Xamarin: The Revolution in Cross-Platform Mobile App Development

In the age of smartphones and smart TVs, every apps developer is seeking the cheapest, fastest, and easiest ways to create and deploy high performing mobile apps. Android and iOS platforms rule the market, and as a mobile application developer, you have to choose the aptest framework to run your mobile app on more devices and provide the best user interface and experience.

Microsoft’s Xamarin is one of the top open-source cross-platform frameworks that is being used for creating secure, scalable and feature-packed apps. Let’s have a quick look at some stats and trends of this popular framework.

Let’s have a quick look at the number of repositories, users, contributors, and commits of Xamarin:

Here is what Google trends tell about Xamarin and its biggest competitor React native:

Okay, so now it’s clear that Xamarin is quite a popular cross-platform mobile app development platform. Have a look at some other information about Xamarin:

Xamarin is impossible to ignore when talking about key approaches to mobile application development. It is a tool used for cross-platform mobile app development that allows engineers to share approximately 90% of the code across major platforms. Being a comparatively new tool, it is based on the Microsoft technology stack and already has a community of over 1.4 million app developers.

The platform was built by the developers based on the Mono Framework. It is an open-source development platform, based on the .NET Framework, led by Miguel de Icaza and first introduced in the year 2001. The Xamarin company was founded on May 16, 2011.

However, unlike its predecessor, Xamarin was built as a commercial project until the software development company was acquired by Microsoft in 2016. Xamarin became a popular cross-platform product for creating mobile applications within the Microsoft ecosystem. This acquisition broke the financial barrier to using Xamarin. As Microsoft made the Xamarin SDK open-source, it became part of the Xamarin Visual Studio Integrated Development Environment.

What are the salient features of Xamarin?

C# language.

Xamarin uses a single language, C #, in order to create mobile apps for all mobile platforms. No like interpreted solutions like Appcelerator Titanium, Xamarin is natively compiled, an option to make it a high-performance mobile application with a native look and feel.

Based on the .NET framework.

C # is a mature programming language with strong security-typing that prevents code from unexpected behavior. Since C# is one of the popular .NET Framework languages, it can be used with a plethora of useful .NET features such as LINQ, Lambdas, and asynchronous programming (async / wait).

Technically, the Xamarin uses C # and native libraries wrapped in the .Net layer for mobile app development. Such mobile applications are often compared native to Android and iOS mobile development platforms in terms of performance and user experience. In addition to this, Xamarin can take advantage of all the native and latest API access to use built-in platform capabilities such as Android Multi-Window or ARKit on iOS.

While code which is related to business logic, database access, and network communications can be easily shared across all the platforms, Xamarin allows you to create a platform-specific UI code layer. Thus, Xamarin cross-platform mobile apps look 100% native on any mobile device, providing a better user experience than a normal hybrid app.

Compilation

The platform has two big products: Xamarin.Android and Xamarin.iOS. In the case of iOS, the source code is compiled directly into the original ARM assembly code (Ahead-of-Time compilation), while the Android Xamarin application is compiled first into the intermediate language and then into the original assembly code at runtime (Just -In) -time compilation). However, in both of these cases, the process is automated and is optimized in order to handle issues such as garbage collection, memory allocation, and platform interoperability by default.

Xamarin.Forms

Xamarin.Forms is a separate product that is designed to create a prototype or simple mobile app, which shares 100 percent code across iOS and Android.

Xamarin.Mac.

Additionally, engineers can use Xamarin.Mac in order to build applications for Mac OS. These and some other products from the Xamarin stack will be discussed a little.

Platform SDK

Xamarin provides access to platform-specific SDKs ( Android SDKs and Cocoa Touch for iOS) via simple C # syntax.

Platform-specific code binding.

In most cases, the engineer can handle the development keeping in mind the original look and feel of the respective platforms within the Xamarin environment. However, Xamarin allows you to call existing platform code (like Swift for iOS) if you must reuse some modules or realize some platform-specific tasks such as PayPal, barcode scanning, or Google Analytics integration needed.

Wear Support

Xamarin supports creating apps for Apple and Android Watch devices. Engineers can use Visual Studio in order to create iOS Apple Watch apps for both Windows and Mac. In addition to this, Zamarin fully supports Android Wear.

Xamarin Project Structure

Most of the work related to the Xamarin is expected to run with the Windows Studio running Xamarin and Visual Studio installed. Apps can be debugged directly from the desktop or on emulators and devices. If you plan to create an iOS app on Windows, this is possible because Visual Studio connects to iOS Simulator and iOS Storyboard Designer. There is also Visual Studio for Mac which allows the simulator to run iOS on a Mac or directly on a tethered iPhone. On the other hand, Debugging is run through Visual Studio.

Pros of Using Xamarin for Development

Xamarin is used by many companies including Slack, Trello, and GitHub for a variety of reasons.

#1. Single Technology-Stack for Coding Multiple Platforms

Xamarin uses C # complementarity with the .Net framework in order to create apps for any mobile platform. Thus, you can reuse up to 96% of the source code that speeds up the engineering cycle. Xamarin does not even need to switch between development environments: you can also create all your Xamarin applications in Visual Studio that completely replace Xararin Studio. Cross-platform mobile app development tools are provided as an underlying part of the IDE at no additional cost.

#2. Performance Close to Native

Unlike traditional hybrid mobile app development solutions based on web technologies, a cross-platform app built with Xamarin can still be classified as native. Performance metrics are equivalent to Java for Android (as described here) and Objective-C or Swift for native iOS app development. In addition to this, Xamarin performance is being continuously improved to fully match the standards of original development. Furthermore, visual Studio provides a complete solution for creating, testing, and tracking the mobile app performance: Visual Studio App Center also allows you to run automated UI tests before release and identify performance issues. However, this service is provided at an additional charge.

#3. Native User Experiences

Xamarin allows you to create a flawless experience using the platform-specific UI elements. The simple cross-platform app for Android, iOS, or Windows is built using the Xamarin.Forms tool, which converts app-UI components into platform-specific interface elements at the run-time. As the use of Xamarin.Forms have greatly enhanced the speed of app development, it is a great option for business-oriented projects. Nevertheless, there may be a slight drop in performance owing to the additional abstraction layer. For custom app user interface and high performance, you can use Xamarin.Android and Xamarin.iOS in order to ensure excellent results.

#4. Full Hardware Support

With Xamarin, your Android app development solution gets native-level app functionality. This eliminates all hardware compatibility issues, using plugins and some specific APIs to work with the functionality of common tools across various platforms. With access to platform-specific APIs, Xamarin also supports connecting with native libraries. This allows for better customization and native-level functionality with a little overhead.

#5. Open-source technology with strong corporate support

After Microsoft acquired the company in the year 2016, radical changes were made to the Xamarin licensing policies. The SDK of Xamarin has become open source, including runtime, libraries, and various command-line tools and is available to everyone under the license of MIT as a part of Visual Studio. By eliminating licensing costs, major barriers, Microsoft paved the way for the platform to move forward. In addition to this, under the chairmanship of Microsoft, and supported by JetBrains, Unity, and Red Hat, the .NET Foundation in general & Xamarin, in particular, have become a powerful and reliable technical stack.

#6. Simplified Maintenance

Due to its cross-platform mobile application, Xamarin makes updates and maintenance easy. You can only deploy changes or updates to the source file and they will be implemented on both Android and iOS mobile apps. However, it only works for applications that use Xamarin.Forms or business logic, shared code, updates for Xamarin.Android and Xamarin.iOS apps. Thus, it helps to save your time as well as money by keeping your apps up to date.

#7. Full development ecosystem

Xamarin comes in a package with a complete development toolset, including its own IDE. In the year 2018, a lot of Xamarin development tools became part of the Visual Studio App Center, which was known as separate features. This includes the platform itself (Xamarin SDK), testing (formerly Xamarin Test Cloud), distribution and analytics (formerly Xamarin.inites) platforms and many more. Since the toolkit remains free, there is no need to invest in additional tools or integrate third-party apps for the testing, creation, and deployment of your Xamarin app.

#8. Xamarin.Forms: a framework for simple apps and prototypes

Xamarin suggests that app developers build mobile apps in two ways. The first one is to use Xamarin.Android and Xamarin.iOS, which is considered the main approach. The other is a Visual Studio library using Xamarin.Forms that allow rapid prototyping or production mobile applications with less platform-specific functionality. This is why it is the best suited for apps where code sharing is more important than a custom UI. You can create a single interface without having to design each platform separately and share it across platforms. In addition to this, you can build applications where parts of their user interface are built with Xamarin.Forms and others are engineered using the native UI toolkit.

While Xamarin.Forms are a compromise in terms of native look and feel compared to Xamarin.iOS and Xamarin.Android, there is a vibrant community focusing on this particular tool. For instance, some technology service providers contribute their own libraries such as Telerik UI that enrich engineering capabilities that provide pre-configured user interface components.

#9. Xamarin.Forms Live Player

As Xamarin.Forms aim for rapid and frictionless development, Microsoft suggests using a live player tool. This is an application that installs on an actual phone to quickly test and debug your apps without emulator deployment or moving the device to a workstation. On a live player installation, a developer scans a QR-code in Visual Studio using a phone camera, which provides access to the currently developed app. An app in the phone synchronizes with real-time in Visual Studio. This completely simplifies all setup and further debugging processes. Unfortunately, Microsoft turned off live player support, but you can still download the app and pair it with Visual Studio.

#10. Building Apps for Mac with Arin Xamarin.Mac Tool

Xamarin.Mac allows developing fully native Mac apps using .NET and C #. It integrates with the same libraries that are being used to create Objective-C with Xcode. Using Xamarin.Mac in order to mix Xamarin.ac with Xamarin.Android and Xamarin.iOS, mobile app developers can share up to 90% of the original code on iOS, Android, and Mac OS. In addition to this, Xamarin.Mac is integrated with Xcode, so a mobile app developer can use Xcode’s interface builder to build the user interface of the app.

#11. Xamarin Learning Resource

Xamarin University is a dedicated portal of e-learning for those who are just getting familiar with this package. The university caters to engineers who know C # as well as anyone with a little programming experience. The resource also provides all the necessary knowledge to new engineers onboard Xamarin-based products.
However, this learning platform is going to retire in June 2019. While educational resources are included in the Microsoft Learn, there is no impact on access to classrooms. Newcomers can still take advantage of beginners for advanced level content, including free self-directed learning, office lectures, live online classes, and guest lectures. More detailed
information about enrollment and further activities is available through the Xamarin University End of Life FAQ.

#12. Xamarin support of TV, wearables & IoT

The Xamarin Framework– thanks to its Xamarin.Forms– enable creating portable versions for multiple platforms. In addition to Android, iOS, Windows Phone and Mac, you can create applications for Tizen which is the operating system used on some Samsung devices – for TVs, wearables, and IoT. In addition to this, Xamarin.iOS allows mobile applications to be created for Apple and watchOS for TVOS.

Let’s Wrap Up:

So now we have seen various advantages and pros of Xamarin: the most popular cross-platform mobile app development framework. The demand for this framework is on the rise among developers and businesses alike. Everybody wants to save time and cost on their next mobile app development project, and Xamarin helps you in the same.

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