Today, we live in a world where we need an application to perform simple or complex tasks. Applications have now become a person's companion, augmenting or complementing daily life. Thanks to mobile phones, people can use applications to send messages, make calls, seek health consults, connect or socialize with other people across the globe, and a lot more. But who makes these apps, and what is the technology powering them? Well, the user doesn’t care and doesn’t really want to know how these things work. They just want to get the job done seamlessly and without issue, leaving the heavy work for developers to build platforms or apps to perform these tasks.
For developers, choosing a particular technology or stack to build your application can be confusing because there are a lot of programming languages and technologies available to work with. In this article, we will talk about what native and hybrid apps are and how to decide on which one to choose for your project.
In order to fully understand this article, let's first define what native and hybrid apps are. Native and hybrid apps are different variations of mobile apps, meaning they're both mobile apps but built with different technologies or stacks. These apps live on mobile phones (e.g., Android, iOS, etc.) and can be installed.
What Is a Native App?
Native apps are applications built for a specific platform, using the platform-specific technology or stack. For example, this could be using Java or Kotlin to build an Android app or using Swift and Objective-C to build an iOS app.
A native app is the most common type of app you will find because of its platform-specific advantages and use of native programming languages.
Examples of native apps include WhatsApp, Twitter, Gmail, Netflix, Facebook, and YouTube.
Native App Pros
Building native apps comes with a lot of advantages for you as a developer when you build your project. Here are some of them:
They run on a specific platform. For developers who want to build platform-specific apps, you can use native programming languages to do so.
They're very fast. This is because the platform's native technology is used to build the app, therefore allowing it to run and load faster, which will lead to increased app performance and user retention.
There's easy app store distribution. Building a native app offers you the opportunity to distribute your app to millions of users on the platform app stores without going through the hassle of doing some complex configuration and app rejection by the platform review. These platform stores include the Google Play Store and the App Store.
They use device utilities. Using a platform-specific programming language provides you the opportunity to interact with device utilities, like the network, camera, location, storage, and WiFi, depending on your app functionality. Some platforms have extensive API documentation for these utilities for you to use.
They're interactive and intuitive. Native apps are much more interactive and intuitive than hybrid apps. The app runs and loads faster, with a smoother user interface compared to a hybrid app.
Native App Cons
Although native apps are good, they also come with some pitfalls that are important to know about.
They're built for single platforms. Building native apps limits your apps to a particular project. This means that you can't run on other platforms, and users on other platforms can't use your apps until you build the app for them. That can make startups or small businesses go bankrupt simply because they have to get different teams for different projects, which is really expensive.
Platform language learning curve. Sometimes, because of a developer's preference for platform technology, they aren't comfortable learning other programming languages. This can be a barrier to entry into a particular platform's technology.
Hiring cost. Hiring developers for native app platforms can be very expensive because of the low supply of developers and increased demand.
Maintenance cost. Besides the hiring cost, the maintenance of these apps is also expensive due to platform upgrades and third-party library updates.
What Is a Hybrid App?
A hybrid app is usually a combination of a web application and a native app. This is mostly considered a cross-platform application because it can be run and installed on any platform you design for it.
Examples of hybrid apps include Instagram, Amazon, Discord, and Uber.
Hybrid App Pros
These are some advantages of hybrid apps:
They work cross-platform. With hybrid apps, you just need a single app for all platforms and don't need to write different code or manage different teams for different apps. For example, you can use the same application for Android or iOS, therefore reducing costs and focusing on app growth.
They're easy to build. Compared to native apps, hybrid apps are very easy to build because the developer might not need to learn a native programming language for a platform. Teams can quickly deploy their apps to other platforms without extra hiring costs and expenses.
They're cheaper to maintain. Hybrid apps are cheaper to maintain in terms of hiring cost and cost of maintenance because the developer doesn't need to bother with third-party SDKs and libraries.
There's a wider app store distribution. An outstanding feature of hybrid apps is that they don't need a browser to run, and you can publish them in various app stores. This, therefore, allows your app to reach more users on different platforms.
There's access to device utilities. Hybrid apps also have access to device utilities, like cameras, storage, location, and network using APIs. This actually depends on the framework you are using, so you'll want to check the documentation for more details.
Development time is faster. Compared to native apps, hybrid apps are faster to develop because they use a single codebase, and changes can be made faster.
Hybrid App Cons
In addition to the advantages, it's also good to know about some disadvantages of hybrid apps.
They're slow. Compared to native apps, hybrid apps are very slow because they don't use the main platform programming language. They also have to go through third-party technology during app build time.
They're less interactive and intuitive. Hybrid apps are less interactive and intuitive compared to native apps, especially with button presses and user interfaces, because most of the UI components are not the components of the native platform.
What's Better, a Native App or a Hybrid App?
Considering the cons of native apps, if you’re a project or product manager or startup founder, going for a native app as a first choice can be a bad idea.
Unless you have enough funds and a team of highly experienced programmers who can build applications for different platforms, I recommend you go for a hybrid application. This would save you and your team time and also reach more users than you could ever reach with only one platform.
However, let's say you are targeting one platform because you're concerned about the performance of your app and device utility. You can consider the native app development, but also consider the growth of your app to other platforms when making this decision.
There’s no doubt that native apps are the best when it comes to performance and access to device utilities. But compared to the cost of maintenance and distribution to multiple channels or platforms, hybrid apps supersede them.
We hope out blog was helpful in helping you decide whether you should build a native or hybrid app. If you want to learn about hassle free automation testing of your app, check out Waldo.