Why are so many people moving from Native to React Native app builds?
22 February 2022 • 5 min read
Choosing the right toolset to build a mobile application has long been a battle akin to that of David and Goliath. On one side, there are a range of competing third-party frameworks which offer cross-platform development experiences, meaning you can build for both iOS and Android devices from one codebase. And on the other, the native developer ecosystems of the two biggest platform owners – Apple and Google.
Until a few years ago, choosing the more cost-effective cross-platform or hybrid option (such as Cordova, Xamarin or Ionic) was also a conscious decision to sacrifice certain beneficial elements (such as app look and feel, native functionality integrations and app performance).
Today, this decision is less of a compromise. Multiple advances have been made over the past couple of years to React Native, and the rise of Flutter and Kotlin Multiplatform Mobile has closed the gap between third-party frameworks and the Apple-and-Google-backed native mobile languages and frameworks (such as Swift, Swift UI and Kotlin).
Learn more: Kotlin: the Java alternative
The future of mobile app development
When deciding which technology and frameworks to use, the choice has conventionally been between building an app that ‘feels’ premium (using native technologies), or building an app that sacrifices that premium feel, but is quicker or cheaper to develop. This paradigm no longer holds true. Thanks to the increasing sophistication of cross-platform solutions – especially the ecosystem around the Facebook-derived React Native framework – building an app in 2022 is a totally different story. The differences between the opposing options are less stark than ever before, so it can be tempting to jump straight into an app build as soon as you’re ready to embark on your digital strategy. But if you don’t have the right infrastructural foundations in place, your project will fail before it begins.
To find out how to identify the right framework for your project, join us on March 22nd for our webinar, How Missguided unlocked growth through modernising their digital strategy. We’ll be joined by Missguided’s IT Director, John Rignall, who’ll share insights from his journey with AND Digital, and showcase their brand-new React Native app.
Making the move to React Native
Experiences delivered via React Native can be imperceptibly different from those built using Swift or Kotlin, and they can still be delivered in less time and at less cost. So why is React Native not the default technology?
The most common reasons people choose native platforms remain increased integration capabilities and improved user experience (UX). On iOS devices, this includes Apple’s ‘tentpole’ technologies, such as Siri integration, augmented reality (AR) and group activities functionality. Other people are drawn to 3D capability for gaming applications, which often require the performance of native builds.
But if you’re not building a game or an app that depends on bleeding-edge platform integration capabilities, React Native is a great option. So what are the key questions to consider before taking the leap?
1. What skills do you have in-house and what skills are available in the local market?
This question may seem obvious, but it can be easily overlooked. The success of your project depends on your people, so the best solution is often the one that most closely aligns with your available skills – both those already in-house and those you can recruit. If you can avoid a complete retooling or upskilling process, you’re more likely to build a higher quality product more quickly.
2. How quickly do you want to go to market?
While separate native builds for iOS and Android can be completed at pace, it’s hard to beat the speed of delivery available with React Native as both platforms share much of the codebase. With a conservatively sized team using React Native, it’s possible to deliver a minimum viable product (MVP) to market in a matter of weeks – an outcome that may take up to twice as long with native technologies. If speed to market is a key consideration for you, React Native could be a very persuasive option.
3. Do you need complete feature parity?
Depending on the project, feature parity between iOS and Android isn’t always a concern. Many apps develop and release features at different times across different platforms. But if complete parity is a must, React Native can help to achieve it across your entire user base.
4. How important is platform idiomatic UX?
One key advantage of building natively for both platforms is being able to access and use their native UX patterns – Material Design on Android and Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines. Your users will be familiar with these idiomatic patterns, helping them understand your application intuitively.
Apple and Google heavily favour apps that follow their guidelines. Apple in particular predominantly promotes apps that ‘feel’ like Apple. So if gaining support and marketing from the platform owners themselves is a key factor for you, idiomatic UX is likely to be a high priority for your project.
With these considerations in mind, deciding which technology best suits your requirements should be reasonably straight-forward. As the React Native community grows and adoption increases, the ecosystem will only continue to strengthen and close the gap between native technologies. There will always be use cases where native is best, so you should thoroughly interrogate all the options before making a decision about which is best in your specific scenario.
So are there any downsides to React Native?
We’ve already covered some reasons why React Native might not be the best choice for your project. But we haven’t mentioned the biggest downside: React Native isn’t controlled by the two biggest platform owners – Apple and Google. This means, when new product features are launched, it might take time for iOS and Android compatibility to become available. The end user wouldn’t know the difference, but they may experience delays in accessing the latest device or operating system features and wonder the reason why.
This is always a risk when using a third-party framework. The latest features won’t always be available as soon as Apple or Google launch them. But for many applications, this is not a problem. The benefits of using React Native outweigh the need for instant feature updates, making React Native the best option for their project.
If you’d like to hear first-hand about the benefits of React Native, and find out why Missguided chose this route for their brand-new app, join us on March 22nd for our webinar, How Missguided unlocked growth through modernising their digital strategy. We’ll be discussing Missguided’s digital journey towards their app launch (including a sneak peak at the functionality and features!). We hope to see you there.