Once a decision has been reached that an app should be created, one of the very first questions that needs to be answered is: should we build a native app or create a hybrid app. Both approaches have their pros and cons, as such, it’s important to understand what you’re gaining and what you’re losing with either solution.
What is a native mobile app?
A native app is an application that has been created with one platform and one platform only in mind – in the world of smartphones that either means iOS or Android. As such, when creating a native app, a distinct version needs to be created for Android, a separate version for Apple devices, and at the same time you also need to create and manage your website.
Since these types of apps are created with only one platform in mind, choosing a native app means in most cases the need to develop and maintain three or more different products at the same time, for example, when adding a new campaign page or updating some design elements, each version needs to be updated one at a time – usually by a different developer.
Although the creation and maintenance of native apps is significantly more complex, they also offer some additional options when compared to hybrid apps. For example, native apps really shine if the app needs to constantly run in the background (for example to track user’s location), or when the app needs to offer something completely different compared to what is found and possible on the company’s website.
What are hybrid apps all about?
A hybrid app is largely what it sounds like – it’s a hybrid solution between a phone app and a website.
Hybrid apps are not created with one specific platform in mind, but rather the focus is on creating sturdy pillars to offer the same content with minor platform-specific adjustments in various places, e.g the company’s website, Android app, and iOS app.
For example, a news site can easily opt to use a hybrid app: the user is shown the same content, with the same look, feel, and features, both on the publication’s website and mobile apps. If the publisher wants to change something (for example, to add a new subpage or update the font), they only need to do it in one place, and the desired change will take effect at once on all platforms.
The latter is one of the biggest selling points of hybrid applications. Unlike native mobile applications, where each app needs to be adjusted separately, hybrid apps allow to make adjustments to just one codebase and the changes will take effect on all platforms. As such, the advantage of hybrid apps over native apps is clear when it comes to the speed of development, as you can essentially just create one solution, instead of three.
However, there are some negatives you should keep in mind when opting to go with a hybrid app, the biggest of which are the limits on design options. Due to the fact that hybrid apps share almost the same UI regardless of the platform, the app may in some cases not be able to take full advantage of platform-specific design philosophies, which may result in a user experience that doesn’t always fit well with their device as a whole.
Which approach is right for you?
Uptime’s Chief Technology Officer Raimo Seero began by reiterating that the first thing you should do is to really think long and hard if an app is needed in the first place. “It’s difficult to get people to install an app, especially when all of its functionality is available on your website as well. Most people are happy to do things on your site, and with each passing day, people download less-and-less apps they do not actually need,” he said.
Once it’s clear that an app is really needed – for example because it offers some extra conveniences like enabling logging into your account with a fingerprint – you should thoroughly consider if you need a native application or if a hybrid solution is the way to go. “There are times when a native app is the right approach, but as time goes on, it becomes more-and-more clear that in most cases developing a hybrid app is more sensible and efficient,” said Seero.
He added that the main reasons to pick a native app are very clear special needs and situations where a web solution just can’t achieve the goals that are expected from the app.
“However, as technology is constantly evolving, these situations are rather rare and come into play mainly when a platform-specific UI is needed, it is necessary to track the user in the background, or if there’s a need to offer offline solutions,” said Seero. “In reality, hybrid apps are getting more sophisticated every day, and in most cases, they can be used to achieve pretty much the same results as with native applications.”
Good examples of native and hybrid apps
Hybrid applications have been embraced by almost all large companies, and you have probably already used several well-made hybrid applications without realizing it. For example, good examples of hybrid apps are the Instagram app, the Twitter app, the Uber app, and the Gmail phone app.
In comparison, good examples of native mobile applications include Spotify, Waze, and WhatsApp.
Flutter may change things
Looking towards the future, and trying to understand where the development philosophy of apps is heading, Seero highlights Flutter.
Flutter is a framework, created by Google, that allows you to build native applications for the web, Windows, iOS, Mac, Android, and Linux, while using a single codebase. This means that the efficiency and design possibilities of native apps are merged with the convenience and cost-effectiveness of hybrid apps.
“All developers are keeping an eye on Flutter’s development. At the moment, it is still quite raw in some places, but if at some point it becomes as good as everyone hopes, it can really make the development of web, desktop, and mobile solutions a lot more efficient,” he said. “However, since creating and fine-tuning such a framework is a time-consuming task, we will have to wait a little while longer to see the final results.”
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