iOS, Android or Windows? That's the crucial question every business asks itself when it wants to develop a mobile application. The market penetration of these operating systems within your target role isn't the only consideration here. The price tag for developing the app for all three platforms should not be underestimated. Often, these costs put a damper on businesses' mobile ambitions. Moreover, it is not easy to find a developer with a perfect command of all platforms.
There are already loads of tools on the market that try to estimate how much an app will cost your business (such as Kinvey, Howmuchtomakeanapp or Otreva). But if you build a B2B application and use an API, you can soon expect an appreciable additional cost. As well as the initial investment, there will also be associated issues such as bug fixes, maintenance, new features and so on. These make the overall cost off-putting for many companies, as a result of which one platform, or even several, has to be dropped.
Do you go for the 'write-once-run-anywhere' principle? If so, you will soon come up against the limits of the selected technologies, such as a lousy user experience. And in that case, app users will quickly lose interest if the UX fails to offer what native apps do offer today.
So is there something like a holy grail for cross-platform development? For this, we usually look to platforms such as PhoneGap, Titanium, Kendo Mobile – and Xamarin. The last of these is an initiative that Microsoft has put its weight behind. It is enjoying more and more support within the developer communities, and businesses are now asking us for it of their own accord.
Xamarin is a development environment for cross-platform mobile applications that offers performance similar to native apps and in which you use Visual Studio or Xamarin Studio (the stand-alone integrated development environment) for mobile app development. Visual Studio is the natural habitat of many .NET developers. In this way, Xamarin now also offers web developers the opportunity to develop mobile applications. According to the April 2015 TIOBE Index, there are almost as many C# developers as Objective-C developers.
On 29 April 2015, the Xamarin community had an impressive 1,000,000 unique developers who had downloaded Xamarin since July 2011.
So what’s the big advantage of Xamarin? While the User Interface always has to follow the native UI framework, and until the release of Xamarin.forms always had to be developed on a native basis, the advantage of Xamarin definitely lies in the business logic that can be shared. The licence fee, but also the limited capabilities of Xamarin.forms to create a complex UI are the main drawbacks. Via Xamarin.forms you can use UI elements that are automatically translated to the native environment of the different platforms. However, Xamarin.forms is not yet a complete alternative to native UI development. So for the time being a 70/30 principle is advisable: 30% native UI development and 70% (business logic) you can share. We can safely say that Xamarin is a blessing for Microsoft developers. Especially now that with their existing XAML and C# knowledge they too can enter the world of mobile app developers.
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