The technologies you choose to implement your mobile application will ultimately decide its success or failure. Performance issues, availability, reliability, or an unfamiliar UI can quickly derail even the best app idea or implementation. A good framework lays the foundations for a successful app, so choosing that foundation is the first (and most critical) decision towards setting your app up for success.
The ideal mobile app development framework provides a platform that will support your application rather than hinder it, offering high-quality tools, test suites, and the right language and libraries to let your mobile app teams put their best foot forward. Moreover, such a framework will enable you to reuse code amongst multiple devices, platforms, and ecosystems.
Indeed, leading modern app development frameworks can cut down the amount of code required to target multiple platforms by 50% or more. A high degree of code reuse cuts downtime spent on not just writing, but on testing and quality assurance too. This reduction in time to market (across multiple platforms) is one of the primary advantages of any framework over native development.
From a user’s perspective, an ideal application framework will generate an app that is identical to its native equivalent. The resulting application should match the expected look and feel of the appropriate platform and product. Users today expect an application that is feature-rich and does not suffer from limitations, performance issues, or lack of functionality because it was made to target multiple services. In other words: the framework doesn’t get in the way. To make sure you have the pro’s and con’s of developing a mobile app, you can consult our article for guidance.
So, factoring all that in, which mobile application framework is best suited to you? Here, we’ve gathered together the top choices that you should evaluate when deciding your application foundations in 2021. Even better, once you’ve identified which one you need, you can easily search for development teams that specialize in that framework on the Pangea platform. If you need help selecting the right company, tell us what you need. We can do the work for you and connect you with up to 5 companies within 72h that match your needs - all for free!
The single most popular mobile app development framework in 2020, React Native has earned its place in a prime position amongst exceptionally tough competition.
Built by Facebook and released in early 2015, React Native boasts an impressive showcase of mobile applications currently using the technology. Capable of deploying apps to Android, Android TV, iOS, macOS, tvOS, the Web, and Universal Windows Platform, the framework features a wide range of modern development and debugging tools along with direct access to underlying platform capabilities for developers.
The framework is built to integrate a platform’s native code alongside React Native code in a single application. One of the key features this provides is the ability to integrate React Native into existing applications; even those which are already built and deployed! Teams are able to reconfigure existing mobile apps to React Native ones and merge code across multiple platforms in incremental steps.
Beginning in 2017, education-based non-profit Khan Academy transitioned two native codebases into one React Native solution.
Another significant drawback, borne from the same issue, comes from a noticeable drop in performance compared to native applications. The framework claims near-native performance, but at times can leave something to be desired in benchmark testing. While likely only significant in extremely heavy-use applications, it is an issue worth considering in certain use-case scenarios.
Although less mature and currently less popular amongst developers, Google’s cross-platform framework includes a rich and promising feature set and highly robust design credentials.
Initially launched in 2018, Flutter has grown into a stable and dependable framework built with app performance and UI in mind. The framework’s architecture is designed around a reactive programming paradigm, something which is all but the de-facto standard across modern mobile application development.
Flutter supports building for Android, iOS, Linux, Mac, Windows, and web applications from a single codebase with truly near-native performance apps. Unusually, the framework uses Google’s Dart language, one that is gaining traction but is still less commonly found amongst developers outside of Cupertino, California.
One of the framework’s strongest unique selling points is its extensive support for legacy devices running old versions of operating systems. For Android OS in particular, the framework supports sharing identical UI between modern and legacy versions. This feature alone makes it an ideal way to target a broad user base with comparatively lightweight apps.
Flutter also features UI components tailored to the targeted platform. To ensure each app has the right look and feel for its environment, iOS widgets and layouts are deployed to Apple devices, while Google’s material design targets Android, desktop, and the web.
While the framework has come an extraordinary distance in four years, the libraries and support available for Flutter are not as rich as those available to native application developers. The result is that developers may often find themselves implementing features that would take a fraction of the time to deploy and test in a native application.
Similarly, support for continuous integration and related tools is still somewhat lacking, particularly compared to other frameworks available.
Finally, as one of the more recent frameworks out there, it can be hard to find developers with extensive familiarity with Flutter. Thankfully, on this point, Pangea has you covered, with plenty of verified Flutter companies Flutter.
One of the most mature mobile app development frameworks available today, Xamarin does more than enough to keep up with younger upstarts and modern competitors.
Xamarin has been around in one form or another since May 2011. In 2016, Microsoft acquired the company and ever since has done a great deal to ensure Xamarin remains an up-to-date, modern, and well-supported application development framework. Like React Native and Flutter, Xamarin has remained open-source and cross-platform since its initial release.
Xamarin supports targeting Android, iOS, tvOS, watchOS, macOS, and Windows using Microsoft’s ever-popular C# programming language. Xamarin is capable of an upper limit of 96% code sharing between applications across multiple platforms.
In practice, that figure is often somewhat reduced due to bespoke UI elements for individual platforms. Nevertheless, the impressive level of business logic, data access, and even UI code able to be reused across platforms allows for some considerable time savings.
Under the Microsoft umbrella, Xamarin has gone from strength to strength. The framework now boasts a complete and feature-rich ecosystem with abundant support for continuous integration, test suites, and tools for the ever-popular Visual Studio IDE.
Similar to Flutter, Xamarin supports access to the underlying system’s native SDK when required. This means support for leveraging platform- and device-specific functionality like sensor data or hardware acceleration. In contrast, to React Native, developers don’t necessarily need to know the platform’s native language to debug it.
The support for developer tools alone makes Xamarin one of the stand-out entries amongst the currently available mobile app development frameworks.
Adopting any framework comes with challenges inherent to extending the distance from the underlying platform. Support for platform updates, for example, will be delayed compared to those available for a native application. Xamarin seems to suffer from this issue more than most, with delays coming further behind than might be expected.
Xamarin also features more limited access to open source libraries compared to native app development. Similarly, the talent pool of developers is significantly more limited than is available for either Flutter or React Native.
Finally, licenses for Xamarin at an enterprise scale cost prohibitive in comparison to related tools.
One of the industry's most mature mobile app development frameworks, Titanium has supported cross-platform mobile application development since the field’s earliest days in 2009.
Titanium’s well-established credentials have resulted in a sizable online knowledge base. The support available, being some of the best out there, is a strong attraction for many teams.
As a unique selling point, Titanium offers a lot more than just its mobile application framework. Titanium delivers real-time analytics to teams on their deployed applications. Providing lifecycle data and crash analytics, Titanium’s services do a great deal to supplement additional information above and beyond those already available on the Android and iOS platforms.
Appcelerator has put similar amounts of time into understanding how developers utilize their framework’s tools. Titanium features strong operability with continuous integration systems and strives to provide immediate support for every new release of the OS coming from every platform.
In common with other framework-based apps, Titanium apps are less suited to building instant-run mobile applications that do not need prior installation. Such apps’ small size requirements make them better suited to native development, which has a smaller storage footprint by design.
Titanium’s well-defined API, while being feature-rich, is somewhat limited in flexibility. Designers are hemmed in by the available options, particularly for apps with slightly more 'out of the box' ideas. And overall, the framework’s model-view-controller-based architecture is rapidly becoming outdated in favor of reactive programming paradigms.
With Adobe pulling support for Phonegap in the last year, the most notable choice for new apps and those looking to migrate away from Adobe’s ecosystem is the framework’s open-source alternative.
Cordova, somewhat unique to the frameworks already mentioned, builds hybrid—rather than native—mobile apps. Hybrid apps are neither truly a web app nor entirely a native mobile application, instead of deploying to devices inside a WebView container. The advantage is straightforward cross-platform compatibility which comes closer to the build once, deploy anywhere methodology that cross-platform frameworks aim to achieve.
A wide range of plugins and tools exist to extend Cordova’s functionality when needed. The Ionic mobile app development framework extends Cordova with a UI SDK to create truly native-feeling mobile applications and platform-specific styling.
In modern versions of the Cordova framework, mixed native and hybrid apps have been made possible, though the necessary increase in complexity makes the approach prohibitive for many use-cases.
Leaning on web technologies for mobile application development has a significant performance impact on the resulting apps—even compared to other mobile app frameworks. Similarly, the limited styling options made available by deploying applications as a WebView turn off many users who often expect a more consistent look and feel across applications on a single device
Cordova applications in the iOS marketplace have had a tough time getting approval. Performance issues and a markedly different look and feel to most iOS apps have both been cited as reasons for rejection in the past.
In truth, it’s entirely practical to choose any one of the above-listed frameworks to build, deploy, and maintain almost any chosen application. What takes time, careful consideration and expert advice is weighing up each framework’s relative strengths and weaknesses against the use cases and expectations for your mobile application. Choosing the one which helps more than it hinders is critical, particularly in the early phases of app development. To help you find the right candidate to help you make this decision, we’ve put together an article on the best practices when hiring a mobile app developer.
Application frameworks almost invariably reduce time to market, expand the available user base, and reduce development costs across multiple platforms. These benefits should ideally offset any additional performance overheads, toolchain limitations, and storage footprint that come with the framework.
The framework you choose, if any, will ultimately depend on weighing up costs, familiarity, intended audience, and deployment targets. Choose carefully and with expert advice, because the decision you make today will define your app’s success for many years to come. But you may be wondering: where do I get such advice? Why, Pangea of course! Simply tell us what you need and we will do all the research for you! In just 72 hours we will provide you—for free— a list of 5 companies that are experts in the frameworks you are considering, and let you know how to connect with these experienced software development gurus!
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