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Types of Mobile Apps: Native, Hybrid and Cross-Platform

Apps are gaining popularity along with the use of mobile devices. There are different types of mobile apps that you can choose from depending on your needs.

It is highly likely that everyone you know owns a smartphone. The smartphone industry is steadily growing, and it is expected to continue to rise over the years to come. Companies and entrepreneurs are now aware of how important it is to have a business website. They understand that having a web page will help them boost their online presence which is a crucial factor for increasing sales. Now that smartphones are making a scene in the market, strong mobile presence is no longer an optional feature for any business. Aside from optimising your website for mobile, you can also have a native app or a hybrid app developed for your business so that your target audience can have a more straightforward and better experience with your company.

Both native and hybrid apps have their own strengths and weaknesses. These two approaches to app development can both produce exceptional applications. However, it is crucial to choose the right type of app to successfully capture the attention of smartphone users.

Differences Between Hybrid and Native Applications

Native Applications

Native apps are applications that are developed for a specific mobile operating system in a platform-specific programming language. This means that they are only compatible with the corresponding platform they are designed for, an example would be Android apps developed primarily in Java and iOS apps developed in Apple's Swift.

Since native apps are developed following the technical and user experience guidelines of a particular OS, it has the advantage of faster performance, and it also "feels right" for that specific OS. Feeling right means that the in-app experience and interaction is consistent with the other native apps on the device. Since this is the case, the end-user is more likely to learn how to navigate and use the app faster.

Native apps also have the advantage of being able to access and utilise the built-in capabilities of the user's device with ease. These integrated capabilities include GPS, address book, camera, etc. Some examples of native apps are the text messaging apps, device's default camera app, reminder app, default music app and more.

Hybrid Applications

Hybrid apps, as the name suggests, are applications developed using a combination of native elements and web technologies like HTML5, JavaScript, and CSS. This kind of app is essentially a platform-independent website presented using a native web view. A native web view is a native component provided by operating systems like Android and iOS to load web content.

Simply put, hybrid apps are applications or websites that are presented into a native wrapper. They may look and feel like a native app but are still outside of the basic frame of the application.

Cross-platform App Development

Cross-platform applications may sound similar to hybrid, but they are not the same. The only common feature that they share is code shareability. This feature helps speed up the process for both hybrid and cross-platform apps.

Cross-platform apps use a native rendering engine while its codebase is written in JS. The codebase connects to native components through "bridges". This allows cross-platform apps to be really close to native user experience. At the same time, it offers seamless functionality, easy implementation, and cost-effective production-- it is still far from native apps when it comes to performance. Cross-platform apps also have limited customisation options due to its framework.

Hybrid vs. Native Apps: The Pros and Cons

Although there are three types of mobile apps, hybrid and native apps are the most common. Here are some factors to consider when deciding whether to enter the mobile market with a hybrid or native app:

App Costs

One of the most notable deciding factors that significantly influence a company's decision regarding app development is the cost. Each company has its own allotted budget for this aspect of their business. If the company has limited funds, then the hybrid app will appeal to them more in terms of costs. Since it is possible to develop this kind of app for any platform from a single code base, they are much cheaper to produce than native apps.

Duration of Development

Another factor to consider is the duration of development. Native apps take a little longer to be completed compared to hybrid apps since native applications use platform-specific programming languages. Hybrid apps use web technologies such as HTML5, JavaScript, and CSS, which allows developers to go from a rough idea to a working prototype significantly faster than platform-specific programming languages. Regardless of whether you will be working with sprint developers using the Scrum approach or not-- the kind of app significantly affects the duration of the project.

Another advantage hybrid apps have time-wise is that they can share a single codebase to run on multiple platforms. This dramatically shortens the time to market.

Since the completion of native apps takes time, companies who opt for this type of app end up releasing on one platform sooner than the other platforms, which sometimes leave a negative impression on some users.

App Maintenance

Due to the rapid growth and development of technology, users have high expectations of mobile applications nowadays. For example, users expect mobile apps to load quicker than mobile websites-- like how you expect the Facebook app to run more smoothly on your mobile phone versus its mobile site on your phone browser. However, regular updates and bug fixes are needed to maintain a fast-loading, high-performance application.

As mentioned previously, hybrid apps use web technologies that allow sharing a single codebase for multiple platforms. This makes hybrid apps easier to maintain, while native apps need multiple codebases to support both Android and iOS platforms.

If a company chooses a native application for their business, then they will need to hire at least twice as many developers since Android developers are not typically used to working on iOS developmentā€”and vice versa.

App Performance

At this point, it seems like hybrid apps are the clear winner since factors seem to be working in their favour. But hold any judgement as two more important factors need to be considered before making a final decision. One of them is app performance. In the previous elements, it is clear that platform-specific programming languages make native apps more expensive and slower to complete compared to its hybrid counterpart. Still, they also allow developers to fully optimise the apps for maximum performance.

Hybrid apps add an extra layer between the target platform and the source code, which causes some app performance loss and issues. Back in 2012, Mark Zuckerberg made a decision to move Facebook away from hybrid apps in 2012. Despite being a firm believer of HTML5, the move from hybrid to native apps is necessary for better speed and efficiency.

Not every company can or has to make apps of the same magnitude as Facebook. Many types of apps do not require too much optimisation to run smoothly on all mobile devices. If a company app falls under that category, then they can thrive with just a hybrid app. They will benefit from the hybrid approach the most. However, if you are after speed and efficiency, then native apps will always win when it comes to performance.

User Experience

Not all users are tech-savvy, and not all of them have enough interest to dig about what technology powers the apps they are using. Most users care more about the app experience instead of all the technicalities. Having a working app is not enough to find success in the mobile market. Giving the users a pleasant experience provides an application with a higher chance of success. This means paying attention to how the app looks and behaves. It should be consistent with the platform's theme and support common gestures and platform-specific features.

Hybrid apps can get close and look and feel like native apps, but the user experience is still not as refined as the user experience offered by native apps.

Final Thoughts

The type of app that a company decides to go with should be based on their needs. For example, hybrid apps are perfect for developing minimum viable products for companies with limited budgets. It is also suitable for companies that need the apps fast. On the other hand, native apps are great for companies that require faultless performance and custom features.