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The Truth about Cross-Platform App Frameworks (and Which One Is Right for You) Part I

The following post is a part of a series where we compare and analyze popular cross-platform app frameworks, and help you decide which one would work best for your organization’s mobility needs. Our approach is unbiased and our aim is to help businesses understand the pros and cons of each app framework thoroughly before deciding to give mobility a go ahead.

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cross platform app framework

If you’re like most other organizations, chances are you’ve tossed around the idea of developing a branded app that covers multiple mobile devices and platforms. In fact, as Forbes magazine’s Melanie Haselmayer points out, it’s one of the best things you can do to further the reach and growth of your brand.

“…the most important reason why you should consider building your own mobile app is customer loyalty.” – Melanie Haselmayer, Forbes magazine

Outside of the notion of a more loyal base of customers, there’s also some substantial facts and figures offered up by the researchers over at Gartner that show the mobile craze is far from over:

gartner

  • Worldwide sales of smartphones in the fourth quarter of 2014 totaled in at 367.5 million.
  • This figure represents a 29.9 percent increase from the fourth quarter of 2013.
  • In total, 1.2 billion mobile units were sold in 2014.

Of course, developing an app and cashing in on the potential held within the rising demand for branded offerings is far easier said than done if you’re not familiar with all that goes into the creation of this program. In fact, the confusion that comes with this process can feel downright overwhelming at times.

Which app framework is right for me? Should I cater to multiple platforms? How will these decisions impact my development budget? The list of concerns and questions racing through your head could no doubt go on and on. With each new mobile platform and operating system added to the mix, the confusion surrounding this process continues to grow at a rapid rate.

Thankfully, with our look at the top cross-platform app frameworks – IBM Worklight, PhoneGap, and Xamarin – guiding the way, you’ll have the information and insight you need to select the platform that fits your unique organizational needs.

ibmA Look at IBM Worklight

“A standards-based programming language is another key benefit [of IBM Worklight], because I (and most other geeks) don’t want to be locked in to a particular vendor, language or IDE…” – Gary Ho, Mobile Business Insights

These words, from industry thought leader Gary Ho, sum up the major appeal of IBM Worklight – its inherent flexibility. In keeping with this theme, Ken Parmelee of Gartner also points to this degree of freedom regarding vendor, language, and IDE preferences as a major selling point for IBM Worklight.

Outside of the flexibility offered by this platform, IBM Worklight also provides the following benefits or features:

  • Complete mobile app development platform.
  • Centralized back-end connectivity with adapters provides greater development possibilities.
  • Offers offline encrypted storage.

While these perks can definitely sway developers and brands alike to the Worklight framework, it’s important to note that not every industry voice views this platform as a perfect solution.

“I can see why Worklight appeals to enterprises, and as a mobile consultant for enterprise IT organizations, it’s certainly an important tool to have in my wheelhouse, but as someone who loves working with really clever and useful development tools, I can’t help but find myself longing for more.” – B.C. Holmes, i-Proving.com

Aside from the concerns offered up by B.C. Holmes of i-Proving.com, there’s a few other issues that deserve your attention during the selection process of the framework that fits your brand’s needs:

  • Some members of the community view the Worklight toolkit as slow or limited in scope and ability.
  • It’s not always conducive to “hands-on” testing – Worklight often requires porting code to a different program to simulate a platform.
  • Not everyone wants to use a framework that is bundled with an older alternative – IBM’s Cordova.

Now that you’re familiar with both sides of the story regarding IBM Worklight, let’s take a look at two apps that make great use of this platform. This way you can get a feel of what to expect for an app developed via this platform, should you choose IBM Worklight.

First up is Shift Track.

This app helps managers schedule employee workdays and time off, as well as highlight coverage gaps, via a persistent interface and access to push notifications and alerts. Shift Track aims to combine brilliant functionality with a sleek and easily related aesthetic form.

rightshift_gold_app

 

Much like Shift Track, Travel Plan keeps the user organized and on task – even going so far as to suggest bookings based on the user’s travel history. This personalized approach helps take the headache out of coordinating business trips and travel agendas.

travel_plan_app

Phonegap-Logo-SimpleDelving into the World of PhoneGap

“A framework like PhoneGap is a great way to dip your feet in the water [of app development].” – Angus Kidman, Lifehacker

Another great option to consider as you sift through potential app frameworks is PhoneGap. As Angus Kidman of Lifehacker explains, this tool serves as a strong development asset that offers consistency and performance across a plethora of platforms. In fact, PhoneGap currently ports apps to seven different mobile platforms:

  • Apple
  • Android
  • Blackberry
  • Symbian
  • Bada
  • webOS

Additionally, Phonegap also provides you and your chosen app programmer with the following benefits:

  • Relies upon the mature systems of JavaScript and HTML5 for coding, even though PhoneGap is a relative newcomer to the app framework scene.
  • Stands as an open source option, thereby making the process of extending and modifying plug-ins an easy and accessible affair.
  • Requires no upfront licensing or cost to use during development.

Before you go rushing off to work with PhoneGap, we also need to take a moment to highlight the less than stellar attributes of this development platform. Otherwise, you might find yourself in an unfortunate or unwanted situation during the creation and testing of your branded mobile app.

As the experts from Stack Overflow explain, PhoneGap suffers from a few issues or concerns, including:

  • Unlike IBM Worklight, PhoneGap stands only as a JavaScript bridge library that operates within your current IDE.
  • PhoneGap requires in-depth testing for each targeted platform or browser to work out the bugs.
  • Sometimes this platform is prone to lower performance when compared to native implementations.

As for examples of winnings apps that utilized PhoneGap’s array of development tools in the creation process, there are two that stand out: Exfm and HealthTap.

exfm_app

Exfm is a social media/music discovery platform that allows users to share and suggest music to one another in real-time. This app also has the ability to adapt and learn from a user’s habits via the “Smart Shuffle” feature, thus creating an optimized series of auto-play suggestion.

health_tap_app

In terms of helping concerned people with medical problems and questions, no app compares to HealthTap. As a quick, easy, and trusted channel for communications, HealthTap connects doctors and potential patients via a private and HIPAA-secure environment. Healthtap even provides users with the ability to privately share scans, images, and medical documents.

xamagonCatching up with Xamarin

The third framework on our list – Xamarin – offers plenty of pros and cons that are worth your attention. Let’s start by talking about why Xamarin is a leading development framework option.

“Xamarin is hands down one of the best mobile development platforms available in the market today.” – Michael Ridland, Founder of Xam Consulting

Aside from glowing endorsements via Michael Ridland and other industry thought leaders, Xamarin also providers its users with the following benefits:

  • Near native performance.
  • 100 percent platform API coverage.
  • 75 percent code sharing means Xamarin code is highly “recyclable.”
  • Shared code between client and server.
  • Offers support and testing via xamarin.com.

Simply put, Xamarin has a full complement of premium features. Unfortunately, Justin Shield – a senior software engineer of Brisbane’s 3csSoftware – points out that accessing these premium features also comes with a premium price tag.

Outside of the larger burden on your budget, Xamarin has also received a few other complaints from members of the app development community:

  • Does not have the same variety of already developed plug-ins as other members of the list.
  • Requires additional development and resources for each added target platform.
  • Limited sharing of code between Xamarin and other frameworks.

For those of you considering the Xamarin framework, here’s a few apps to look over that showcase the power of this platform.

First up is Honeywell’s branded app.

As a leading provider of cooling and heating systems, this brand developed an app via the Xamarin platform that allows users to control climate functions within their homes. The functionality of the app also helps users reduce energy costs, as well as the environmental footprint generated by these systems.

honeywell_-branded_app

Within the entertainment industry, Xamarin is also known for the utility offered up by the Cinemark branded app. The developers of this app were able to create a loyalty-based app that rewards repeat users and provides instant access to movie ticket purchases. In return, the Cinemark branded app currently lays claim to over 6,700 five-star ratings on the Google Play Store.

fb_cover

Making the Right Choice for Your Brand

So now that you’re an expert on the positives and negatives of each platform and you’re ready to join the 91 percent of other leading brands – as noted by the experts from The Guardian – in the world of app development, it’s time to answer the big question – which framework is the best option out here?

As nice as it would be to have a singular answer on this front, the truth of the matter is that there is no “one size fits all” choice when it comes to picking the right framework for your brand. You’ll have to find the framework that fits the specific needs of your brand, as well as any other extenuating circumstances that could arise during the development cycle.

During your time exploring the benefits and detractions of each platform, feel free to refer back to this handy chart that summarizes the major points we’ve covered here today.

App Framework

Positive Attributes

Relevant Concerns and Issues

IBM Worklight

  • Complete mobile app development platform
  • Centralized back-end connectivity with adapters
  • Offers offline encrypted storage
  • High degree of flexibility

 

  • Sometimes viewed as slow or limited in scope and ability
  • Not conducive to “hands-on” testing
  • Not everyone wants IBM’s Cordova bundled with Worklight

 

PhoneGap

  • Ports to seven different platforms
  • Relies upon the mature systems of JavaScript and HTML5
  • Stands as an open source option
  • Requires no upfront licensing or cost to use during development

 

  • Acts only as a JavaScript bridge library that operates within your current IDE
  • Requires in-depth testing for each targeted platform
  • Prone to lower performance when compared to native alternatives

 

Xamarin

  • Near native performance
  • 100 percent platform API coverage
  • Recyclable code sharing between apps
  • Shared code between client and server
  • Offers support and testing via scan.xamarin.com

 

  • Lack of developed plug-ins
  • Requires extra development for additional platforms
  • Limited sharing of code between Xamarin and other frameworks
  • Higher cost of entry

 

 

Additionally, always consult with a trusted team of app development professionals. These experts have years of experience under their belts, thereby ensuring that you always make the right call when it comes to planning out your app creation and framework selection.

With your newfound knowledge of cross-platform frameworks in hand, as well as the guidance of these experts helping you out along the way, it won’t be long before you have a branded app that’s raking in downloads across iOS, Android, and whichever other platforms you target.

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In the next part of this series of posts, we will talk about another new app framework called Ionic, and later compare it to the three frameworks talked about in this post. If there is an app framework, your enterprise has been working with, that you would like us to talk about, please let us know: marketing@netsolutionsindia.com.

About the Author
Kapil Khanna
Kapil Khanna is the Chief Technology Officer at Net Solutions responsible for driving technology vision, strategy, innovation and bleeding-edge solutions. His Expertise is in delivering complex and large scale projects, consumer and enterprise grade business solutions using next gen web frameworks, ESBs, SOA best practices, Cloud computing (AWS/SaaS), APIs( REST/SOAP service), leveraging industry best practices.

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