With more than 141 billion app downloads across iOS and Android in 2020 alone (a number that is expected to grow to 184 billion by 2024) more businesses than ever are looking to expand their digital portfolio with a mobile solution.
As a result of this opportunity, however, the marketplace has become competitive, and only the most well-researched applications tend to succeed. Now, crucial to success is the decision of what type of app to build: A native product fine-tuned to the requirements of a single marketplace, or a hybrid application capable of delivering a consistent experience across the entire mobile ecosystem.
As performance, user experience, market coverage and ease of maintenance become increasingly pivotal to product success, we run down the differences between hybrid and native applications, dissecting the pitfalls and opportunities of each.
What are native mobile apps?
A Native App is a type of software or program that has been developed to function within a particular platform or environment. They are built for specific software frameworks, hardware platforms, or operating systems.
There are two main mobile frameworks that combined account for 99% of devices worldwide: Google’s Android, which controls around 72% of the market, and Apple-owned iOS, which accounts for 27%.
What are the advantages of native apps?
Native applications have the edge in three key areas: Speed, User Interface (UI) and Robustness.
When building native applications developers are able to take full advantage of the functionalities specific to that framework. The result of this is peak performance, consistent UX and UI across devices and a codebase that is, generally speaking, a little more stable.
This is particularly true on iOS, where Apple has not only built the operating system, but they produce the devices themselves. This allows for an unmatched level of predictability and consistency across the Apple ecosystem.
That being said, if multiple native applications are being used to gain whole-of-market coverage, making live fixes becomes significantly more difficult.
Native applications provide peak performance for businesses that require unparalleled performance and unbeatable user experience. Although hybrid applications come closer to native-level every day, there is still a gap to consider.
What are the disadvantages of native apps?
A key disadvantage of building a native app is that you automatically lose partial market coverage. In such a competitive mobile landscape, completely disregarding either iOS or Android can be detrimental to your product launch.
Building two native apps to cover both Android and iOS is also costly and time-consuming. Instead of working on one code base, two development teams have to work on two different code bases. Code cannot simply be copied from one platform to another. It needs to be rewritten.
This raises the cost of development significantly and increases the time it takes to launch your app.
It should also be noted that the post-launch support process is significantly more labour intensive should you produce two applications. Fixes must be made across both codebases, and the opportunity for operating system bugs to occur is effectively doubled.
Whilst native mobile app development allows you to produce the most powerful bespoke products, the production and further support is a massive undertaking and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Technologies used for native app development
Swift is a robust and intuitive programming language created by Apple for building apps for iOS, Mac, Apple TV and Apple Watch. Swift is open-source, with an extensive support network of developers and documentation.
Kotlin is a reputable programming language with vast open-source tools and libraries to help developers build native Android applications. Kotlin is a more stable and congruous development of Java, which has been used to develop android applications since its inception in 2008.
What are hybrid mobile apps?
Hybrid, or cross-platform mobile applications, are developed to function across multiple mobile platforms or frameworks. These apps are compatible with both iOS and Android, allowing for 99% market coverage.
By choosing hybrid app development, companies receive the significant benefits of faster turnaround time, lower costs, a quick deployment, and ease of ongoing management. These factors help businesses realise an ROI higher than what could often be obtained through native app development.
Cross-platform applications use a library of native-styled modules that can be used to create a near-perfect user experience across devices. It should be noted, however, that creating two native applications would still give you the edge in this respect.
What are the advantages of hybrid apps?
The sooner your mobile app is developed and deployed, the sooner you’ll be reaping the benefits from it.
Because only one cross-platform app needs to be developed in order to achieve functionality on all platforms, rather than the multiple apps that would be required when building native apps, hybrid app development takes much less time than native app development.
And that’s not the only reason for the quick turnaround. Code used to create hybrid apps can be reused, so app developers can tap into their library of already-coded modules to assemble these applications more efficiently each time. Any code specific to a company’s first mobile app can also be reused in later, related company mobile apps.
This one’s a simple matter of doing the maths. Less time and effort spent in development equals lower cost.
With only a single mobile app to develop and maintain, not only does hybrid app development move more quickly, but QA processing, deployment and support are made easier. The time and monetary costs of developing your product are reduced dramatically by opting for cross-platform mobile app development, allowing your business to see ROI more quickly.
What are the limitations of hybrid apps?
If one of your priorities is providing a user experience that is consistent with the operating system and with the majority of the other apps available on that platform, then a hybrid app may not be the right solution for your business.
That doesn’t mean that you cannot provide a good mobile user experience with a web app or a hybrid app – it just means that the system graphics may not be exactly the same as those with which users may be already accustomed. This can negatively impact your user experience.
In addition, if your product relies on getting the absolute maximum amount of performance from the operating system, your idea may be better suited to a native application. Whilst cross-platform applications are still powerful and suitable for the vast majority of use cases, they still fail to achieve the same performance as a native application.
Technologies used for hybrid application development
Flutter is an open-source UI software development kit created by Google. It is used to develop applications for Android, iOS, Linux, Mac, Windows, Google Fuchsia, and the web from a single codebase.
React Native is an open-source mobile application framework created by Facebook, Inc. It is used to develop applications for Android, Android TV, iOS, macOS, tvOS, Web, Windows and UWP by enabling developers to use React’s framework along with native platform capabilities.
A Note on User Experience
In today’s market where there are millions of mobile applications, web platforms and digital products available, good UI/UX is no longer a feature- it is expected. Applications with no consideration to aesthetic usability create the impression of a subpar product, regardless of their ability to function or solve a specific problem.
Both native applications and cross-platform/hybrid apps have the capacity to create intuitive experiences. Whilst hybrid applications allow you to create continuity over different platforms, the OS-specific UI elements used in native applications create the best possible UX, user interface elements directly from the operating system.
To find out more on the importance of UI & UX, read our recent insight ‘The Difference Between UX and UI Design’
How to choose the right app type?
When we take a closer look at native and hybrid apps, the benefits of both approaches become more evident. All you have to do is to compare the core features of these approaches with the needs and expectations of your company.
For example, native mobile apps provide excellent UX and speed with an unparalleled user experience. Therefore, they are a great choice for companies that work with sensitive data, want to create a technically intense product, or only need to serve a single user base (either Android or iOS).
On the other hand, there’s cross-platform functionality provided by hybrid apps. This feature is invaluable for businesses that want to achieve whole of market coverage whilst keeping development speeds high and maintaining relatively low support and maintenance costs.
It’s important to understand that it’s not the nature of hybrid and native apps that determines if your idea will be successful or not. The crucial thing is the ability of developers to build upon your ideas and ensure that core business objectives are met in the solution they produce.