To build them all…: cross-platform mobile development frameworks comparison

As one of the fastest growing markets in the IT industry mobile development area offers a lot of issues to discuss and be found of. Except pros and cons of various technologies there always is a business side. Cross platform development collides both with dev side and with business vision.

Good news for everyone who wants to increase their profits and keep quality on high level!

Cross platform development (CPD) is the solution. Visible business perks of CPD include:

  • Lower costs for development
  • You have to build the app only once
  • You have to employ specialists with one skill set
  • You can move developers from team to team without hiring new people
  • Shrinking of time-to-market
  • Growing developers community

There are several known and widely used tools for CPD. In the table below you can see three of them compared: Xamarin, Appcelerator Titanium Studio, Qt and PhoneGap. The criteria in the table are relevant both for developers and for managers. Some of criteria like license cost, speed and cost of development, distribution capabilities are highly important especially for startups.

XamarinAppcelerator Titanium StudioQtPhoneGap
Supported platformsiOS, Android, WindowsPhoneiOS, Android, WindowsPhone, BlackBerryiOS, Android, WindowsPhoneiOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone 8, Ubuntu, Firefox OS
License&Costs4 types: starter for free, then $25-$158 per monthDev for free, enterprise – $5000 per year4 types, up to €6400Apache License, Version 2.0
Distribution via different app storesNo problemNo problemOnly with commercial licenseNo problem
Access to platform-specific features100% accessAccess to most of themNot fully, but the number is raised all the timeNot fully (depend on platform)
Look and feelEverything works and looks perfectlyCreates native UI elements, requires knowledge of Titanium’s JavaScript APILooks nice on desktopAnalog of native UI
Development environmentXamarin Studio + plugin for Visual StudioTightly integrated into Appcelerator’s IDE Titanium Studio based on EclipseQt creator, Qt designerEclipse, Idea,command line tools,  etc.
Ease of developmentC# – feel right at homeDocumentation is good. Initial progress and accustomization relatively slowQt has a lot of tools to help developers do their jobs best: compilers, rich documentation, helper tools and many other cookiesInstrumentation tools, especially debugging and memory profiling are sorely missing.
MaintainabilityLike native appsMany lines of code, but can be easily modularizedGreat GUI layout systemLike for web application
ScalabilityGreat because of C# architectureGood scalability. Passing data or objects between windows is quite slowEasy to useEasy to use
Opportunities for further developmentExcellentHardly can be used with other approachesGets better and better. Translation system, testing libraryExcellent
Speed and cost of developmentOnly one tool neededA lot of framework specific knowledgeEasy and fastEasy and fast

As you can see all the technologies for CPD have their specific features and it’s important to choose the most convenient and suitable for your needs. There are a couple points that might help you while choosing.

  • In what cases you should go for cross-platform?
    • you have very limited development time
    • you already have skilled JavaScript or .NET developers
    • the application includes a lot of busy business logic that has to work equally in all the mobile applications
  • When you should decide for native development?
    • Performance and operation speed of the application matter the most
    • Not too much business logic
    • Multi platform operation isn’t required

If you’re lucky and made up your mind painlessly, it’s time to choose the right CPD framework. The selection of right tool depends on tasks your application has to solve and resources you have. Following hints can help you to reach a decision:

  • If you already have .NET developers and the application has to be done asap for several platforms, we recommend to use Xamarin. In this case you should pay attention to the license cost and its accordance with your budget. Bosch-Siemens, Tesco, Sennheiser appreciated Xamarin’s perks.
  • HTML5 solution fits for applications without high performance demands. Among HTML5 customers you can find Guardian, Burberry, Financial times.
  • If you have skilled JavaScript specialists, you can definitely try Appcelerator Titanium. This is also good choice for an application with native interface in all the platforms. Tried by Ebay, Mitsubishi Electric, VMware.
  • Game development is worth separate discussion. CPD solutions reviewed in this article cannot be used for games production.

In the next post we’ll go deeper into the frameworks indispensable for cross-platform development. To learn more from our experts visit http://instinctools.eu/. Stay tuned and share your thoughts in the comments.

Anna Vasilevskaya
E-mail: anna.vasilevskaya@instinctools.ru
Skype ID: anna.vasilevskaya
Business Development Manager
*instinctools EE Labs