Getting a mobile app right is a difficult feat to pull. Getting it right on multiple platforms is even more challenging. It takes the right amount of expertise, planning, and experience to do it right. Favoring one platform and neglecting others can cost you valuable customers. Engaging in all available platforms without having the right tools and developers can lead to even more disastrous results.
Cross-platform development has always been an issue of contention in the mobile app industry, and developers and manufacturers have always been looking for new tools and methods to tackle this seemingly insurmountable challenge. Here are a few tips that should get you on the right track to develop a successful mobile app that will work seamlessly on all popular mobile platforms.
Consider using cross-platform tools
Cross platform tools have emerged as frameworks to help build apps for all three mainstream platforms (Android, iOS and Windows Phone) in a single IDE. Our own Teru Yim has an excellent post on this topic. One of the benefits of cross-platform tools is that they enable web developers to enter the mobile development domain without much training needed.
But as with all other programming tools that simplify otherwise complicated tasks, cross-platform tools are double-edged swords: They deprive you of many platform-specific features and their misuse can lead to unfavorable consequences, especially if your app will make extensive use of the target device’s graphics hardware and multimedia features.
In general, if your mobile app will be an extension of your website, you’ll be fine using cross-platform tools. Otherwise, tread carefully.
Pay special attention to design and structure when developing natively
This guideline applies to all forms of software development, but when you intend to develop an application for one platform and later implement the same concept in a totally different system, proper design and application structure can save you a lot of time and effort both in the development and testing phases.
Fortunately, apps for Android, iOS and Windows Phone are all developed with sound object-oriented programming languages (Java, Objective C and C#, respectively). Therefore it is easy to port a well-formed application design from any one of these languages to another.
Break your application into different layers and components, each addressing a specific task and domain. Try to isolate platform-specific features and UI components from the logical functionalities of your app. Document every step of your design and development phase. Make thorough use of diagramming tools. They’re a boon when it comes to rewriting the application in another language, and they help a lot when you’re trying to nail down bugs in your code.
Use web services
All application platforms have easy-to-use features that allow them to interact with web services. Consider whether you can port the logic and data layers of your application into your servers. Doing so can save you a lot of time and effort.
Once you transfer the meat-and-potatoes and mechanics of your application into your web services, all you need to do is to write platform-specific user interface code that will consume those web services and allow the user to interact with the service provider.
Do thorough testing of your application on all target platforms
Whether you’re opting for cross-platform tools or you’re using native coding as your method of development, a comprehensive testing strategy is key to building a successful app.
Just because your app works well on Android doesn’t mean that it’ll be a superb experience on iPhone as well. Test your application with each platform separately, and with different devices, if you have the time and resources. In some cases, you might have to make use of platform- and device-specific features to improve your application’s user experience. In the case of cross-platform tools, most of them have plug-ins that allow you to make platform-specific tweaks.
Never favor one platform over another
You might have a personal favorite among the platforms – but your users don’t necessarily share your taste. Make sure you pay proper attention to all versions of your app.
Each platform has its own strengths and limitations. Learn them and try to take advantage of the former while avoiding the latter. Studying popular and successful apps in each platform can be a good place to start looking for clues on how to improve your application’s interface and user experience.
A final thought: Think like a user
This goes beyond cross-platform application development, but it helps to be reminded of it.
Coders tend to take complicated and annoying aspects of their apps for granted, especially as they become used to their applications’ fallibilities over the long period of development. Never forget that the person who will be using the end product is the average user, and make that person the most important consideration of your app-building process.
This is where I like to get help from an old programming paradigm: Keep it Simple Stupid (KISS). Many users will likely be new to the system, and will be discouraged to use your app if it is overly complicated. But no one will complain if that the application is too easy-to-use.
Make sure you have a reliable assessment of the potential users of your application if you’re going to tap into the hot new features that come with a new release of a specific platform OS. Do your users adapt well with new gadgets or do they tend to stick to old ones?
The bottom line is that when it comes to cross-platform programming, there’s no silver bullet. It’s not an endeavor to be taken lightly, but neither is it too difficult: You just need to get your bearings and make the right choices.