For many years, mobile app developers have had to make a uniquely difficult choice: Do I develop my apps using the native tools from Apple or Google, or do I build my app using some sort of cross-platform solution?

It’s widely accepted that native tools are needed for developers to create the best user experience. They produce faster, neater apps that look and behave the way users expect for each platform. The downside is that those tools are quite hard to learn and time-consuming to use, especially compared to tools used to build websites. Native tools are also based on completely incompatible programming languages, meaning an app needs to be developed twice or more to run on iOS, Android, and other platforms. This is an obvious cost-driver and major pain for the entire industry.

Cross-platform solutions, on the other hand, have mostly been based on web technologies such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. All mobile platforms can display web pages, which means you only need to develop one version of an app with web-based tools using a much more rapid workflow. In theory, that is.

In practice, this approach is riddled with performance and compatibility issues, often producing awkward user experiences, and power-consuming apps that warm your device and exhaust your battery. Whenever you get frustrated trying to use a mobile app that feels like a glorified web page, this is typically the reason.

React Native is a new tool that blends these two existing approaches. While allowing developers to write JavaScript, a very popular entry-level language that can run on all mobile devices, it displays the user interface using real native components. This is an attractive lifeline for JavaScript developers. Many of them have dreaded the day they’d finally need to learn the more complicated Objective-C, Swift and Java languages to take the leap into the native apps world.

Although there is still a lot for the platform to prove, React Native shows us we won’t have to make the hard choice between HTML and native for app user interfaces for much longer. Quality native UI is finally available to all those die-hard developers of JavaScript.

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