Native mobile vs. React Native development

Understand, when to use which app development framework

Dominik Schmidt

CTO

by Dominik Schmidt

Native mobile vs. React Native development

The struggle of choosing the right development route

Up until 2015, native mobile development had always been the traditional route developers took to build apps. But with the creation of React Native a few years ago, there has been a new framework with different capabilities developers can use to build their apps with. React Native gives you the opportunity to build one code and one app for two operating systems (namely iOS and Android).

Yet, while this looks like a huge improvement to native mobile development at first glance, there are still some very important aspects in which native mobile outperforms its new contender.

But when do you know, which framework to choose from? In the following few lines, we will talk about both frameworks, and will highlight their respective benefits and downsides to give you a better picture of their distinct values.

What is native mobile, what is native react app development?

Native mobile

Native mobile development encompasses a platform-specific framework and is used to code apps in a programming language used specially for iOS or Android, respectively. Every platform has a specific coding language that you need to use if you want to release it on your preferred platform:

  • If the app is built for Android, you’d want to use Kotlin or Java (although the latter might be a little outdated)
  • If the app is built for iOS, you’d want to use Objective-C or Swift
  • If the app is built for a Windows phone, you’d want to use C#

Native apps work on the device’s operating system – this means, they have full liberty to use the features that are present on said device’s hardware and software, such as the camera, content list, GPS, Bluetooth, and even Biometrics and AR, if those are available on the device.

Of course, native apps are only downloadable from their respective app stores, e.g. the Google Play store or the Apple App Store. Since native app development is the prevalent way of developing apps, you’ll find that they make up the majority of the apps on your phone.

React native

React Native is a UI software framework created and open-sourced by Meta (Facebook) back in 2015. It enables developers to build apps for iOS, macOS, Android, and Windows through the use of the React framework in combination with native platform capabilities.

Thanks to this innovation, developers no longer had to build and update different codes for different platforms, making great savings in time and money. This huge benefit comes with a cost, though, which we will discuss later in the article.

Where does native mobile shine, and wherein lie its challenges?

Native mobile development has always been the main way to build mobile applications and therefore, is a tried and tested method of creating apps. Choosing to build your app on a native basis will come with quite a few benefits – yet, in some cases the cons may outweigh the pros. Let’s take a look at both.

The pros

Superior performance – because native apps are native to the platform they are built for, they work much faster and perform better than other apps. Many elements are preloaded, and because native apps have direct access to the device’s soft- and hardware, they can make use of e.g. the highest possible frame rate, more speed, graphics support, the device’s computing power.

Complex mobile features – the first benefit also plays into the second one: due to their high performance capabilities, native apps are able to handle more complex and resource-intensive features, such as AR, VR, 3D, as well as animation-heavy elements.

Native apps give you a familiar look and experience – since all native apps on a specific platform incorporate the platform’s framework, they share a more familiar look and experience. That does not mean that all native apps look similar, but they provide the user with an easier navigation because they all have a similar natural flow.

Native apps have better control over aspect ratios – the aspect ratio (the ratio of width to height of different screens) determines the quality of an image. If it is changed and a device’s size and shape is altered, some apps may fail to function properly as a result because they cannot maintain the new aspect ratio. Developers of native apps have access to layout features provided by the platforms (Constraint Layout by Android and Auto Layout by iOS), and thus have better control over aspect ratios.

Offline availability – native apps can, thanks to their native infrastructure, be used offline with next to no impairments. While you of course cannot update data while being stuck in a tunnel, you can still open the app and access previously loaded data. The data that you then create while being offline, will be stored on the device and sent to servers, as soon as you regain your internet connection.

The cons

The problems, when it comes to native app development, can realistically be pooled to one: logistics. If you have enough time on your hands, and just want to build an app for a specific platform, everything is fine and you can simply use the framework provided by either Apple or Google.

But, if you aim to release your product on more than one platform, have a tight deadline, and still want to go with the native development option, you will have to deal with some obstacles that will make development inherently more difficult and expensive:

Time – native apps take fundamentally more time to develop, simply because you have to code so many elements from scratch, while React Native provides you with many reusable components to speed up your development process.

Availability – another obstacle to overcome: finding iOS and Android developers for your team is generally more difficult than finding JavaScript developers, due to the former being much more in demand and therefore, much harder to come by.

2 platforms, 2 different codes – when building a native application for both Android and iOS, you will need to write and handle two completely different source codes, written in different languages and with different frameworks, which will make development mich more time consuming.

2 platforms, two development teams – given that both codes work on a different coding language, it is likely that you need two separate teams working on each app. This is not only much more expensive, but also requires constant communication between both teams, which may pose to be quite a challenge at times.

2 platforms, 2 problems to fix – when developing and maintaining two separate apps for both platforms, you will constantly have to make individual updates, bugfixes, troubleshoots etc. – you’ll essentially always have a pair of problems to take care of, which beyond doubt will increase the amount of work and costs.

The advantages and disadvantages of React Native

The still relatively new hybrid framework was able to establish itself in the last few years and presents a worthy alternative to native mobile development. Provided and regularly updated by Meta (Facebook), React Native is definitely here to stay and will likely grow in the future. Let’s have a look at RN’s good and bad sides:

The pros

The key benefit that comes with using React Native is obviously that you only need to write one code that can be used on both platforms. This comes with several advantages over the traditional method of native mobile development.

Smaller teams – Contrary to native mobile development, React Native development only requires one team for both platforms, which knows how to code in JavaScript. This team can then write the code for Android and iOS, which is inherently more cost-efficient and makes for easier communication.

Shorter development time – Adding to the first point, React Native also provides ready-to-apply components that can easily accelerate the development process, which in turn further reduces time and costs.

Hot reloading – React Native’s ability to keep the app running while you implement new versions of the files that you edited at runtime, is a great QoL utility that is especially useful if you aim to tweak the UI and want to quickly see and test changes as they are made.

Simplified UI logic – since RN employs declarative programming instead of implementing a sequence of actions, like it is required in native development, it is easier to detect bugs on the path a user can take in your app. Thus, bug fixing can be conducted more quickly.

The cons

Steep learning curve – simple React already comes with a high level of complexity – React Native requires you to learn even more aspects, such as certain elements of MacOS/iOS and Android ecosystems. Though, Web developers may have an easier time with RN as both use JavaScript.

Lack of custom modules – Although RN already has a huge number of components and continues to release more, it may still happen that you cannot find a fitting custom module for your app. A situation like this will leave it to you to either build the solution from scratch, or alter an existing one to fit your specific needs – both options warrant you to have a deeper understanding of RN development, which may go beyond pure JavaScript knowledge.

Not suitable for complex UI elements – it will be more difficult to create complex UI using RN simply because some mobile app components cannot be written in JavaScript. In this case, the team should still have someone with experiences in iOS and Android native development.

So, when do I use which framework?

Both, native mobile and React Native, have their fair share of benefits that can help bring out the best of your project – but they also come with potential disadvantages. It all depends on the specific use case.

Are you planning to release your app on both platforms? Do you have limited time and budget to build your app? And are you interested in the features provided by RN, such as hot reloading and live reloading? Then, React Native would definitely be the way to go.

Do you have the time and budget to write two codes for both platforms? Is your app going to be highly complex in code, needs a lot of heavy features and animations, and still needs to perform smoothly? Then, you’d probably want to build your app on a native framework.

If you are still unsure, which framework might suit your project better, feel free to contact us. We would be very happy to take a look at your project and advise you on the best possible approaches you should take to baronet out the best of your website or app.

Dominik Schmidt

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Dominik Schmidt

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