Thinking of developing a mobile application, but confused how to go about it or where to start? Not sure which technology to use? And the biggest question of the lot: Which is the best for your business- a native app or a hybrid app?
To answer that question, one first needs to understand the psyche of the average mobile user: (a) they’ve just gotten acquainted with their phones and (b) they certainly don’t need any new features unless they’re interesting.
In short, the user experience is the key to an application’s success. Users want their phones to execute functions without giving them the chance to think they’re navigating through a new app. Your choice of a native or a hybrid app shall rely on several factors.
Understanding the difference between iOS and Android as well as the nature of native and hybrid apps is also key to uncovering the right choice. In this article, we will be going through all the variations that make up these apps and help you understand which one is the best to use.
Before we get down to the nitty-gritty, let us first examine the exact ecosystem of each application; their advantages, their drawbacks, the translation to user experience etc.
Native apps are apps that have been written in a programming language unique to the platform they’re being developed for. This could either be Objective-C or Swift for iOS or Java for Android. Essentially, it’s an app that’s been developed for a specific mobile operating system.
When users access their device’s default apps (say, when they use the built-in music application or click pictures using the embedded camera or simply text via an SMS app), it’s called using a native app.
And because native apps tend to be more ‘at-home’ with the device they’ve been developed for, they end up being easily navigable for the user; whether it’s accessing the GPS, the address book etc. In essence, native apps are just that, native to a user’s OS.
Key benefits to developing a native application include:
- An A1 performance - Native apps are tailor-made for a user’s OS, making them sleeker than their hybrid counterparts.
- Best-in-class user experience - Their specific features go easy on the users, allowing them to operate both Android and iOS apps.
- Greater access to device hardware/software - Native apps gain easy access to device functionalities like camera, microphone, calendar, GPS, location, calendar etc without breaking any sweat.
- Discoverable with no trouble - Users can easily locate a native app in app stores (the better user experience and user interface design help), which means such apps easily have more users.
- More wiggle room - If we look at it solely from a developer’s point of view, native apps are far more flexible when it comes to problem-solving.
- Access to the Latest Features - Another key advantage going the native app’s way is its ability to access the latest features of an updated operating system.
- Top-drawer security - Compared to a hybrid application, native apps probably have some of the best-in-class security available.
- Offline mode - Native apps are accessible even without an Internet connection.
But what is the downside to a native app?
- Development time - Unless your company happens to have the capacity to wait anywhere between 4 to 6 months before launching an app, then native is probably not the way to go. Because native apps tend to follow all the technical guidelines of the OS they’ve been built for, it’s only natural that the development clock moves slower than expected.
- Higher investment - A native approach to app development always means higher preliminary budget costs but saves the company some money in the long run.
- Viewing updates - Native app users need to update the app to see any new changes. Auto-updating over the wifi is not an option that works for most people. And let’s face it, no one really wants to shove reminders at their users to keep updating their app; it only increases user resentment (meaning your app’s history once that uninstall button is hit)
A hybrid app is basically a mobile app that holds a web view. At the gist of it, hybrid apps run web applications inside of a native app (i.e. as websites that have been packaged into a native wrapper) and using the same wrapper, powwow with the native device platform and the web view (giving web-based applications the green signal to run on a mobile device and have access to features such as the camera or GPS)
Hybrid apps are created not by tools generally belonging to iOS or Android platforms, but by third-party tools helping your web application transform into a native app.
Benefits of building a hybrid application:
- Portability - A hybrid app’s allure lies in its one code base, spread across multiple platforms. Set it up once, release it across multiple platforms and you’re good to go.
- Reasonable starting cost - Hybrid apps save you the money to get the app running.
- Updates - With a hybrid app, as soon as any new feature gets added in, the user needn’t update it in the app store. Users see an update the minute they operate the app.
- Saves you the time - Since there’s only one code base to oversee and almost half the number of developers, hybrid apps require far less outlay than native developers.
- Scalability - Hybrid apps can easily be launched across other multiple platforms.
- Faster marketing speed - If you've got less than four months to develop an app and test out its market viability, then opt for Hybrid app development. If you pass the test, quickly move on to a native application framework.
- It grants you access to various device features just like native apps but via plug-ins.
- There’s no necessity for additional resources.
- Because it’s handled via the web, you don’t need any API development.
The drawbacks to building a hybrid application:
- User Experience - It is unfeasible for developers to build an app that caters to the two most dominant user types: the iPhone faction and the Android faction. Because their MO is so different, many a time strategies are compromised.
- No offline Access - Hybrid app development does not permit users offline access (poor reception or airplane mode etc)
- Access to device-specific capabilities - Any development regarding access to device-specific capabilities (GPS, location, contact list etc) is met with roadblocks.
- Performance driven issues - The biggest let-down of any hybrid app is its constant need for overhaul due to complaints about UI elements or performance driven issues.
- Speed -The problem with hybrid apps is that because they still depend on the native browser, they are not as high-speed as native apps.
- Likely to cost you significantly in the long run.
Hybrid vs Native: Which is better?
Now that’s a million dollar question. And one that requires careful consideration and painstaking research before it can be answered right away. The fact is, there’s no black and white answer. Its strictly grey territory here.
Before taking any decisions, it’s crucial to keep in mind the differences that underlie both native and hybrid apps. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, which means your decision needs to be based totes on your business needs.
To settle the score once and for all, you need to examine several factors that influence the decision to go Hybrid or Native. These include the following:
- The development - Native apps need a different code base for each platform and thus require extra time and effort, with multiple teams to work on each version separately. This is where hybrid apps have the upper hand. Apart from the fact that you are doing away with the pressures of building multiple apps, you are simply creating one app and tweaking it accordingly. This allows companies to save considerable effort with just a single app for leading platforms. Developers can develop one framework, and use the common code base for different platforms.
- The user experience - If we consider native apps, then these apps fully satisfy the users both in terms of performance as well as seamless functional integration. Hybrid apps, on the other hand, can be a right pain with frequent user complaints regarding the UX and performance issues.
- Security - All native apps (Android or iOS) are fully tested and reviewed by an app store approval team before being featured in the store and are accessible via those same stores. The native app, compared to Hybrid, offers the best in class security for a mobile application.
- Budget - Developing a native app means you need a massive initial budget but saves you money in the long run while it’s vice versa for the hybrid apps - costs you less to develop but more to maintain.
- Compatibility - Hybrid app development is more compatible with different technologies and platforms because as known cross-platform applications, they are easy to scale onto different platforms and operating devices. Native apps, however, don’t offer cross-platform support.
- Integration - When it comes to native apps, functions like the camera, address book, geolocation etc native to the device can be seamlessly integrated while hybrid apps find it harder to integrate certain device features.
- Offline Accessibility - The key defining feature of native apps is that they operate even without an Internet connection whereas the same cannot be said of the hybrid ones.
- Performance tempo - If you’re on the lookout for a high-speed app, then a native one is your top pick. Since these apps are designed for a specific operating system, they provide a great performance. Hybrid apps, on the other hand, tend to be a bit slower because they are based on web technologies alongside mobile platforms. All this means considerable time to adapt to an application, resulting in a loss of performance.
Once you’ve examined and reviewed all the above factors, it’s also important to ask yourself this: “Do you really need an app that works on both platforms, straightaway?” Companies, in their war for development, tend to believe that being available on both Android and iOS platforms is the way to go. But that isn’t necessarily the smart way to go about things.Take Instagram.The app took two whole years to develop an Android version!
Long story short, there are several very distinct advantages and disadvantages to both hybrid and native app development. Going native can mean complete platform control, hardware acceleration and guaranteed performance satisfaction. But it can also mean epic budgets with even more herculean engineering efforts, longer release time, and drawn out approval processes.
Going Hybrid, on the other hand, can mean one source code, cross-compatible web technologies, easier updates, and lower earlier costs. However, there’s never a 100% guaranteed performance fluidity. Constant tweaking and fixing can be a deterrent to the overall user experience as well.
So, while each approach has its own pros and cons, at the end of the day, we believe a native approach is what’s best for a company.