Mobile App Development: React Native vs Ionic vs Xamarin

Intro

In the modern era, the industry of mobile app development experiences a top progress. Users tend to watch various content and solve some personal or business task via smartphones, tablets or other portative gadgets. Global and local manufacturers and producers have to adapt to the current flow of information and be in line with high-tech improvements. The situation in the mobile software industry would be easier unless the diversity of operating systems for portable devices. As a result, the population is categorized by types of mobile platform. Therefore, some applications are designed for Android. Users choosing products by Apple have to enjoy other embedded applications just like those who remain loyal to OS by Windows. However, the community of developers keeps busy and always endeavors to find the most convenient and appropriate solution for any users. Consequently, the world encountered cross-platform and hybrid apps that allow satisfying various needs of developers.

For now, technological evolution has introduced multiple ways to build a mobile app depending on specific requirements. There are numerous frameworks enabling to create native apps for a certain OS, as well as cross-platform and hybrid solutions. The present article will make a kind of comparison of three popular frameworks – React Native vs Ionic vs Xamarin. Each of products has own features and peculiarities that either make it preferable or lower its popularity among the mobile app engineers.

Types of Frameworks to Build a Mobile App?

There are three major approaches to build mobile software products. Each of them, in turn, has own benefits and drawbacks.

Native

After the unboxing and launching a new device, a user encounters several basic applications also known as native ones. These include a standard browser, media player, email client, etc. Such built-in tools are created via programming languages and development environments specific to a certain operating system. A hallmark of these apps is the access to the major services and functions (camera, geolocation etc.) of the device.

Cross-Platform

Judging from the name, this type of software products does not need to be developed separately for each platform but combines a capability to work on various OS. As a rule, front-end technologies like CSS and HTML are used to create the user interface. A cross-platform solution can be considered as a website adapted for needs of portable devices. Such apps work on all platforms via the browser’s engine. Hence, unlike native apps, they cannot use certain functions of a device.

Hybrid

The final category combines features of both above-mentioned ones. In simple words, a hybrid app is a cross-platform application inside a shell of a native one. Similar to the CP category, the user interface on these apps is implemented via the web browser. Nevertheless, the access to basic functions of a device is available. Therefore, it is rather difficult to differ a hybrid app from a native one.

In speaking of frameworks reviewed in the present article, developers differ in opinions about the affiliation to a certain approach. Some engineers refer Xamarin to native approach, while others name it a tool for making apps for various platforms. At the same time, comparing React Native vs Ionic causes no doubts that two different approaches namely native and hybrid are used. Let’s accept the opinion of the majority of users and conclude that we have not managed to collect representatives of each approach. Whereas it would be simpler to make a comparison of two frameworks like React Native vs Xamarin, the task of the following text is to get through to peculiarities and pros/cons of each developing solution.

Xamarin for mobile app development

Let’s put aside all disputes regarding the category of apps built with Xamarin. In a technical sense, this framework utilizes native libraries and C# language based on the .Net layer for app creation. In the context of UX and efficiency, Xamarin apps are compared often to native ones built for two biggest mobile operating platforms.

Although one can observe many similarities between this tool and React Native, the major discrepancy lies in the necessity to work with C# instead of JS. Reasoning from this fact, 100% of the code for reuse is not possible. However, the value of 80% is achievable. At the same time, the recently introduced feature Xamarin.Forms allows achieving the top value of code reuse to create native UI for either iOS or Windows or Android.

We cannot call Xamarin a simple tool while it requires serious efforts. The code is developed in C# language. After that, it is compiled into native packages for a specific platform.

UI code layer specific to a certain OS is possible to create due to the capability to share code across all three platforms. Consequently, apps built with Xamarin look absolutely native.

Pros

  • Xamarin has TestCloud, which allows you to test your apps automatically;
  • Provides 100% code reuse with Xamarin.Forms Ul development using shared code base and logic;
  • Performance is close to native products. It supports patterns like MVC and MWM;
  • Xamarin.Android supports Google Glass devices, Android Wear, and Firephone;
  • The learning curve is relative. If a team knows C#, it is comparatively easy to get started with Xamarin.

Cons

  • Does not provide access to certain Android specific Ul controls;
  • Impacts load time as it has its own runtime;
  • Xamarin is not supported to use open source libraries;
  • Xamarin apps occupy a few MB more than their native analogs.

App samples: Siemens, Honeywell, Slack, Pinterest.

React Native for mobile app development

JS is the key element when you build apps with RN. According to this fact, you will be able to share most of the code across existing platforms. At the same time, native components are utilized instead of HTML and CSS inherent to hybrid apps. This provides better operation and smoother animations, as well as the native nature of user experience.

RN uses JS code that resembles HTML. Nevertheless, it is different and called JSX. Whereupon, a blend of the display and business logic takes place. This can cause complications in some specific cases. JSX is styled slightly differently. Hence, unlike HTML, it does not offer the entire set of CSS rules supported by browsers.

Unfortunately, RN does not pursue the aim to write once and run on any platform. The framework tends to components serving turn the native nature of a specific operating system. E.g., the Apple’s platform does not have a configurable toolbar that can be encountered in Android. The toolbar can be applied to for Android but something different is needed for iOS.

Pros

  • Possibility to reuse the code for building applications for three major mobile operating systems;
  • JSX enables to write compact structures similar to HTML/XML ones in the same file used for JS code;
  • Multiple cores are used simultaneously. As a result, one core is used for the JS code running, while others enable to run the app view.

Cons

  • Converting HTML code to native one can be flawed. Knowledge of ObjC/Swift will be required to solve problems;
  • Since the tool was created initially for the Apple OS, a developer will have to work on many components for Android;
  • It’s harder to get an idea of how it works comparing, for example, with Cordova.

App samples: Facebook, Instagram, Airbnb, Walmart

Ionic JS for mobile app development

This framework is a true tool for developing hybrid apps. It is based on a JavaScript framework called AngularJS. If we made a comparison of React Native vs Ionic JS, the first thing to mention would be the use of front–end technologies (CSS, HTML5 etc.) for creating apps. Nevertheless, another requirement of this tool is Cordova bridge components to get an access to native features. As a result, the best user experience is achieved due to the implementation of the native nature of an application.

Just like any hybrid app, a product made with Ionic runs the same code. Hence, a behavior specific to an OS is not important since the native components will fix any incompatibility.

Pros

  • Support of hybrid web creation and code reusability to build products for all mobile operating platforms and the web;
  • Fast cycle for creation and testing;
  • Loading a heavy emulator is not required;
  • TypeScript code is allowed. It can be used to build apps for all platforms;
  • Easy transition from Angular 2;
  • Native functions of a device are accessible due to the utilization of plugin system.

Cons

  • The necessity to use many callbacks to the native code may cause issues with performance;
  • UI look remains unchanged in all the devices. Users who prefer native look will be a bit frustrated;
  • Creating highly developed graphics or interactive transitions may cause complications.

App samples: CAT, Target, Diesel, MarketWatch.

Each framework and approach have something attractive. It is up to you to choose which way to follow.