The Six Most Popular Cross-Platform App Development Frameworks
Over the years, cross-platform app development has become one of the most popular ways to build mobile applications. A cross-platform, or multiplatform, approach allows developers to create apps that run similarly on different mobile platforms.
Interest has steadily increased over the period from 2010 to date, as this Google Trends chart illustrates:
The growing popularity of the rapidly advancing cross-platform mobile development technology has resulted in many new tools emerging on the market. With many options available, it can be challenging to pick the one that will best suit your needs. To help you find the right tool, we've put together a list of the six best cross-platform app development frameworks and the features that make them great. At the end of this article, you will also find a few key things to pay attention to when choosing a multiplatform development framework for your business.
What is a cross-platform app development framework?
Mobile engineers use cross-platform mobile development frameworks to build native-looking applications for multiple platforms, such as Android and iOS, using a single codebase. Shareable code is one of the key advantages this approach has over native app development. Having one single codebase means that mobile engineers can save time by avoiding the need to write code for each operating system, accelerating the development process.
Popular cross-platform app development frameworks
This list is not exhaustive; many other options are available on the market today. The important thing to realize is that there's no one-size-fits-all tool that will be ideal for everyone. The choice of framework largely depends on your particular project and your goals, as well as other specifics that we will cover at the end of the article.
Nevertheless, we've tried to pick out some of the best frameworks for cross-platform mobile development to give you a starting point for your decision.
Released by Google in 2017, Flutter is a popular framework for building mobile, web, and desktop apps from a single codebase. To build applications with Flutter, you will need to use Google's programming language called Dart.
Programming language: Dart.
Mobile app examples: eBay, Alibaba, Google Pay, ByteDance apps.
Flutter's hot reload feature allows you to see how your application changes as soon as you modify your code, without you having to recompile it.
Flutter supports Google's Material Design, a design system that helps developers build digital experiences. You can use multiple visual and behavioral widgets when building your app.
Flutter doesn't rely on web browser technology. Instead, it has its own rendering engine for drawing widgets.
Flutter has a relatively active community of users around the world and is widely used by many developers. According to the Stack Overflow Trends, the usage of Flutter has been trending up over time, based on the increasing use of the corresponding tag.
Mobile app examples: Skype, Bloomberg, Shopify, various small modules in Facebook and Instagram.
Developers can see their changes in their React components immediately, thanks to the Fast Refresh feature.
One of React Native's advantages is a focus on the UI. React primitives render to native platform UI components, allowing you to build a customized and responsive user interface.
In versions 0.62 and later, integration between React Native and the mobile app debugger Flipper is enabled by default. Flipper is used to debug Android, iOS, and React native apps, and it provides tools like a log viewer, an interactive layout inspector, and a network inspector.
As one of the most popular cross-platform app development frameworks, React Native has a large and strong community of developers who share their technical knowledge. Thanks to this community, you can get the support you need when building mobile apps with the framework.
Kotlin Multiplatform (KMP) is an open-source technology built by JetBrains that allows sharing code across platforms while retaining the benefits of native programming. It enables developers to reuse as much code as they want, write native code if needed, and seamlessly integrate shared Kotlin code into any project.
Programming language: Kotlin.
Mobile app examples: McDonald's, Netflix, Forbes, 9GAG, Cash App, Philips. Read more about Koltlin Multiplatform case studies.
Developers can reuse code across Android, iOS, web, desktop, and server-side while keeping native code if needed.
Kotlin Multiplatform can be seamlessly integrated into any project. Developers can utilize platform-specific APIs while making the most of both native and cross-platform development.
Thanks to Compose Multiplatform, a modern declarative cross-platform UI framework by JetBrains, developers have full code-sharing flexibility and the ability to share both the logic and the UI.
There's no need to introduce a new language to your codebase when you already use Kotlin for Android. You can reuse your Kotlin code and expertise, which makes migrating to Kotlin Multiplatform less risky compared to other technologies.
Even though this cross-platform mobile development framework is one of the youngest on our list, it has a mature community. In November 2023, JetBrains promoted it to Stable. It's growing fast and is already making a distinct impression on today's market. Thanks to its regularly updated documentation and community support, you can always find answers to your questions. What's more, many global companies and startups already use Kotlin Multiplatform to develop multiplatform apps with a native-like user experience.
Mobile app examples: T-Mobile, BBC (Children's & Education apps), EA Games.
Ionic is based on a SaaS UI framework designed specifically for mobile OS and provides multiple UI components for building applications.
The Ionic framework uses the Cordova and Capacitor plugins to provide access to device's built-in features, such as the camera, flashlight, GPS, and audio recorder.
Ionic has its own command-line interface, Ionic CLI, which serves as the go-to tool for building Ionic applications.
There's constant activity on the Ionic Framework Forum, where community members exchange knowledge and help each other overcome their development challenges.
.NET Multi-platform App UI (.NET MAUI) is a cross-platform framework that was released in May 2022 and is owned by Microsoft. It allows developers to create native mobile and desktop apps with C# and XAML. .NET MAUI is an evolution of Xamarin.Forms, one of the functionalities of Xamarin, which provides native controls for the platforms supported by Xamarin.
Programming languages: C#, XAML.
Mobile app examples: NBC Sports Next, Escola Agil, Irth Solutions.
.NET MAUI provides cross-platform APIs for accessing native device features, like the GPS, accelerometer, and battery and network states.
There's a single project system which is enabled using multi-targeting to target Android, iOS, macOS, and Windows.
With the support for .NET hot reload, developers can modify their managed source code while the app is running.
Even though .NET MAUI is still a relatively new framework, it has already gained traction among developers and has an active community on Stack Overflow and Microsoft Q&A.
Mobile app examples: Daily Nanny, Strudel, Breethe.
NativeScript allows developers to easily access native Android and iOS APIs.
The framework renders platform-native UIs. Apps built with NativeScript run directly on a native device without relying on WebViews, a system component for the Android OS that allows Android applications to show content from the web inside an app.
NativeScript offers various plugins and pre-built app templates, eliminating the need for third-party solutions.
How do you choose the right cross-platform app development framework for your project?
There are other cross-platform frameworks besides those mentioned above, and new tools will continue to appear on the market. Given the wide array of options, how can you find the right one for your next project? The first step is to understand your project's requirements and goals, and to get a clear idea of what you want your future app to look like. Next, you'll want to take the following important factors into account so you can decide on the best fit for your business.
1. The expertise of your team
Different cross-platform mobile development frameworks are based on different programming languages. Before adopting a framework, check what skills it requires and make sure your team of mobile engineers has enough knowledge and experience to work with it.
2. Vendor reliability and support
It's important to be sure that the maintainer of the framework will continue to support it in the long run. Learn more about the companies that develop and support the frameworks you're considering, and take a look at the mobile apps that have been built using them.
3. UI customization
Depending on how crucial the user interface is for your future app, you may need to know how easily you can customize the UI using a particular framework. For example, Kotlin Multiplatform offers full code-sharing flexibility with Compose Multiplatform, a modern declarative cross-platform UI framework by JetBrains. It enables developers to share UIs across Android, iOS, web, and desktop (via the JVM) and is based on Kotlin and Jetpack Compose.
4. Framework maturity
Find out how frequently the public API and tooling for a prospective framework change. For example, some changes to native operating system components break internal cross-platform behavior. It's better to be aware of possible challenges you may face when working with the mobile app development framework. You can also browse GitHub and check how many bugs the framework has and how these bugs are being handled.
5. Framework capabilities
Each framework has its own capabilities and limitations. Knowing what features and tools a framework provides is crucial to identifying the best solution for you. Does it have code analyzers and unit testing frameworks? How quickly and easily will you be able to build, debug, and test your app?
Security and privacy are especially important when building a critical mobile app for business, such as banking and e-commerce apps that include a payment system. According to OWASP Mobile Top 10, some of the most critical security risks for mobile applications include insecure data storage and authentication/authorization.
You need to ensure that the multiplatform mobile development framework of your choice provides the required level of security. One way to do this is to browse the security tickets on the framework's issue tracker if it has one that's publicly available.
7. Educational materials
The volume and quality of available learning resources about a framework can also help you understand how smooth your experience will be when working with it. Comprehensive official documentation, online and offline conferences, and educational courses are a good sign that you will be able to find enough essential information about a product when you need it.
Without considering these factors, it's difficult to choose the framework for cross-platform mobile development that will best meet your specific needs. Take a closer look at your future application requirements and weigh them against the capabilities of various frameworks. Doing so will allow you to find the right cross-platform solution to help you deliver high-quality apps.