Mobile app development: React Native vs Native

Thinking about reaching new customers with a mobile app and wondering which technology to choose? We examine the differences between cross-platform mobile app development with React Native and native development for Android and iOS.

Between React Native and native technologies

Year by year, more people are using internet on mobile devices than on their desktops, which may be a good reason for you to think about building a mobile app for your business.

Android and iOS are the most-used platforms on which smartphones operate nowadays.

Thinking about developing a mobile app, you'll eventually have to consider the alternative:

  • Native mobile development, which means building an app by using two separate codebases for Android and iOS devices in their native languages: Java and Kotlin for Android and Swift or Objective-C for iOS,
  • Cross-platform development with frameworks like React Native or Google's Flutter that make code readable for both Android and iOS.

In order to choose properly between React Native and native technologies for mobile development, you will need to examine your project's long-term goals, scope, budget and timeline. I am pretty sure, this article will be helpful too.

What is React Native?

React Native is a framework for cross-platform mobile development. It was created by Facebook developers, first as their internal hackathon project, but released to the public in 2016.

Apps built with React Native include Facebook Ads Manager and Activity Feed, SoundCloud Pulse, Bloomberg and Instagram among others. Also, 38 Android and iOS apps from the wide Microsoft suite are, according to the new research, programmed using this ever more popular framework. The list includes Android and iOS versions of such landmark products as Microsoft Word, Excel and Outlook.

React Native allows to ship Android and iOS apps with a single code base to a large extent. This happens thanks to its built-in ability to translate the JavaScript code on native components called bridges.

'In short, React Native tries to do two things better than native technologies, or one better and the other differently: to share codebases as much as it's possible and to give web devs the possibility to build mobile apps with almost native performance' - says Andrzej Pietruczuk, mobile developer at Prograils.

Pros of React Native

The ability to share code between such different platforms obviously makes React Native attractive for businesses and results in further advantages which include:

  • Shared codebase - which leads to further advantages such as
  • Theoretically faster mobile app development - the framework was intended to optimize product development processes as its primary goal. According to various sources, the Android and iOS versions of a mobile app can share up to 70% of the code.
  • Lower development costs - if your budget is tight, then React Native is a cheaper alternative. Instead of developers handling Android or iOS separately, you just need to hire or outsource those fluent in cross-platform development,
  • Easy to learn - especially if your team used React or Javascript before.

Sounds good? Well, let's flip the coin, as cross-platform development with React Native has also some disadvantages.

Cons of React Native

  • Faster to write, longer to debug.
  • Lower performance than in native apps - that's because modules responsible for accessing the unique features of your smartphone (such as camera etc.) have to be written in native technologies. The same goes for bridges that need to be coded natively too.
  • Some functionalities are unavailable from standard React Native libraries - then you can either search for packages created by the growing RN community, or write your own bridges in native technologies. In turn, some problems may take longer to solve than in native programming. This problem may occur when trying to integrate your app with some external parties (such as ARKit or SDK).
  • React Native is still not a fully mature technlogy and breaking changes between its subsequent versions may occur.

Native mobile app development

As opposed to cross-platform development, native mobile app development is a more old-school way of building apps. Which definitely does NOT mean 'old-fashioned'.

Native mobile app development is about building a product from scratch for one operating system. Android mobile apps are usually written in Kotlin and Java, iOS apps - in Swift and Objective-C. So if you want to create an application for both platforms, you will have to hire developers with programming skills required by Android and iOS.

Pros of native mobile app development

  • High performance - native mobile apps are built and optimized specifically for a particular platform, so they are very fast and responsive on their dedicated devices. This one applies particularly for apps working with high-end graphics or complex calculations,
  • Bigger community - both Android and iOS communities existed long before react Native was released, which obviously makes it easier to solve numerous problems,
  • Support of creators of both platforms,
  • Better integration with hardware functionalities - if your mobile app demands access to a device's specific features, such as camera, microphone. Designed for a specific platform, native apps take full advantage of their software.
  • Potentially fewer bugs.

Cons of native mobile app development:

  • Two separate codebases - you have to hire developers skilled in technologies dedicated to both platforms.
  • Longer development time and costs - because native apps are developed from scratch for each platform. More time and spendings are required to complete the process.

'Should I go native or cross-platform'?

...you may ask, when considering your idea for your mobile app. In fact, this article was inspired by a direct message sent to us by a potential client. You may have the gut feeling that the most accurate answer is a good, old 'it depends'.

And you are right.

Before you decide whether to choose cross-platform mobile development with React Native or native app development, think about your idea for an app and its long term goals. Not the other way around.

If you plan to develop something rather fast and cheaper, and your app doesn't need to be integrated with any sophisticated outside parties, then React Native is a way to go for your.

Many companies decide on React Native as a solution for event-related apps or those with a short-term lifespan. Then again, remember about giants like Facebook and Instagram taking full advantage of cross-platform mobile development.

If, on the other hand, you think of a product with expected long lifecycle and further major developments, we recommend considering a native app.

The more sophisticated features, interface elements typical for a certain platform, dependencies from external native libraries (e.g. for QR code reading, native API), the more native code you need.

In order to determine which solution works best for you, join our assessment workshop for determining the technology stack and cost of your app.

To sum up

The 'mobile first' approach is no longer a trend, but a fact. As of 2019, 4.68 billion people worldwide are expected to be using mobile phones, which is around 67 per cent of the entire population. No wonder that businesses want to reach them on their smartphones.

Technology stack is a crucial part of developing any application. You should consider it at the very beginning of defining your business strategy.

Before choosing the technology stack for your mobile app, you should carefully consider its long-term goals, budget, scope and timeframe.

'You should not forcefully search for pros and cons of cross-platform and native programming unless you have a full comprehension of your application's goals' - explains Andrzej Pietruczuk.

Generally speaking, cross-platform mobile development with frameworks such as React Native works best for more immediate purposes, such as simple e-commerce, event-related apps that do not require integrations on a large scale.

Native apps are recommended when you aim for an excellent performance, deep integrations with native APIs and platform specific-features etc.

Have an idea for an app or need advice on which technology you should invest your time and resources in? Drop us a line, we'll be happy to help you!

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Cover photo based on a photography by Hardik Sharma on Unsplash.com

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