Cross-Platform Mobile Development with Xamarin

Since Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone to the world in 2007, society has adopted the new mobile technology with zest. The rapid rise of mobile development platforms has come with new opportunities and challenges. Businesses ranging from large multinationals to scrappy startups need mobile apps. The languages for native app development have traditionally been Java for Android and Objective-C for iOS, but new entrants have arisen. Alternative technologies like Xamarin, React Native, PhoneGap, and others, enable coding in other programming languages to get the same thing accomplished.

Xamarin Mobile App Development History And Overview

First off, what is Xamarin? Xamarin is a cross-platform library that was developed in 2011 by the developers of the popular open-source Mono project. It later got acquired by Microsoft. From the very beginning, the library sought to leverage the existing technologies for Microsoft software development in the new domain of mobile development.

Coding Mobile Apps In C#

The platform has always used C# as the programming language, as well as the .NET framework for software libraries. In addition, Xamarin integrates with Visual Studio as well as other Microsoft development tools. This has allowed for hundreds of thousands of developers trained on Microsoft’s technology stack to quickly transition to developing native apps for mobile phones. The apps you develop with the tool will work for Android and iOS platforms.

Native-level Performance

In addition, your apps developed with Xamarin achieve performance comparable to what you can obtain by coding with the native development tools of the platform, such as Swift for iOS or Java for Android. In addition, Xamarin can also be used to develop native applications for desktop operating systems such as Windows and Mac OS. This allows teams to be highly effective at targeting numerous operating system types and devices with software written from a shared C# codebase. Developing with the cross-platform library can often be much more efficient than developing each app in the native language such as Java, Swift or Objective-C.

Xamarin Developer Skill Requirements

To get started with Xamarin mobile app development, candidates need to learn the C# programming language. C# is an object-oriented, general purpose programming language in wide use for purposes like web development, systems development and desktop programming.

Knowledge of .NET and Libraries

Developers with existing expertise on C# and the .NET platform can seamlessly switch into mobile development with Xamarin since the language used is the same. In fact, many of the .NET libraries will be useful when developing an app with the tool as well.

You can download Xamarin for free from the project’s website. You will also need to install .NET on your system, along with Visual Studio, if you do not have these already. On Mac, you will need Visual Studio for Mac, which you can also obtain from the project website.

Native Code: Java or Swift

If you intend to develop Xamarin apps with a truly native look and feel, you will also need some knowledge of native code. This means knowing some Java for Android and Swift or Objective-C for iOS. Still, the level of native code you have to write will be significantly less than if you were coding everything on the native platform.

It is, however, possible, to develop a cross-platform mobile app, using the tool, without coding any native code at all. As we’ll explore below, there are some trade-offs you will need to consider for your specific app demands.

Xamarin Development Process

You might be wondering how to use Xamarin for mobile apps, and how it differs from the C# development you are used to. Coding with the tool comes with a number of conveniences that help speed up your mobile development. For example, Xamarin makes it possible to use LINQ, which developers familiar with .NET will have used. LINQ makes it fast and straightforward to model databases and work with data. This makes developing data-driven mobile applications a smoother experience for the Xamarin developer.

Code Reuse With Familiar Coding Paradigms

If your team already has other code using .NET and C#, developing with Xamarin will reduce the level of context-switching that needs to be done. Coding with the library and C# gives you access to other features you might already rely on such as lambdas, type-safety, static typing, and asynchronous code. You can use existing MVC idioms and use the same programming language as what you use in the backend of your web server.

When developing cross-platform apps, Xamarin gives the developer a number of choices. You can use its packages for specific platforms such as Xamarin.Android and Xamarin.iOS. These packages make it possible to achieve results that use the native interfaces. The result will typically match that of apps developed using Java or Swift for the mobile operating systems. On the other hand, you can opt to use Xamarin.Forms which reuses a significant amount of C# code. The major advantage is that you can share more code between your Android and iOS projects than if you are using Xamarin.Android or Xamarin.iOS. The downside, however, is that you lose some performance when you are using the shared Xamarin.Forms. As a result, your app might be noticeably slower than the comparable app using the platform-focused approach. When developing your mobile app, you will need to determine which is the better trade-off for you: speed of development or getting the maximum app performance on actual devices.

Testing Xamarin Mobile Apps For Android and iOS

For testing your Xamarin apps, you can use Xamarin Test Cloud. This testing tool lets you run and test your code on actual, non-jailbroken Android and iOS devices. Testing in the cloud gives you access to a wide range of devices, saving you money on hardware costs for testing. You can easily and quickly catch bugs in your user-interface or application logic code that might not surface on device emulators.

Xamarin Cross-platform Vs. Using The Native Tools Directly

Compared to using the native tools directly, the tool has a number of advantages that make it a viable option. First, it can cut down development costs since you can use one codebase for both iOS and Android. In addition, it cuts down on the amount of time you have to spend in the development phase of your app. When you can reuse code, you will get to completed apps much faster and deploy quickly to the app stores.

Having a single code base can also improve the quality of your product since you can spend more time on concerns such as quality assurance and testing. Finally, a big advantage over Java and Swift/Objective-C is that you can have your existing C# developers involved without learning new languages. If your team runs on Microsoft technologies, they will be able to develop or maintain any Xamarin mobile apps you commission.

Cross-platform Mobile Development Tools Comparison: Xamarin Vs React Native And Ionic

In the world of cross-platform mobile development tools, Xamarin has a head to head competition with alternatives like Ionic Framework and React Native.

Compared to Ionic Framework, Xamarin’s main advantage is its very fast code. Since it can achieve native-level performance, it is much faster than Ionic framework, which does not tap the full power of the native platform. Ionic Framework uses Javascript and Angular but is not as fast as some options such as Xamarin.

In contrast, React Native uses Javascript and React, but is comparable to Xamarin in its app speed. At the same time, it imposes a higher learning curve for C# developers who must learn Javascript in depth, and then learn React to be able to use React Native. This is not always possible since you might need an app in a very short amount of time. With existing C# talent on your team, you can quickly start developing on Xamarin. This is because the learning curve there will be much lower for your developers.

Gain Access To Rapid Mobile Development With Xamarin

Developing cross-platform mobile apps with Xamarin is a major advantage for businesses looking to deploy fast and save on development costs. Xamarin allows as much as 100% code reuse between platforms, as well as the option to optimize for individual platforms with native code. This flexible approach lets you choose the optimization level that best suits your development needs. With Xamarin and C#, you can code mobile apps with the same tools and programming idioms that you are using already inside your organization.

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