Cross Platform Mobile App Development: A Definitive Guide
When most people think about building a mobile app, their minds go straight to native development. Native apps are built specifically for certain platforms, like iOS or Android.
Don’t get me wrong; I won’t sit here and say that there aren’t advantages to taking the native route. But with that said, native development will likely be your most expensive path.
On the other hand, cross-platform development is rising in popularity.
In fact, the cross-platform app development market surpassed $7.5 billion at the end of 2018.
This development method allows you to develop an Android app, iOS app, and Windows app simultaneously. But can these apps be as good as native apps?
Honestly, if you use the right tools and resources, users won’t be able to tell the difference.
But where do you begin? What tools do you use for cross-platform development?
These are common questions that I hear on a regular basis. That was my inspiration for creating this guide.
I’ve created the ultimate resource of development tools, programming languages, and tutorials for cross-platform development. This will put you in a position to build a mobile app that’s ad no disadvantage compared to traditional native apps.
Plus, you’ll have the benefit of reaching users across different platforms with just one app.
Cross-platform development is the way of the future. I highly recommend using this guide as a reference and learning tool.
The Best Cross Platform Development Tools
First things first; If you’re going to build a cross-platform app, you need to pick a development tool. I’ve narrowed down the top options to consider based on ease of use and outstanding performance.
These are the most popular choices in terms of quality. So check them out and decide which one is best for your specific needs.
Appcelerator is a development platform focused on enterprise solutions. The development environment helps get apps to market faster by simplifying the cross-platform development process.
Another top benefit of Appcelerator is their quality assurance. They make it easy for you to verify your apps using automated mobile tests. You’ll also be able to measure usage and results of your projects to detect bugs, crashes, and make adjustments to improve the performance.
The API builder allows you to mobilize all of your data in just minutes. This makes it easier for you to scale.
All Appcelerator developers will have access to Hyperloop for free. This is one of the strongest and most robust cross-platform APIs on the market.
PhoneGap is owned by Adobe—a company with a reputation that speaks for itself. This is definitely one of the most popular cross-platform development options within the developer community.
It’s based on the open source Apache Cordova. This open source framework gives you access to the PhoneGap toolset, which makes it possible for you to get to market faster and debug your app as well.
One of the reasons why I like PhoneGap is because you have access to guides that are specifically for their platform. Anyone can learn how to use their tools, even if you don’t have experience with them.
Once you’re done building, you don’t need to maintain native SDKs. The PhoneGap build service takes care of all of this for you by compiling your work in the cloud.
Xamarin is a product from Microsoft Visual Studio. It allows you to build iOS apps , Android apps, and Windows apps using a single .net code.
All apps built with Xamarin look and feel like they are native apps. That’s because Xamarin uses native interfaces that behave the way a user would expect them to.
If you use Xamarin, your app will have platform-specific hardware boosts that are compiled to achieve native performance. This isn’t the case with alternative software development solutions that need to interpret code at runtime.
More than 75% of your code will be the same, regardless of the platform you’re building for. Xamarin identifies the similar code and accelerates the process for cross-platform development.
You can access their IDEs on whichever platform you prefer. The visual studio is available for both Mac and PC. Both systems come with publishing tools, debugging, UI design, and code editing.
Formerly known as FreedHenry, Redhat is a global resource of open source solutions. They offer specific services for cross-platform development and mobile backend.
This lets enterprises develop and launch mobile apps for Android, iOS, and Windows simultaneously via the cloud. Large companies with an internal IT team can use this tool to build an app and deploy new features without hiring external mobile app developers.
Here are some of Redhat’s tools that are specific to app development:
- OpenShift application runtimes
- OpenShift application container platform
- Developer studio
- Decision manager
- Data grid
- Process automation manager
- JBoss enterprise application platform
- JBoss web server
As you can see, they have a wide variety of tools that will help you with your cross-platform development needs, including resources on the server-side.
Alpha Software is a solution for enterprises. The main purpose of this software is to build business apps that are intended for employee usage.
If your company doesn’t issue smartphones to your employees, then it’s a safe assumption that everyone will be using different platforms. That’s why you need to use a cross-platform development tool to build your app.
Some common features built with Alpha Software include:
- Event reports
- Work orders
- Field research
- Signature capture
- Medical forms
- Safety checklists
- Equipment inspections
- Service dispatch
These types of functions are versatile enough to accommodate enterprises in any industry. Alpha Software offers a 30-day free trial. So at the very least, it’s worth trying out.
Sencha Ext JS
With Sencha Ext JS, you can build cross-platform web applications for smartphones, tablets, and desktops. This is a top option for those of you who need to build an app that’s data-intensive.
The framework uses HTML5 functionality for modern browsers. All of the UI components have been previously integrated and tested for optimal performance.
Some of the available components include grids, forms, menus, panels, toolbars, trees, and lists. There are also hundreds of extensions available for complete customization when you’re building.
Sencha offers a sophisticated data visualization table, making it easier for you to track extensive information. The Ext JS data package is robust and highly functional with a flexible layout manager. This makes it possible for you to organize how your content is displayed based on device, screen size, and browser.
Sencha also has an accessibility package that’s Section 508 compliant, which is a huge benefit it, considering the fact that app accessibility is the new must in mobile development.
Kony Quantum is an easier way to build mobile apps for multiple platforms. That’s because they have a visual canvas with pre-built components for you to choose from.
You can use Kony to create new apps or improve existing apps as well.
This tool is great for inexperienced app developers. They provide guided tours and single-click cloud builds throughout the process. It’s easy to integrate data, which will eventually be put on a visual data map to enhance productivity.
The end result of your cross-platform development project will be modern, beautiful, and entice an engaging experience for the user.
Alternative Cross Platform Editors and IDEs
For those of you who want to create a basic mobile app or need something that’s more niche-specific, you’ll definitely want to look through these alternative editors and IDEs.
The options below aren’t necessarily as popular as the major cross-platform development tools that we’ve seen so far, but they’re still very helpful and easy to learn.
Mobincube is a multi-platform tool used to build native multiplatform apps for Android and iOS. More than 193,000 apps have been published by Mobincube users.
Furthermore, apps created with this tool have resulted in more than 238 million downloads. This has resulted in over $3.2 million in revenue for developers.
It’s free to sign up for Mobincube and it’s very easy to use. If you want additional features like app store optimization, ad removal, and cloud user management, you’ll need to upgrade to one of their premium plans.
IntelliJ IDEA is an open source product from JetBrains. Right out of the box developers will get the tools and version controls they need to support a wide range of frameworks and programming languages, without having to install any plugins.
It’s mainly used with Java development for Android, but with that said, it can also be used for cross-platform development.
According to their website, Qt claims that eight out of the top ten Fortune 500 companies use their products.
Qt is great for rapid development, deployment, and prototyping. The IDE and UI tools are intended for both developers and designers. The platform is reliable, stable, and yields high-performing results.
Their cross-platform development framework makes it possible for businesses to use a single codebase with common APIs to support all mobile platforms.
Cocos2D is made for those of you who want to build a cross-platform gaming app. It comes with a package of development tools, specifically for gaming.
The Cocos Creator also comes with tools for game previewing, a game engine, scene editing, publishing, and game debugging. All of these make it possible for you to deploy your mobile game across multiple platforms.
Corona is another cross-platform framework that’s used for creating gaming apps for both mobile devices and desktop systems. Once you publish your app, it can be accessed across multiple devices, such as:
- Android phones
- Android tablets
- Amazon Fire
- Windows desktop
- Mac desktop
- Apple TV
- Android TV
- Fire TV
Corona uses Lua, which is an open source programming language. It’s fast, lightweight, and powerful. Some of the world’s most popular games like Angry Birds and Warcraft use Lua.
This is a free cross-platform resource. Everything you build can be deployed on all devices with just one code base.
Ionic also has tons of guides and resources to help you get through the building process. The newest version of this editor claims to be smaller, faster, and more extensible than ever before.
You’ll need to install Ionic Studio locally onto your device. But the visual editor makes it easy for you to build apps fast.
Yapp is used for making a very specific type of application. You can use this platform to create cross-platform apps for conferences, events, and meetings.
It’s essentially a way for companies to run an event by going paperless. This improves the accuracy of information given to attendees and guests whenever you need to make last minute changes. You can create and send push notifications to guests with reminders about the schedule as well.
So for those of you who are looking to build an app to manage your events, I’d definitely recommend using Yapp.
As the name implies, RubyMotion is made for writing cross-platform native apps with the Ruby programming language. With RubyMotion, all of the applications are built using the terminal command line. So you’ll be able to use your favorite editor, as opposed to learning how to use a new one.
Once your code gets written in the interactive console, the real-time changes will be integrated to third-party libraries. From there, RubyMotion has a built-in debugger to help you identify any problems. There is an automated testing framework integrated into this platform as well.
Compared to some of the other editors and IDEs on our list, Dropsource is a fairly newer alternative. It’s a browser-based platform, so you don’t need to install anything on your machine.
You can build cross-platform native apps using Swift and Java. Just because it’s a browser-based editor, it doesn’t mean you lose mobile functionality. You can still add elements like geolocation, face ID, touch ID, push notifications, and video recording to your app.
Dropsource has a visual editor and REST API, which is ideal for seamless data integrations. It’s easy to update your app with their drag and drop process.
AppsMoment has been on the market for six years. During that time their platform has been used to help more than 60,000 people publish over 700,000 apps.
No coding is required to build these cross-platform mobile apps. They have over 500 app templates and 120 features for you to speed up the building process.
At a minimum, the majority of the cross-platform tools we’ve seen so far have the ability to build apps for mobile, web, and desktop. Xojo stands out from the crowd because it’s compatible with all of these but also lets you develop with Raspberry Pi.
It’s easy for developers to build a native interface quickly with the drag and drop UI. This makes Xojo a top option for beginners.
I’d also recommend their community forums, which can be a useful resource to get help and clarification whenever you’re stuck. Xojo also has tons of tutorials, video demonstrations, textbooks, and example projects to ease the learning curve.
The web-based development studio is made to enhance productivity. As a developer, you can focus on the business side and user experience of your app, while the platform automatically adjusts to scale accordingly.
Mag+ has digital publishing software intended for building mobile business apps across multiple platforms. Their SDK simplifies the process for publishing content to your app.
You can design, build, distribute, and publish your app all with the help of Mag+ tools.
It’s not as popular as some of the other tools on our list. Less than 5,000 apps have been built with their platform. But with that said, big names like Volvo, United Airlines, and the Harvard Business School have created apps with Mag+.
I’d recommend it for things like internal newsletter applications, sales presentations, branded magazines, and product catalogs.
The majority of cross-platform editors and IDEs all operate under the same premise. Developers use one code base to build their app.
If you know popular programming languages for the coding environments, you’ll have more options when it comes to choosing the best tool for building your cross-platform app.
Not every programming language is the same. Some are new, some are old, and others are more known for native development on specific platforms. Either way, I’ve narrowed down the top cross-platform development languages for you to consider for your project.
This is probably one of the best programming languages for beginners who are new to coding. For those of you who have a background in web development, it will be easier to build a cross-platform mobile app using JS.
Java is another top choice for cross-platform development. There aren’t many downsides to using this programming language to build any type of app since it’s compatible nearly anywhere.
Java is known for keeping costs low, driving innovation, and improving app services. It’s the go-to language for cloud computing and enterprise architecture.
Ruby is a newer programming language that’s open source. It’s meant to be as simple and lightweight as possible. Unlike some of the other languages, Ruby was designed specifically for mobile applications.
People like Ruby because the syntax is easy to write and reads naturally.
As a general-purpose object-oriented programming language, C++ is seemingly everywhere. It runs on platforms like Mac, Windows, Unix, and Linux.
It probably shouldn’t be your first choice for cross-platform mobile apps, since it can add some strain to mobile resources.
C# is becoming one of the most popular languages for cross-platform web applications. What Objective-C is for Mac, C# is for Microsoft.
If you’re familiar with Java, C++, or C, then it will be easy for you to recognize and pick up C#. This object-oriented language can be learned fairly quickly.
This programming language will help make your app compatible with desktops.
Cross Platform Language Tutorials
Now that we’ve identified the cross-platform programming languages, you need to learn how to use them. I’ll show you the top tutorials for each language that we covered above.
Mozilla Developer Network
Most people wouldn’t think to turn to Reddit to learn a programming language. But this discussion thread is updated on a regular basis. It’s a great resource for asking questions amongst your peers.
You can access a digital copy of the book by clicking the link above. There are some great illustrations in addition to the informative text written by Haverbeke.
Java language tutorials
There are tons of Java tutorials on the web. But you really only need to consider these three options below to teach you how to write in Java.
Freeware Java is basically a list of Java resources for various projects. The tutorials include:
- Special effects and game development
- Code signing
- Java 2D
- Developing an arcade game
- Java lecture notes
- Java for students
So check out this language tutorial if you have some specific needs that you’re looking for help with.
The Java Tutorials
If you want to learn how to use Java, sometimes your best bet is to go straight to the source. The Java Tutorials are available from Oracle, the original developer of the Java language.
Here you’ll be able to find information on the basics like date-time APIs and deployment. They also have tutorials on graphical user interfaces, as well as specialized lessons for things like custom networking, generics, internationalization, and sockets direct protocol.
Tutorialspoint has an extensive list of Java video tutorials. There are basic videos covering things like environment setups, syntax, variable types, loop controls, and decision making.
You’ll also have access to specific object-oriented tutorials for:
Tutorialspoint offers videos for advanced Java components like multithreading, serialization, collections, and data structures.
Ruby language tutorials
As I said before, Ruby has a reputation for being easy to write and read. It’s not as popular as some of the other languages, but its usage is increasing for mobile apps.
The Well-Grounded Rubyist
The Well-Grounded Rubyist is a book that was written by David A. Black in 2014. This 536-page tutorial covers topics for Ruby beginners as well as programmers who have in-depth experience using this language.
There are three different sections to the book, each with extensive explanations and applications:
- Part 1 — Ruby foundations
- Part 2 — Built-in classes and modules
- Part 3 — Ruby Dynamics
It’s available as a physical book as well as a digital copy, so get whichever version you prefer.
Ruby Koans is a hands-on tutorial on the Ruby language. The course takes you through different problems that you need to solve on your own. This is one of the best ways to learn a new skill.
It’s compatible with most editors, but there are some suggested options that that will give you the best experience. For example, if you’re using Windows, you should use the E Text Editor, RubyMine, or jEdit to get the most out of the Ruby Koans tutorials.
The Pragmatic Studio offers free tutorials, video courses, and books to teach a wide range of developer skills. You can find plenty of great resources for Ruby here as well.
There are more than 25 videos on basic Ruby programming, totaling more than 5 hours of content. The pragmatic studio has more in-depth video tutorials on mastering Ruby blocks and Ruby on Rails. If you include the accelerated content, there are roughly 100 videos and nearly 20 hours worth of Ruby tutorials.
You’ll likely want to upgrade to the premium content. The free courses are useful, but they are limited.
C++ language tutorials
Learning C++ may not be your first priority for cross-platform mobile app development. But when you’re ready to take the plunge, look no further than the two language tutorials below.
As you might have guessed, Engineer4Free will teach you C++ at no cost. It’s a top choice for learning C++, even if you don’t have any prior experience with this language.
For those of you who have some basic knowledge and foundation for C++, the course also has advanced lessons for functions, vectors, loops, and more. Overall, there are 47 C++ tutorials offered by Engineer4Free.
If you’re a visual learner, YouTube is a great resource. The Derek Banas YouTube channel has more than 940,000 subscribers.
Derek does a great job of explaining different programming elements. He has 29 videos on C++ tutorials alone. Some of those videos have more than 4 million views.
Unlike some of the other tools and resources we’ve seen so far, Derek keeps his content up to date. His C++ tutorials were updated within the last year.
C# language tutorials
Learning C# will help you tremendously as a programmer and developer. These are my top two favorite tutorials for C#.
Kudvenkat is another YouTube channel. There are more than 100 C# language tutorials for beginners. I’d recommend going through the video series from start to finish, as the content builds in that order.
C# Fundamentals for Absolute Beginners
C# Fundamentals for Absolute Beginners is an older resource on the C# programming language. Most of the content hasn’t been updated in years, but it’s still relevant and able to teach you C# from scratch.
Even if you’ve never coded before in your lifetime, these video tutorials will walk you through the process of everything you need to know as a C# beginner.
HTML5 language tutorials
Having a basic knowledge of HTML5 will help you tremendously with your cross-platform development projects.
The New Boston
Over 2.2 million people have subscribed to The New Boston YouTube channel. They have uploaded more than 4,200 video tutorials related to web design, programming, game development, and graphic design.
They have a 53-video playlist on HTML5. I highly recommend these for beginners and experienced developers alike. The videos are quick and informative, with the majority falling somewhere in the 5-10 minute range.
You could argue that Codecademy is the best online resource for learning to code online. They’ve been operating for more than seven years. During that time, over 45 million people have used this resource to learn coding.
Codecademy has a wide range of development and programming tutorials. Teaching HTML5 is definitely one of their specialties.
The HTML-5-Tutorial resource was developed for beginners. It’s definitely not the flashiest or most professional website you’ll find online. But with that said, you’ll still have access to tons of great content that will teach you the basics of HTML-5 in plain English.
Your mobile app needs to be available on as many platforms as possible. But building separate apps for each platform can be an expensive and time-consuming path.
That’s why you need to take advantage of as many cross-platform development tools as possible. This makes it easy for you to accomplish Android app development and iOS development at the same time.
Find a tool that you can use to manage all of your development needs. There are certain tools and programming languages that are more specific than others. For example, some editors and IDEs are geared toward enterprises, internal business apps, or gaming apps. While other tools and languages are general purpose and have a much broader scope.
Regardless of your cross-platform development project, I’d recommend keeping this guide available as a reference.
What tools are you planning to use for your next cross-platform mobile app idea?