Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Continued Rise of Cross Platform Tools

This morning I read this: learn to write Android applications in Swift and share code with your iOS app. The mobile market is maturing and unlike what many of us have been used to for a very long time, no one operating system came out on top. Neither Android or iOS will be likely to at this point. The proponents of Android or iOS will point to some movement around the edges, but that's mostly wishful thinking. Until the next revolution, multiple platforms will be the norm and now everyone wants to know how to code for multiple platforms.

This is good news for tools that are created for writing cross platform apps, really good news. We see a lot of them out there, Xamarin, ReactNative, NativeScript, Cordova, Progressive Web Apps, ReactXP, the list keeps going. Where do I think this will lead?

  • The mobile platforms are maturing and the need to write apps for multiple platforms may be necessary for many companies.
  • For internal enterprise apps where the main driver is cost, some organizations will either try to only hit one platform or make a bet on one of the cross platform tools like Xamarin.Forms.
  • Native tools that can only hit one platform, like Xcode or Android Studio will loose traction in many scenarios to lower cost cross platform tools. Increasingly these will be used in scenarios where only one platform is needed or there is some need to stay abreast of the latest and greatest on a platform on the way that a non-platform vendor has difficulty keeping up with.
  • First generation cross platforms tools will loose traction to better tools with many of the same advantages. In particular, Cordova is in danger of this happening in favor of something like ReactNative.
  • The web is coming to mobile with Progressive Web Apps. They still have significant challenges on iOS devices but the popularity of the HTML5, CSS, Javascript platform will drive IT departments in this direction. This may have secondary impacts on if iOS will be able to continue to make inroads in many organizations as corporate devices due to their limitations unless they relent (unlikely at the current time due to the need to protect their app store revenue).
  • Tools that can go cross platform, particularly on the UI layer, will become increasingly popular in scenarios where the UI can be good enough (Xamarin.Forms holds great promise here).
  • Cross platform tools that can do a few platforms in a focused way may win out over cross platform tools that attempt to hit every platform. The coding situation becomes too tough and abstracted when too many platforms are at play; the situation also becomes too difficult for the maintainers to keep up with changes for all the different platforms. Cross platform tools that only target 2-4 platforms will likely do a much better job of it than ones that try to do every one under the sun.
  • Cross platform quality control, build, life cycle, monitoring and tooling products will become more mature. Microsoft's recent attempt at this, Visual Studio Mobile Center, shows great promise for where it could go.
There is a lot of things still going on in mobile. But we are not so much waiting for the next version of the OS, the next announcements at WWDC or Google I/O. The changes there will likely be incremental. The changes that are exciting now are watching how we develop for these diverse platforms matures. Better tooling, better process, better quality control. If you are doing mobile development now you should be thinking about how to have a solid, controlled, and automated process and your tool set for most cases should be cross platform as well. Very exciting for those of us who develop the apps but it leaves me wondering where the excitement will be for the consumer of the devices themselves?

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