Native mobile app development in 2021

Mobile apps are projected to generate over $693 billion in 2021.

With numbers like that, it’s easy to get caught up in a mad dash to build an app – but how can you avoid ending up with a finished product far removed from what’s right for your business? 

At Apadmi we have over 20 years of experience delivering app solutions, and we see many companies making this mistake every day, as cowboy developers present them with a pre-made solution that offers little flexibility. That’s why we offer native, web, hybrid and cross-platform app development, so we can help you find the right solution for your business.

We believe that native mobile app development is going to boom in 2021 though, as many companies looking to stand out from the competition will need to tailor their solution to each platform. 

With that in mind, we decided to take stock of the native mobile app development landscape, and share it with you to highlight the value and opportunity native mobile app development holds. 

What is native mobile app development?

Unlike websites and web apps, native mobile apps don’t run in a browser. Instead, mobile apps are developed to run through their native operating system. You can download these apps from each mobile platform’s respective store – Apple’s App Store and Google Play. 

When building a mobile app, a development team must choose whether to create a web app, a native app, or a hybrid of the two. It’s important to understand each option: 

  • Web apps – Web apps run in a mobile browser and are more responsive versions of websites for mobile platforms 
  • Native apps – A native app is an app that’s been developed for a specific platform, maximising on the tools and technologies available for that platform, as well as the hardware of devices using that platform 
  • Hybrid apps – Hybrid apps are wrapped in a native app, which can be downloaded from a platform’s app store, but use web views to show some content 

While each approach has its strengths, we want to drill down into native apps, and why they’re the most popular of the three options. 

Android and iOS make up 99% of the market share for mobile operating systems, and so native app development means creating an app for either, or both, platforms. Each platform has its own set of technologies and tools to be used for development. 

The native mobile app solution is attractive for several reasons:

  • Native OS features – Both iOS and Android have their own set of unique features that can be used by developers. For example, because all iOS devices have the same set of capabilities, developers can make use of any unique functionality which they would be unable to do with Android devices. On the other hand, Android offers developers further integration with Google and its software for things like cross-platform push notifications. 
  • Better performance – Native apps are developed to work directly with the OS for their respective platform, making them faster and more responsive.
  • Consistency on the platform – Each mobile platform comes with a unique look and feel that is consistent with most applications on the platform. This makes for a better user experience, as the way users interact with each app is consistent.
  • App store support – On the iOS platform in particular, in 2017 restrictions were added to the app store so that hybrid apps which relied too heavily on using web views began to be rejected. This may continue to get stricter in the years to come, so hybrid apps may not be a practical long-term investment. 

What are some common examples of native mobile apps?

Messaging apps such as WhatsApp tend to prefer natively-built solutions; by building the applications natively, you can use OS-level features, such as notifications, to create a better experience. By comparison, if a web app wishes to send a notification to a user’s device, they’d need to send an email or text, losing that direct line between the app and the user. 

Another consideration is security. Web apps rely on different browsers and underlying technologies such as JavaScript, HTML5 and CSS. Developing a native mobile app is a great way to ensure your users have reliable data protection.

Native applications also offer a clear performance benefit over web apps. This is why services like Disney+, despite having their own fully functional website already, still build native applications. When streaming high-quality video, the performance of the app is important to ensure that the user has as smooth an experience as possible.

How are native mobile apps developed?

Each platform uses its own set of technologies for developing native apps. Due to these differences, a specific set of skills and tools are required to develop apps for each platform…

Android

For Android, you can develop in Java, Kotlin, and C++ programming languages. Google provides a suite of Android development tools including:

  • Android Studio, the official IDE (integrated development environment) for Android
  • Firebase, a comprehensive mobile development platform
  • Android Jetpack, a collection of pre-made Android components

iOS

For iOS, you can create native iOS apps in Objective-C or Swift. Unlike Android, the iOS operating system has closed source code, created exclusively for Apple’s hardware. So, you need a Mac device to develop native mobile apps for the iOS platform.

Apple has many excellent tools and resources you can use for iOS development, such as:

  • iOS SDK integrated with the Cocoa Touch UI framework
  • XCode, the official IDE for iOS development
  • Swift Playgrounds, a learning platform for Swift development
  • TestFlight, a beta testing app

iOS also has an extensive third-party ecosystem with well-known developer tools such as AppCode and CodeRunner. The Apple App Store’s review guidelines are quite strict; they can reject your iOS app for numerous reasons from poor performance or security issues, to the lack of valuable content.

Cross-platform tools

Leveraging a cross-platform development approach enables you to build an app and deploy over multiple platforms. Angular, Flutter and React Native are the three most popular cross-platform mobile development frameworks. 

Cross-platform solutions can be attractive when you want to just have one project to cover all the platforms you wish to support. Building apps for more than one platform natively requires multiple teams working on independent projects, which can become costly. Building an app using cross-platform tools is a way of keeping the development focused within one team. 

However, cross-platform development does not come without drawbacks. In particular, performance is a common problem, and developers tend to encounter more bugs during the development process. The performance issues are due to inconsistent communication between the native and non-native components of user devices. 

These performance-related issues can lead to a poor user experience or weaker security. If your business app needs to manage any user data, then opting for a cross-platform solution is rarely seen as a good idea, given the security concerns.

What are the business benefits of developing a native mobile app?

Native mobile app development still comes with many great business benefits in 2021 and beyond. These benefits include:

  • Accessibility – Mobile apps are easily accessible by users. Customers should feel secure when interacting with your brand in a mobile environment. Mobile platforms are continuing to innovate in the accessibility features they offer, and by building an app natively, these features can be put to use.
  • Customer Loyalty – Apps are capable of being more accessible and interactive than websites. Through a mobile app, you can strengthen that direct relationship between you and your customer and gain their trust, building customer loyalty with interactive programs that increase user engagement.
  • Branding – Practically every user will have a smartphone in 2021. This means all your users will have access to the app store of their respective platform. If you go through either app store, you’ll find many businesses create apps to form a line of continuous engagement with their customers. Once downloaded, apps serve as constant reminders of your brand and offering, serving timely messaging that demonstrates an ongoing value to them.
  • Data – Whenever someone downloads your app, you now have an additional channel to gather information about that user. But, be wary of always gaining consent before capturing, analysing and using that data ethically. You can use this information for targeting customers through ads and making recommendations based on previous purchases. The data may prove highly valuable to a business who wants to know what content is optimal for their target audience. Plus, more data can help companies meet ever-increasing customer expectations, creating more relevant buying experiences.

Android vs iOS

A business may come to choose between developing for one platform or another first. An obvious reason for this could be cost – there may simply not be enough budget for two development teams running in parallel for both platforms. You could suggest that Android is a clear preference, as the platform has a bigger market share and Android users currently dominate web traffic. However, this isn’t necessarily the case.

If faced with the decision between whether to develop an app for Android or iOS first, there are a few points for businesses to consider, including how you intend to market your app. If you’re going to charge your users for downloading the app, then the iOS platform should be the platform you release on first. A much greater share of the apps on the App Store are paid apps compared to Android, so Apple users will tend to be more inclined to pay for an app, rather than looking for a free version. If you intend to release the app for free and generate revenue through other means, such as advertising, then Android is generally the better option.

There are some more technical considerations too. For one, iOS has a reputation for being more secure than Android. Plus, iOS also offers a much more robust range of accessibility features compared to Android.

Some more practical points around difficulty, cost and time must also be noted. It’s seen as faster, easier, and cheaper to develop for iOS. The biggest factor behind this is that the Android platform must support thousands of different models of devices, whereas the range is considerably smaller when developing for iOS.

If the goals of your app are branding and customer loyalty, then building for both platforms should be strongly considered so that you do not neglect any portion of your customers. Aside from this, there’s no clear answer as to which platform you should build for first though, as it depends on the core audience of your app and the kind of app you’re making.

One tip to help you decide is to take a look at your website analytics; these days, you’re able to break down your demographics into more than age range and location – operating systems is one of them. If you’re able to see a clear difference in your customer base between iOS and Android users, it might help you identify the best one to target first.

What are the performance benefits of choosing a native mobile app?

There are still very clear performance benefits to building apps natively in 2021 and onwards, which is why many businesses today are still choosing to build their apps natively, despite the rise of alternative solutions.

Native apps are fast, responsive and much more efficient, as they’re built for that specific platform, and compiled using the platform’s core programming language and APIs. The device stores the app, allowing it to leverage the device’s processing speed. As users navigate through a native mobile app, the contents and visual elements are already stored on their phones, meaning quicker load times compared to a web app, where the information would need to be downloaded.

Web apps rely on a variety of browsers and underlying technologies such as JavaScript, HTML5, and CSS. Because of their non-standard nature, there will likely be more security and performance issues using web apps. Native apps, on the other hand, benefit from the more proactive security and performance upgrades of the platform itself, and are therefore seen as more secure.

Native mobile apps also present the high quality UI and UX that customers expect. While web apps are made to look like native apps, they don’t perform like them. They also present a single, generic UI across all platforms – which rarely match the UX customers have come to expect on their device. If your app feels awkward or strange, customers will avoid using it. With a native app, it’s far easier to satisfy a customer’s UI and UX expectations.

Native app development tends to have fewer bugs during development too, and is generally a simpler option from a development standpoint. It’s much more difficult to maintain two different applications in one codebase than it is two applications in two codebases. Hybrid apps also access hardware through a bridge, often slowing development down and potentially lead to a frustrating user experience.

What is cloud-native mobile app development?

Cloud-native is an approach to building and running applications that exploits the advantages of the cloud computing delivery model. 

Cloud-native applications are a collection of small, independent, loosely-coupled services. These services are designed to rapidly incorporate user feedback for continuous improvement. In short, cloud-native app development is a way to speed up how you build new applications, optimise existing ones and connect them all together. 

If an app is cloud-native, it’s specifically designed to provide a consistent development experience on the cloud. Businesses adopt cloud computing to increase the scalability and availability of apps. These benefits are achieved through self-service and the on-demand provisioning of resources, as well as automating the application life cycle from development to production.

But to fully utilise these benefits, a new form of application development is needed. Cloud-native development is just that – an approach to building and updating apps quickly while improving quality and reducing risk. More specifically, it’s a way to build and run responsive, scalable, fault-tolerant apps.

There’s a lot of interest in cloud-native applications today, and it could well represent the future of native app development. Businesses looking to be at the forefront of mobile technologies should certainly consider it for their mobile solutions.

What are the benefits of cross-platform apps?

The clear benefits of cross-platform development are the ease of maintenance and reuse. You only need to use a single codebase to cover all the platforms you support, cutting down on time and cost significantly. 

Your app will also deliver consistent performance across all platforms. In native app development, you’re required to have a unique code base for each app. This means when each app is released, you may find that issues arise for only one particular platform, and this can mean that there’s a deteriorated user experience on one of your platforms compared to the other. If you develop your app to be cross-platform, then this doesn’t happen and the user experience and performance across each platform will be the same. 

When should you use cross-platform?

When choosing between native or cross-platform development, the biggest factor is cost. If budget constraints won’t allow two separate teams to each work on a platform, then the option to go for developing a cross-platform application becomes more attractive. 

Aside from the cost, uncertainty may be a factor. If you’re looking to develop an app and it’s unclear whether one platform will likely be more lucrative than another, a cross-platform solution would be a good choice. 

It must be noted that a clear drawback of cross-platform apps is that they’re simply harder to develop. It takes a skilled development team to create an application that will adapt for both platforms, and as you won’t be using much of each platform’s streamlined set of tools and technologies, the number of available developers with the experience and tools you’ll require for the job will be reduced.

What is the future of native mobile app development?

Native app development won’t be going anywhere in 2021 or in the years to come. As hybrid apps are becoming a less attractive option, the benefits of utilising the OS of each platform are still great, and this is likely to continue.

Mobile development companies today have been forced to specialise in a range of different development technologies and frameworks, as the best solution for their customers will change based on their business needs.

Whatever the future brings in 2021 for native mobile app development, your company must make use of a specialised mobile team to future-proof any native app development, as the range of technologies and solutions available cannot be covered by any lone developer. 

Successful native apps at Apadmi

Apadmi is the UK’s leading mobile-first, digital agency. We’re continuously looking for ways to improve things using technology. As such, we’ve built many apps that we’re proud of, and here are just a few of our recent achievements we’d like to share with you:

Sail GP

SailGP is a brand-new global sports championship founded in 2018 by Larry Ellison and Sir Russell Coutts. It aims to redefine the sport of sailing. A unique nation versus nation format with the best sailors in the world where national teams compete in identical F50 race boats – the world’s most technologically advanced hydrofoiling catamarans.

Apadmi’s job was to match the innovation on the water with a second screen experience that allowed SailGP to capture a new global audience and put fans in control of the way they consume the races. And – not insignificantly – we had to deliver this unproven, brand-new technology to a very short and very fixed deadline of the first race. There was no margin for error.

Our world-first fan experience app allows fans to truly personalise what they watch, bringing them closer to their favourite sport than ever before. Users can live stream up to 8 different feeds and run each feed in different modes which change based on whether the user just wants to watch the stream or whether they are curious about all the stats being collected behind the scenes. 

Learn more about our work with Sail GP here

Co-op membership

We collaborated with one of the UK’s biggest retailers to deliver a mobile account management solution that drives membership scheme interaction. 

It was important to the Co-op to help not just their members with a seamless membership experience, but also their causes. We provided new functionality, enhanced their offering and drove more digital presence during the COVID-19 pandemic. The way shoppers spent both online and in-store changed in 2020, and the Co-op wanted to ensure all members had improved access to their rewards, but could also do-good and donate to local causes close to them.

In the first two days of the re-launch, the Co-op Membership App received over 80,000 downloads, with a number 1 ranking in the App store’s Top Shopping Apps. The app now boasts:

  • 400,000+ downloads
  • £17m donated through the app
  • 4k+ local causes supported

Learn more about our work with the Co-op here

DonarPath

We worked with the NHS Blood and Transplant department to develop a tablet-based app that digitised paperwork and improved efficiency. Statistics gathered so far show:

  • 766 duplicated nurse hours saved.
  • 18,373 app form submissions per year.
  • 132,000 A4 paper sheets saved per year.

The DonorPath app is now live in over 260 hospitals across the UK, with over 18,000 forms submitted through the app each year.

Learn more about our work with the NHS here

If you think Apadmi can help you with app development please contact us here.