Dispelling the Myth of ‘Native UI’

As followers of this blog will know, I’m a big believer in the efficiency of cross-platform mobile development using platforms like Adobe AIR.

Often, one of the core arguments I hear against using a middleware like AIR, is that user’s want native UI components, and that somehow native controls are always better.

From everything I’ve experienced as a developer this ‘conventional wisdom’ is just completely false.

I’d like to take a moment to debunk that myth once and for all. Not only is native not better, it can be boring and tired. Increasingly a hallmark of AAA apps is to do fresh, custom UI’s. And user’s are rewarding those apps with high reviews and sales.

Here’s some examples of premier applications on the App Store, see if you can spot the “Native UI”.

4.5/5 Stars

Clear is a beautifully innovate todo list, lauded by the press upon it’s release. Not a hint of native UI. Something like this would be quite easy to pull of in Flash / AIR:


4.5 / 5 Stars

Snapseed is one of the premier photo editing applications on the App Store. It features large set of completely custom built controls, controls that are very intuitive, but also extremely ‘non-native’.

(oop, 2 native buttons!)

Adobe Photoshop Touch
5 /5 Stars

Adobe’s Touch offering is a prime example. On both Android and iOS this application is rated with a perfect 5 /5. This is actually an AIR application, and seems identical on both mobile platforms. User’s don’t seem to mind!

4.5 / 5 Stars

One of my all time favorites. These shots do not do it justice, as the iPad versions is absolutely beautiful. Again though, loaded chock full of custom sliders, lists and other controls.

(native buttons so heavily skinned they’re unrecognizable)

PicShop HD – Photo Editor
5 / 5 Stars

Of course my own latest app. Here I really ripped off Android 4.0 and used it as my inspiration. Then I brought it to iOS :D . ┬áThe result? User’s seem to love it! A 5 star rating, the first I’ve ever received on any app.

Moral of the story…

If you really want to set your app apart, ditch native UI completely and think outside the box. Investing some time into building your own custom UI set can be one of the best investments you’ll ever make.

The benefits of this are actually immense:

  • Your app is rated higher and is more successful
  • Your app is totally device agnostic, it will never look ‘out of place, so┬áporting to new platforms is a breeze.
  • You create a reusable component set that you can use in future apps. This saves time AND creates a strong brand/identity for your apps.
  • Development is generally very rapid, as you make exactly what you need and no more. No fiddling with complex API’s, styling or skinning.


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7 Comments to “Dispelling the Myth of ‘Native UI’”

  1. Stephen says:

    Interesting article, and a good point well made. It’ll be interesting to see how well these none native UI apps perform in their app stores. Also how the performance is on them and what they have been developed with, whether they are AIR apps, HTML5/PhoneGap or native code but with a non-native UI.
    You do make a good point about having your own consistent UI throughout your apps gives them their own individuality setting them apart for the hundreds of other similar apps.
    Good article and nice examples.

  2. Digipom says:

    Interesting examples! I’ve actually been debating between going with something like AIR, Xamarin Mono, or native for each platform. For the app I want to do, at least part of the app needs to be in C/C++.

    How hard would it be for a newbie to AIR, like me, to roll out a UI? How good are the components that you get? Does AIR also play nice with native code? You have much more experience with these techs, so would love to know what you recommend here. :)

    • shawn says:

      Well out of the box you get no touch optimized components. This is one of the most unfortunate things about AIR, they’ve killed Flex and have put nothing into replace it.

      With that said, it’s extremely easy to build components with Flash IDE + AS3. There’s some good community based component sets like Foxhole and MadComponents that you can check out. Good luck out there!

    • YopSolo says:

      Air (as3) is easy to learn and look like java or C#
      Fist step tuts here : http://gamua.com/starling/first-steps/
      And there is a cool set of component that you can use and custom : http://feathersui.com/

  3. kenny says:

    nice article, and I totally agree with you. But I’d love to see a comparison of native UI apps that are similar to these non-native UI apps and see the ratings. Could be a nice comparison to prove the point more

  4. Donny says:

    Yes, I agree. Provided the UI is simple and effective for the target audience, maintaining a native UI is irrelevant. We need to keep in mind though that most users have learnt various interaction techniques from native UI. If the UI experience strays too far from previous learnt experience, the user may become frustrated.

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