Cross-Platform Development: What The Stats Say

Cross-platform development is something that is only going to gain more momentum as manufacturers continue to build a wide variety of consumer devices. Tools and frameworks that make cross-platform development as streamlined as possible are invaluable for developers – and it’s not only the big studios that can afford to do multiple apps for each platform, if a smaller outfit has the right tools, they can manage to do it just as well.

Cross-platform development tools makes it as simple as possible to develop for multiple platforms, but by far the biggest advantage of using these services is the ability to build one app on whatever platform that developers are comfortable with and then deploy that app across multiple platforms to all major app stores, including Intel’s AppUp. The same code foundation can be built for iOS, Web apps, Android, etc. using just one tool to create, debug, and deploy.

One way to accomplish cross-platform development is with HTML5. A new survey that came out last week from Kendo UI, a division of Telerik, indicated that most developers want to work with HTML5 rather than native apps for cross-platform development.

More than 5000 developers were polled between January 9 and January 28 2013. The objective seemed to be twofold: find out what people are actually doing with HTML5, and figure out how they’re doing it. Developers made up the bulk (72%) of the respondents, with a good mix of tech execs filling in the gaps (20%). Most of those polled came straight from small and medium businesses, but start-ups and large enterprises made their voices heard as well, with global insights coming from North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific.

Here’s an overview of the key findings from the survey:

  • Fifty percent (50%) of those surveyed developed a variety of apps in 2012 using HTML5,and 9 out of 10 plan to use HTML5 in 2013.
  • Productivity apps are the most common apps built using HTML5 (54%), followed by Utility (38%).
  • Of those developing mobile apps, 41% are leveraging HTLM5/JavaScript and 36% are using Native code.
  • When asked their preferred approach for developing apps that support multiple platforms, only 15% of the more than 5,000 surveyed would use Native-only.
  • Company size, from global enterprise to start-up, has no impact on preferred approach for developing apps that support multiple platforms. A pure HTML5 (browser) approach (36%), followed by hybrid app development (32%), was the preference across the board.
  • Apple iOS and BlackBerry are considered the more difficult platforms for developers to work with while Windows 8 and Android win for ease-of-use.
  • Windows 8 (66%), Chrome OS (47%) are the most interesting new operating systems.
  • BlackBerry 10 (13%) and Tizen OS (8%) are least popular among those surveyed.
  • Eighty-seven percent (87%) of those surveyed are primarily focused on using HTML5 to build desktop websites/web apps, followed by mobile websites (53%).

Interestingly, the majority of developers responded that desktop apps were a primary focus, with a 60/40 split between desktop and mobile technologies, respectively.

Not convinced by the data yet? Another new report, titled “Cross Platform Mobile Development Tools Market Analysis and Forecast” published by Smiths Point Analytics reports that the market for cross-platform mobile development tools exceeds $1.6 billion right now, and is expected to reach $8.2 billion by 2016:

“Developers are taking a number of cross platform development approaches and successful developers will match the right tools and approach to appropriate requirements and use cases. With the complexity of mobile app development continuing to grow, the tools vendors’ ability to reduce development time and increase application reach is generating significant opportunities. This new trend in mobile application development will also help fuel and more open and prosperous mobile app ecosystem.”

The report covered cross-platform tools that make life for developers a little bit easier, enabling them to create apps that run on multiple platforms with a minimum of code changes. Overall, the study reports that most developers are using a good mix of hybrid, Web, and native technologies when developing apps for more than one platform. Cross-platform tools are seen as extremely useful not only for limited resources and broader reach, but also as leverage for developers looking to augment their skill set.

A recent Slide Share presentation gives a good overview of where the industry is currently at in terms of cross-platform development tools:

  • Mobile platforms include Palm, WebOS, MeeGo, Windows Phone, Blackberry, bada, iOS, and Symbian
  • Mobile Web frameworks and toolkits include and
  • Mobile web apps are great for creating mobile landing pages along with creating something that runs on any platform
  • Client-side web (aka HTML5) frameworks and toolkits include zepto.js, joApp and Sencha
  • Client-side web development great for when you need to make a prototype or need something that looks like an app
  • Hybrid apps – think PhoneGap
  • Hybrid apps are great for wanting to build an app based on HTML5 and you need access to the phone’s hardware
  • Interpreted apps – frameworks include appcelerator and JMango
  • I-apps – use if you want to use just one language, you need access to the phone’s hardware, and you want a semi-native look and feel
  • Cross-compiling – frameworks and tools include applause and mono, use if you want to use one language, need access to phone’s hardware, truly native look and feel

Cross-platform development is obviously important, simply for the plain fact that it saves time, freeing up valuable resources that would otherwise be dedicated to doing the same thing ten different times. Intel’s App Framework is one tool that has been found to be faster than other comparable cross-platform frameworks, built especially for mobile devices. HTML5 apps that are aiming for cross-platform compatibility would do well with this framework especially. You can check it out here: Intel App Framework.

Smart developers know that focusing on one platform only is not a good idea; cross-platform is the way to go. Yes, that does mean building separate applications for all the different platforms out there, which can take up a lot of time and resources for maximum market exposure.  The plethora of devices available for consumers will only increase the demand for and use of cross-platform application development frameworks, which will certainly make life a little bit easier for developers.

Different apps are required for different platforms, operating systems, device models, different screen adaptations, aspect ratios, even different versions of the same platform. Developing apps for all these different platforms is (to say the least) a time-consuming process. Developers have to optimize apps for each device, taking the time to test everything so there aren’t problems down the road.  While it’s certainly fantastic that we have a wide variety of devices available to us as consumers, for developers, optimizing apps that will function on the majority of mobile devices on the market is becoming an increasingly more difficult task.

Rather than building separate applications for all the different platforms out there, cross-platform development tools and frameworks make it possible to build just one and port an app to multiple platforms. This is a major timesaver, to say the very least. Developers looking for ways to streamline their work flow and get their apps quickly to end users find a way to make cross-platform development a reality in their app development workflow. The most appealing benefit of using cross-platform development tools and frameworks is the ability to build one app instead of several different versions of one app and deploy it across multiple platforms for maximum market exposure.  

Let’s hear from you: what tools or frameworks do you use for cross-platform development? Is there something that is your “go to” solution? Let’s hear in the comments.