Native vs Hybrid Applications
February 13, 2021
A mobile application (app) is a computer program or software application created for portable devices such as tablets and smartphones. Mobile application development includes gathering requirements, analyzing, designing, coding, and testing software applications for portable devices.
How to choose between native vs. hybrid mobile applications
Developers need to provide expertise when coming up with applications. They need to figure out how to convert user and technical requirements to user-friendly software. In doing so, they assess the suitability of choosing either a hybrid or a native application development approach.
Both methods have their strengths and weaknesses, with the developer left to select an appropriate one based on user needs. It is challenging to settle on a technique, especially for beginner developers. This article will guide the reader on when and why to opt for each method.
Particularly, it will discuss hybrid and native apps’ performance, support & maintenance, feature accessibility, user experience, cost of development, app complexity, platform code support, delivery time, pushing updates, scalability, security, and other technologies. This is to provide a baseline when determining a suitable approach between native and hybrid for mobile application development.
Native applications are developed for a particular platform, i.e., iOS, Android, or Windows operating systems (OS). They use a specific programming language of the hardware platform they are made to run in. A single codebase is used to develop apps for different platforms.
Hybrid apps are a blend of native and web solutions. They support cross-platform and function like pure native apps. They have only a single codebase that targets close to all devices.
Comparing native and hybrid apps
Native applications use programming languages that communicate directly with the device hardware. Static contents are downloaded during installation. Since the apps have a better user experience, response time is quicker, and contents are readily available. Hybrid apps use a blended platform to interact with device hardware.
Static contents for these apps are loaded from the server. Therefore, hybrid applications have a slow response as they do not interact directly with the device hardware. They also need an internet connection to load content.
The user experience is affected when the orientation of the device changes. Native applications respond faster to change, while hybrid applications react slower. Thus, native applications have a better user experience when compared to hybrid apps. However, a noticeable improvement in hybrid apps’ performance has been seen recently. This progress is mainly due to the introduction of robust and faster devices, having improved OS versions, more experienced developers, and greater adoption of new technologies.
Support and maintenance
Native applications enjoy the full support with the apps store and play store. Hybrid apps however, rely on a third-party to deploy the app’s wrapper. A wrapper is a WebView made from binary files. It allows the app to communicate with the device platform and incorporate operating system features.
Hybrid apps get support from the wrapper that provides patches to fix applications. Native applications offer higher offline support compared to hybrid apps, as their static information is not stored on the server.
Native applications can access device application programming interfaces (APIs) entirely with very few limitation. Hybrid apps require blended technology to use features like GPS, gestures, and cameras.
The user interface in a native mobile app, is an overall better experience when compared to that of hybrid apps. The experience is due to user interface elements in native apps directly coded in a language understood by the hardware device.
On the contrary, hybrid apps rely on the developer’s web technologies experience to design suitable elements that are appealing on mobile devices.
Thus, native features are clearer, smoother, and have more visible effects when compared to hybrid apps. However, with a web technology expert’s input, the user experience in hybrid apps may improve to levels near that of native apps.
Cost of development
Hybrid applications attract lower development costs. Cost is determined by the time taken to develop the application, the app complexity, and the platforms that are supported.
Hybrid apps can reuse code which helps save on the cost, they also enjoy multi-platform support, unlike native apps. With this method a single application is deployed across (mulitple) platforms, reducing the number of software that needs to be produced and the time used needed for development, consequently reducing cost.
Companies working with native apps may need to have several development teams to create apps for different platforms because the developers specialize only in a single native application area (iOS or Android).
Building an application that consumes a lot of time and effort will incur a higher development cost. Applications that require the use of complex features or algorithms increase development as well. The level of expertise required is something to consider when thinking about overall cost of development.
Native applications can handle complex functions as they can fully interact with the operating system. Hybrid apps are unable to handle sophisticated functions efficiently. They are therefore better suited for content-oriented software.
Platform code support
Native applications are able to to have software compatible with all device levels and full control features such as GPS, camera, and sensors. Hybrid applications support a minimum SDK level, an integer designating a minimum API level for an app.
Hybrid apps also have a limited use of features based on the availability of third-party libraries. Although native applications appear to win on this, hybrid apps enjoy the benefit of being single code for cross-platform.
Developing a hybrid application takes less time when compared to the native one. Hybrid applications benefit from code reuse, a single codebase, and a single application for cross-platform.
Code reuse and having a single codebase significantly reduces development time because programming resources are readily available and located in a single place. The ability to generate cross-platform applications substantially reduces delivery time. Thus, for businesses with an urgent need for a mobile application, a hybrid application would be suitable.
Hybrid applications store files on the server and enable updates to be pushed with minimal user intervention. On the other hand, any change on the native app requires an update. If your app has a significant number of updates, you may want to consider a hybrid approach.
Native applications use complex features efficiently. These features interact with the operating system and hardware seemlessly. Hybrid apps become heavy and slower with the addition of complex components. They need to be scaled up for various operating systems as they use web technology as opposed to native apps.
Hybrid applications are at a higher security risk than native applications because they deal with web browsers and other technologies besides programming language security. However, their app security levels can be improved by adopting mechanisms such as VPNs, micro-services, and APIs (Application Programming Interfaces).
Native applications are software programs tailored for a specific platform and written using a programming language for the device. They are developed using languages such as Objective-C or Swift for iOS, Java for Android, and C# for Windows.
Hybrid apps are made for multiple platforms and use languages such as Ionic and Adobe PhoneGap with web technologies. Apart from native and hybrid techniques, there exist other languages that provide mobile apps for all platforms and exhibit both native and hybrid features such as:
Xamarin It is a platform for native cross-platform mobile application development that extends the .NET developer platform with tools and libraries. It is used to develop applications for operating systems such as iOS, tvOS, macOS, and Windows.
To decide which approach to follow, one should consider a couple of factors such as time, complexity, and resources. Applications that require intense features, are sophisticated, and have sufficient delivery time should use a native approach.
There exist other languages that allow the development of cross-platform mobile applications. This article has pointed out what developers, especially beginners, need to develop a mobile application. Start developing your mobile application today.
Peer Review Contributions by: Eric Kahuha
About the authorPeter Ndegwa
Peter Ndegwa is a software developer with a focus to transform and automate business processes. He is passionate about the web and mobile application development as a full-stack developer. Further, he is a master of Google applications with a vast knowledge of Google add-ons and web development. As an MSc. Computer Science student, his key interest is artificial intelligence (AI) specifically machine learning (ML).