Native App Development vs. Hybrid and Web App Building
The native app, a hybrid app, or a web app - what app development approach to chose? This question is rather debatable while each variant has its pros and cons. At the same time, all of these options are progressing. For instance, the introduction of a Progressive Web App or React Native framework shuffled all cards. This begins to blur the lines, making the right app development decision complicated.
These days, mobile apps are a business instrument that acts as another communication and sales channel with clients. Thus, it is necessary to build product that performs very well so that your app may succeed.
Our software outsourcing company creates a guide that compares the unique aspects of native app development vs hybrid app, as well as native vs web app. After reading, you will be able to decide whether native app development is the right fit for you or whether hybrid or web apps are worth a shot in your project idea, startup, or business.
What is Native App Development?
Let’s first clarify the meaning of a native app. A native vs hybrid app is an application developed to fully comply with the requirements and guidelines of a particular operating system. In native app development, apps are built separately for each operating platform. Native vs hybrid app development benefits from complete unity with the device and its features, namely camera, contact list, GPS, etc..
Native applications are downloaded from app stores directly to the mobile device. They are launched without any external help from other tools or browsers, and they store data right in the gadget’s memory or in a cloud service.
Native App Development Tools & Technologies
Binary is a language understood only by computers, while native apps are developed with the help of a native programming language. Native apps compile a native code to run on a specific processor (e.g. Intel x86-class) and a set of commands.
The developer uses:
- SDK (software development kit), a predetermined set of dev tools
- IDE (integrated development background)
This allows the creation of native app for a given operating system easier. Android and iOS are the two main operating systems with the greatest popularity (99.6%) in the mobile app market (WinPhone and Blackberry - alternative OS).
- Android OS - the most popular, designed by Google for touchscreen mobile devices. It uses Java or Kotlin programing language for native app development.
The Android Development Kit, along with Android SDK, is used in native app development for Android. These tools provide the necessary libraries and headers for building native app functionality, managing user inputs, using sensors and other device hardware, etc.
Java is a very popular programming language; over 9 million native Android app developers worldwide use it to write their code.
The main benefits of Java programming language in native Android app development are as follows:
- User and designer-friendly (it is relatively simple, it is vibrant by nature and in behavior)
- Object-oriented (with Java, native app developers can create modular programs and reusable code, which further simplifies development)
- Robust (Java is a reliable language that allows performance of thorough, early checks for any potential errors)
- Secure (safe Java programming helps protect users from hostile programs)
At the same, Kotlin is gaining more popularity in native mobile app development. All in all, Java facilitates native application development for Android, as well as Kotlin, has been doing in recent years.
The following article describes these two official programming languages for Android: Kotlin vs. Java: Which Programming Language to Choose for Your Android App.
- iOS - created by Apple Inc. solely for its hardware;uses Objective-C or, currently, Swift as a programming language in native iOS app development.
Swift is a general-purpose programming language with a modern approach to performance, safety, and software patterns for mobile application design.
The major advantages of Swift are:
- Safety (Swift is a safety-oriented programming language that catches developer mistakes before software moves to production)
- Speed (fast performance of this native programming language is predictable and consistent)
- Expressiveness (modern features of this programming language are always advancing in order to deliver the best experience and performance possible to the developers; tools like web-based REPL, or Swift-based playgrounds in Xcode, make programming a lot more powerful).
Here are some additional details about native iOS development:
Source: About Swift, Swift.org, https://swift.org/about/#platform-support. Accessed: Jan. 24, 2018
Advantages of Native App Development
Let's cover the many positive sides to native app development:
- Smooth work, fast operating speed, and flawless performance. The native vs hybrid app is built for a specific OS and take full advantage of the processing speed of the device.
- Great design and user experience possibilities. For instance, the implementation of sophisticated UX/UI design and animation
- Native app UI allows users to understand navigation within the app more quickly
- Good integration with the hardware of the device (e.g. camera, GPS, phone, touch screen)
- Easy to launch in the App Store. When it comes to the question of native vs hybrid app or a mobile web app, native applications follow the OS (Android or iOS) guidelines completely
- Better security & reliability (apps developed natively are checked and approved by the App Store)
- Easy to implement new sophisticated features that the market demands (AI, VR, AR, IoT, etc.) in native vs hybrid app
- Ability to operate offline. Internet connection is necessary if there is corresponding functionality required for native app development
- SDK for developers. It provides half-ready, regularly updated solutions and libraries that interact properly with a given operating system.
To conclude, native apps look and feel great, and operate very well, which leads to better user experience, customer satisfaction, and retention rates.
On the other hand, there are some factors you need to consider before you make a decision regarding native app development.
Disadvantages of Native App Development
The major cons of native mobile app development:
- High initial investment. With native vs hybrid app, you either cut off half of the market and concentrate on one platform (at least in the beginning) or develop a native application for each platform separately.
- Good-quality development team. You need a team of skilled developers with wider specialization to build a top-notch app that will conquer the hearts of your target audience.
- The maintenance and update costs grow proportionally to the line of supported OS devices in native app development.
- Require constant updates to keep up with the current OS versions.
- The app content is not available via search engines. A user can access the content in the native app vs web app once it has been downloaded.
- Both Apple App Store and Google Play get 30% commission from every in-app payment.
- Users of different devices could be using different versions of the app, which can complicate maintenance.
Benefits of a Native App Development
To start, it is vital to understand when it is best to choose native app development. Overall, it is currently a popular solution chosen by many well-known apps. Native app examples are: Google Maps, LinkedIn, Twitter, Telegram, PokemonGo, etc. These examples have both native Android and iOS apps.
Since a mobile device is, naturally, with us every moment, the expectations for its operation are high. It has been revealed that around 80% of consumers will try to use an app only once, and even the slightest app underperformance will likely discourage future use.
Thus, if you plan to develop an app in a competitive sector, the decision to go with native app development. As well, if you have an app idea that is unique and for which the niche is free, native vs hybrid app approach provides value directly from the start.
In this scenario, the creation of an MVP (the first version) is a great decision. It typically takes 3-6 months to create a secure native application with a good design and top app performance. As well, consider the platform on which to build your application: iOS, Android, or both, with regard to the budget and business strategy.
Once you receive user feedback, you can easily change, adapt, and customize the native app, and add more features based on market needs. This helps to stay in line with technological advancements and progress.
To summarize, it is advisable to choose native app development:
- when high app performance is necessary
- in order to keep up with competitors in instances of similar app ideas or markets
- when the app market niche is unoccupied, start with unique first product version (MVP).
- when time is on your side and it is possible to plan everything in advance and wait 6 months before a native app launch
- if you plan to scale and update the app on a constant basis
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What is Hybrid App Development?
Hybrid means made of mixed characters or elements. Thus, a hybrid app is one of the categories within cross-platform app development. Its main advantage is a quicker app launch with minimum expenses. Other variants of such types of apps include mobile web apps, PWAs (progressive web apps), and responsive mobile websites.
Types of cross-platform mobile applications are as follows:
In contrast to native apps, which have no subcategories, there are different kinds of hybrid apps out there. As mentioned earlier, native vs hybrid app is developed for one specific operating mobile app platform (iOS, Android) with the help of a particular programming language.
Hybrid applications work across different platforms. Hybrid mobile apps which are created for an Apple iPhone will also operate on an Android smartphone. Therefore, a hybrid app is a combination of a native and a web app. It is characterized as a website at its center and a native app as its external sheath.
Thus, it is no wonder that some of the most well-known apps go for hybrid development as opposed to native or web apps. Examples of companies that decided on hybrid app vs native are Amazon, Evernote, and Netflix.
Cross-Platform Mobile Development Tools
Hybrid apps can be created with the help of a range of cross-platform development tools. Those can save a considerable amount of coding time. The best tools for cross-platform app development are: NativeScript, PhoneGap, React Native, etc. The apps developed with these tools can then be distributed to native app stores.
- PhoneGap & Apache Cordova
This is the main instrument in hybrid app development. Apache Cordova is formerly known as PhoneGap. The tool implements the native OS component of web technologies launched in WebView. The service has APIs (set of system communication functions and procedures) that connect with the native app SDKs to utilize native app functionality.
Xamarin is one of the Cordova analogs. It is used in a Microsoft environment and offers the ability to write a cross-platform app with the .NET and C# programming languages. Mobile apps can be developed for iOS, Android, and Windows devices. Xamarin offers a possibility to share code. Also, it provides cloud service for app testing and gives access to high-quality features from IDE. Those include controls, APIs, 3rd party integrations, web services, security solutions, etc.
Hybrid-Native App” with React Native Framework
What is React Native?
React Native is a hybrid app framework invented by Facebook in 2013 to ease its app development and deployment. Further, the tool gained popularity supported by a growing community.
Obviously, React Native saves the development time, effort, and costs, as it is possible to reuse the code, add necessary functionality, and also access a range of different libraries.
It is no wonder that React Native has been honored with such wide acceptance among app developers. Companies such as Airbnb, Tesla, Skype, and Walmart use this hybrid app development technology.
Current Situation with React Native
Using React Native for your project seems like a great option due to the following benefits:
- lower cost, as one code base is used
- availability of the project on multiple platforms simultaneously (iOS & Android, Web, iOS & Android tablets)
- increased speed of hybrid app vs native app development approach
- success stories of projects using React Native
Nevertheless, the situation is not as simple as it might show up. When the project starts, everything may indeed go well, but most questions arise once the project is broadened or requires some complex features.
Thus, here is a list of possible pitfalls of React Native for hybrid app development. It is better to inform you about the potential risks in advance.
1) Possible troubles with upgrading React Native to the newest version
When the framework was opened to the public, it offered a weaker solution in comparison with native app development. Certainly, the situation has changed with time. However, still not that many open-source libraries support React Native. It means, that in order to implement a specific feature, experiments with the code should be conducted. Especially, this is true to to keep the same functionality across all platforms.
2) Harder to fix bugs and more time spent on QA
Any application or program has bugs, while quality assurance tries to limit them to a minimum. If something is not working as expected in a React Native program, you need to go deep into the code base to detect the the reason. Moreover, even if you find a bug, in some cases you will need to fork an existing React Native part, fix the bug, and set up a build system again because it should use your fork instead of on that is an official React Native. After this, you must take additional time to backport new features from a new React Native to your fork.
3) Dependency on Facebook’s resolution of React Native issues and updates
It is hard to guarantee that your app will work on the next iOS and Android versions. In some cases, it is necessary to pause a project until Facebook resolves issues in React Native. For example, Xcode 10 and new build system is still not supported at the time of writing, even though Xcode 10 was released in beta 6 months ago.
To add to this, you never know how much time you will need to wait for these updates, as well as estimate the time necessary to execute all these update within your app.
4) Implementation of a complex feature
It is a misconception that with React Native you completely move away from writing a native app code. If your app needs something more complicated than just buttons and input fields, it may take additional time to find a solution or write it from scratch. For example, access to geolocation, push notifications, device sensors, animations, etc.
Thus, in order to achieve the necessary functionality, a code used in native app development for iOS and Android is required. This could lead to a vast amount of bridging code to transmit between React Native and native parts.
5) Challenges with project maintenance
As the project expands, there may need to be many different code branches so that all the different platforms don't slow each other down. This code discrepancy increases the effort required to pair and support the overall system. It could happen that a feature update or bug fix on one platform isn’t duplicated on another. In this case, the development team would first need to investigate how to implement an update or solve the bug fix (on which platform or platforms, which part of the code, etc.) while continuing to support the complete system.
6) Highly capable development team
7) Challenges with Design UX/UI Consistency
If you need to add new screens to a hybrid app with existing user experience, it is necessary to adjust the code base into both native platform patterns.
Generally, it is not hard to create a native app interface feel & look with React Native. On the other hard, it requires comprehensive knowledge of design integration into the code base. This demands experience in understanding how the design is shown on each platform. A correct display on one platform sometimes differs on all others. To solve this issue, some native code parts should be integrated.
8) Challenge of keeping project documentation up-to-date
In most cases, a project with React Native has many components and changes quickly. Therefore, it can be rather troublesome to keep all the functional specification, especially to a specific React Native version, accurate and valid.
At last, this might be surprising but React Native app is...
9) More expensive in the long run
With long-term support, the project is more expensive compared to native app development. All the mentioned points like fixing bugs, adding new functionality, technical resources, and implementation of complex solutions, would add up to larger expenses.
While React Native looks like an ideal option to start with, there are a lot of potential problems below the surface in the long term.
As a supporting fact, Airbnb stated that betting on React Native required a serious effort. The development team met lots of challenges keeping the React Native, Android, and iOS environments stable and up-to-date. The company has decided to remove React Native and instead move toward native app development.
Another example is with Walmart, which started to use React Native. The company has experienced some trouble caused by the difference between iOS and Android OS. This often leads to the development of out-of-the-box technical solutions while the native engineering team experienced a high level of friction.
As well, you may check out what developers dislike about working with React Native in the GitHub discussion opened by a Facebook team.
Pros of Hybrid App Development
As with any other option, hybrid app development has its pros and cons. Let me present these points, necessary for evaluation and decision making.
The positive points of building hybrid apps are as follows:
- Cost-efficient development due to a range of ready-made components, modules, and frameworks available
- “Compile once, run everywhere” option reaches a wider audience of iOS, Android, and Windows platforms simultaneously
- Design and UX equality allows users to recognize app elements and predict navigation on different devices
- Flexible and adaptable development of UX/UI Design
- Growing support from development community (e.g. React Native)
- Easy to work with, maintain, and upgrade
Cons of Hybrid App Development
Hybrid apps, as opposed to native app development, still struggle to get the appearance, touch, and native feel.
Here are other important drawbacks to consider:
- Possible performance issues (delays, especially with clicks, list scrolling, swipes, etc.)
- Issues with user app experience (it is hard to align the app interface across platforms with no one issues)
- Issues with animation (this is extremely difficult in a hybrid app environment, things may freeze)
- Lack of complete integrity with the device and OS (e.g. so-called built-in accessibility for a user like a change of the font size)
- Inability to implement complex features (e.g. in-app analytics, charts, diagrams)
- Lack of reliance on the development tools (some instruments are not able to implement some functions)
- Inflexible hybrid development frameworks (these cannot quickly adjust to the changing tech environment and keep up with all recent updates)
- Potential integration issues (e.g. advanced storage options, notification preferences, local settings)
- Need to customize apps to a large number of existing browsers
- Potential issues with app launch in the marketplace. Sometimes non-native apps are denied as they cannot comply with guidelines from both operating systems.
Is Cross-Platform Mobile App Development Good for Business?
Cross-platform app development approach offers quickly and cost-efficient approach. This is a great option to develop a fully-functioning app prototype. This allows testing the waters and adapt the app idea to the market needs to be based on real user feedback. A fast product launch provides the opportunity to fill a niche and reach a wider audience with less marketing efforts. This type of situation is when a hybrid app development is recommended using React Native or other tools.
A Quick Overview: Native vs. Mobile Web App
Native apps, as well as hybrid mobile apps, are available in the app marketplace. On contrast, web apps are accessible as websites via a mobile browser (Chrome, Safari, Firefox, etc.). There is no need to download a web app, as it is possible to create a bookmark on a smartphone menu.
Mobile web app development can be used for simple and straightforward projects. Some mobile web app examples include: Medium, The Washington Post, Gmail, Google Docs, and Flipkart Lite.
The Difference: Mobile Web App vs. Website
At first glance, it can be hard to see the difference between web app vs native, and hybrid apps. It is even harder to see the distinction between mobile web apps and mobile websites. These websites have a responsive design and also called mobile responsive. So, let’s get some clarification here.
Mobile websites look just like apps. They are accessible via mobile browser and they are not listed in a menu. A website provides extended information which makes it sometimes impossible to fit on a mobile screen. So, the advantage of a mobile web app over a website is that the first displays the key information with improved functionality and user navigation.
A Native App Development vs. Web App
The development of a mobile web application can be quick and direct with the help of templates. There is no SDK to work with web apps, so if you face the web app vs native app choice, remember that web apps lack most of the native mobile app functionality. A web app is not connected with the device’s operating system and does not use its storage.
However, as browsers and web apps become more advanced, PWAs (progressive web apps) offer a wider functionality. This kind of web app gives features similar to native apps, like:
- sending push messages
- using some touch screen elements
- using some of the device’s hardware
All in all, a mobile web app can become a good choice if a sophisticated user app interface and complex features are not required. This is another cost-efficient and fast way to launch a prototype on the market.
In spite of such an improvement, a huge drawback of PWAs is their availability only on Google Chrome browser. This cuts off all iOS users, who are actually more solvent in the app market. Thus, only with a very specific reason in mind the mobile web application can be recommended.
Comparison: Native App Development vs. Hybrid vs. Web Apps
The following tables give a clear overview of each development approach we have covered. Let’s start from technical aspects:
|Technical Aspects||Web App||Hybrid App||Native App|
|Frameworks & Tools||MeteorJS, React, AngularJS||PhoneGap & Apache Cordova, React Native, Xamarin, Ionic, Native JS, TypeScript. Uses 3rd party APIs and plugins, libraries (may be unreliable)||OS provides APIs. Access to native tools supported by the system|
|User Interface (UX/UI Design)||Common for all platforms. Limited customization||Follows guidelines from Apple and Google. Uses highly similar design interface to a native app. Cross-platform app design. Limited customization possibilities||Follows guidelines from Apple and Google. Completely platform-specific UI. Native app design - rich, customizable, great visual effects and animation possible|
|Platforms||Multiple||Multiple||Native Android, iOS platforms are covered separately (also in case of Win Phone and Blackberry)|
|App Stores Distribution||No stores||Google Play Store, Apple's App Store, Windows store (if guidelines met)||Google Play Store, Apple's App Store, Windows store|
|Updates & Support||Support for 1 platform||Support for 1 platform. Constant updates from the app store. Can be updated without a market.||Requires support for several platforms simultaneously. Need to update the whole app for changes. Code is updated via the app market.|
|Performance||Slower||Moderate response||Faster based on embedded connection with OS and the device|
|App Ecosystem||Limited||Limited to the framework and to available 3rd party services||SDKs and other tools for any technical implementation|
|Feature Set||Limited. Some of the device APIs can be used (e.g. geolocation)||Moderate access. Some APIs are closed for hybrid mobile apps (e.g. gyroscope or accelerometer)||Wide access. Any device APIs used. Offers solutions for unique and specific features (VR, AR, IoT, etc.)|
|Navigation||WebView connects the web content with native app functioning||WebView connects the web content with native app functioning||App has embedded and intuitive navigation|
|Hardware Capabilities||Minimum access to device hardware||Less access to the device||Uses the capabilities of the mobile device 100%|
|Internet Access||Necessary to reload the web part||Necessary for a web part renewal||Depends on the app. Can offer offline functionality.|
Now, let's cover all non-technical aspects examining native vs web app and hybrid app development approach.
|Non-technical aspects||Web App||Hybrid App||Native App|
|Development Costs||Minimum due to single code base||Moderate||Higher than development for multiple platforms|
|Cash Allocation||In one flow||In one flow||Separately for each platform.|
|Expertise of Resources (Developers)||Moderate expertise||Moderate expertise||High expertise as necessary to learn different languages per platform|
|Development Timeline||Short||Moderate||Longer timeline (from 3-6 months for MVP)|
|Launch Time to the Market||The fastest to launch on the market due to the single code base and minimum customization||Depends on the hybrid app frameworks (e.g. Xamarin iOS and Android need more time for launch due to the increase in custom code)||Usually requires prolonged time before launch based on the number of platforms, or addition of more developers to the project|
|App Monetization||Mostly via advertisement and/or subscription||Multiple app monetization options:
-freemium model (feature upgrades)
|Multiple app monetization options:
-freemium model (feature upgrades)
More here: How Do Free Apps Make Money in 2018
|Market Trends||Around 15% of time is spent on websites or mobile websites||Users spend more than 80% of their time on their mobile devices||Users spend more than 80% of their time on their mobile devices|
A Notice on Template Apps
There are several app development services that allow anyone with an app idea to create a project without technical skills or coding knowledge. Services like AppyPie, AppMakr, Appsbar, Mobincube, and BuildFire are among the most popular. These web-based DIY app-building services use the drag-and-drop technique for mobile app development.
However, please note, these services have one main disadvantage. The choice is limited to what the service offers and there is no opportunity to add any exclusive app features. Moreover, the app makers display their banners, logo, or ads on the launch page.
Also, check out the following argumentation directly from Apple about cross-functional applications.
Should You Choose a Native App Development?
These days, mobile apps are another communication channel for any business. In order to stay competitive, it is important to provide a high quality product. Apps are not books - customers will judge by the cover. Therefore, native app development is the most preferable approach.
During the TechCrunch Disrupt conference, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, mentioned: "we've had a bunch of missteps on [mobile]," - referring to their mobile app strategy. "The biggest mistake we made as a company was betting too much on HTML5 instead of native…”
Conclusion: Go For Native App Development!
Let’s get back to our main question: “A native vs web app or hybrid app”. Which option should you choose?
The mobile web app as opposed to the hybrid or native app is the least expensive option but offers minimum functionality. On contrary, native apps, being the most expensive, provide the best quality, performance, and user interaction. Cross-functional applications fall somewhere in between, with a native app “feel & look” but with lower performance.
The main recommendation is not trying to choose the most affordable app development variant, rather the option which fits the market needs and provides the most value to the target audience.
Based on 9+ years of experience, we strongly recommend that you go for native app development, as it offers the most possibilities for customization, facilitation, and optimization. At the same time, native vs hybrid app lowers the risk of the app being banned from the app stores. Therefore, go forward with the native app if you want the greater outcome!
Go with the native option if you want the best result and to create a proper professional app!
Our team specializes in native app development and is eager to discuss your app idea and app business strategy.