Cross Platform Mobile App Development Guide 2017

Alberto Furlan

Updated: September 21, 2017

The cross-platform app market is expected to hit $7.5 million by 2018, and the amount of cross platform development tools is on the rise. So which are the best platforms, resources and tools to code for iOS, Android, Windows and more at the same time?

There are advantages to native applications, but a well-made cross-platform mobile app will make the differences seem small and carry the advantage that users on more than one platform have access to your product or service.

This guide is for those in the cross platform mobile development field looking for the best cross platform tools and resources; not just the IDEs and Editors but also top language and tutorials. It’s divided in the following sections:

If you prefer to focus on one platform in your app development, you can have a look at our guides on the test Android development tools and the list of iOS app development tools.

First up, we have the big hitters in the IDE department.

Major Cross-Platform Development Tools

The best cross platform mobile development tools, both because of the number of options they offer and their ease of use.


Xamarin

Xamarin Inc..zpoh_xamarin-logo-hexagon-blue

Xamarin has been going from strength-to-strength recently, attracting a record-setting $54m investment and methodically building out its platform and expanding its reach. Over the last year or so since the release of Xamarin 2, the company has certainly emerged as one of the leading solutions for cross-platform development. Xamarin is also very keen to emphasise its business credentials with the recent announcements of enterprise partnerships with IBM, Xoriant and – last year – with Microsoft. Business subscriptions start at $83 per month. A free trial is available

A tutorial on using Xamarin’s platform


PhoneGap

Phonegap

PhoneGap is probably the most well-known cross platform development brand within the development community. The now Adobe-owned tool is based on the open source Apache Cordova project and is completely free to use, which goes some way to explain its popularity. Adobe is also working on an enterprise version of PhoneGap, which is currently undergoing a beta trial – and you can sign-up for it here. The enterprise version boasts marketing features via Adobe’s Marketing Cloud, so when it launches it will probably be monetised.


Sencha

Sencha

Sencha offers a variety of tools for cross platform app development such as Sencha Architect, Sencha Animator, and more. It’s main product for enterprise users is Ext JS 5, which lets developers create HTML5 apps, which can then be converted into native apps with PhoneGap. Sencha’s HTML5-focused approach allow its apps to run across browsers as well as the latest touch-based devices and has attracted clients such as Google, CNN and Samsung. The platform is priced at $3,225 per year for up to five developers and then $12,495 per year for up to 20 developers.


Appcelerator

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Appcelerator is an enterprise-focused development platform that lets developers write JavaScript with its Alloy MVC framework. The use of JavaScript is helpful, as many developers will already be familiar with the language, reducing the need to spend time getting to grips with unfamiliar code. Appcelerator also offers a virtual private cloud option for enterprise customers, which is great news if you work with sensitive company data. The enterprise product also comes with analytics, performance management and monitoring and dedicated infrastructure. But you’ll have to contact them directly for pricing


iFactr

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iFactr is designed mainly for enterprises looking to quickly build out apps for their mobile workers. The company says its platform offers a very low learning curve, allowing developers to get to grips with the basics within two to three days of training. iFactr also promotes its robust prototyping features, allowing companies to rapidly create prototypes for their employees to test out. The iFactr platform uses Xamarin to compile its native apps on iOS and Android, while PhoneGap is also built into the tool. You can request an evaluation version of iFactr right here.

An introduction to iFactr


Kony

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Kony offers a range of tools as part of its enterprise Mobility Platform to help business create apps from a single codebase. The Studio platform uses JavaScript and features simple drag and drop reusable widgets and the ability to import existing or third party libraries. Furthermore, Kony recently launched its Mobile Fabric platform, which it claims is the first enterprise app development solution to bring together multiple cloud service and middleware tools. Pricing for Mobile Fabric starts at $15 per user, per month. A free trial is available.


Alpha Anywhere

Alpha-Software-Logo

Alpha Anywhere’s enterprise-focused solution lets you build apps for the major mobile platforms, as well as for PCs and Macs. The tool uses JavaScript and HTML5 and helps companies manage the complete end-to-end app development process. The company recently launched built-in support for offline apps, which allows mobile workers to use enterprise apps without an internet connection, ensuring that they properly synchronize when back online and resolve any conflicts in an intuitive manner. Alpha Anywhere starts at $1,999 for a one year contract. Businesses can also purchase a one month trial version for $199.

A guide on building Android apps on Alpha Anywhere

RedHat

Redhat‘s platform was formerly known as FeedHenry before acquired by the company for around 63.5 million euros. Redhat offers a mobile backend-as-a-service platform and cross app development platform, letting enterprise users build and deploy iOS, Android and Windows Phone apps via public clouds. The company also works with some big clients, such as airline Aer Lingus, and partners with tech innovators such as AWS and Rackspace.

Bringing agility to enterprise mobility

These are the biggest ones, but if you’re still not satisfied…

Other Editors and IDEs

If you’re looking for something a little more niche, or for very simple platforms which will create basic apps but are easy to learn, then look no further.

IntelliJ – Open source and usable for commercial development, this IDE made by JetBrains is the de-facto standard for Java development in Android, but can also be used for cross-platform.

Visual Studio – Being a Microsoft product, you know this is going to be a well-published IDE, but once again, the interface and level of detail make this more suitable for those with some experience under their belt.

Cocos2D – 2D apps made easy, especially for iOS, with this major development tool. Builds from a single codebase and covers C++, JavaScript, Swift and Objective-C.

Qt –  Boasts that 8 of the top 10 Fortune 500 companies use its interface-led tool for creating cross-platform applications.

BiznessApps – Affordable HTML5, iOS and Android platform made with small and medium business apps in mind.

MobinCube – A simple interface for building consumer apps, boasts 100,000+ mobile applications created with its platform and over 126 million downloads.

AppsMoment – One of the “coding-less” platforms to create apps without having to learn the language underneath. 300+ templates, 120 features and also covers Kindle apps.

RubyMotion – Allows you to code, run and test iOS, OSX and Android apps on any device. A huge set of tools and resources, allows to implement 3rd party libraries and has been used by salesforce and BaseCamp, among others.

Ionic – Used to build over two million apps, this open source tool is free at signup and through development, its pricing plan of $39/month only starting when your first app is published. There are higher tiers for more features.

Dropsource – One of the newer options in this list, a browser-based app builder that lets you create native apps for iOS and Android with its automated programming.

Yapp – Specific, simple and quick, an app-builder for events, conferences and meetings.

Corona – While focused on games and 2D development, this popular builder can also create “normal apps” and has a very wide user- and knowledge-base.

Build Games for Mobile, TV, and Desktop using Corona SDK

Source: youtube.com

 

Kinvey – Back-end service specific for mobile apps and can be applied cross platform.

Mag+ – This SDK is compatible with most languages, allowing you to code on top of pre-existing projects. Also has an iPad-specific app.

Xojo – As well as covering the desktop, mobile and iOS, it is one of the few tools that lets you code for Raspberry Pi. The company also offers cloud hosting, but the platform does not produce Android apps.

Coding environments are all well and good, but you should probably know about the underlying languages too.

Languages

Java – The mobile cross-platform language ‘par excellence’, you really can’t go wrong by using this for apps compatible almost anywhere.

C++ – A lower language than Java, and an extremely useful one at that – it is basically ubiquitous. Not the first recommendation because it often puts extra strain on a mobile’s resources.

C# – The Microsoft world equivalent of Objective-C for Mac, but it is quickly becoming a favourite for cross-platform web apps.

HTML5 – The HTML5 standard will make your apps compatible on desktop as well – indeed, that’s what it was designed for. Still being improved, but very strong when coupled with JavaScript (below).

JavaScript  The scripting language for HTML5, isn’t particularly useful on its own but when running alongside HTML5 results in highly effective apps.

Ruby – One of the newer languages here, it was designed specifically for mobile and to be as simple (and resource-light) as possible.

Once you’ve chosen a language, stick with it by following these tutorials.

Language Tutorials

There are plenty of tutorials for all the major languages, but here is a selection of some of the best one.

Java

The Java Tutorials –  The official tutorials by Oracle on the Java language.

Javanotes – If you prefer reading to sitting in front of a computer, a book on learning Java could be your thing.

Freeware Java – Very useful and in-depth Java tutorial recommended by the /r/learnjava subreddit.

Tutorialspoint – Highly rated, modular tutorial.

C++

Engineer for Free – An entire youtube course (47 videos) for learning C++, organised into a single website.

Penguin Programmer – One of the few text-based tutorials on C++ available online.

Derek Banas – We’ve featured Derek on this website before, as his tutorials are outstanding, and this one is really worthwhile looking over: at over an hour long, it covers all you need to get started!

C#

C# Fundamentals for Absolute Beginners – If you haven’t coded for a minute throughout your life, this is still a great place to start. Absolute basics to advanced concepts of object-oriented programming.

Kudvenkat – Another great place for beginners, this Youtube series currently numbers 100 videos.

Part 1 – C# Tutorial – Introduction

Source: youtube.com

JavaScript

/r/LearnJavaScript – When reddit does a good help forum, it does it very well. Plenty of resources and a friendly community.

Mozilla Developer Network – Coupled with HTML and CSS courses by the same developer network, a total resource for developing cross-platform apps.

Eloquent JavaScript – On occasion we like to recommend a book or other “long form” tutorial – this ebook on JavaScript  is illustrated and available in multiple languages, as well as highly recommended.

Ruby

Ruby Koans – A very well structured, hands-on Ruby tutorial which presents problems for you to solve on your path to learning the language. Almost zen in its conception..

The Well-Grounded Rubyist – Another excellent book which can be read throughout or tackled one example at a time.

Pragmatic Studio – Starts free before moving to a paid model, but these are well explained and thought-out tutorials made by professionals in the business.

HTML5

Codecademy – One of the best places to learn programming online, full-stop. Check out both their html course and JavaScript.

The New Boston – We’ve recommended them before – among the best youtube tutorial series out there. Extremely useful, and not just for HTML.

HTML5 Tutorial – 1 – Introduction

Source: youtube.com

Html-5-Tutorial – Does what it says on the tin really. Breaks down the essentials of HTML very well.

Final Thoughts: Can’t decide between iOS and Android? Why not both? There are plenty of resources here to make an app for all devices, and if you’re still not satisfied, have a look at our app development tools directory: there should be something here to help everyone get their app launched!