Native Tooling versus Non-native Tooling

Recently I’ve been following some interesting discussions on the subject whether to develop native apps for mobile or using cross platform technologies. Let me elaborate what I mean by native apps. A native app is an app that is built using the tooling provided by the vendor. So for iOS devices that would be Objective-C and cocoa touch, for Android and RIM that would be Java.

Mostly the discussions seems to be concentrating on two underlying subjects: 1) how to utilize existing skills and framework knowledge and 2) how to support multiple mobile platforms with one code base. You can argue that these two subjects are intertwined and cross platform solutions tries to solve both areas simultaneously. Which is somewhat correct; however, #2 actually got another level as well, as there’s a whole range of MEAP vendors trying to push “code free” solutions, requiring none or limited coding.

Let’s look at #1 and what seems to be the key driver behind wanting to use existing tooling or similar tooling and technologies. Well, should be obvious, mostly seems to stem from a wish either to save money or reuse skills. The former is primarily driven by organizations whereas the latter is developers wanting to develop apps, but don’t want to go through the hassle of learning and new set of tools and technologies (see my blog on this, choosing the right tools). Also, there’s the latest SDK problem. If you’re using native you’ll always have the latest and greatest SDKs at your disposal; whereas if your going with non-native you’ll have to wait until the vendor gets his version ready. The time the vendor uses to do that, your competitors that uses native SDKs exploit new features and leaves you behind.

#2 is a repeat of previous attempts to find a silver bullet for supporting a number of platforms, build-once-deploy-many. So far nobody have succeeded in this field, at least not that I’m aware of. Back in the early nineties a substantial number of companies tried to build CASE tooling in an attempt to abstract the development away from code and hence be able to design once deploy many. Nobody uses CASE tools today. There was also a number of attempt trying to build cross platforms for Wintel and Macintosh. None of these are around. Personally I wouldn’t hold my breath or bet my business on the MEAP vendors, they’ll be gone as soon as the mobile OS market starts congregating towards 2 maybe 3 platforms.

Another thing about MEAP is that in trying to target many platforms they end up having to go with the least common denominator. And frameworks typically gives you 80% of what you need, the last 20% you can’t do and have to go into native code anyway. And guess what, it’s the last 20% of finalizing the project that takes 80% of the time. So no real gain (only a lot of pain).

Another important and often forgotten subject is the user base of certain technologies. The more users using specific technologies the easier it is to get help, find solutions and sample code. With lesser user adoption you’ll be more left on your own and can only rely on the vendor, who will most likely charge you for anything and everything possible.

If you haven’t already guessed then my stand is native everything, you get better apps, they look cooler, they feel like native apps, you don’t risk having to wait for a vendor to implement latest and greatest features, you don’t risk a vendor suddenly going out of business, you got huge user communities that can help and you won’t end up being charged unreasonable amounts of money for simple questions.

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