Hybrid vs. Native: Which Approach to Choose for Your Next Mobile App Development?

Choosing the right mobile development approach is never easy. Anyone who has ever built a mobile app from scratch knows that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Both hybrid and native approaches to app development have clear benefits to them.

The hybrid development process relies on cross-platform functioning, it allows companies to leverage their existing web development talent to enter the mobile market. With it companies can target multiple platforms with the same code base, this drives down development costs as the new code does not need to be developed for each platform.

Built specifically for only one platform, the native development process is more expensive and requires greater engineering support to make changes, however, Native development is believed to be more powerful.

In this article, I’m going to discuss why some companies consistently leverage one approach over the other. This may help to determine if there is a development approach that might be best for a specific project, company size, and/or budgetary constraints.

Before going ahead to discuss, let’s first take a deep look at hybrid and native apps. To clear everything for those who have no idea about them or have some confusion in their minds.

Hybrid Apps

It’s a software application that combines elements of both native apps and web applications. Hybrid apps are essentially web applications that have been put into the containers. Once they are downloaded from an app store and installed locally, the container is able to connect to whatever capabilities the mobile platform provides through a browser that’s embedded in the application. The browser and its plug-ins run on the back end and are invisible to the end-user.

Technologies used for hybrid applications development

There are three most popular frameworks for hybrid app development:

React Native: Developed by Facebook, React Native is an open-source JavaScript framework that allows for the development of multi-platform applications using native user interface elements. The simplified UIs have considerably increased performance specifically reloading. The primary reason why most people opt for this framework is because of the short development time. The developers have access to ready-to-apply units, but since it’s a new technology that’s why you’ll find that it lacks some solutions. Both Facebook and the community regularly provide updates.

Xamarin: Supported and maintained by Microsoft, Xamarin is an open-source cross-platform development tool that lets developers build native iOS and Android apps, as well as Windows and Mac apps, using a single shared C# codebase. Xamarin will not deal with complicated graphics but is suitable for simple apps. This technology is usually chosen for business-directed projects.

Ionic: This open-source mobile app development framework produces applications with standard web technologies such as JavaScript, CSS, HTML, Angular, etc. You also have a lot of accessible user interface components that are simple to deal with. Developing time is as great as with all the other cross-platform development frameworks. In spite of all its advantages, the maintenance might be more difficult. Ionic grants lots of plug-ins, so when the issue comes out, it may demand extra manual adjustments.

Native Apps

Before I move on further, there is one thing you should not forget which is that native applications are built specifically for only one platform, thus the applied technologies will differ. In order to handle the development of Android mobile apps, the developers can apply Java or Kotlin, for iOS development Swift or Objective-C can be utilized.

Companies that usually choose this approach have the necessity to build two apps simultaneously. It is clear that the engineering process is longer and requires more effort. Also, as you can see there is a stark difference between the technologies required by these platforms, so you may need two separate teams to work on your project.

Technologies for iOS development

Objective-C: This programming language is known for its great development experience, available libraries and a vast pool of experts. Objective-C is a mature framework, which also obtains compatibility with other programming technologies. Despite those benefits, we realize that new languages appear and sometime it will not have the ability to support all the latest features.

Swift: It is a relatively new programming framework introduced by Apple that has become the alternative for building the iOS native applications. The developers have pointed out its quicker performance and it is easier to learn and work with. It is constantly developing that’s why it may lack some components. However, it is said that it might replace Objective-C in the future.

Technologies for Android development

Java: The programming language that is not only primarily used for Android mobile applications but other purposes. Much of desktop and web development is based on Java. It has become a special system of tools; the developers have access to a powerful library. It helps to simplify the overall programming process. However, applications on Java require more memory and perform slower compared to other frameworks.

Kotlin: It is a programming language specifically developed to work with Java and Java Virtual Machine. Because of that, its usage is supported and approved by Google for the development of Android applications. One of the main advantages of Kotlin over regular Java is that its type of interface allows working using shorter syntax. This fact reduces the time for the programming needed to make an application for Android. Now it is included as an alternative to the standard Java compiler for the Android Studio. Expedia, Square, Pinterest, and Flipboard can be named among the most demonstrative examples of the companies that use Kotlin for their Android applications.

Small and mid-market businesses mostly choose hybrid

There are many reasons why small and mid-market businesses are opting for the hybrid approach but I guess the primary one is because this approach offers cost-effectiveness and supportability.

Unlike, large enterprises, budgets tend to be leaner when it comes to small and mid-market businesses. A hybrid application provides more bounce for the ounce, but also can usually be supported by an existing engineering team. Because hybrid apps are developed using common front end technology (JavaScript, HTML5, and CSS), small and mid-market businesses do not need to hire platform-specific native developers.

But this does not mean the large enterprises are shying away from this technology, in fact, the Amazon App store, Yelp, and even Gmail are all Hybrid apps.

Over the course of time, the wave has turned in favor of hybrid applications. You wouldn’t have found the same willingness in developers and businesses for hybrid development a few years ago as you will find today, mainly because they thought hybrid is slower or less powerful. Well-developed hybrid apps have proven themselves to be nearly indistinguishable from native apps over time, which is why they are much more commonplace today.

According to an Ionic survey, twenty-percent of developers built exclusively with native tools in ’15. In ’18, the same group was surveyed again, with just eight-percent reporting exclusive use of native tools. The survey also reported that in ’18, about thirty-two-percent expected to completely abandon native development and use only hybrid tools.

While the hybrid approach is being adopted more and more and is becoming more powerful when executed well, Native development isn’t as doomed as some might lead you to believe.

Fortune 500s and other large enterprises tend to go native, which makes sense

Well, it’s no surprise that these big shots mostly go for a native approach to app development, as they have the engineering resources and budget that is required to support natively. So, when developing a native app, large enterprises simply keep an in-house team of experts to support the application rather than relying on outside resources.

Google Maps, LinkedIn, and Instagram are some of the most popular native applications by large enterprises. As mentioned above, incredibly powerful applications can be developed using hybrid approach, as such these native apps can be easily developed using the hybrid approach and they will function just as fine, but since these big enterprises can afford to develop an app native to each platform, I don’t see any reason why they should not do it that way.

…startups also often develop native apps

One interesting thing, I would like to talk about here is that startups also often develop native apps. As a software developer and being in the field for the last ten years I have witnessed many such cases, they can be divided into the following categories:

Case 1: They have a small engineering team (composed of about 1 or 2 members) or no internal engineers at all. Native development requires more specialized development, meaning startups and small & mid-market businesses would need to have developers with specializations in both platforms’ code. This can make it difficult to support a Native app and it becomes even costlier to outsource maintenance.

Case 2: They want a native for both platforms but do not have the budget for this much development and maintenance/support of one native app, let alone two. This leads to huge issues as they begin getting quotes from North American based companies and realize their budget does not align with what they believe are their needs. I often see startups in this situation that end up offshoring the work and receiving a native product that is full of bugs and unsupportable.

Case 3: They believe or have been led to believe that they need a native app for it to be high performing. This is completely false. Just because an application is developed in native does not mean it is going to be higher performing than a hybrid app. As I have clearly mentioned many times above, a well-engineered hybrid application will always perform as better as a native app and even better if the native app is not well engineered.

Startups can successfully have their application developed natively if on a budget, however, if you ask me I’ll suggest to first develop it well on one platform and then investing in developing it on a second platform when the value is realized. Native applications are perfect for startups and SMBs that want a different look and features for each platform, but I stress that the quality of development should not be compromised!

Leveraging the current trends to choose the right development approach

Current trends in app development can be leveraged to build the application that is best for your specific business, but as I said in the very first part of this article there is never a one-size-fits-all approach to software development. Look at the trends and at how successful businesses (at a similar size and scale to yours) are developing their products. This can help guide the approach that will best serve the solution you are looking to build.

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