Recently I had to build an app for our company (zevenseas) which can work across all the platforms i.e. Windows Phone, Windows 8, iOS (iPhone, iPad) and Android (Phone and Tablet). I started looking for various options like Titanium, Icenium, PhoneGap & Xamarin. Considering the options I had, I chose two best solutions Icenium and Xamarin. But like many, I was confused about which one to use & when, one being hybrid and other native. So, I used and tested both and here are my findings in this post.
Experimenting with Xamarin – A native solution
I started using Xamarin (build on top of Mono) since February 2013 and I’m loving it. Just think about writing apps for Android/iOS/Mac using the language that you’re using since years – C#. The best feature that I can see which Xamarin provides is one solution to build them all. Just think about having one solution, which has all the required projects & dependencies at one place. Everything in one IDE (Visual Studio), one solution and in one repository, built using one language. This is AWESOME. The other most important feature for me is Portable Class Libraries (PCL). Think about having your Data Access Layer, Business Logic Layer, Models, etc.… into PCL and then referring it into various different applications. Just create UI layers. 100% code re-use. Isn’t it? So, think about project structure like this:
Other awesome feature which I liked about Xamarin is, their releases aligned with release of .NET features, iOS and Android. You can use LINQ, Async/Await, PCL in your cross-platform project. One more thing to mention here, Xamarin provided support for iOS7 as soon as it got released. Pretty amazing.
The challenges with Xamarin
I can see some challenges with Xamarin & yes, those can be addressed. First one is third-party SDKs equivalents and controls. Recently Xamarin is coming up with their components-store and I’m waiting for few SDKs and components to appear in it. Perhaps, this can be a great opportunity for some folks to build and sell their components/controls. For example, I wanted to build mobile app to fetch data from SharePoint. For Windows Phone, there is SharePoint SDK for Windows Phone. Being lazy, I wanted that same SDK as Xamarin component. It is doable. No doubt. But if somebody can provide it to me, or provide solution to migrate these kind of SDKs to Xamarin I’ll be happy. (btw, Xamarin has something called scan my code which analyses the code and tells you how much of it can be reused across platforms).
In case of controls (like Telerik, Infragistics, ComponentOne, Mindscape and Syncfusion), it would be great if I can port/use existing controls (without reinventing the wheel) written in .NET; in my cross-platform solution. I know, it is going to take time, but still.
Playing around Icenium – A hybrid solution
The challenges with Icenium
I found some challenges when dealing with Icenium. First, if you already have your existing logic in C# (in case of Xamarin, PCL is the best solution), then porting it to hybrid app (JS) can be time consuming affair. You may need to re-write. But this re-write can help you to use that code across platforms. Second, the simulators are not active simulators and has some limitations. Which means, you can’t use hardware buttons like back/home/menu etc… on Android/iOS. Keyboard inputs work from real keyboard connected to development machine. You also can’t test most of the Cardova plug-ins.
Apart from these challenges, I found both Icenium and Xamarin good options to build cross-platform solutions. So, the question is when to use what?
|Use existing C# Knowledge and code
Incl. Async/Await, LINQ, PCL, etc…
|Use existing JS knowledge and code
Inc. Jquery, JQMobile, KendoUI, etc…
(Windows Phone/8, Android/iOS/Mac/Desktop/XBOX)
Edit: I just found that Icenium as IDE allows you to build apps for Android, iOS. However, the same code can be used to build for Blackberry and Windows Phone externally i.e. like using Visual Studio to build XAP (Windows Phone package). Using respective build process. Thanks to Lohith for pointing out my mistake.
I will not talk about performance. I haven’t built similar kind of application using these two solutions to check performance. Hence, I can’t comment on this point.
So far I’m loving both of these solutions to build cross-platform applications and I’ve my own reasons to choose right-one at right-time. Do you? Do let me know if you need any further information.