The Good and The Bad of Xamarin Mobile Development
The Good and The Bad of Xamarin Mobile Development

In the realm of iOS and Android app development, the usual suspects are Objective-C, Swift, and Java. However, there’s a contender that often flies under the radar—Xamarin. This article dives deep into the world of Xamarin, conducting a thorough review and comparing it to both native and cross-platform mobile development solutions available in the market.

Xamarin vs Native iOS/Android vs Hybrid Development
                          Xamarin vs Native iOS/Android vs Hybrid Development

What is Xamarin?

Before delving into the pros and cons, let’s grasp the essence of Xamarin. It’s a cross-platform mobile app development tool that enables engineers to share approximately 90 percent of code across major platforms. Born from the minds behind Mono, an open-source development platform based on the .NET Framework, Xamarin found its footing in the Microsoft ecosystem after being acquired in 2016.

Xamarin’s Origins

Xamarin traces its roots back to Mono, initiated in 2001. Unlike its predecessor, Xamarin started as a commercial project until Microsoft’s acquisition, making it an integral part of the Xamarin Visual Studio Integrated Development Environment.

Xamarin Features

1. C# Language

Xamarin employs a single language, C#, for crafting apps across mobile platforms. Unlike interpreted solutions, Xamarin’s natively compiled nature positions it as a preferred choice for building high-performance apps with a native look and feel.

2. Based on .NET Framework

C# being part of the .NET framework brings mature language features like Lambdas, LINQ, and Asynchronous programming, enhancing the development experience. Xamarin utilizes C# and native libraries wrapped in the .Net layer for cross-platform app development.

3. Xamarin.Forms

This product facilitates the creation of prototypes or simple mobile apps, sharing 100 percent of the code across iOS and Android, emphasizing rapid prototyping or projects prioritizing code sharing over custom UI.

4. Xamarin.Mac

Engineers can utilize Xamarin.Mac to build applications for Mac OS, promoting code sharing up to 90 percent across Android, iOS, and Mac OS.

5. Platform SDKs and Code Bindings

Xamarin provides access to platform-specific SDKs via simple C# syntax. It allows for the creation of platform-specific UI code layers, ensuring Xamarin cross-platform apps look native on any device.

6. Support for Wearables

Xamarin supports building apps for Apple and Android Watch devices, showcasing compatibility with wearables.

Pros of Using Xamarin for Development

1. One Technology Stack for All Platforms

Xamarin’s use of C# and .Net framework enables the reuse of up to 96 percent of the source code, streamlining the engineering cycle. The cross-platform development tools are seamlessly integrated into Visual Studio at no additional cost.

2. Performance Close to Native

Xamarin delivers performance metrics comparable to Java for Android and Objective-C/Swift for native iOS app development. Xamarin’s Test Cloud aids in identifying performance issues before release.

3. Native User Experiences

Xamarin allows the creation of flawless experiences using platform-specific UI elements, striking a balance between Xamarin.Forms for code sharing and Xamarin.iOS/Xamarin.Android for custom UI.

4. Full Hardware Support

Xamarin ensures native-level app functionality, eliminating hardware compatibility issues and supporting linking with native libraries for better customization.

5. Open Source Technology with Strong Corporate Support

Microsoft’s acquisition made Xamarin SDK open source, fostering growth. Supported by Microsoft, Unity, JetBrains, and Red Hat, Xamarin stands as a reliable and powerful tech stack.

6. Simplified Maintenance

Xamarin’s cross-platform nature simplifies maintenance and updates, deploying changes to the source file and applying them to both iOS and Android apps.

7. Complete Development Ecosystem

Xamarin comes with a comprehensive development toolset, including its IDE, Xamarin SDKs, testing tools, distribution, and analytics platforms, reducing the need for additional tools.

8. Xamarin.Forms: a Framework for Simple Apps and Prototypes

Xamarin.Forms offers rapid prototyping or app development with less platform-specific functionality, suitable for projects prioritizing code sharing over custom UI.

9. Xamarin.Forms Live Player

The Live Player tool simplifies testing and debugging, allowing real-time synchronization between the developed app and Visual Studio.

10. Building Apps for Macs with Xamarin.Mac Tool

Xamarin.Mac enables the development of fully native Mac apps using C# and .NET, sharing code across Android, iOS, and Mac OS.

11. Xamarin University Provides Smooth Onboarding

Xamarin University offers e-learning for those new to Xamarin, covering classes from beginner to advanced levels.

Cons of Xamarin Development

1. Slightly Delayed Support for Latest Platform Updates

Xamarin may experience delays in supporting the latest iOS and Android releases due to the time required for implementation and adjustment.

2. Limited Access to Open Source Libraries

While Xamarin Components provide various features, the choice is not as extensive as in native development, relying on platform-provided components and some .Net open source resources.

3. Xamarin Ecosystem Problems

The Xamarin community is smaller compared to iOS or Android, potentially posing challenges in finding experienced Xamarin developers.

4. Basic Knowledge of Native Languages Required

For Xamarin.iOS and Xamarin.Android, building apps with a truly native feel necessitates a basic knowledge of native technologies.

5. Not Suitable for Apps with Heavy Graphics

Xamarin’s code-sharing emphasis makes it less viable for apps requiring extensive shared UI code, such as games or complex animations.

6. Larger App Size

Xamarin apps tend to be larger than native ones, requiring additional optimization to maintain reasonable file sizes.

7. Compatibility Issues with Third-Party Libraries and Tools

Integrating third-party resources with Xamarin apps may encounter compatibility issues, requiring careful consideration.

Xamarin Visual Studio IDE

For those considering Xamarin, understanding the available IDEs is crucial. Visual Studio, in its various versions—Community, Professional, and Enterprise—offers a range of features catering to different developer needs.

1. Visual Studio Community

Ideal for students and small teams, this free version provides a good starting point for those new to Visual Studio.

2. Visual Studio Professional

Designed for professional developers and small teams, this version offers powerful features and tools for code understanding and collaboration. Priced at $539 per user annually.

3. Visual Studio Enterprise

With strong support tools and services, this version caters to complex development processes, including professional training and support. Priced at $2,999 per user annually.

Switching to Visual Studio from Other IDEs

For those transitioning from Android Studio or Xcode to Visual Studio, the learning curve is manageable. Visual Studio’s wide language support and platform compatibility ease the transition.

From Android Studio to Visual Studio

Visual Studio supports major programming languages, providing more engineering freedom and allowing integration with Google Cloud Platform.

From Xcode to Visual Studio

Xcode and Visual Studio offer similar language support, with Visual Studio providing advantages like platform independence. However, the subscription fee for Visual Studio is a consideration.

Xamarin vs. Native iOS/Android vs. Hybrid Development

Comparing Xamarin to native development tools and hybrid platforms reveals its strengths and weaknesses.

Xamarin vs. Hybrid Development

Xamarin outperforms hybrid solutions in terms of performance and native capabilities. Xamarin vs. React Native tends to favor Xamarin due to restrictions in React Native’s underlying technologies.

Xamarin vs. Native iOS/Android Development

The debate between Xamarin and native development is nuanced, with both options delivering value. The choice depends on the type of application being built.

Conclusion

Xamarin presents a compelling option for cross-platform mobile development, offering a balance between code-sharing efficiency and native user experiences. Its robust features make it a favorite for companies like Trello, Slack, and GitHub. However, prospective developers must weigh the cons, considering factors like delayed support for updates and a larger app size.

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