(Image Credit: iStockPhoto/Pamela Moore)
In theory, app development platforms should be a dream come true. They allow developers with varied coding and design experience to create an app, and they make for development cycles that are usually much faster than building something from scratch. But as with any shortcut, many app development platforms come with their own sets of limitations.
Using an app development platform often means giving up the efficiency that native source code languages provide. What’s more, you also need to learn all of the functions and workarounds specific to each new platform. This can lead to diminished collaboration between designers, developers, and stakeholders, and you risk always being behind on the latest and greatest features of the system or hardware if the solution you use is slow to be updated.
These shortcomings don’t mean that app development platforms are never the right solution; you just need to be careful and choose the right solution for you.
Here are seven traits you should keep in mind when selecting an app development platform:
1. Make sure your service can keep up. The mobile industry is evolving at a rapid pace, and it’s hard enough to keep up as a developer without third-party software slowing you down. Many app development tools have trouble keeping up with the latest changes to Android and iOS, and your company can fall years behind if it ends up using outdated versions. Make sure the solution you’re looking at can support the latest operating systems now — don’t just hope they’ll catch up quickly.
2. Make sure the platform offers real efficiency increases. Avoid platforms that require you to do so much that you might as well code the app from scratch yourself. The main purpose of an app development platform is to make the development process more efficient. Cutting out the redundant and time-consuming parts of coding saves time and allows you to focus on more important things, such as creating exciting new features. If you often find yourself having to go back and fix something the app development platform has done, it may not save you much time in the end. The time you save on coding shouldn’t be spent debugging.
3. Avoid blackboxed code and heavy frameworks. A good app development tool can save you time when it comes to coding by doing much of the grunt work for you. But that doesn’t mean you should lose the option to do everything by hand should you deem it necessary. Watch out for app development platforms that muddy or restrict access to your app’s source code or rely heavily on custom frameworks they’ve built — you never know what’s inside.
4. Don’t be confined by templates. Templates can be an excellent way to quickly give your app a tried-and-true structure, but that structure can also be constricting. A template should be a jumping-off point, not something you’re beholden to. Whatever you may be able to gain in efficiency shouldn’t come by sacrificing your brand identity. If an app development platform requires you to use one of its templates or won’t let you customize to your own unique look, perhaps you should look elsewhere — the vast majority of them are template-based.
5. Don’t compromise your UX. Just as you shouldn’t let a template dictate the look of your app, you also shouldn’t let the capabilities of an app development platform dictate your user interface. Your users need to come first no matter what. It’s okay if an app development platform has limited design elements — as long as those are the only elements you need or the platform allows you to add custom components or plug-ins down the line. But if what it offers doesn’t compare to the design you have in mind, there’s probably a better solution out there for you.
6. Don’t sacrifice function or performance. The reason many app development platforms are able to deliver apps that work on multiple platforms is that they’re hybrid apps, which are written in web languages but include native wrappers to add functionality. And while these apps will work, the hit you take when it comes to speed and features may not be worth the compromise. At the very least, look for an app development platform that supports source code editing so you can build any missing features yourself, if necessary. Moreover, if speed and reactivity are vital factors in your app, you’re going to want to focus solely on truly native app development platforms.
While app development platforms can be a dream come true, if you don’t make sure the one you choose affords you the freedom to design the end product you see in your head — not the product that a platform’s limitations may force you to create — it may turn out to be a pipe dream. Look for features like API integration and a robust plug-in system, and make sure you can write your own code in a language you’re comfortable with.
At their best, app development platforms should enhance your existing workflow, and these tools are getting better all the time. If you find that the solution you’ve chosen is no longer cutting it, don’t be afraid to look elsewhere. With a little due diligence, you’ll find the one that works best for you.
Do you have other tips for choosing a development platform? Share them in the comments.