Recap: Cross-Platform Mobile Development at the Mobile Visionary Roundtable

Chris Grove Chris Grove, CTO

KeyLimeTie CTO Chris Grove served as a panelist this past month at the Mobile Visionary Roundtable for the Illinois Technology Association.  The roundtable focused on "cross-platform" app development, or developing apps for multiple operating systems including iPhone, Android, Windows, BlackBerry and others.

In today's mobile ecosystem, developers have the option of developiong either "natively," (in the specific development environment and language for the corresponding poatform), or using a cross-platform development environment where the app is written in a single codebase and compiled for each target operating system.  Both have their advantages, and the choice comes down to how suited the type of app being developed is for each.  Cross-platform environments are best suited for simple apps and apps that have an entirely customized user interface and do not rely on the phone's built-in user interface components.  Conversely, apps that use deeper features of the phones/OSes might require coding in the native environment.

Another possibility when considering developing for cross-platform use is to create a native app or a mobile website.  This decision comes down to use case.  It's worth noting that native apps are six times more popular on the iPhone than mobile websites, but less popular on tablets, according to this ReadWriteWeb article.

The bottom line here is that mobile sites have different use cases than native apps.  Apps are stronger when it's necessary to use native features of the phone (such as the camera, location services, accelerometer, or light), where websites shine when it's more important that the user find the information they need quickly and efficiently.

Cross-Platform applications have inherent risks.  First and foremost, by nature the developer becomes dependent on the vendor that created the specific cross-platform Integrated Development Environment (IDE).  With iPhone developers already undertaking risk of an app tied to Apple's ever-changing rules and control over the App Store, for some, adding risk to a new vendor in a fast-moving marketplace constitutes unnecessarily high risk.  Roundtable participants drew parallels between cross-platform app development today and the choice to develop in Java vs. HTML/JavaScript on the web in the late 1990s.  At the time, companies poured resources into the cross-platform environments of the day, while as the web evolved, only a couple survived.  Before investing in a cross-platform envirionment, it's important to evaluate where the vendor is likely to be three to five years out.

Finally, with cross-platform development, there's always the added cost of additional project management.  "The more platforms an app will support," adds Grove, "the more groundwork you have to lay, and the more emphasis you have to put on quality assurance."  Each additional platform adds a level of complexity; user interfaces are different, some devices have physical buttons where others have touch screens, and some have standard navigation elements.

Interested in your own mobile app?

If you are interested in developing an app, or extending an app you already have to multiple platforms to reach a wider range of users, contact KeyLimeTie at 630.598.9000 or