Web vs. native vs. hybrid apps. This is one of the most discussed topics on the web. You’ve probably read articles comparing the advantages and estimated cost of these types of apps.
The conclusions are always the same: if you have the money - build native apps; if you are low on budget - choose either a hybrid or a web app. However. this is a totally wrong approach!
You should not choose the type of app that you can afford, but the one that fits your needs.
So, how do you decide between native, hybrid and web app development? Keep reading.
Web app development is the cheapest option for delivering a mobile user experience. But this doesn’t mean that web apps are a low-cost solution with limited quality. Sometimes they are sufficient to satisfy users’ expectations.
Web applications were once considered a low-quality solution, but nowadays they are showing huge potential. The progressive web app (PWA) is a new blend of technologies that is changing the way we see traditional mobile browsing. PWAs aim to deliver a native-like experience through the mobile web browser, and surprisingly, they have succeeded! For more details, check out our article on progressive web apps.
Web apps are good for: news, weather, e-commerce, social apps, currency converters, expense managers, etc.
If there is a ready website, the mobile web app is the fastest and easiest solution to deliver a handy experience to users. The great advantage is the ability to keep the backend of the web app, to adjust the frontend and, voila! - the mobile web application is ready to be placed into the users’ hands.
In general, a web app may be a reasonable solution for applications that do not have a complicated frontend. It is also a good choice for developing an MVP, as the first version of the product can be launched without major expense, and in a very short time. This is crucial for building a minimum viable product.
Advantages of web applications
- Build the development team fast
Web apps use a widely spread web development technology, so finding a professional team won’t be a big deal. Moreover, a single app is compatible with all mobile platforms, so there is no need to have several teams of programmers, each with a specific expertise;
- Support every device, every platform and every version of OS
Every modern device has a browser. This is the only criteria to access web applications. Therefore, you need only one version of the app, which all users will access, regardless of the hardware and software they are using;
- Fast deployment of new features
New features are implemented only once and these become instantly available to everyone. Users access only the latest version of the web app on their mobile browsers. No need to download the updates;
- No need to support multiple versions of the software
There is always only the latest version of the web app available, so you can save time and resources;
- No app store approval
Since the web app is not submitted to the app store, it doesn’t require any approvals and can be released immediately. In addition, web apps can be used straight away without any installation. The user can skip the irritating task of browsing through the app store.
- Visible to search engines
All content on the web page is searchable via search engines, unlike the content in the mobile apps.
Disadvantages of web apps
- Internet connection required to function properly
Although progressive web apps are able to cache the content and work offline, their functionality is still limited without an internet connection;
- Not available in the app store
Users can’t discover the app in the app store, so a powerful marketing channel is lost.
- Not appropriate for apps with a complex frontend
Web applications work great for simple apps, but unfortunately, they aren’t a good choice for apps with complicated frontend, with complex animations etc.;
- Not native experience
Web applications don’t give a native look’n’feel. As there is only one version of the web app for different platforms, it does not feel completely native-like on different devices;
- Limited access to smartphone’s features
Access to camera, accelerometer, voice input, hardware buttons etc. for web applications is limited. If usage of smartphone hardware and software features is essential for the app, then the native approach is preferable;
- Ad blockers
Ad blockers are a headache for everyone who advertises on the web. The predictions are that by 2020, advertisers will lose $35 billion because of ad blockers. So, if your web app relies on advertising, you should be aware of possible problems.
Examples of Web Apps
Progressive web apps are a breakthrough in modern web development. They allow building cross-platform applications without significant disadvantages for the end user. If your future project is not a complex business app with extensive features, complex frontend and backend - you should consider building a PWA.
The time, when web applications were seen only as a cheap solution for new or small companies is already gone. Web apps are becoming a powerful business tool.
Native apps are considered to be the most reliable, showing extraordinary performance when compared to hybrid and web apps.
Native apps are developed for a specific mobile platform using particular programming languages and technologies. IOS apps, for example, are written in Objective-C and Swift, Android apps in Java or Kotlin. C++ is used for native Windows and Blackberry apps.
This means that a separate version of the app must be developed for each platform. You can’t reuse any piece of code from another platform version, as it is written in a completely different programming language. Roughly, you take the app development time and multiply it by the number of platforms you want to support. That’s why native app development is considered to be the most time-consuming and most expensive.
Native app development is preferred for: high-performance apps
Advantages of native applications
- Access to built-in features of the device
The biggest advantage of native apps is that they can easily access all the built-in features of the device and the platform (camera, accelerometer, GPS, etc.). This ensures a seamless user experience and enables complex features to be implemented.
- Native UI/UX
Separate development for different platforms enables the user experience to be maximized by building in exceptional design using native UI elements.
- Available from app stores
Customers are familiar with downloading apps from official app stores, which provides a powerful channel for mobile app distribution.
- SDK for developers
Software development kits (SDK) are sets of tools and libraries developers use to improve the development process. These are half-ready solutions, which developers can use to avoid having to build the application from scratch. These libraries ensure that the software interacts properly with the platform it is built for.
Most libraries work perfectly for developing native apps. They can also be used in hybrid app development, but this process is much more complicated due to the extra layers. There are SDKs for chats, push notifications, photo filtering etc. Literally any feature can be implemented with the help of a software development kit.
Disadvantages of native app development
- High price and long development time
A separate app is developed for every platform. This significantly increases the development time and therefore the development cost.
- Complicated and expensive maintenance and support
All updates must be done separately for each platform, which takes a long time and therefore incurs a higher cost. In addition, the user has to download updates from the app store, which is quite irritating for them if you plan to update the app often.
- Content not seen by search engines
The content presented by the app is available only to app users and can’t be accessed via search engines.
- Support of multiple versions of the application
Users have to download updates from the app store. Some users don’t do this and prefer to continue using an older version of the application. So the company has to simultaneously support multiple versions of the app.
Examples of native apps
Native apps are a popular solution nowadays. They deliver an exceptional user experience and are perfect for solving complicated tasks. Really good examples of native apps include: Google Maps (for iOS and Android), Facebook (for iOS and Android) and LinkedIn (for iOS and Android). You’ll definitely appreciate the exceptional performance delivered by the applications on both platforms.
Hybrid app development
A hybrid app is, in a way, a compromise between web and native app development. It combines the advantages of both types of app development.
PhoneGap and Apache Cordova are the core tools for hybrid app development. They include APIs which allow the app to access the native functionality of the mobile device or platform. Apache Cordova was originally named PhoneGap. Nowadays PhoneGap is the distribution of Apache Cordova with some extended features. A lot of Cordova plugins have been developed and supported by the development community. It is also possible to create custom plugins to suit specific needs.
Xamarin is an analog version of Cordova for Microsoft fans. It allows writing cross-platform applications in the .NET and C# programming languages.
Hybrid apps are good for:
Banks, news, media and content delivery platforms.
Advantages of hybrid mobile apps
Hybrid apps can be used on any type of the device, regardless the platform or version of the software. Apps and updates for different OS can be released simultaneously.
- Web development technology
- Lower price
With the hybrid approach, developing an app for two or more platforms will be much cheaper.
- Reaching a wider audience
Native app development usually focuses on iOS and Android, often forgetting about Windows and Blackberry users. Even though it only has about 1% of the whole market, there are still millions of users, who may be interested in your app.
- Downloadable from the app store
Official app stores are an additional marketing channel for your app.
- No ad blockers
While advertisements can be easily blocked on the web, mobile apps are still resistant to this. So, to take advantage of in-app advertisements, hybrid or native apps are preferable.
Disadvantages of hybrid apps
- Limited performance
Hybrid apps are not as fast as native apps because they add an extra layer between the user and the app. That’s why they are not suitable for performance-critical projects. For these cases native app development is preferable.
- Not native look’n’feel
A single app cannot meet the expectations of all users of different platforms. That’s why hybrid apps are a kind of compromise in UI/UX and don’t feel native to the users.
Examples of hybrid apps
For many it is surprising to learn that some of the world’s most popular mobile apps turn out to be…hybrid! This includes: Amazon (for iOS and Android), Evernote (for iOS and Android), Netflix (for iOS and Android). You can check out both versions of these apps to make sure that the user experience offered is on a high level, in most cases indistinguishable from the native applications.
One of the most important steps in mobile app development is deciding on the approach you will be using. Web apps are less expensive but are not suitable for all types of apps. Native apps are the most expensive to develop, but ensure the highest quality product and the best user experience. Hybrid apps are somewhere in between. They mostly have a native look-n-feel, but usually lack performance, although the development process is fast and easy, allowing saving in development costs.
The fact is that every app development project is highly individual, so bear in mind that all the information above is just general advice.
Still can’t decide which type of app will be the best for your project?