We’re not the only ones who are huge supporters of Xamarin, the cross-platform provider for mobile app development; over 1.4 million developers are using it worldwide. It has gone from strength to strength since the acquisition by Microsoft in 2016. It was no surprise that the merger came about, only that it took so long after Microsoft built Xamarin integration into Visual Studio and Azure, it seemed the natural fit. As Xamarin is at the heart of our mobile development approach, we’re pleased to see that Microsoft’s mobile-first business approach is securing its future. If you haven’t heard of Xamarin, it’s worth taking a look at its history and what the mobile app development platform has to offer.
What is Xamarin?
The short answer is that Xamarin is a development framework that helps developers to build cross-platform mobile applications that perform in an almost identical way to the platform-native applications. Xamarin is based on Mono, a free and open-source .NET framework using C#. Xamarin arms developers with tools enabling applications to have all the native app features while also sharing a common codebase.
Xamarin tools can be downloaded with Visual Studio or Visual Studio can be used directly to create Android, iOS and Windows applications. As most of the common code is written in C#, developers don’t need to know Java, Objective-C or Swift. In fact, for those just starting out, Xamarin is a great way to learn, as it teaches app development across more than one platform. Due to its extensive toolset, Xamarin doesn’t hold developers back on functionality and, in the specific circumstances where certain requirements can’t be implemented on different platforms, it will let developers call existing code, for example, Java in Android.
How Does Xamarin Work?
In its simplest form, Xamarin converts the existing Android or iOS development kit to C# so that developers are able to code in a more familiar language. C# can be used for both platforms meaning that developers need to remember less syntax. Xamarin includes all the tools developers need allowing them to access most iOS and Android APIs. The UI needs to be built separately for the different platforms but is then bound with the common codebase. Having native application UIs means that it’s possible to create the right feel for an app and also to ensure that they behave as if they were native. Xamarin.Forms can now be used to build the UI for different platforms at once. It’s then a case of connecting the UI to the codebase, which is enabled with code sharing strategies.
The History of Xamarin
While Xamarin was started as an experiment to dry to develop a version of .NET for Linux, today it is one of the most popular app development frameworks. Here is how Xamarin got to where it is today:
- 2001 – software engineers Miguel De Icaza and Nat Friedman at Ximian, set up the ‘Mono’ project aimed at implementing the .NET platform on Linux and Unix platforms
- 2003 – Ximian was acquired by Novell, although work on Mono continued
- 2011 – Attachmate acquired Mono, De Icaza and Friedman left and set up Xamarin, launching Xamarin Mac, aimed at iOS developers
- 2013 – Xamarin 2.0 was launched featuring Xamarin Studio integrating with Visual Studio, Microsoft’s development environment for the .NET framework.
- 2014 – Xamarin 3.0 was launched, including Xamarin.Forms, further facilitating cross-platform code sharing
- 2016 – Xamarin was acquired by Microsoft
The collaboration of Microsoft and Xamarin to make it easier for mobile developers to build native mobile apps in Visual Studio was key to Microsoft’s acquisition of Xamarin. Prior to this, Microsoft was focused on the Windows phone and wasn’t likely to encourage people to develop on competing platforms. Today, Windows devices account for only a very small percentage of smartphones. When Satya Nadella became the CEO of Microsoft in 2014, he worked to change its strategy to be cloud-first and mobile-first, driving it to look at development differently. It was a wise move by Microsoft, admitting that Windows wasn’t competing with iOS and Android yet ensuring that developers were still using the Microsoft stack. When Microsoft open sourced large parts of .NET, Xamarin became more compatible and was able to focus on the supporting platforms and tools. The acquisition of Xamarin by Microsoft was the cherry on the cake.
What’s Great About Xamarin?
Xamarin has become the new standard for mobile enterprise development. There is no other platform that enables businesses to reach the 2.5 billion iOS, Android. Mac and Windows devices with fully native apps that share a single code base. Developers are able to code the business logic for a native app just once in C# and then deploy it across all devices. Developers don’t need to learn specific languages, the platform is designed for robust applications and, with hundreds of sample applications available, it’s certainly a stable platform. What’s more, being able to code the business logic much more efficiently offers developers a considerable time saving, which relates to a cost saving to clients for app development.
The Future of Xamarin
Xamarin provides a rich mobile development offering and has fueled amazing growth for more than four years now. With over 15,000 customers in 120 countries, Xamarin is a startup that has made a vast difference to app development, and its acquisition by Microsoft will no doubt continue to push it to great heights. With such a huge percentage of mobile users, building mobile applications is an extremely important route to market for businesses; the ability to ensure that apps are cross-platform while appearing native increases reach while reducing development time and the associated costs.