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Why Users Still Prefer Native iOS (Swift) & Android (Java/Kotlin) Mobile Applications

by | Mar 9, 2020

Why Users Still Prefer Native IOS (Swift) and Android (Java/Kotlin) Mobile Applications

Every year, the percentage of online interactions that happen via mobile devices grows. Desktop computers are no longer the dominant way that people access the internet. As such, building a responsive mobile experience for customers is a top priority for most companies.

While many companies are content building a mobile responsive website that can be viewed on the phone’s browser, most direct to consumer companies will want a mobile app where they can control the entire experience. When it comes to building mobile apps, however, developers are divided.

On the one hand, you can develop separate applications for iOS and Android with separate code bases using native code such as Swift and Java. On the other hand, you can use a framework to help share a single codebase across both Android and iOS. While this approach might be nice for developers, it’s clear that (for now) users still prefer native (Swift/Java) mobile applications. In this post, we’ll explore why.

Compiled & Other Non-Native Solutions

At first glance, it might seem like the best solution is one that uses a single codebase across both Android and iOS. After all, sharing code means you only have to write the application once and then you can use it anywhere. Developers at Facebook, Google, and Microsoft have all had the same idea about code reuse across mobile platforms.

At Facebook, that dream took the form of React Native, which is arguably the most popular single codebase solution for mobile development. It’s an extension of Facebook’s already wildly popular React JavaScript framework.

At Google, they took a different approach with Flutter. It’s a similar framework, but it’s written in the Dart programming language. Flutter applications can then be compiled to Android, iOS, or JavaScript code.

At Microsoft, they took a slightly different approach with Xamarin. Xamarin extends Microsoft’s .NET framework of web tooling written in C#.

Reasons to Write Your Mobile Applications in Native Code

Major companies have used these frameworks to write mobile applications across mobile OSs. However, there are challenges that none of these frameworks have successfully addressed.

On the whole, users still prefer native applications for the following reasons.

1. Native Mobile Applications Are More Performant

When you write an application in native code (Java/Swift), you have direct control over the efficiency of that code. You can refactor to cut out unnecessary load on the CPU, therefore building highly performant applications.

With compiled frameworks, you don’t have the same level of control. In addition, these frameworks need to be flexible enough to work in many use cases, so they may be overly flexible in how they compile to native code or unnecessarily rerender the page, leading to inefficiencies.

2. Native Apps “Feel” Native in a Way That Can’t Be Replicated

Compiled solutions need to be able to render equally to both Android and iOS. Thus, they can only use the features that are common between both operating systems.

By contrast, native code can take full advantage of all the latest features, integrations, and effects on a given operating system. This isn’t trivial. Users can tell when an application feels a little bit wonky because it has been compiled.

While some of your favorite apps may use React Native, Flutter, or Xamarin, the truth is many developer, UX design, and QA testing hours went into getting the native feel for those applications.

3. One-Size-Fits-All Solutions Still Require You to Write Some Native Code

In order to get a truly performant, native feeling application for each OS, you’re still going to have to write native code. Recently, Airbnb announced they’d stop using React Native for exactly this reason. They realized that they basically already had separate code bases for both Android and iOS with individual tweaks to how the application worked on each. At that point, React Native’s promised benefits of a single code base didn’t really exist anymore as every new release still required separate iOS and Android work to get things looking, feeling, and performing correctly on each OS.

No Good Replacement for Native Code

While the dream of a single code base for both Android and iOS is still out there, it’s challenging to build a complex mobile app with React Native, Flutter, or Xamarin. In order to get a native feel and top performance for your users, you’ll have to write Swift & Java (or Kotlin) code.

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