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Native apps or APIs when developing for mobile platforms?

Although Android and iOS rule mobile OSes, within these OSes are multiple versions. Because of this, when developing for mobile platforms, you face a choice: native apps or MBaaS APIs.

The mobile ecosystem is fragmented. Android and iOS rule the roost when it comes to mobile OSes. Yet, within these...

OSes, there are multiple versions and many device types that support each version. When developing for mobile platforms, you face an important decision right at the start: to build customized versions for each platform and device or to build once and release across all mobile platforms. The former would require you to create multiple native apps, and the latter would center on APIs.

The API-driven approach is fostered by mobile backend as a service (MBaaS) platforms that have made it possible and even easy to manage complex API back ends and have the apps act as an interface to these APIs.

But when developing for mobile platforms, what should you consider when choosing between native apps or an API-driven approach? Here are some criteria to help you decide.

App stores as gatekeepers

App stores review every update to native apps and act as gatekeepers, ensuring apps adhere to common guidelines. This review can take anywhere from an hour to a few days. With MBaaS APIs, you can enable many new features as soft releases and bypass the app stores. Since your app acts like a browser that sends and receives requests to APIs, your app experience is driven by the APIs, and any updates to the APIs will reflect in your app without you having to push out a new release. This makes APIs a better option if you want faster time to market, more innovation and more control over the release process.

Code reuse across platforms

One of the key drivers for MBaaS APIs is the ability to build your APIs once and have them run on all platforms with little or no changes. Cross-compatibility is built into the development process. This is particularly attractive for startups that are short on resources or find it hard to hire mobile developers.

Uncompromised UI

The previous criteria shift the balance toward MBaaS API solutions, but if there's one reason you should strongly consider going the native app route, it's UI. If UI is what drives your app and you want to leverage the device's features to the utmost extent, you may find MBaaS restrictive.

When developing for mobile apps, these are the key criteria to consider when making the decision between native apps or cross-platform MBaaS APIs. Most mobile apps today are developed as native apps, but with the increasing fragmentation in the mobile ecosystem, MBaaS is becoming the preferred method and is the way of the future.

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This was last published in September 2017

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