Native vs Hybrid Apps: Which Should You Choose?

One of the biggest trends currently impacting mobile development is the rise of hybrid apps. For many developers, hybrid apps are the Holy Grail of mobile development. Some articles have even gone so far as to claim that the battle between native and hybrid apps is over, with hybrid coming up the winner. Is that the case? Are hybrid apps the clear winner in mobile development?

Native vs Hybrid: The Difference

As their name suggests, native apps are just that: native. They’re written using the native languages of the platform they’re designed to run on. For iOS that would be Objective-C or Swift, while native Android apps are written in Java.

In contrast, hybrid apps are essentially web apps wrapped up in a native shell. In other words, while they may look like a native app on the surface, below the surface they’re comprised of HTML and JavaScript. Often these apps require much of their content to be loaded on demand from the parent website, far more than a native app whose data is included in the install package or retrieved on the first run.

While many hybrid app wrappers, such as React, have made significant strides in making hybrid apps look and feel native, there are still a number of differences between the two methods.

  • Speed is one of the biggest differences between native and hybrid apps. Hybrid apps can only operate as fast as the web-based technologies upon which they rely. In addition, because hybrid apps are far more reliant on data downloaded on-demand, their performance is impacted by the speed of the network. Native apps, in contrast, often have a significant advantage in the speed arena. By using the native languages and frameworks of the OS they run on, these apps don’t have the same performance bottlenecks as hybrid apps and gain the benefits of any optimizations Apple or Google do to the underlying OS, languages, and frameworks.
  • Integration is another area where the two methods of building apps are significantly different. While modern hybrids have made great progress at appearing native, thanks to native wrappers, the underlying code is still web-based. That means there will always be low-level integrations that, at best, will be arduous to implement or, at worst, completely impossible. Native apps, on the other hand, are able to tap into every single feature, framework, and API that Apple and Google make available, giving them unrivaled integration with the host OS.
  • ”Future-proof” is a somewhat intangible area where the two methods diverge. Because hybrid apps rely on wrappers, there’s always the risk that a future OS version will break the wrapper and any associated apps until an update can be released. Native apps are largely able to avoid this risk—or at least greatly minimize it—because they are written entirely in native languages, using native frameworks.
  • Development time is another major difference between the two methods. Native apps traditionally take longer to develop, whereas hybrid apps tend to have much shorter development cycles, thanks to their reliance on web-based code. Hybrid apps developers are often able to reuse much of the code already deployed in the organization’s website and web-based applications.
  • Barrier-to-entry is another factor an organization should consider. Whereas an organization may not have developers fluent in Objective-C, Swift or Java, they may have a number of proficient web developers, making hybrid app development’s barrier-to-entry much lower. This can be a two-edged sword, however. While the initial barrier-to-entry may be lower with hybrid apps, implementing advanced features may actually be easier—and have a lower barrier-to-entry—with native apps, thanks to the above-mentioned integration advantage.

Native vs Hybrid: What Should You Choose?

Hybrid apps

Ultimately the choice between native and hybrid boils down to what your company needs and is trying to achieve in a mobile app. As we have highlighted extensively in past posts, speed and user experience are critical to the success of an app. As a result, these two factors should be the biggest considerations when deciding which development method to choose.

If your app has a relatively narrow focus, doesn’t rely on low-level integration, is in a category of apps where online access is expected and time-to-launch is paramount, then a hybrid app will be the best option.

If your app needs to operate without a network connection, will rely on low-level features and frameworks and will have complex features that rely on high performance, then a native app is the way to go.

Whatever option your company chooses, it’s important to ensure that the customers’ needs and performance expectations are met. Take the Embrace platform for a test drive to discover first hand how we can help.

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