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Deciding whether to take a native or hybrid application development approach is a major step defining the failure or success of your mobile app project. There are plenty of factors to consider before starting with a native or hybrid app and the cost is not the only one you should have in mind.
When mobile apps are concerned, native apps are by far the most common type of an application. These apps are built for a specific platform such as Android, iOS, Windows Mobile or Blackberry and use the specific Integrated Development Environment (IDE) for the selected operating system.
Leading OS makers such as Apple and Google also provide Software Development Kits (SDK) for app developers to use when developing native apps for the respective operating system.
Thus, you develop an Android app using Java Development Kit on Java platform, while you use iOS SDK, Swift and Objective C for an iOS app development or use .NET for a Windows platform.
If your wonder how a native mobile app is different from the average web applications, you should know that native apps utilize the built-in functionalities of mobile operating systems. Thus, a developer can take advantage of features native to the OS and embed these features into your mobile app.
This is a major advantages but also a major drawback as app developers need to tweak their mobile apps to run smoothly on other operating systems or versions of the operating system.
Most experts and developers agree that native apps produce best results when app performance is concerned, so one of their main advantages is
Many modern applications collect and process huge volumes of data and native apps are better equipped to handle these high data loads. Intensive animations and movable graphics require higher than the average performance from an app while complex games add another data layer in the form of multiplayer interactions. If you are developing this type of an app, you should bet on native app development as native apps are a way faster than their hybrid counterparts.
Another advantage is that they are fully supported by the respective app store where they are uploaded and offered or in the app marketplace where they are distributed. That said, native apps are more easily discovered as they benefit from the marketing efforts of app stores such as Google Play or Apple Store when they actively promote new, trending and worthy apps.
Native app development can take advantage of all the built-in functionalities and sensors of a mobile device. User input and output runs more smoothly in native apps and the apps themselves tend to be more intuitive because they are utilizing the built-in features of the underlying operating system.
By having direct access to functions such as microphone, camera, location, address book and other sensors, you have faster interactions within the app and any interactive elements of the user interface.
You can use these interactions, initiated by the user, to track and analyze user behaviors and make suggestions or reasonable promotions. For instance, you can take advantage of location data to send notifications about nearby shops or restaurants. You can also offer discounts based on past user behavior, interactions and purchases.
Each operating system introduces specific UI guidelines and UX concepts and thus native apps reap the benefits of a unified user experience across all devices running on the OS they are using. This also helps the flow of actions and interactions within the application, which usually follow a pattern set by the guidelines provided by the operating system.
Finally, a native app should pass a through process or approval by the supervisors at the respective app store. Each native app should demonstrate quality, security and device compatibility while Google and Apple are constantly raising the bar for apps to enter their app stores.
Although not many, native apps have their disadvantages as well.
First of all, you need really experienced software developers to build a viable native app because native app development involves the use of demanding programming languages with which novice developers can barely cope.
This is of the factors that make native app development more costly when compared to web and hybrid app development. You also pass through a strict approval process by the app stores, which can be burdensome and require extra effort to be put into quality app development.
You should also bear in mind that your app should be developed specifically for any operating system or platform, so time to market is longer and the cost goes up with each additional OS-specific version.
If you are after a simple application, native app development is not your best option because of both the costs and the need for experienced coders to develop your project.
Hybrid app development combines the power of native apps and web apps to create applications that run on multiple platforms while providing unified user experience on each of these platforms. That is why a hybrid app combines the advantages and disadvantages provided by both native and web apps.
Hybrid apps are able to provide specific or custom cross-platform functionality by utilizing device APIs such as gyroscope, accelerometer and geo-location on different operating systems.
Hybrid app development enables software developers to deliver native app-like experiences by packaging the web code into a native project. Thus, a mobile page is being displayed in a full screen webview in the native project. This in turn allows mobile app developers to deploy the app directly to a device or upload it to an app store for download and installation.
In essence, the hybrid app development approach enables you to have one code base that runs on a desktop site, a mobile site and as a mobile app.
First and foremost hybrid apps are:
A hybrid is able to deliver relatively unified user experience across its intended platforms. You should be aware that your app would need a wrapper to connect app features and core OS’s functions, which results in a different app look and sometimes behavior on different platforms.
A hybrid app is able to access a device’s internal APIs and device hardware to provide extended functionalities.
If you want to hit the market running on multiple platforms, hybrid app development is your best option as you need only one codebase in contrast to native apps where you must have a codebase for each OS. It can be disadvantageous for some projects where you need more specific features implemented.
Hybrid apps are also more affordable as you do not need software developers that specialize in each of the desired operating systems and platforms. You develop your hybrid app once and for all platforms – Android, iOS and Windows – and then only update and extend the app’s features without having to hire dedicated developers to write code for each individual mobile OS.
Hybrid app are also easy to maintain and update because they are incorporated into a native shell, enabling you to update the app content as often as you like.
A marked disadvantage of hybrid apps is that they are slower than native apps. The more layers an app has, the slower it is and hybrid app need to make a bridge between app’s features and native features, which inevitably results in slower performance.
You should not use hybrid app development for projects that involve intensive graphics or 3D technologies as well as HD games.
Developers also need to use a third-party platform to deploy the hybrid app’s wrapper, which can also cause issues while customization of hybrid apps is quite a challenge.
Hybrid apps depend on libraries and frameworks such as Cordova, Ionic, or Xamarin and you need to sync them with the latest platform version available.
Customizing a hybrid app to provide unified experience on every platform is costly, so the hybrid app development approach is more suitable for simpler apps that do not require seamless and unified performance and look across multiple platforms.
The additional app layer also results in less effective bug tracking and debugging as you depend on external frameworks. Thus, you need to use a reliable third-party framework to avoid introducing bugs in your app.
Your initial code protection is also worse because hybrid apps often use HTML pages as a basis, which in turn results in decreased protection for your code.
Both native apps and hybrid apps have shortcomings and offer benefits, depending on your specific needs and project requirements. You cannot simply summarize which app development approach is better as there are multiple factors determining your right choice.
Probably the major factor determining the selection of one approach versus another lies with your time-to-market requirements. If you are to launch an application on multiple platforms simultaneously, you need to take a hybrid approach to speed up the development process. You should bear in mind, however, that it may cost dear in the long-run as hybrid apps usually have more bugs and do not provide the same user experience on each of their respective different platforms.
Complexity of features you want in your app is another major factor to consider and here should bet on native app development if you need highly customizable and performing app. The speed is also a factor when a complex project is at hand, and native apps perform faster as they do not need an additional layer to communicate with the device and the operating system.
As far as cost is also a factor when you decide what software development method to choose, you need not focus on the fixed costs only. Hybrid app development usually offers lower upfront costs but the long-term costs resulting from app maintenance and updates, removal of bugs and user experience enhancements can be more burdening compared to a native app where the upfront costs are higher.
Selecting between native app development and hybrid app development is not an easy choice to make and it should be this way. The mobile app market is very lucrative and global app revenues are forecast to reach nearly a trillion of US dollars by 2023. Companies and website owners experience pressure to deliver mobile apps fast and deliver them across multiple operating systems and customized for a variety of mobile devices.
Such a market situation tips the balance in favor of hybrid app development as this approach delivers results faster and across multiple platforms. You should bear in mind, however, that the market for mobile aps is increasingly demanding and while a hybrid approach can reduce time to market, native apps are more reliable and offer better user experience, which in turn can determine the fate of your app as user have higher expectations.
There are other market factors as well, with platforms emerging and disappearing very quickly. Windows Mobile and Blackberry OS are not major market drivers anymore while a number of companies are working on alternative mobile operating systems.
Thus, your final decision about selecting native or hybrid app development for your project should be based mostly on your business goals and desired functionality, while also taking in account what user experience you want to provide.