Mobile Applications: What is the Difference between Native and Hybrid Apps?

Some debates are doomed to go on and on. The Native Vs. Hybrid debate is of the same nature. Upon hearing the question, some people are quick to divide into ardent followers and haters and fiercely defend their point. Several years ago when HTML5 was shyly trying to tell about itself, the discussion already tackled the advantages and drawbacks of the cross-platform approach. Multiple cross-platform tools such as Xamarin or Sencha with the help of well-known scripting languages as JavaScript or CSS allowed for creating one app instead of 5.

What is native app and hybrid app?

Before we get into the pros and cons of these approaches, let us take a step back and discuss what is the difference between native app and hybrid app. In a nutshell, a native app is developed specifically to run on a single platform (iOS, Android or other), thus when you want to make a new app that will run on all popular operating systems and choose a native approach, you will be developing separate apps for each. A hybrid approach, on the other hand, aims to utilize as much code as possible across all platforms, using JavaScript, CSS and html languages for the cross-platform functionality, and a native “wrapper” for each platform for distribution, hence the name – hybrid.

One would ask, if one could save that much time and effort, why even consider the native approach? To answer that, one must have a bit deeper understanding of what is hybrid mobile application. By utilizing code mostly written in cross-platform language, the app can miss out on access to some of the device’s features (accelerometers, gyroscopes, cameras, etc.). Additionally, this approach can entail performance issues, affecting response and startup times.

What is the real difference?

Virtually, the debate comes down to comparing a cheaper, faster approach to a more expensive, but more stable and better performing one. There is, however, a little more to it than that. Technology used in creating hybrid apps is constantly evolving, potentially shrinking the gap in performance. Moreover, HTML5 has become mature enough to squeeze into the discussion as another base for cross-platform development. Some other benefits are:

  • HTML5 has a good administrative resource at hand being promoted as W3C Recommendation.
  • Developers do love the platform as Developer Economics research states . It is relatively simple and fast.
  • The design is usually consistent for all pages and there is only one code base to support and maintain.
  • In-house IT managers will be more likely to find or attract the necessary skill in-house, rather than look elsewhere.
  • The target audience is enormous: reaching users at virtually any browser and device.
  • Being SEO-friendly and easy to integrate with the back-end cloud services, HTML5 allows app owners to reach the audience fast and at a good price.

However, there are issues which can difficult to put up with:

  • Users can get quite meticulous when choosing an app for extended. Taking into account the number of apps available, we would agree they have a reason for that. Hybrid apps are a bit slower, a bit more inconsistent and less stable than native apps. Unfortunately, that bit can turn crucial in user perception and their final choice, especially when the launch time is noticeably longer.

 native and hybrid apps development

 

  • Another drawback is the inability of many hybrid apps to function offline. This is now becoming less of an issue as more apps are starting to rely on internet anyways and the cellular data/Wi-Fi is more available and affordable as ever.A study by Oracle states that a poor app experience would put users off buying a company’s products or services . The latter expect interaction and a compelling user-interface, using of cool functionalities they have at their gadget and OS-features. Most hybrid apps are more of a mobile website, which is good to provide information but falls short of native apps when it comes to providing more value than displaying information.
  • Another drawback is the inability of many hybrid apps to function offline. This is now becoming less of an issue as more apps are starting to rely on internet anyways and the cellular data/Wi-Fi is more available and affordable as ever.A study by Oracle states that a poor app experience would put users off buying a company’s products or services . The latter expect interaction and a compelling user-interface, using of cool functionalities they have at their gadget and OS-features. Most hybrid apps are more of a mobile website, which is good to provide information but falls short of native apps when it comes to providing more value than displaying information.

What approach is right for me?

The truth as always depends on a range of factors: the nature of the project, available labor and financial resources, target audience, Internet connection necessity, and frequency of updates. If you think about an app with various functionalities heavily depending on device features, look for native developers. If an Internet connection is an important requirement, while the time to the market needs to be shortened, hybrid approach is a good way out. Gartner states that 50% of mobile apps will be hybrid by 2016 . So, you are just following the trend.

Instagram is a well-known example of a hybrid approach. When people also hear that Gmail, Twitter, Evernote, LinkedIn, Uber and Netflix are all hybrid apps as well, they start to think that since all these apps have millions of users and they are all hybrid, then that must be the best approach. That, however, is not entirely true. Facebook has also experimented with a hybrid app. The result was almost disastrous. The company received numerous complaints that the new app is noticeably slower, less responsive and is riddled with bugs. After a few updates and attempts to fix the issues and maintain a hybrid approach, the company retreated to its native apps.

Another point to consider is that many reputable IT specialists believe that pure native apps are going extinct, as more and more of them include at least some HTML code for separate functionalities . So, in some sense the real question to consider is not whether to go native or hybrid, but what proportion of a hybrid app should be native vs. cross-platform to find the best balance between performance and cost.