How Does Cross-Platform Mobile App Development Impact UX?

Posted on June 3, 2024 | Updated on June 11, 2024

As the app world grows, many developers consider cross-platform solutions to build an app. Each year, as new cross-platform frameworks launch, everyone rushes to adopt them and believes they are the next best thing to native app development. At first glance, these tools offer the best of both worlds.

However, as many developers use them further, they soon encounter some drawbacks that force them to go back to native app development. While these tools offer several advantages, there are challenges and limitations to consider. As you explore cross-platform mobile app development, weighing the pros and cons is important to truly understand how this approach impacts the overall user experience.

A person holding a smartphone in their hand.

What Is Cross-Platform Mobile App Development?

Cross-platform mobile app development involves creating applications across multiple mobile operating systems from a single codebase. Developers can use cross-platform tools to write the app’s code once and deploy it across Android and iOS. Common frameworks that app developers use for cross-platform include React Native, Xamarin and Flutter, each offering different features but simplifying your development process.

The Evolution of Cross-Platform Development

Cross-platform development is nothing new, but its concept has changed greatly over the years with technological advancements. In the early 2000s, the mobile app industry was still in its infancy, and development was predominantly platform-specific. Developers had to create separate apps for each operating system, making it a resource-intensive process that required multiple teams with different skill sets.

Once cross-platform technologies became available, they created a game-changing experience for app developers. One of the first players was Xamarin, which used C# to design Android, iOS and Windows Phone apps. This was followed by the release of React Native, which allowed developers to build mobile apps using JavaScript. React Native quickly gained popularity because of its near-native user experience. 

Over the years, mobile devices have become more powerful, and consumer expectations have grown. As such, cross-platform tools have also advanced, causing businesses to reconsider their app strategies and development processes.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Cross-Platform Mobile App Development?

Before understanding the impact cross-platform mobile app development has on UX, developers need to consider the pros and cons.

Pros:

  • Broader market reach: Cross-platform development can reach a wider audience with a single application. Currently, 7,211.34 million people own a smartphone, so an app can obtain a large user base. As such, businesses can maximize exposure and engagement in the long run.
  • Quicker development: The ability to write code only once significantly reduces development time. This saves companies on costs and resources since they only need one type of developer to deploy the app across multiple platforms. 
  • Easier to maintain design consistency: Native development can make it challenging to keep a consistent look and feel across different platforms. Cross-platform tools simplify this process, ensuring the app’s UI/UX remains uniform.

Cons:

  • Integration Issues: Cross-platform frameworks can sometimes struggle to integrate an app with settings preferences and notifications, which can impact the app’s functionality across multiple platforms.
  • Restricted access to device-specific features: Native development allows developers to use all the functionalities an OS and hardware offers, such as camera capabilities, precise GPS and more. However, cross-platform apps may offer limited support. While this occurs only once in a while, it is still a potential drawback to run into.
  • Increased complexity in multi-OS maintenance: Maintaining code across different operating systems can introduce complexities. Each platform has its update schedules, feature deprecations and new releases, which can affect the app differently. Managing these differences can increase the workload for development teams.
A man sitting in a chair, looking at his phone.

The Impact of Cross-Platform Mobile App Development on UX

Now that you understand how developing with cross-platform frameworks can benefit and hinder developers, let’s take a closer look at how they may impact user experience.

1. Performance and Responsiveness

Many developers working with cross-platform frameworks encounter performance and responsiveness issues. These challenges can sometimes be due to the abstraction layer within the native system and development frameworks.

For instance, you can run into obstacles like janks and frame drops. Jank refers to noticeable stutters or pauses in animations and transitions within an app. These issues can be more pronounced when the framework struggles to maintain a high frame rate. Meanwhile, frame drops during animations or while scrolling through complex layouts can make the app feel less smooth and responsive. 

Another issue could be when the app experiences a slight delay in responding to user inputs. This lag may occur due to the extra processing needed to interpret user actions. For instance, you could be using an app that takes longer to open a new document. This challenge can be frustrating for users who expect instantaneous reactions and can create a 16% decrease in user satisfaction.

Overcoming these issues requires developers to optimize the code extensively. However, this can diminish the advantages of using a cross-platform approach. 

2. Consistency Across Platforms

Using a single codebase simplifies the task of keeping the user interface consistent. Design consistency is especially important for fonts, colors, layout and transitions. For instance, an app user switching from Android to iOS will find familiar navigational elements and visual cues. This reduces the learning curve and increases their comfort level.

However, consistency does come with its challenges. Each platform has its navigational features and user expectations, so what works well on one might not work on another. For example, the back button on Android and the swipe gesture on iOS are inherently different. Aligning these within a single app framework can be tricky.

Developers must carefully balance these platform-specific nuances with the desire to maintain a consistent app identity.

3. UI Design Quality

User interface design can influence how users perceive an app. Quality assurance is key for developers to ensure the app functions well and operates smoothly across different devices.

Cross-platform tools have made strides in allowing developers to create attractive and functional UIs. They often provide several pre-designed widgets and UI elements already optimized for performance and visual consistency.

However, the quality of the UI design depends on the framework’s capabilities to mimic the native UI components accurately. For example, Google’s Flutter framework can render beautiful, custom UI designs indistinguishable from native apps. Flutter’s widget-based system allows for creating intricate and highly customized UIs that adjust seamlessly to various screen sizes and resolutions.

Despite these advancements, challenges remain in ensuring UI consistency and quality. Every OS has design guidelines that can vary. Adhering to them while using a single codebase can be difficult. Developers must prioritize complete uniformity in appearance or adapt the UI to match the platform’s native look. 

Overcoming Cross-Platform Mobile App Development Challenges

Cross-platform mobile app development offers developers plenty of opportunities to create mobile apps with fewer resources. While it comes with challenges, launching an app across platforms can accelerate your app’s market entry. Use these tools only when you understand their strengths and weaknesses. This way, you can deliver a quality user experience on every device.

About The Author

Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her exploring the outdoors with her husband and dog in their RV, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or curled up with a good book with her cats Gem and Cali.

You can find more of Eleanor's work at www.eleanorhecks.com.

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