Native, Web, or Hybrid Apps: What Should You Choose?

Native, Web, or Hybrid Apps: What Should You Choose?

Mobile apps are all the rage these days. They help businesses reach the part of audience who are mobile-users (read: every last one of them). So in the interest of your business’ growth you’ve decided to invest in a mobile app. That is great news for your business… not so great for YOU, once you are facing a seemingly endless barrage of complicated, jargonized questions.

Which platforms are the best? Should you develop it on a framework which prefers Sass over JavaScript? Should you go for Native, Web, or Hybrid app? Which one’s the best of the three? What is a Native, Web, or Hybrid app in the first place?

Before choosing the type of app you’ll put your money on, you should understand what Native, Web, or Hybrid apps are. That is the purpose of this article.

This is really not that tricky to understand. So pay attention.

Native Apps:

These applications are the norm in people’s minds. We download them from App Store or Google Play or other (un)authorized sources, install them, and use them. They lounge around in device’s applications and come into action when we tap their icon. For example: Angry Birds, Temple Run, Shazam, etc.

Since they are installed IN the device, they are free to use its features and core capabilities as needed. They are designed and coded for that particular kind of device OS. Example: iOS apps are written in Objective-C, Android apps written in Java, etc.

Advantages:

  • Their performance and experience are unparalleled by any other kind of app.
  • Wider device functions are available to them; native apps can make use of camera, microphone, compass, accelerometer, swipe gestures, and more.
  • Publishers can use push-notifications to alert users to new content. This is a key method of engagement through native apps.
  • No web connection is required after the app is installed, so users can spend time on them even when offline.
  • Designing apps for a platform of choice is easy and intuitive. Developers understand the audience and know what they need and want from their app.

Disadvantages:

  • One-platform-app. Once written for in Java for Android, it will not work for iOS users. You’ll need to re-write the entire code in Objective-C to make it available to iOS users.
  • Developing the app for multiple platforms is expensive, as the developers need to build and maintain separate versions of the app for different platforms. Take the cost of building on one platform and multiply it with the number of platforms your app needs to be available for.
  • Time and effort required can be excruciating. You will most probably need to find different coders for every platform for your app, since most developers specialize in one platform only.
  • Upgrading is difficult. Anytime the app is upgraded or you release a new version, the users will have to download the entire patch/upgrade. It’s tedious and costly for many users.
If your priority is to offer the best possible experience to your users, go for Native. Keep in mind that cost and time will multiply as the number of platforms goes up.

Web Apps:

These are known as Mobile-Optimized Web Sites/Apps in developer circles. A Web App is basically mobile-version of a webpage. Since it loads within the mobile’s browser (like a website) the audience doesn’t need to download or install it. These apps don’t take up space in device memory.

Web apps can sometimes be designed to look and feel like Native Apps. This works well when the purpose is to avail content to users when the option of native app is not feasible. Example: Mercedes-Benz International (m.mercedes-benz.com), Panera Bread (m.panerabread.com).

Advantages:

  • Simple and quick development process. Basic tools that a developer needs are browser and a text editor.
  • Since the Web is for everybody, the apps designed on it are too. Web apps are superbly flexible. This is also the closest you’ll get to “one-size-fits-all” in application terminology.
  • Responsive designs have made web apps even more flexible. A whole slew of devices can access Web apps without marring performance because of changes in dimensions.
  • Budget-friendly. Developer needs to create the code once and it’s ready to go almost everywhere.

Disadvantages:

  • Device features are not available to web apps. The UI is not as smooth and intuitive. This is why a lot of web apps look and feel foreign to users.
  • Almost always require an internet connection to work. This is problematic in countries like India, where barely 10% of the population is online.
  • Web apps give preference to performance over experience. The focus is on making a quick-loading website with all the essentials. Aesthetics often take a back seat.
Web apps are available to all, regardless of hardware, software, and (most) browsers. If you want your app to reach as many people as possible and put higher priority on performance than aesthetics, Web app is your ticket. Don’t worry; it is possible to create great experiences online.

Hybrid Apps:

Hybrid apps are somewhere between Native and Web Apps. Essentially, these apps are a cross between native and web apps. A large portion of the app is built using cross-compatible web technologies like HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript. You’ll notice that these languages are also used to write mobile-optimized websites (aka Web Apps).

A Hybrid App is basically a web app with some wrappers of native code in it. The native code allows the app to access device functions. Example: Facebook, Apple App Store.

There are two major players in Hybrid app development world: Phonegap/Cordova and Appcelerator Titanium. The developers use these tools to create local HTML/CSS/JavaScript files and design the app as if it is a website. Then they wrap up the entire thing as a mobile app using Cordova.

Hybrid apps seek to combine the advantages of web apps to features of native. That sounds great in theory, but hybrid apps are still not the end-result of a match made in app-heaven.

Advantages:

  • They are faster and easier to develop and maintain than native apps.
  • The app’s code-base can be re-used across different platforms (with changes required only in the native wrapper portion of code).
  • Adding functionality to the code-base makes it available across all platforms, so upgrading is easier than native apps.
  • These apps slide easily across the spectrum to provider great flexibility to developers. It’s possible to build a mostly native app with only a few elements accessible via web; it’s also possible to create a mostly web-optimized app with native elements (like GPS calls, static bottom menu, etc).

Disadvantages:

  • They give sluggish performance when used for accessing web content through the app, especially on slow internet connections.
  • Hybrid apps have access to device features but they still don’t feel or perform as smoothly as native apps.
  • Far too much time and money will be spent fixing it.
There’s really not much which can sell hybrid apps to businesses, yet, but the interest in Hybrid apps and development is growing exponentially. If you want an app that can perform on various platforms and use device features, Hybrid is the way to go.

Conclusion:

In the end, there’s no best-of-three option or clear winner. There was never intended to be one. Native, Web, and Hybrid apps all have strengths and weaknesses of their own. The decision of which to choose is entirely yours.

You need to consider two important points: Your objectives and your audiences’ requirements. Research your options as much as possible and make an informed decision.

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