Comparison of the Best Cross-Platform Mobile App Development Frameworks
The diversity of cross-platform frameworks for mobile development poses additional doubts for decision-makers about what technology to choose for their project. Fortunately, if project requirements are identified and prioritized, it is easier to compare technologies and find out which of them meets your business and tech needs.
In this article, you’ll find a detailed cross-platform framework comparison according to key development criteria such as performance, speed, cost, scalability, and others. Going through it will help you proceed with your research and figure out what framework suits you best: Flutter, React Native, Cordova/Ionic, MAUI or NativeScript.
Top 5 Cross-platform Mobile Development Frameworks
Despite dozens of cross-platform mobile frameworks flooding the market, the list of leading one-of-a-kind technologies running on multiple platforms has been stable for a while. Statista reveals that the most sought-after frameworks used by software developers are Flutter, React Native, Cordova, Ionic, Xamarin, and NativeScript. Let’s start with a brief overview of these technologies.
1. Overview of Flutter Technology
Flutter is a versatile cross-platform framework that was developed by Google and has gained significant popularity among developers and product owners. It enables building multiple applications from one codebase and running them smoothly on various platforms.
Strengths of Flutter
At its core, Flutter relies on the Dart programming language to create a UI that is visually appealing and fluid. Unlike other frameworks, Flutter has its own rendering engines, allowing for precise control over UI elements. This ensures that applications built with Flutter have a native look and feel on platforms like iOS, Android, web, and desktop. Overall, Flutter covers the largest number of platforms compared to other cross-platform technologies.
One of the standout features of Flutter is its hot reload functionality. Developers can make changes to the codebase and instantly see the results without restarting the application. It allows projects with changing requirements to easily implement these changes in the software. Hot reload functionality accelerates the development process, making it easier to experiment with different UI designs and fix issues in real-time.
Flutter relies on a widget-based architecture, where everything is a widget, from buttons to complete screens. This approach promotes code modularity and reusability, making it easier to create custom UI components and share them across projects. Additionally, widgets can be customized and animated to create visually engaging interfaces.
By compiling Dart code into native machine code, Flutter achieves impressive performance levels. It delivers smooth animations, responsive touch interactions, and quick startup times. With pre-built widgets and libraries offered by Flutter, developers can build complex applications without sacrificing performance.
Flutter perfectly covers about 90% of business cases, especially projects that focus on pleasant design and great UX for end users. However, in cases of native-dependent-functionality as core features, augmented reality development, and game development with 3D elements, its capabilities may not be sufficient and it is more effective to resort to native Android and iOS application development.
2. Overview of React Native Framework
React Native is a widely adopted cross-platform framework that was created by Meta and released in 2015. Initially, ReactNative was created to allow React developers to build mobile apps. It doesn’t support desktop and web, but such support can be provided with the help of additional solutions.
Strengths of React Native
React Native relies on native components to ensure that UI performs seamlessly, resulting in a consistent and engaging user experience across platforms. React Native use a single codebase for iOS and Android which reduces development time and effort and gives an opportunity to implement any updates efficiently. For other platforms it requires specialization.
React Native thrives because of the active community that joins efforts to develop libraries, tools, and resources to streamline app development. The ecosystem, in turn, can already provide solutions for advanced UI components, navigation, and integration with third-party services.
Just like Flutter, it has a hot reload functionality that allows for making real-time changes to the code and seeing the updates immediately without restarting the app. But it works only for functionality related to native UI. This expedites the development cycle, facilitating rapid iteration and experimentation, as well as simplifying bug fixing and UI adjustments.
By leveraging native components and optimizing the rendering process, React Native delivers smooth animations, responsive touch gestures, and fast startup times, ensuring a seamless and efficient app experience for users. But we have to highlight that Flutter still copes better with these tasks in most cases.
Limitations of React Native
If you compare React Native with Flutter, it provides worse UI performance. For example, it may have some issues when implementing animations and content updates (f.e. scrollview position). In addition, the technology is still in beta and subject to frequent changes, which can cause additional problems when updating existing projects.
3. Overview of Ionic
Ionic is an open-source SDK for cross-platform app development. Basically, this SDK was released more than 10 years ago, and is subsequently being leveraged for building and delivering mobile and web apps.
Strengths of Ionic
By using platform-specific UI elements and native APIs through plugins, Ionic allows developers to build applications that closely resemble native apps. This results in a consistent and familiar look and feel for users across different platforms.
Ionic follows a component-based architecture, where each UI element is represented as a reusable and customizable component. As a result, developers can create UI components and reuse them across different parts of the application.
To ensure high app performance, Ionic offers lazy loading and Ahead-of-Time (AOT) compilation. These techniques help to minimize startup times, improve rendering speed, and enhance overall app performance.
Limitations of Ionic
Ionic was built on top of Apache Cordova, but it has not been Cordova-based since May 2021. The App Center service didn’t accept calls from the Cordova SDK starting from April 1, 2022. Therefore, Cordova is not the appropriate option for new projects, though it still can be used in production. In turn, Ionic can still be a choice for cross-platform app development.
Also, a significant drawback is a rapid decline in the popularity of Ionic, which means that finding engineers to develop on Ionic or support an existing app is becoming increasingly difficult.
4. Overview of Native Script
Strengths of Native Script
NativeScript provides a rich set of plugins and extensions, enabling developers to access the device’s native capabilities, including sensors, camera, geolocation, and more. These plugins, along with a large community, ensure that developers have access to a wide range of resources, libraries, and tools to enhance their development process and address various use cases.
NativeScript uses a just-in-time (JIT) compilation for development and an ahead-of-time (AOT) compilation for production builds, optimizing the performance and startup times of the applications. This approach ensures that NativeScript apps deliver a smooth and responsive user experience, even for complex and computation-intensive tasks. Thanks to its versatility, NativeScript is being leveraged by small, medium-sized, and large companies such as MongoDB Inc and Blackfriars Group.
Limitations of Native Script
NativeScript has some disadvantages, such as long-term testing and paid UI components.
5. Overview of .NET MAUI (Xamarin)
Xamarin is an open-source platform for building cross-platform apps with .Net. It was released in 2011 and serves as an abstraction layer that facilitates the communication between shared code and the underlying platform-specific code.
As Xamarin support will officially conclude on May 1, 2024, .NET MAUI is becoming the evolution of .Net cross-platform technologies and a new potential solution for cross-platform projects.
Strengths of MAUI
.NET MAUI is an evolution of Xamarin.Forms that allow cross-platform development for building iOS, Android, macOS, and Windows. Developers who leveraged Xamarin Forms can easily cope with using .NET MAUI.
With MAUI you can use a single C# codebase and single project for all target platforms. It can boast a rich UI component ecosystem, graphic APIs, .Net 6 support, and support for Blazor app development and the MVU pattern.
Using .Net stack for cross-platform app development allows for the use of a lot of existing powerful libs and frameworks like EntityFramework – the powerful and flexible framework to work with databases. Also, Xamarin (the previous version of the cross-platform framework) allows using native libraries that significantly expand the area of supported libs.
Like other modern cross-platform tools, MAUI has a hot reload feature that allows for instant updates to running apps.
In general, MAUI opens up new opportunities for those who want to scale their business within the framework of the .Net stack, be it rapid prototyping, development of desktop and mobile applications, or work with databases.
Limitations of MAUI
Despite all the features, .NET MAUI is still a new technology that lacks some essential controls. Also, UX is not MAUI’s strong point. Therefore, the technology is suitable for projects that focus on functionality rather than appearance and user experience.
To summarize the overview of the main cross-platform frameworks, let’s briefly look at their capabilities in terms of key criteria that may be important for a new project. We’ve left Ionic off this list because its use cases are limited right now and in most cases, its competitors are ahead of it.
Flutter vs React Native for Cross-platform App Development
As Flutter and React Native are most often the main choices for cross-platform app development, we will focus on them in this section to reveal their competitive advantages and shortcomings.
Both Flutter and React Native leverage a component-based approach to building user interfaces. Flutter is heavily influenced by React and has very similar concepts. Developers familiar with one platform would feel comfortable using another one after a brief introduction. However, a huge difference in the implementation of these platforms leads to different use cases.
Flutter vs React Native: UI
Flutter doesn’t use native widgets to render UI. It uses its own renderers, which has the following advantages:
- Full set of Material/Cupertino widgets that look identical to native counterparts on both platforms which covers a lot of business cases
- Possibility to create UI of any complexity (custom views and animations)
- Improved performance
- Identical representation of both platforms
- The ability to run the application on the web
React Native uses bridging architecture: while the whole libs and environment are being updated, the performance doesn’t change. This allows using native views from the platform SDK and libraries.
Due to bridging architecture and other peculiarities, React Native has the following disadvantages:
- Default components might not cover both platforms or look extremely different. For example, Picker component uses dropdown selection while iOS has a standard selection wheel so you need to create a custom component for the platform or a different layout.
- Due to the current architecture, there are a few things that might lead to a junky UI. First, any long running operations on the JS side might block UI events. Second, many actions that require synchronization between JS and native might have a delay because of time required to pass information back and forth via bridge. For example, ScrollView’s position has this issue since events about its change emitted rapidly.
- Platform render limitations are specific to the platform. For example, Android doesn’t have shadow styles. It can be added by default using elevation only, which also affects ordering of views.
- Only a part of the source code responsible for business logic can be shared between the web and the application; the UI part should be written from scratch.
As we can see Flutter outruns React Native in this criterion. Let’s move on.
Flutter vs React Native: Performance
Flutter is based on Dart and currently offers the best performance comparable to native Android or iOS apps. Sometimes, apps written on Flutter can work even faster than native Java or Kotlin Android apps due to Flutter architecture.
Another point for Flutter.
Flutter vs React Native: Development Speed
From the standpoint of developer experience, Flutter has the upper hand. The feedback loop is extremely fast (hot reloads preserve state of the app and rebuilds are under 1 second) which allows for extremely fast iterations while implementing features.
Dart has async (Future, Streams) as first-class citizens which allows it to easily build reactive systems. Dart’s static type system is more robust compared to Typescript or Flow. As a result, the app can work with the same performance across different platforms (154K stars on github as for June 21, 2023).
ReactNative is built on top of ReactJS which exposes a wider range of community libraries, tools, and tutorials and enables reusing developers’ expertise in React (110K stars on github as for June 21, 2023).
Developer experience also depends on the documentation. React Native documentation isn’t as impressive yet it is more user-friendly. Flutter documentation, in turn, includes a wide variety of information.
React Native doesn’t have threads at all which leads to some constraints when planning architecture.
Flutter, on the other hand, has 4 threads. UI, IO, GPU. In addition to that, we can create threads, called isolates (they are similar to web workers), for any heavy computation.
Both platforms provide the ability to create native modules.
Flutter vs React Native: Stability
React Native is still in beta (0.71) and has some compatibility issues and breaking changes that lead to issues when upgrading from version to version. It also can bring some compatibility issues with some libraries or general project setup. At the moment, React Native is implementing a new architecture, which may lead to a lack of support for many libraries.
Flutter provides high stability for projects that need it the most such as in finance, healthcare, transportation, eCommerce, and other areas. This is achieved by compiling code into CPU-specific ARM code and using its own rendering engines. As a result, Flutter apps maintain a consistent interface even after operating system updates or system customizations.
One of the benefits of Flutter is its version compatibility and consistent API and development approaches. Unlike many other technologies that drop support for older versions, Flutter allows code written in previous versions to be reused in new apps. This contributes to high stability and ensures that applications run smoothly.
Flutter vs React Native: Scalability
Both React Native and Flutter are highly scalable. The choice between the two depends on the specific requirements of your project and the skills of your development team.
Flutter vs React Native: Limitations
Flutter has fewer third-party packages than React Native. Also, native APIs can’t be called from Dart directly. This requires using a plugin. Another limitation of Flutter is the lack of code push, which enables pushing patches to an application in no time. Because of this limitation, the updates require a standard release process, which can take a few days for iOS.
As for React Native, its limitations for the abstract layer enhance the dependence on other libraries. It also doesn’t support multiprocessing.
Despite limitations, React Native has numerous high-quality third-party libraries and has been incorporated into tech stacks of products across different verticals. For example, a cross-platform solution for fitness or the system to manage energy consumption.
Case study #1Cross-platform Solution For Fitness And Lifestyle
Case study #2System For Energy Consumption Management
Flutter is catching up fast, though, and is matured enough to be safely used in production for developing cross-platform fitness apps, a mobile CRM, or sports software.
Case study #1Mobile CRM Application for Landscape Contractors
Case study #2App For Kids’ Sports Education And Entertainment
Case study#3Mobile Fitness Assistant MD Gym
Summing Up: Which Cross-Platform Technology to Choose
Of all the cross-platform technologies, Flutter stands out from the crowd, being called the silver bullet for cross-platform app development. At MobiDev, we use this technology in 90% of projects. But it is also impossible to say unequivocally that Flutter is a 100% solution for your project. For example, if you already have a project based on React Native, Ionic, or NativeScript or have experience with these technologies and plan to further support the software with the efforts of your in-house team, you are unlikely to want to change to this technology.
At MobiDev, before recommending a tech stack to a client, we study their business needs and requirements in detail. Our experience with a wide range of technologies allows us to choose the option that will best satisfy each individual project.
Whether you have already chosen a technical stack or still have doubts, feel free to contact us to see how MobiDev cross-platform app development services can meet your needs.