More and more small and mid-sized businesses are turning to mobile apps as a way to connect with customers or perform in-house sales activities. Whether you’re developing a location-based app for your field sales team, or a loyalty app for customers, apps can offer a branded, user-friendly experience for your employees and customers alike.
But developing your own native apps takes time, especially if you have more than one app to build. With Xamarin, you can use your existing C# skills to build apps that share up to 90% of your code between platforms, saving you time and money.
Essentially, Xamarin apps act and appear like native apps, but are built using a single language, or make use of code that you’ve already written for other apps.
What is Xamarin?
Xamarin is an open-source platform that developers can use to build apps for Android, iOS, and Windows devices. In technical terms, it’s “an abstraction layer that manages communication of shared code with underlying platform code.”
That means your app will function similarly on any platform, by pairing the underlying SDKs and APIs with a layer of platform-specific code.
Xamarim was bought by Microsoft in 2016, and is included in Visual Studio, making it free to use for individual developers, or as part of your enterprise subscription.
This means you can start building apps without investing in new software or learning any programming languages besides C#. You can also incorporate existing Java, C, and C++ code from your own or third-party libraries.
Then, you can compile your applications into .apk or .ipa files using either a Mac or PC, with no limitations on file size. Because Xamarin offers cross-platform support, you’ll be able to provide a consistent user experience across all devices.
Who uses Xamarin?
According to Xamarin’s LinkedIn page, the platform is used by airlines such as JetBlue and Alaska Airlines, as well as 3M, HP, AT&T, and other technology companies.
For example, Alaska Airlines uses Xamarin to ensure a consistent user experience on all devices, making it easy for customers to book a ticket or check in for a flight.
The FOX Sports app was also built with Xamarin using Visual Studio, enabling fans to customize their interface and access real-time scores and stats.
But who actually uses it from day to day? In short, your developers do. Your team might benefit from using Xamarin if you need to:
- Build cross-platform apps using Visual Studio
- Share code and logic across multiple platforms
- Test and monitor the performance of your apps
Xamarin provides a way to try out the concept of your app before investing in a native build, or to release a minimum viable product onto the market on a tight timeframe.
It also makes it easier to launch your app on all platforms at once, rather than making iOS or Android users wait while you develop a native app for their platform.
Xamarin might be a good alternative to native mobile app development.
First, let’s get clear on what exactly a native mobile app is and why you might choose to use Xamarin instead. There are three main types of mobile apps:
- Native apps
- Progressive apps
- Hybrid apps
Native apps are apps that are built specifically for use on a single operating system, so they provide the best user experience, incorporating all of the features of a smartphone, including the GPS, camera, Bluetooth, and more.
The downside to native apps is that they require more time and money to develop, and their larger file sizes mean they use more space and take longer to download.
Native apps can be built using a range of programming languages, such as C++, Java, and Python, but you’ll need to code them separately for iOS and Android.
Progressive apps, or web apps, run directly in the web browser, so they don’t require a separate download. Progressive apps use less data than native apps, but don’t have the same functionality as a downloadable app.
For example, the Twitter Lite web app runs using only 600KB of data, compared to the 23.5MB app, loading in around 5 seconds on a 5G network.
Progressive apps are designed to provide an app-like interface and features, such as the ability to send push notifications and work offline.
Because they run on web-based code, such as HTML5, CSS, or Ruby, you don’t need to customize them for each individual device. However, the user experience may vary depending on which browser the app is opened in.
Some web apps allow users to “install” them, but this usually just means bookmarking the web address on your homescreen.
Finally, there’s the hybrid app, which offers some of the benefits of both web and native apps. They’re essentially web apps that have been made to work like native apps.
This means they can work across platforms, just like web apps, but still have access to the built-in features of native apps, like the GPS and camera.
Most users won’t be able to tell the difference between a native app and a hybrid app, although there may be some compromises in performance and functionality.
Hybrid apps take less time to build, have faster download times, and most importantly, offer cross-platform support by using a shared code base.
Some of the tools you can use to build a hybrid app are:
- Xamarin (using C#)
Some developers disagree over whether Xamarin apps should be considered hybrid or native apps. Unlike apps built using Cordova, which are really just web apps in a native wrapper, Xamarin apps really are native apps with native UI capabilities.
Ultimately, Xamarin apps are as close as you can get to a native app without investing in building one from scratch.
Most importantly, you can use the same team to develop apps for all platforms, rather than having separate teams working on apps for iOS, Android, and Windows.
But there are some risks involved.
Despite its benefits, there are a few disadvantages to using Xamarin. The first is that you may run into trouble if your apps have complicated graphics.
While it’s easy to share logic across platforms, the UI code is unique to each platform, so graphics, games, and animations may not work properly with Xamarin.
Second, the Xamarin talent pool is much smaller than that of native app developers, accounting for only around 7% of developers. This means it could be harder to find enough experienced Xamarin developers for your team.
Additionally, you’ll have access to fewer open source libraries than you would for iOS and Android apps, specifically those available through Xamarin or .NET.
You’ll also have some lag time before platform updates are rolled out. Although Xamarin aims to offer same-day support, it may take some time before you can implement all of the features available in new Android or iOS releases.
Finally, Xamarin can be expensive for professional and enterprise users. Yes, it’s free for individuals, so hiring an external developer may help you keep your costs low.
But if you plan to use Xamarin in-house, it will cost up to $1,199 to license Visual Studio Professional and as much as $5,999 for Visual Studio Enterprise on an annual basis.
Is it ultimately worth it?
Whether or not Xamarin is worth it depends on your intentions when developing an app and what skills you already have on your in-house team.
If you’ll be releasing the same app on multiple platforms, then it makes sense for your team to use a single tech stack and develop all of the apps simultaneously.
You can even develop apps for Mac OS, Apple TV and Apple Watch, and Tizen, which is used on certain wearables and IoT devices made by Samsung.
Keep in mind, though, that you’ll still need some native developers on your team. While 90% of the code may be shared between apps, some of it is platform-specific.
Because Xamarin is owned by Microsoft, you can expect reliable ongoing support, as well as free courses available through Microsoft Learn.
You’ll also be able to view crash reports and other user data through the Visual Studio App Center, helping you recognize and fix bugs quickly.
In short, you’ll have access to an entire ecosystem that can be used to design apps for multiple platforms, with all of the features you’d expect from a native app.
And based on a report by Forrester Consulting, you can expect your development costs to drop significantly over time, covering the cost of Visual Studio in under a month.
You need the right developer to help you along, though.
Unless you have an experienced Xamarin developer on your team, we don’t suggest developing Xamarin apps on your own. An experienced developer like Zibtek will help you understand the ins and outs of app development on Xamarin.
From creating the look and feel of your app, to submitting it to app stores, a developer will help you reduce the time it takes to go to market and release your app.
When you work with Zibtek, you can expect high-quality code and frequent updates as our team works to build your app through regular development sprints.Reach out today to request a consultation and get a free quote for your project!