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Visual development allows you to build and design mobile apps without having to write all of the UI and business logic code from scratch. In this article, Nate Frechette explains why developers should treat it as an ally.

Let me take a guess and say your day is often filled by meeting demand — demand for quicker deployment of new apps, demand for newer and more exciting features, and demand for greater innovation. Am I warm yet?

As an ex-mobile app developer, I can relate. On-the-job responsibilities often involve unrealistic expectations to deliver new apps at the speed of light, which are near to impossible to meet given the current development landscape. Sure, there are solutions, including a variety of development methods, some of which ensure apps go to market quicker. While each method has its advantages and disadvantages, for certain applications, no method can deliver on the pace of development expected as quickly as visual development.

Key advantages and disadvantages of native and hybrid

Many mobile app developers will say native app development is ideal, regardless of the situation or project being explored. It’s true, for projects requiring a great UX, native is your best bet, and apps that require good UX are no longer solely the domain of consumer apps, either. Today, employees and businesses expect similar experiences from the apps they use on the job. Native apps still have the best performance and speed because they can access the available device resources directly, without needing to go through an abstracted framework layer. They also have full access to all native controls, such as the use of multi-touch interactions like pinch and double taps, as well as the use of components like GPS, camera, and address book.

However, even though native apps are not bound by restrictions of limited functionality, they do have some development drawbacks. They can be time-consuming to create and are often more expensive because you have to maintain multiple code bases and manage the ever-changing iOS and Android operating systems. If speed to market and cost savings are top of mind, taking the native app route might not be the best strategy.

When speed is the most important factor, consider hybrid apps. Hybrid apps have two big advantages: faster development and cross-platform affinity. Although hybrid frameworks make the promise of maintaining one codebase across multiple platforms, it often does not work out that way. You end up having to maintain one codebase riddled with custom code needed to work for both iOS and Android. Hybrid apps also have limitations when it comes to performance and UI experiences. Hybrid apps run on web technologies like Javascript, HTML, and CSS, which means they access the supported native controls through an abstraction layer. This makes the app less flexible, and once an application gets to a point where it needs to grow, these hybrid frameworks don’t scale well. So stay as forward-thinking as possible when choosing between hybrid and another method. If the app is simple and doesn’t require a very fluid user experience, hybrid is a great option.

The role of visual development

As I mentioned earlier, however, there is no alternative for visual development in regard to the speed to market it enables. Visual development allows you to build and design mobile apps without having to write all of the UI and business logic code from scratch. If you have ever built a native app from scratch, you know the challenges and frustrations associated with building, testing, distributing and maintaining. Let visual development tools help you automate those tasks, and I promise, you will realize the value.

Now don’t get me wrong, I, too, love to code and am not suggesting you throw out the process entirely. It’s why I got into development in the first place, and like you, I enjoy it. And that’s been the problem with visual development tools on the market until now. They often fail to understand a developer’s needs and preferences. As a developer, I am very picky when choosing my toolset; but I have learned the value of choosing tools that make me efficient, yet are fun to use and powerful enough to help me accomplish my development needs. As visual development tools become more developer friendly, it’s only a matter of time before we see additional tools embracing the way developers like to work.

I’m also not advocating for all mobile app development to be done this way. There will always be complex use cases that make sense to code from scratch, but there are a ton of instances where using visual development would save a lot of headaches. You have a lot of the same control you have when coding by hand but in a developer-friendly visual environment.

At the end of the day, it’s not about which development method to use, or which one is better. You certainly don’t need to develop every mobile app natively. Rather, it’s about creating experiences that consumers will adopt. This is done by embracing tools beyond native and hybrid development and looking to visual development as an aid. I encourage you to give it a try. You might like what you find.