There are still many misconceptions surrounding app development, especially for mobile. As we move into a mobile-first world, many companies considering mobile apps are facing a common challenge — which should we choose? Should we build a native, mobile web, or hybrid app? The answer depends on your company’s priorities and many factors such as: — How fast you need the app — If you can develop any part of the app in-house — What you are trying to accomplish with the app — Your budget for app development — What features you need To help you decide, let’s take a look at the differences between native, mobile web, and hybrid apps, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each so you can understand which approach will be the right one for your app idea.
What is a Native Application?
Native apps are what comes to most of our minds when we think of mobile apps and are downloaded from the App Store or Google Play. What distinguishes native apps from mobile web and hybrid apps is that they are developed for specific devices. For instance, Android apps are written in Java and iPhone apps are written in Objective-C. The advantage of choosing a native app is that it is the fastest and most reliable when it comes to user experience. Native apps can also interact with all of the device’s operating system features, such as the microphone, camera, contacts lists, etc. However, a bigger budget is required if you want to build your app for multiple platforms (i.e. iPhones and Android) and to keep your native app updated.
The main features of a native app are:
- High degree of reliability
- Simple but Fast Performance and better user experience
- Supports both online & offline transactions
- Native features can best be exploited
What is a Hybrid Application?
A hybrid app combines elements of both native and web applications. Hybrid apps can be distributed through the app stores just like a native app, and they can incorporate operating system features. Like a web app, hybrid apps can also use cross-compatible web technologies. Hybrid apps are typically easier and faster to develop than native apps. They also require less maintenance. On the other hand, the speed of your hybrid app will depend completely on the speed of the user’s browser. This means hybrid apps will almost never run as fast as a native app runs. The advantage of hybrid apps is that you can build them on a single base, which allows you to add new functionalities to multiple versions of your app.
The main features of a typical hybrid app are:
- Faster app development
- Simple and easy to maintain
- Cross platform UI
- Integrate with device file system
- Less expensive app development and cost effective maintenance
- Single code management for multiple mobile platforms
Comparing Native and Hybrid Applications
Development Cost and Time
Hybrid apps take least amount of time to develop and are developed at a fairly cheaper price as compared to native app. Building a hybrid app means maintaining just one code whereas with native code you need an app developer for each platform. But this does not mean that native apps are bad because they have their own advantages.
Native apps provide the best user experience because they are specifically designed for a single app store, with which one can get the best compatible apps. The screen size is taken care of and so the hardware capabilities. With Hybrid apps it is impossible to provide a good experience with just 1 application code for all platforms.
Paid or Free app
since native apps have the best UI hence paid apps are usually advised to be developed as native apps whereas free apps can be developed as hybrid apps.
Pros of Hybrid Apps
A hybrid app is cheaper to create than a native app. Depending on the scale of your app project, you could end up saving anywhere from $10,000 to nearly $100,000 on developing a hybrid app over a native one.
Hybrid apps are typically much faster to build and deploy provided you’re not trying to build a lot of custom features. If you stick to the basics, it’s a matter of translating your web code for iOS/Android using a hybrid app framework. But, trying to add many additional, custom features could make a hybrid app more time-consuming to build than a native app.
The most popular hybrid mobile app development platforms offer a range of plugins that enable you to access features on the device, including gestures, camera, and contacts. This means you can offer a more native-feeling app experience.
Native apps must be developed entirely separate for each platform. A hybrid app can be built just once and released on both Android and iOS.
It’s generally simpler to maintain and update web technology than native app technology.
Cons of Hybrid Apps
Because they’re essentially websites, hybrid apps don’t work offline. Hybrid apps will also typically be slower since each element has to download. This is one important reason why they should be simple.
Because a hybrid app relies on plugins, you might not be able to incorporate all of the built-in features a user’s device offers. Since you’re relying on someone else’s code, plugins may not always be available or may be unreliable or out of date. You may even find you have to write your own, which can defeat the purpose of opting for a hybrid app.
While a benefit of a hybrid app is only developing one codebase for both platforms, you will likely find that certain features or designs aren’t supported on both devices, which requires you to make modifications.
User experience should always be of utmost importance, regardless of whether you choose hybrid or native. Nothing is more important to your app’s success. A frustrated user will quickly stop using your app or switch to a competitor, and they may even leave a bad review. So, if flawless, fast performance is essential to your app’s core functionality, a native app is the way to go. Mobile games, for instance, are almost universally native because speed and graphics performance are so vital to the app experience.
Pros of Native Apps
Better User Experience
Hands down, a superior user experience is the best reason to opt for a native app.
Native apps are:
- Intuitive and fluid for the user to learn and interact with
- Have a robust feature set
Content and images are stored on the device, so nothing needs to download when the user accesses the app. Native apps can be used offline (depending on the app’s functionality), and speed is not impacted by slow server connections or other potential website issues.
Graphics and Animation
Native app development provides fast graphics, fluid animation, and smooth transitions. It may not matter if you’re a banking app displaying a static screen, but for gaming, visualizations, video editing or other applications where fast performance is important, native apps come out on top.
Native apps can be more secure for a variety of reasons:
- Easier implementation of two-factor authentication
- Certificate pinning
- Access to built-in security features like TouchID
Documentation and Support
There are far more support documentation and online resources dedicated to iOS and Android development.
There are better testing and debugging tools and environments available for native app development. Identifying and fixing a problem in a hybrid app can take much longer.
Cons of Native Apps
Native apps are more expensive to build and deploy, in part because you must develop multiple versions of your app for each platform.
Native apps are built using more technical languages, which means you experienced developers plus, unless your developers know how to develop for both Android and iOS, you’ll likely need a larger team specialized in each platform.
Slower Build Time
You can expect it to take 4-6 months (or longer) to develop and deploy a native mobile app. However, if the goal is to get it right the first time then the extra initial build time is worth it.
Developing native apps mean two (or more) separate codebases to maintain. Additionally, native app developers must account for a range of devices and components, known as device fragmentation. Developers must also continue to provide support for older operating systems since many users are slow to upgrade from older versions.
Final Decision, Which should you choose?
Hybrid App are Best For:
If you’ve got a few months and very limited resources to get a basic app in the hands of your users, then a hybrid app may be the way to go. If you’re looking to build an MVP, or minimum viable product to test in a limited market, then a hybrid app is also a good bet. If your app proves viable, you can develop a native version with more robust features, or, if it doesn’t work out, you risked less in terms of development time and cost.
Native App are Best For:
If you want to incorporate a lot of custom features, or if speed and reliability will hinder the use of the app, then you are better off investing in a native solution. It may even turn out to be the more cost-effective option, rather than spending time and money on customizing or developing an app that performs poorly and frustrates users. Finally, if you don’t want to build and maintain two codebases and you don’t want to go the hybrid route, there is a compromise. Cross-platform development tools enable you to convert one source code into native code for different operating systems. Two such tools are Microsoft’s Xamarin and Facebook’s React Native, both of which can provide a cross-platform solution with a more native feel.