The successor of Mono Touch – Xamarin – is rapidly growing in popularity among multi-platform app developers. We here take a look around the main benefits of using the Xamarin tool.
The debate will rage on as to whether it is easier to learn Objective-C (for iOS apps) or Java (for Android applications). The situation can be particularly difficult for cross-platform developers, who need to have thorough knowledge of both the languages. With the release of Apple Swift, there’s yet another programming language to muster. In such a scenario, it is hardly surprising that developers are increasingly switching over to Xamarin for cross-platform mobile app development. In case you are not familiar with this tool, here are some key advantages that Xamarin has on offer:
- Works around the uniqueness of the two platforms – Mobile app developers get separate sets of .NET classes to work with – for iOS and Android projects. The SDK and UI of Apple and Google are different, and Xamarin does not try to bring in any unnecessary commonality between the two. Instead, the unique features of the two platforms are used in an optimal manner by the core logic of Xamarin.
- Lesser lines of code – Compared to both Objective-C and Java (let’s not go into comparisons with Swift just yet), Xamarin involves lesser amounts of manual coding. The reason is simple – for most types of projects, C# involves significantly less typing than other programming languages. Additional boilerplate annotations are not required either. Since the coding remains crisp and compact, chances of developer mistakes become minimal.
- Full support for native apps – According to cross-platform mobile app developers, this is probably the biggest advantage of Xamarin. It comes with an extensive range of native application program interfaces (APIs), which enable developers to retain platform-specific look and feel, while using the shared code. It’s an absolute myth that C# is not as useful for creating native apps as Java or Objective C.
- Excellent library support – With the release of Xamarin 3 in June, Portable Class Libraries have been included in Xamarin. The supported .NET libraries can now be directly used for coding iPhone apps, Android apps, and even applications for Windows Phone. App developers no longer have to build their programs from scratch. Previously, the pre-compiled libraries were not compatible for iOS/Android projects, but that issue has been resolved now.
- The learning curve is a lot less steep – Particularly so for mobile app development experts who are proficient in C#/.NET programming. Even those who have not worked with the language earlier need to learn only one language (C#), instead of having to slog through both Obj.-C/Swift and Java – for developing apps with multi-platform features. A couple of weeks is the maximum time you need to invest, to learn how to use Xamarin.
- Additional advantage for functional programmers – Using lambdas in an Objective-C program is a hassle, even for experienced developers. Java, of course, does not even have lambdas. Xamarin offers a great solution for functional coders, thanks to the ease with which lambdas can be worked with in the C# environment. Since the code completion is ubiquitous, writing out code snippets becomes a lot simpler.
- Shortening the app development cycle – Along with the expenses that mobile app companies (and, in turn, clients) have to incur. Code-sharing is another key highlight of Xamarin – and the tool supports the native SDK of practically all popular app development platforms. Conditional compilation and file-linking help in making the best use of native controls – irrespective of whether you are working on an Android smartphone app or an iPad. On average, nearly 80% of the codes in the Xamarin framework can be reused.
- Significantly lower bug risks – This follows from the earlier points. When a mobile app testing expert only has to check a single set of code (in C#), instead of two different sets – it is only natural that the testing would be more thorough, and his/her concentration levels would not waver. What’s more – the total time required for the testing procedures are also considerably lowered. Leading mobile application development companies have to work with demanding project deadlines, and Xamarin helps them attain a high level of service-quality and time-efficiency.
- Advanced language-level support – When you start using Xamarin, you effectively bid adieu to all forms of manual bookkeeping and callbacks (which are necessary in Java, and even Swift). The procedure for asynchronous programming (async) with C# is comparatively much simpler. As a result, developers find it easier to add responsiveness to their apps. ‘Futuristic’ would be an apt adjective to describe the Xamarin system.
- Automated app testing – Apart from generally lowering the chances of bug-presence in mobile applications, Xamarin allows real-time testing on devices as well. This feature can be accessed via Xamarin TestCloud, which allows any iOS or Android app to be simultaneously tested on a large number of devices (the ones on which it would finally be used). Both object-based as well as fragmentation testing are supported. The reports generated are detailed and systematic – and chances of an error passing unnoticed is almost nil.
- Native UI support for all platforms – With the help of fully shared C# codes and Xamarin.Forms, native controls for iOS, Android and Windows Phone apps can be built during runtime. There are nearly 50 different layouts available, which makes customization of the native interfaces an absolute breeze. A much faster and easier alternative compared to creating UI using two different sets of codes.
- Support for Google Glass apps – Wearable technology is the future, and Xamarin comes in handy for making applications for them too. By using the features of Xamarin.Android (along with the supported GDK and SDK of the platform), apps that can be used on Google Glass can be created by developers. There might not be a huge buzz about this at present – but as Glass grows in popularity, demand for compatible apps would increase, and Xamarin.Android would be more and more used.
- And then, there’s Xamarin.iOS – While Xamarin.Android works with the JIT (just-in-time) compiler, Xamarin.iOS makes use of the Ahead-Of-Time (AOT) compiler system. The default naming conventions of the .NET environment are used, and the entire SDK of the iOS platform can be seamlessly imported into C#. The built-in apps in Xamarin.iOS can be directly compiled on the ARM assembly code as well. Xamarin also offers same-day support for each iOS version (including iOS 8). As a result, making platform-specific apps for Apple devices becomes easier than what it was with Objective-C.
- Developers can work with Xamarin Studio and Visual Studio – Depending on their preferences, proficiency and precise project-requirements – mobile app developers can use the Xamarin tool in either the Xamarin Studio IDE or the more familiar Visual Studio IDE (the former is also free). Both of them offer features that are at par with any sophisticated software/app development environment. The overall development procedure gets simplified, and there is a host of tech support features available as well.
With simpler, shared coding for iOS and Android, Xamarin allows mobile app companies to bring their products to stores more quickly too. One of the best things about the framework is its support for the Windows Phone environment, in addition to the two mobile platform leaders. Well over 600000 app developers use Xamarin on a regular basis at present – and the collaboration with Microsoft has further enhanced its features. For all those who are interested in cross-platform app development – Xamarin is a really user-friendly tool. It’s not that learning Objective-C and/or Java is unnecessary, but working with Xamarin is just that bit more convenient.