Native or Hybrid Apps: Which approach is best for your company?

Mobile technology has become an integral part of everyday life. Mobile apps play a vital role in business enhancement, and have changed the focus from what’s on the Web, to the apps. Having a mobile app is the fastest way for a business to interact their customers. As a result, you’ll want to get your app into the hands of as many users as possible.

The moment you consider creating a mobile app, you’re immediately faced with a barrage of terminology. Here, we’ll help you understand what native, hybrid and web apps are. More importantly, we’ll help you understand which approach is most appropriate for your app. (Hint: we think a hybrid app is often the best solution).

What are native and hybrid apps anyway?

A native app is a smartphone application developed specifically for a mobile operating system. A native app for iOS is written in Objective-C, while the same app, if developed natively for Android, would be written in Java. This results in apps that can look and feel native to the environment on which they are running. It also showcases one of the major drawbacks of native apps – the same app has to be developed, maintained and supported for each OS that it is available on. This takes significant amounts of time, money, and effort.

Hybrid apps, at their core, are websites packaged into a wrapper designed to run on a particular OS. This means that the app can be developed once, and packaged into different wrappers for different OSes. Hybrid apps are built using industry standard web technologies such as HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript. This means that you can maintain a consistent feel for your apps across all platforms, while still having apps for your users to interact with.

Points to consider before you develop your app

There are several points to consider before you develop your app that will steer you towards a hybrid or a native approach.

The first is your timeline. How soon do you want to launch your app? In most cases, a hybrid app is faster to develop because it will be developed using established web technologies, and use a wrapper framework like Phonegap or Cordova to package your app for deployment. Using these standards gets your app out on multiple platforms as soon as possible.

The second is your budget, and it is strongly interlinked with your timeline. Hybrid apps are cheaper to develop because a single development team can develop for multiple platforms at once. When your timeline is tight, having the entire team working on a single codebase will get you faster results. Developing native apps will mean multiple teams and codebases, which will raise your budget and delay your launch, if you maintain the standards of quality and consistency you want from your app. This is a classic example of the cheap/fast/good triangle, and hybrid development moves the needle lower on the cost side, letting you focus on getting the app done well, and quickly.

Now, you might say that you only want to develop your app for one OS. Wouldn’t a native app be the best option in that situation? The answer is maybe. Each OS runs on a variety of different hardware configurations. A native app on a single platform would still need to be optimised for a variety of different display and hardware configurations. For most apps, native development will still not be worth the investment.

Third, if your app is going to be frequently updated, using a hybrid app could be the way to go. Updated native apps will need to be downloaded from the App or Play store each time they are updated. An approval process may also be required for each update. A hybrid app can be updated without requiring repeated downloads by your users.

Finally, if you’re developing a game, even if you’re targeting multiple platforms, you’re probably best with a native application for each platform.

Which way will you go? 

With all their differences, native and hybrid apps both aim for the same thing: to capture a user’s attention. Gartner’s research shows that, very soon, more than half of the apps on the market would be hybrid. It’s no surprise, really. Like we said in the start, when you launch your app, you want it to get into the hands of as many potential customers as you can, as fast as you can. When you want to do that, the approach is to build a hybrid app.