If it is too good to be true, it probably is. That flat we rented for a great price but had the loudest neighbours. That Kickstarter product we ordered that turned out to be a joke. That outfit we bought which only looked great online.
The value just wasn’t as substantial as we hoped for. But we went for it anyway — against our gut feeling — since the savings were tangible.
Most of us who have come across mobile app development have faced the dilemma of cross-platform vs. native at a certain stage. We have all heard very compelling cases on the potential amount of money we were supposed to save with the prior. And a lot of us have gone down the road of cross-platform development. But not many have come back saying it was worth it.
So why is that? Why do companies continue to be disappointed? Why do they fail to assess the real cost of cross-platform?
Because it’s damn hard. The million-dollar question — often times quite literally — is:
‘Should we go cross-platform?’
When you ask that question, you are really looking to measure saving over potential tradeoffs. It’s like placing a weight on each side of the scale: the anticipated saving by going cross-platform over native and the anticipated cost of the same.
Let’s have a quick look at those savings:
You can often see companies only considering the Savings side. “Look, we can have 60% common code!”. “We are only going to need one team!”. “Our current C# code can be entirely reused!”. It is pretty easy to convince yourself that you can quickly realise $100k of savings on a $200k project.
It is certainly what cross-platform tools encourage you to think like. After all, it is their business. But it’s too good to be true.
If you would like to go for a more balanced approach, you will have a hard time. Unfortunately the tradeoffs are much harder to measure accurately. While the cost saving on coding time or building new teams is relatively easy to estimate, assessing the cost of performance loss or UI tradeoffs is very hard to quantify. Let’s just highlight some of these costs:
You would of course be right to point out common code savings are more likely to be realized than the cost on a framework-related security breach. But these factors are still present and they have a very tangible business impact. So now that scale looks entirely different.
To be completely frank, cross-platform has its well deserved niche uses. One is using Unity3D in game development. Another is utilizing Xamarin for B2B apps with massive business logic and little UI. So is going for HTML frameworks if you have a really tight budget.
But if you put users first — something that your competitors will do — cross-platform is generally not worth it.
And I am not only talking about fancy B2C apps which are trying to win space on the market. There is no more saying “This app will do, it’s internal-only anyway”. You would want to keep your best and brightest efficient and happy by providing them tools with a great UX. If you won’t, the competition will.
But let’s just take a final step back and focus on the big picture. Why does cross-platform put you in an inherently disadvantaged position? The answer is rather philosophical.
Anyway, here is a key takeaway. If you are ever about to make the decision of cross-platform vs. native, you better look well into those tradeoffs. The value proposition for cross-platform needs to be very-very compelling for your product in order to reap real, long term benefits.
Don’t fall for the classic mistake. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Quick disclaimer here: Over the years, we built over 100 mobile apps at Supercharge and we had the opportunity to test a good number of frameworks. We have had a long love and hate affair with Xamarin. We built apps using Unity3D. We flirted with Phonegap. We always ended up going back to native.
Andras Tessenyi, CEO @ Supercharge
The Real Cost of Cross-platform Development was originally published in Supercharge's Digital Product Development Guide on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.