When you’re thinking about developing a mobile app, you’ll be faced with a very important decision from the get go. It’s one that will determine how long and expensive your app development will be.
Which type of app do you pick: native, web-based, or hybrid?
The answer to this question is not a simple one, and which type you choose will depend on several factors. With that in mind, today’s post will cover app types, what they are, and how to choose the right mobile app development solutions for your project.
A native application or app is any program or software built for a specific platform, using a specific programming language. The term “native” refers to the fact that these apps run directly on the user’s device. This is in contrast to web-based apps that sit on a web server and need a browser (itself a native app) for access.
Specific platforms will have a set of programming languages that it supports. iOS apps are primarily written in Swift or Objective-C, while Android apps use Java. Developers often have access to a standard set of tools known as SDKs (Software Development Kit) to make native app development on these platforms easier. For iOS this is Xcode, while Android has Android Studio.
In most cases, native apps are not cross-compatible with each other, so software from one platform cannot be ported over to another. For instance, the Facebook app for both iOS and Android are actually separate programs built independently of each other; it just so happens that they’re designed to do precisely the same thing.
And that’s probably one of the most significant drawbacks of a native app vs web app. If you want to create native apps for each of the major mobile platforms (iOS, Android, and possibly Microsoft Phone), then you need to maintain and update codes for them separately. It’s the reason why some app developers prefer to focus only on one platform. From a programming standpoint, creating apps using native technology also takes longer.
But despite this, developers still love native apps. A lot of the apps that we use, from Waze to Instagram to Twitter, are all native. Why is this so?
The simple reason is that native apps give more power and functionality versus any other kind of app. Running directly on the operating system makes the app run faster and much smoother, and therefore gives a very responsive experience.
Not to mention that native apps can access most of the device’s capabilities like the camera, camera, and accelerometer. This gives developers plenty of flexibility to design fantastic experiences like interactive games or augmented reality (AR) apps.
Lastly, since apps are built for specific platforms, they run exactly as intended. You don’t need to worry about tricks and hacks to make the user interface work for a wide variety of devices, because you only need to worry about one. Even with Android, which supports several dimensions and devices, the Android OS does most of the adjustments for you.
A web-based app is a software program that is run from a web server. Accessing this program requires a browser from the user’s computer or device, plus an active Internet connection.
In a sense, a web page like Wikipedia or the New York Times is a simple form of a web-based app. However, when referring to a web app, you’re almost always referring to something more interactive and with functionalities similar to that of a native app. Facebook is a good example, as are most SaaS applications like Salesforce, Hubspot, and even Netflix.
The main advantage of web apps is that they’re much easier and faster to develop since developers only need to maintain a single code base. Approval from the Apple app store or Google Play store is also not required. As a result, you can quickly launch and update your apps at your own discretion without any delay.
From the user’s perspective, web apps are easier to operate. You don’t need to download and install them so they don’t take up space on your device storage. You can also access web apps using an older device without the need to update your OS.
The main drawback of a web app is that it’s much more limited in what it can do. Since it runs from a browser, it doesn’t have direct access to many device features like sending push notifications and occupying an icon on the Home screen.
A hybrid app combines the best of both worlds by fusing a web app with a native app. You download and install it like any native app. In reality, it’s just a web app sitting on a simplified web browser called a webview. When done right, however, a hybrid app is so seamless that it’s virtually indistinguishable from a truly native app.
The main purpose of this hybrid approach is to develop an app as quickly and cheaply as possible to see how the market will respond. Specifically, it can tell you how many people are willing to download and install your app – something that a web app can’t do.
Hybrid apps retain all of the pros of web-based apps. They’re incredibly easy and inexpensive to develop and maintain for multiple platforms, allowing you to scale at lightning-fast speeds. At the same time, your app can access amazing native features like push notifications and occupying space on the home screen of a user’s device.
So with the incredible features of hybrid apps, why aren’t we seeing more of them? Well, that’s because of one crucial thing – performance.
Compare a native vs hybrid app side by side, and you’ll see that the latter is significantly slower to run. The one thing that makes hybrid apps possible – the webview – is also the very thing that slows it down.
And while it’s easier to develop hybrid apps, it’s paradoxically harder at the same time, thanks to the challenges of cross-platform development. Specifically, it’s tough to develop a user interface that will satisfy both an iOS and Android user. Sometimes, it might take so much development work that it’s cheaper to simply go native.
Now that you know their differences, how do you pick between a native app vs hybrid app vs web app? If you treat app development like a road trip, it really depends on where you want to go, how you want to get there, and (often) how much gas money you have.
The biggest factor is development time and, consequently, cost. How long an app takes to make depends on several factors, including how complex or simple you want it to be. If time and funds are limited and you want to release an app as fast as possible, go the hybrid route. However, this is feasible only if you have a very simple app that doesn’t need real-time performance.
If you have a bigger budget and the luxury of time, it’s best to skip hybrid entirely and narrow your choices down to a native vs web app.
First, you need to consider performance. Real-time games that require heavy use of graphics and animation, for example, are the best choice for native apps. These games also need precise gestures and input control that only native technology can give.
Processing-heavy operations are also feasible only for native apps. Think of the filters that Instagram applies to your photos, or the photo editing capabilities of apps like Photoshop Lightroom. The amount of processing power they need is simply inefficient or impossible for web and hybrid apps to replicate.
However, if you’re strictly working with data that will be displayed on a static web page, web apps are the better choice. They’re also great if you plan to heavily monetize your app freely since native apps will introduce restrictions and/or commission structures that can eat away at your app revenue.
While we’ve presented a clear overview of the different types of apps in this post, it might not always be obvious which one to pick for your project. That’s why you need an app agency like Expedition Co. to help walk you through the process. Contact us today and let’s start a conversation about custom web development.