The web may be a fantastic way to connect users, share data and exchange ideas, but when it comes to getting the most out of a computing device, nothing beats native apps. Created to take advantage of specific hardware requirements, APIs and other platform-centric optimizations, native apps remain the best and most efficient way for users to get the most out of their phones, tablets and computers.
Even though three platforms account for the vast majority of computing devices, developing apps that are compatible with one another is a different story. Apps written for iOS in Objective-C or Swift need time and tools to port code into Android’s C++ or Java, which requires extensive development resources to make apps compatible across different platforms. That is, until Xamarin.
What Is Xamarin?
Xamarin is a platform developed by Xamarin company, which was acquired by Microsoft in 2016, designed to create apps for Android, iOS, macOS, Tizen, GTK# and Windows with a single shared .NET codebase. Building apps with Xamarin allow developers to make apps for all major platforms simultaneously that are indistinguishable from native apps. In fact, Xamarin apps are native, taking full advantage of native user interface controls, platform-specific APIs and platform-specific hardware acceleration.
Who Uses Xamarin?
Major companies are adopting Xamarin to simplify their development process. Fox Sports, one of the world’s largest broadcasters of live sporting events, used Xamarin to help develop its mobile sports app and virtually test it across hundreds of different Android devices. Alaska Airlines also used Xamarin to build its mobile travel app, allowing users to have a seamless experience across desktop and mobile devices for checking in, boarding or changing information for a flight.
Forrester conducted research in order to find out the cost savings and business benefits enabled by Xamarin for Visual Studio Cross-Platform Mobile Application Development. The research found out that Xamarin reduces mobile app development and life-cycle management costs while optimizing the utilization of existing developer resources. Forrester conducted interviews and analyzed the financial metrics of 4 existing customers that invested in the Xamarin for Visual Studio solution:
- A global entertainment company with annual revenue over $ 2,5 BN
- US-based consulting company with 500 consultants providing mobile strategy and app development for enterprise customers
- Global mobile app development company with 35 mobile developers
- A global portfolio of casual dining restaurant chains (1000+ restaurants, 100k + employees, >$ 4 BN in annual revenue
The research found out that a composite organization based on the interviewed organizations experienced the following risk-adjusted ROI and benefits:
Over a 3-year period, an organization with multiple mobile applications can expect:
- $1,365,003 — reduction in mobile application development costs through the use of shared C# code base across platforms
- $829,475 — mobile app maintenance and upgrade efficiency gains using Xamarin for Visual Studio’s shared code base
- $6,558,360 — savings on platform-specific mobile application developer expenses.
The Pros of Developing With Xamarin
Making apps with Xamarin is a great way for development teams to save time and resources. If you’re a developer looking to offer an app on another platform, simplify your tech stack or streamline your development operations, here are some of the biggest advantages to choosing Xamarin:
- A single tech stack for faster development: Created with Visual Studio, Xamarin-based apps are developed using a single language: C#.
Xamarin apps utilize C# and shared codebases that cover up to 90% of each platform’s particular language, APIs and data structure and wrap them in a .NET layer that enables cross-platform development. By developing in C# and allowing Xamarin to handle cross-platform implementations, development teams will be able to accomplish much more with less.
- Rapid prototyping: With Xamarin.Forms, developers have access to a complete cross-platform UI toolkit to build interfaces that work on any device. This allows for the creation of a single user interface across all devices, enabling developers to share more code without having to modify the UI for every platform.
- Native performance and user experience: In Xamarin it is possible to access each and every native API, so it is possible to use completely native UI, Bluetooth, SDKs etc. Because Xamarin can take full advantage of system- and hardware-specific APIs, apps built using the software will run as well as apps compiled in each platform’s preferred language. Users won’t be able to tell the difference between your app and a native app because there isn’t one.
- Reduced time to market: Building apps with shared codebases eliminates time that would typically be spent translating, rewriting or recompiling code to work on different platforms. This shaves weeks, months and possibly years off of the development cycle, allowing apps for all three major platforms to be developed simultaneously. And because these apps are being built together, it means feature parity won’t slowly trickle down from your most popular platform to your least — they’ll be ready for deployment to all of your platforms at once.
- Less maintenance: Maintaining and updating apps built using Xamarin requires less work. Once you’ve made changes to our source file, they can be applied directly to your apps, eliminating the need to update the source code of your apps individually should any updates, bug fixes or new features become necessary.
- Apps for all platforms: What happens if you’ve got a killer desktop app that needs a mobile version or vice-versa? With Xamarin, it’s no problem — developers can create apps for mobile and desktop experiences simultaneously. This also helps development teams cut back on having to decide whether to develop for just one single platform, as Android, iOS and Windows can be handled simultaneously.
- Easy to keep updated. Xamarin takes advantage of native frameworks and usually it takes 1–3 days for iOS and Android platforms to catch up to the latest features. Which is why new platform-specific features can be promptly introduced to your app once Xamarin has been updated.
The Cons of Developing With Xamarin
- It’s expensive for enterprises. Xamarin is free for individuals and small companies, however, enterprises need to purchase a license for Microsoft’s Visual Studio. For bare-bones access to Visual Studio without advanced Azure DevOps features or cloud services, single-user licenses start at $499. Enterprise users requiring all the bells and whistles pay up to $2,999 for an annual subscription to Visual Studio Enterprise. Depending on the size and needs of your developers, the cost of these licenses can add up rather quickly.
- It might be complicated to use all open-source libraries. While Xamarin does support most of .Net libraries, it doesn’t support all of the available 3rd-party libraries for Android and iOS without specific wrappers.
- Not suitable for apps with heavy graphics. Each platform has a different method for visually laying out screens:
If the application has rich UX/UI, it should be implemented natively.
- Larger App Size. Xamarin adds 3–5 megabytes for the release and around 20 megabytes for debug builds.
Xamarin Is a Win
If you’re a developer showing any inkling of needing apps developed for multiple platforms, Xamarin is one of the best tools available to make your life easier. Thanks to Xamarin’s powerful C# environment, native and cross-platform libraries and APIs, and ease of deployment, it’s the best choice to keep Android, iOS and Windows apps developed in sync. This, in turn, reduces the overall time of development and brings new features to your users faster.
The author of this article is Oleksandr Leuschenko, Head of Mobile Stack at Ciklum. Check out Ciklum blog to find out more articles on app development.