Creating mobile applications has always been a fundamental pillar of the tech industry but having multiple platforms for which different apps need to be developed has been an issue for some time. Apart from having to maintain two teams, one for Android and one for iOS, there’s always a gap between the applications developed as they are made by totally different teams. That’s what gave birth to the idea of creating cross-platform mobile applications.
There are many types and solutions but the most popular one right now is by creating compiled apps that give the closest performance to that of the real native applications. The most powerful contender in that field at this moment is Facebook’s React Native. And a new challenger entered the field recently, JetBrains’s Kotlin Multiplatform. Let's look at the strengths and weaknesses of both React Native and Kotlin Multiplatform and do an objective React Native vs Kotlin Multiplatform comparison.
With this table below, you can get a quick look at the difference between React Native vs Kotlin Multiplatform before we dive deeper.
What is React Native?
React Native Pros
Some of the advantages of cross-platform mobile app development using React Native include:
- Reusable Code: Develop an app and export it on multiple platforms from a single codebase.
- App Stores: Publish your app on the app stores of the respective platforms.
- Performance: React Native compiles your app into native apps, which are almost identical to apps created using native tools, making it faster than hybrid apps that have to run code inside a platform-specific web component.
- Native UI Components: React Native allows you to create views using React Native UI components, which are compiled into platform-specific UI components, unlike other cross-platform tools that use HTML tags. By offering ready-made components, you save a lot of time compared to writing everything from scratch.
- Hot Reloading: A feature available in React Native that allows changes in the code to take effect right away in iOS and Android apps so that you can visualize the changes immediately.
- Testing: Debugging React Native apps is fairly easy as it publishes native apps, which can be tested on physical devices using a tool like Expo, a free and open-source toolchain built around React Native, without the need to open them in Xcode or Android Studio.
- Native Code: Unlike most other cross-platform development tools, React Native allows you to further modify your published native apps separately and it gives you the option to even combine your React Native code and native code, whether it’s Swift, Objective-C, or Java. This is great in case you want to implement separate visual components for different platforms using platform-specific code.
- Reliability: React Native was created by Facebook and many of the world’s top mobile apps use React Native, including Facebook, Instagram, SoundCloud, and Skype. So needless to say, it’s very stable and reliable.
- Free and open-source: React Native is completely free to use, as opposed to other options like using an app builder or no-code solutions for your cross-development needs.
React Native Cons
While React Native is one of the best cross-platform development tools out there at the moment, it is certainly not perfect. Some of the disadvantages of React Native include:
- New Technologies: Learning JSX and ECMAScript isn’t as easy and would probably take more time than other familiar technologies like HTML and CSS.
- Native Code: In some instances, you might have to write native or platform-specific code in your mobile apps, especially if you need to access the device hardware like the camera or GPS, which can defeat the purpose of cross-platform development and can deem React Native useless for smaller teams.
- Almost-Perfect Performance: While React Native excels in terms of performance compared to most other cross-platform development frameworks, it’s still never as good as native apps development using platform-specific tools and languages.
Make sure to check out our list of top React Native newsletters, blogs, and online communities to stay up-to-date with all that’s new in the world of React Native. Also, check out our essential React Native development tools blog post for more information regarding each tool.
What is Kotlin Multiplatform?
At first glance, comparing Kotlin and Flutter might raise some eyebrows due to Kotlin being traditionally known as a programming language. However, JetBrains released Kotlin Multiplatform in 2020 as an additional feature of the language that helps it expand beyond Android app development. Kotlin Multiplatform lets developers use a single codebase to develop apps for both iOS and Android.
Kotlin Multiplatform pros
- Modular integration: Probably the biggest benefit in favor of Kotlin is that it’s an SDK and not a framework. This means that teams with existing apps can simply add a module or migrate a small part to assess its viability without a huge commitment. This really helps Kotlin address the biggest deterrent when moving to a new codebase.
- Easy to learn: Kotlin as a programming language is very popular already and its syntax is very similar to other popular languages such as Swift and Java. This also helps reduce the barrier for entry and encourages developers to pick up Kotlin as an alternative.
- A single codebase for the business logic: Cross-platform development solutions by definition let you use a single code base for various platforms and Kotlin Multiplatform is no different. The advantage of Kotlin is that it lets you share logic and libraries below the UI layer. This enables developers to directly interact with their native environment (iOS/Android).
- Native UI experience: Kotlin Multiplatform unlike Flutter does not demand developers to follow its own UI. It lets you utilize native UI elements to its fullest as if you are developing natively.
- Native performance: This utilization of native components helps Kotlin developed apps perform as efficiently as they would as natively developed apps. This is a much sought-after advantage for various developers looking to make something beyond an MVP.
Kotlin Multiplatform cons
- Fresh out of beta: Kotlin Multiplatform was introduced in Kotlin 1.2 and as of Kotlin's 1.9.20 release in November 2023, the SDK is out of beta and production ready. However, this is only true for the core parts of Kotlin Multiplatform and many advanced parts are still in beta. It has surprising adoption in big products(VMware, 9GAG, McDonald's, CashApp, Netflix, and Baidu), but companies will want to hold off on using advanced features that are not production ready.
- Community support and libraries: Being a relatively new alternative, libraries and community support is somewhat limited. However, it's worth mentioning that they have been rapidly growing over the past few years and show no sign of slowing.
- Not a closed solution: Kotlin Multiplatform still needs mobile teams to be at least familiar with the different tech stacks. Utilizing a lot of native components means that it won't be sufficient to be familiar with only Kotlin on its own. This isn’t the case with Flutter where you can do everything purely using Flutter.
- Takes more development resources: When compared with Flutter, Kotlin isn’t the best solution to create an MVP or prototype as fast as possible. Its need for various semi-native components increases the cost of development both in terms of time and resources.
Over Kotlin Multiplatform's relatively short life, it has become a serious contender among cross-platform solutions. Ultimately, the choice between React Native and Kotlin Multiplatform will depend on your app's needs.
Teams that prioritize the velocity that hot reload provides, are satisfied with near-native performance, and don't mind occasionally writing native code might find React Native more suitable. If your app uses a lot of native features that will require writing a lot of native code on React Native, or you prioritize native performance, Kotlin Multiplatform could be the technology for you.
It is worth noting that this verdict is a huge testament to Kotlin Multiplatform and the team at JetBrains. Kotlin Multiplatform has come a very long way over the course of just four years, becoming a serious contender to much older and more mature cross-platform technologies.
- Introducing React Native App Performance Monitoring (APM)
- How to Deploy Your React Native App for iOS and Android
- 13 Essential React Native Tools for Mobile App Developers
- Your Guide to Cross-Platform Mobile App Development Tools
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