The use of smartphones and other mobile devices like tablets, laptops, and smartwatches has increased drastically over the last decade. In 2021 the number of smartphone users worldwide had surpassed seven billion, and there is no indication that it will slow down in the near future. The massive increase in the popularity of mobile devices is mainly due to mobile applications, which have radically changed the way we work, communicate and live.
Companies that develop mobile applications today have to answer a number of questions before they begin.
- What problem is the application trying to solve?
- What features should it have?
- What is the available budget?
- When is the target release date?
Knowing this information will help you decide if it's more suitable to develop your application following a hybrid or a native approach. This is a major debate topic within the mobile development industry.
In this article, you'll learn what hybrid and native applications are. By the end, you'll have a better understanding of these approaches so you can decide which is more suitable for your needs.
What Is a Native Application?
An application is native when it uses technologies and is written in programming languages specific to the operating system you are targeting. For example, an iOS application is considered native when written in Swift or Objective C, while native Android applications are written in Kotlin or Java. These applications are typically found in online stores like Google Play or the App Store, where you can download them directly on your device. You have to create two applications to cover all users, one for each platform.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Native Apps
To make the best choice for your application, you need to be familiar with the pros and cons of each approach.
- Native applications have excellent performance. They are installed directly on the device and use their processing power to run fast and minimize load times. When you build an application for a specific platform or device, it will be optimized and fully compatible with the ins and outs of that platform.
- They allow you to design high-quality interfaces that enhance user experience. Different operating systems have their own user interface guidelines and best practices that you need to comply with. Since native application developers have to follow only one set of standards, they don't need to worry about how the app will look on different platforms. Following specific guidelines, you can create applications with familiar elements for your users and reduce the learning curve.
- They make great use of the platform's hardware capabilities. They can effectively access features like a camera, flashlight, thermosensor, GPS, microphone, etc. These allow you to create more sophisticated applications that also improve the user experience.
- Native applications rank higher on the search page of app marketplaces. This will promote your applications to a broader audience and increase your download rate.
- Native applications are time-consuming because you need to build different versions and use different technologies for each operating system.
- They generally cost more to develop. Apart from the fact that you have to create two applications instead of one, the cost of hiring skilled professionals who can create high-quality native applications is higher.
- Maintaining and updating native applications is more complicated since you have to handle two different codebases.
What Is a Hybrid Application?
Advantages and Disadvantages of Hybrid Apps
- Hybrid applications have a better time-to-market ratio than native apps. Since you only have to create a single codebase and use relatively easier technologies, you can deploy your application a lot faster. Similarly, when you update your application, all you have to do is make the necessary changes on your codebase, and they will appear across all platforms at once.
- Having a single codebase for multiple platforms reduces upfront development and maintenance time. As a result, the overall costs are significantly reduced. Also, in general, high-skilled web developers are cheaper to hire than specialized Swift or Kotlin developers.
- Hybrid applications are easier to maintain. Since your application is built with popular web technologies and only has one codebase, maintenance is more straightforward, and it doesn't require different development teams dedicated to each platform.
- Hybrid applications don't perform as fast as native apps. Their architecture has an additional layer between the source code and the mobile platform, making them slower. Of course, as technology and mobile frameworks are progressing, the difference becomes negligible, especially if your application isn't complex.
- Debugging your application is harder. Again, the hybrid development architecture and the fact that developers don't have the same control over their applications make it challenging to detect and fix bugs.
- Hybrid applications lack extensive functionality. Even though mobile web browsers are becoming more and more flexible and continue to improve, there are hardware features that hybrid apps can't take full advantage of without compromising the quality and stability of the app.
- User experience isn't optimal. Each mobile platform has its own design rules. When you have one codebase, it's almost impossible to cover all the details that make a user interface seamless.
Comparison of Native and Hybrid Applications
Now that you have a better understanding of native and hybrid applications, let's look at the fundamental factors that will help you decide which approach to select.
The biggest problem with native apps is that you need to create two apps, one for iOS and one for Android, if you want to cover almost all mobile users. Besides the increased initial costs, it requires more effort to keep your applications up-to-date as you have to build the same features for both platforms. Hybrid apps can partially solve this problem. In cases where applications are relatively simple, you can reduce effort significantly by following a hybrid approach. The problem starts if your needs outgrow the hybrid framework capabilities. Then a native approach is the only way to go.
When developing a mobile application, you want the user experience to be memorable. Besides the obvious that it should be without bugs, the features should run smoothly on the device. A major advantage of native applications is that you work with technologies that integrate seamlessly with the device's hardware and operating system. Native applications can make the most out of the device's capabilities, especially in terms of compatibility and interactivity. This has a positive impact on performance and user experience in general.
On the other hand, hybrid frameworks are slower and, in many cases, less elegant than native apps. These differences are barely noticeable with simple apps. Although the problem becomes less and less evident as the hybrid technology progresses, it still remains with complex apps, and at a certain point, you might need to follow a native approach.
The money you have available for app development plays a significant role in deciding which is a better option for you. With native, you have to build two applications, and most probably, you'll need one development team for each. This means that the cost of creating and maintaining two different code bases is significantly higher. With a hybrid approach, you don't have to develop or make changes twice, so you'll be saving money. Furthermore, native app developers are more difficult to find and thus will cost more to hire than hybrid developers.
With native apps, you can directly implement the newest version of the operating system and any new features they offer. This happens because new releases include development tools that are primarily designed to cater to the needs of native app developers. On the other hand, hybrid developers must update and modify their systems in order to support the new functionality offered. Even then, some features might still be unavailable.
Wrapping Things Up
Both native and hybrid apps have their advantages and disadvantages. It's important to remember that there isn't a clear-cut winner, and the approach you'll select will largely depend on your needs. If you want top-notch performance, require features specific to your device, and aren't particularly budget-conscious, there's little reason to build with a hybrid framework. If budget is a concern, your app is relatively simple, you want to support multiple platforms while having one code base, and you can handle not having the most elegant application in its category; hybrid frameworks are an excellent way to save money and achieve your goals.