React Native vs Native. How to Choose the Best Platform for Mobile App Development?

Before you can start developing any software product, you need to choose the tools, platforms, and frameworks you will use to build it. In choosing the toolset, development companies usually consider several aspects:

  • nature of the product they are going to create
  • skills available within their team
  • need to hire more developers or outsource some components when own skills are not sufficient

When it comes to mobile application development, toolset selection is pretty straightforward – the mobile universe rests on just two pillars, iOS and Android. There are also other platforms, but their share in the total number of users is, indeed, negligible, thus it would be wise for a startup to focus on the two major players of the mobile market.

In mobile app engineering, there are two basic strategies – to build two separate applications for iOS and Android, the so-called native applications, or to create just one which will be supported by both platforms. Both strategies have their pros and cons, and we will talk about them, too. And, of course, the approach to app development defines the tools to be used.

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Native applications, designed specially for a particular platform, are built with the tools specific for it – for Android, you will code in Java using Android Studio as the environment, while iOS apps are written in Objective-C or Swift and the IDE is Xcode. As you can see, the programming languages, as well as the development environments, are different which immediately shows that you will need at least two programmers or even engineering teams to build two applications.

At the same time, there is React Native, a framework created by Facebook, that is specifically intended to build applications for iOS and Android simultaneously. At first glance, this sounds like a great solution, but is it really so? Let’s have a look at the advantages of both native development and React Native to know when to opt for one over the other. We will briefly compare React Native vs. native app development to see the main features of each approach.

Programming Language

As we’ve already mentioned, native application development requires knowledge of a language specific to the particular mobile platform. At the same time, React Native only requires knowledge of JavaScript, while you are getting an app fitting both platforms. Also, it is much easier to find skilled JavaScript engineers nowadays, as JavaScript tops the lists of the most popular programming languages.

However, if you choose to design two native apps and work with Java and Swift or Objective-C, you will be coding in strict languages checking for errors while compiling. This gives you better chances to catch most errors at early stages. JavaScript is not a strict language, which means that errors can be detected later, thus React Native developers place greater focus on testing.

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Conclusion: React Native can save time and cost on programming by creating one app for two platforms, however, you need to be extra careful to minimize the chance of errors and devote more time to the testing stage.

Web Development Concerns

React Native stems from web engineering, which makes the connection between the two apps much easier. The toolset, architecture, debugging flows are very similar, therefore, if you have solid knowledge of web app development, it won’t be a big problem for you to create a mobile app in React Native. On the flip side, React Native app development may require some basic web programming knowledge, and this aspect should be considered while hiring React.js engineers for your project.

Native iOS or Android app development has nothing to do with web application engineering, so here we are again talking about very different skill sets.

Conclusion: the learning curve for React Native is much smoother for software programmers having web programming experience which can become a reasonable advantage in assembling a dev team for a project.

Support of APIs and Third-Party Libraries

If your application needs to integrate certain functionality through APIs or third-party libraries, the native development approach is definitely preferable. In a native environment, access to third-party components requires no additional integration effort and there are significantly fewer restrictions, comparing to the hybrid development environment, such as React Native.

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In addition, there are APIs that React Native just does not support. This problem can be resolved by embedding native modules in the React Native code. However, in this case, you are going to face exactly what you’ve wanted to avoid by choosing React Native – coding in iOS and Android native tools because this is the only way you can integrate those modules.

Conclusion: if you are planning to use APIs or other external components in your app, better start with native application development, as this approach is going to save you some effort at the computing stage and make further updates easier. If you still opt for React Native, we’d recommend jumping into fully custom mobile app development, to ensure high flexibility and smooth performance.

Community and Reusable Components

React Native is the child of Facebook, and this statement alone can give you an idea of the size of its community. Right now, it counts almost 28,000 members. React Native is also open-source, and that means there are hundreds of reusable components which you can include in your application.

This ensures rather a solid trust towards the React Native framework and the assurance of support from your peer engineers. At the same time, native development tools and environments for iOS and Android cannot boast such vast communities.

Conclusion: with its large open-source store of reusable components, React Native again wins in terms of cost and effort saving.

Application Performance

In the context of performance, native development is definitely the winner. If you develop a React Native app, it is going to perform well, if the application is not too complex from the technological point of view. However, once you decide to leverage state-of-the-art technologies, such as IoT or AR/VR, native programming should be your strategy of choice.

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With native development, you will get both easier implementation of highly technological components and increased performance. Besides it can provide you with a truly impressive interface responsiveness.

Conclusion: choose React Native for moderately complex applications that can employ multiple ready-made functional components. However, for complex apps and high-performance requirements, choose native programming.

App Store and Google Play Acceptance

This is your final step in mobile application programming, however, you should also consider it while choosing your development environment. To make your application reach out to the users, you need to have it published in the app stores.

With applications built with native tools, you can be sure that they are going to be accepted. The tools and environments are created and owned by the same companies as the stores, so if you stick to the essential programming guidelines, there will be no problem with publishing your app.

Applications designed with React Native are also accepted with no problems. Recently, Facebook has introduced a new toolchain to make cross-platform native application engineering even easier. Expo provides mobile developers with one codebase to design solutions for multiple platforms, powerful toolset, instant updates, immediate distribution to app stores, and even much more.

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Conclusion: with both native and cross-platform development, your chances of acceptance are almost 100%, thus no bottlenecks in terms of the workflow, cost or time. To ensure smooth and quick submission you just need to follow the engineering instructions, attach screenshots, overviews and necessary documents, required by an app store.

Long-Terms Perspectives

If you are thinking long-term, native development may have some advantages. While both Apple and Google do run updates of their tools and platforms, they do it with the maximum backward compatibility, thus upgrading to the latest version won’t affect app usability.

At the same time, in open-source products, update concerns are not at the top of their priority list and you can’t be sure for how long the support continues. On the other hand such frameworks as React.js and React Native are used by Netflix, Airbnb, Skype, Tesla or Instagram, thus smooth updates and persistent support are a must.

Conclusion: both approaches to mobile app design are supported by tech giants, thus both look stable and effective in terms of long-term perspective.

So, Which One to Choose?

From what you have read so far, you, probably, have not figured out which programming environment will be best for your particular situation. As always, there is no “silver bullet”, as each project is unique and in some aspects, native engineering is preferable while in others hybrid development can show better results.

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Summarizing the above, we can make the following conclusions – choose React Native when:

  • You are building a Facebook-related application (choosing a Facebook original programming environment will be the logical option here, as it will ensure the most optimal integration possibilities)
  • Your team has a large share of JavaScript professionals (with JavaScript engineers, you will need no additional costs for engaging professionals in other languages)
  • You are designing a moderately complex application with a lot of reusable components (with a huge community, you are sure to find what you need)

At the same time, native development may be recommended when:

  • Your application is heavily loaded with technology-intensive components (the implementation of advanced features and their performance is better in applications created with native tools)
  • You are planning to use multiple APIs and third-party libraries (the integration in native environments is easier)

So, as you can see, each approach has its pros and cons, and you can choose one or the other depending on your requirements. There are lots of development tools out there, and you are sure to find the ones suiting your purposes. 

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