The phrase “Native App Development” is thrown around a lot in discussions of application development. But what does it actually mean?
In technical terms, native applications are those that have been developed specifically for the operating environment that they run on. For example, developing a native iOS application means that it would only run on iOS.
As opposed to cross-platform application development, native applications can directly interface with the operating system of the device they are running on. This means that things that system calls and other device specific features are natural, and simple.
Advantages of Native App Development
Of course, there are various advantages to native app development as opposed to other methods.
Cross platform applications usually need to go through a compilation or translation process in order to access native elements and features. Performance gains are what the users sees and feels as a result. Native applications enjoy this high performance thanks to direct interface with the device.
They also are able to make full use of all hardware features supported by the given device, without compromise. Cross-platform frameworks are developed by third parties, meaning that the newest features may not be available until they are put into the framework.
In 2017, a study was performed by a group of researchers for the journal “Informatics Control Measurement in Economy and Environment Protection” that compared the performance of Native and Cross-platform applications.
As shown, native applications did perform faster than their cross-platform (Xamarin, in this case) counterparts in most cases.
Using native features in a mobile application will immediately improve usability and familiarity, thanks to common components. These native components are used in all native applications for that device. Users will recognise these components, and understand how to use them. This greatly improves the user experience with all users of the applications.
Developing a native application for a specific platform forces the developers to use that platforms SDK, as well as their preferred programming language. Official support for the SDK is almost always offered, as well as a dedicated community of developers that use the SDK will be able to help with SDK specific issues and queries.
This leads to a reduction of bugs in the application, and therefore a smoother experience for any given user.
Disadvantages of Native App Development
Obviously, native app development only caters to a specific platform. If a multi-platform app is needed, it wouldn’t be optimal.
Native app development is the least efficient when multiple ‘clones’ of the same app need to be developed. The codebase is split into multiple applications, all performing the same task but written in different languages. Updates to the functionality of the applications becomes much more complicated, as all of the applications would need to be modified.
If you only develop for a single platform, costs will not rise. However, it does inspire a lack of versatility in your development team. They will only be focused on a single platform, meaning that multiple development teams will need to be formed in order to cater to multiple platforms.
Developing a multi-platform application covers the largest share of the market, even if the development costs may be slightly higher. Depending on the application, this may be the deciding factor when choosing which development style to go for.
Starting with Native App Development
If you’re set on developing a native mobile application, here are a few options to choose from.
Kotlin is technically a cross-platform programming language, designed by JetBrains. However, Google has stated that Kotlin is the preferred language for Android application developers. This includes development of native apps, as Kotlin has support for platform specific APIs (even though some of the codebase can be used for multiple platforms). Therefore, if you want to develop Android (or iOS) applications, Kotlin is a good place to start.
Swift isn’t technically a single platform programming language either, but it is limited in that it mostly targets Apple’s operating systems. Packages exist for Linux, Windows, and Android as well, but they offer less support and are unofficial in some cases.
It was developed by Apple to replace Objective-C, their previous programming language. Objective-C hadn’t seen much development since the 1980s, and didn’t support many modern language features. Swift was largely inspired by Objective-C, but also incorporated design language from more modern languages such as Python and Rust.