scenarios (such as displaying and customizing a calendar in your app).
Other tech giants such as Facebook, Instagram, Skype, Pinterest, Uber Eats, Oculus, Shopify, Discord, Tesla (and the list continues) have decided that React Native is the fit choice for their requirements.
Therefore, worrying about performance when such billion-dollar businesses have decided that this framework is satisfying their needs might not be needed.
The fact that such companies have placed a bet on moving further with React Native is a statement of its stability, fast development pace, platform consistency, as well as lower costs.
This is a technology that has been consistently growing and maturing over the past years and it benefits both the developers and the project managers.
We have looked into the current state of cross-platform app development and navigated through some reasons why React Native will still be a solid choice.
Its community and its code reusability possibilities are not to be looked over by a business that aims to reduce costs while not compromising quality.
React Native is performant and easy to learn, its UI system is flexible, robust, and easy to use – and it generates modern and professionally-looking mobile apps.
While we are not pretending that it does not have its disadvantages, we are still strongly convinced that its advantages and what it has to offer will satisfy a startup and a business that is set out to create powerful and quality products.
That being said, due to its intuitive architecture, live reloading, and fast development times, as well as good performance and code reusability between platforms (iOS, Android, web), we can safely say that React Native is the best choice for cross-platform app development in 2022.