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Native vs. Hybrid: Choosing How To Develop Cross-platform Mobile Apps

     
By on December 24, 2015 - 5 Minutes

The native vs. web debate has spawned countless arguments among developers and confounded decision makers around the world. Developers love to argue and challenge each other with the pros and cons of current technologies is our favourite pastime. However, recently a new player has entered the longstanding debate: Hybrid Apps.

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Developers love to argue about the pros and cons of current technologies.

Hybrid apps are native apps that use native widgets or “web views” to display HTML content but remove the address bar and normal controls of the web browsing experience. This allows developers to embed web content directly inside an app and seamlessly blend both native elements and the existing web content onto the same screen.

The purpose of this article is to break down the benefits and disadvantages of both Native and Hybrid apps and tell you when to use each one. For the purpose of this article, we will define the two contenders in the following way:

  • Native Apps don’t use any HTML content and the entire UI is built with native controls. Native apps must be distributed via an application catalogue, such as Apple’s App Store or the Google Play store
  • Hybrid Apps are native apps that use a “web canvas” to display HTML content. Like Native apps, Hybrid apps must also be distributed via AppStore / Google Play and can benefit from the usage of native frameworks (GPS, Motion, Camera, etc.). While hybrid apps can “share” code between platforms (Android/iOS/Windows), they also require native code to operate correctly on each platform.

 

The Showdown: Hybrid vs. Native Apps

Multi-platform

Non-native apps leverage technologies such as HTML, CSS and JavaScript that are generally used and run by all major platforms (ie: iOS, Android, Windows and Blackberry … just kidding 😉 There are even HTML frameworks that can wrap all of the code in multiple application bundles, one for each platform on which the app will operate. Some of most popular frameworks that are used to develop hybrid apps are PhoneGap or Ionic, both based on Cordova.

Winner: Hybrid

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Some frameworks can wrap all your code for multiple platforms.

 

Development Time

The time it takes to develop a mobile app is directly related to how many technologies are required to make it run on the desired amount of platforms. By using non-native technologies, you are able to skip the extra time developing the same app for each platform and quickly make it accessible for a wider audience. This is excellent for testing, idea validation, proof of concept, etc as well as saving a lot of money.

Winner: Hybrid

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Consider all the available options to get to your goals.

 

App Performance

Understandably, apps perform better when written in the language best-suited for the specific device and operating system. Hybrid apps typically fall behind in the performance criteria of native applications and the user can feel the pain. Some of the common challenges of Hybrid apps are:

  • buttons don’t respond as fast as native buttons
  • screen transitions are not as smooth
  • animations have delays and are also not as smooth as on native apps
  • reaction times and events have a small delay

Winner: Native

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Hybrid apps often fall behind in the performance criteria of native applications.

 

Specific Frameworks

Certain operating systems require native apps in order to access existing frameworks such as GPS data, Bluetooth connections, motion data, push notifications, and TouchID. This means the developers, when creating a non-native app must build a bridge between the existing native code (which is specific for each platform) and connect to those frameworks manually. This will result in additional costs that are unnecessary when developing a native app.

Winner: Native

What’s this? A 2-2 tie? Fortunately, this stalemate can be broken with the recent proliferation of the Hybrid app.

As we mentioned before, Hybrid apps allow enterprises to get the best of both HTML and native apps with significantly less headaches. When you go with a hybrid approach, the question is not “Hybrid vs. Native,” the question becomes “when and how to use each method to maximize success.”

While native apps will always have the upper-hand when it comes to user experience and performance, the benefits of the hybrid approach are too vast to ignore. Here’s a quick reference guide to help you decide between going native or hybrid based on your project:

  • If you’re looking for multi-platform testing, proof of concept or other quick and dirty MVP validation, hybrid is perfect.
  • If you’re searching for an inexpensive multi-platform solution, hybrid is perfect.
  • If you’re seeking top-notch user experience and user interface, stick to native.
  • If you want the highest possible and most powerful multiplatform solution and will spare no expense, then go native.
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Determine your specific business needs then make your choice.

Conclusion

In the end, it all comes down to flexibility vs. usability. With the explosion of platforms and devices hitting the shelves, it’s no surprise that enterprises are choosing to develop applications with a flexible combination of both native and HTML features. While there many cases in which hybrid is the right choice for a given application, there are plenty of others where native still makes the most sense. Ultimately, the choice between native and hybrid must be considered within the context of your objectives. There is no one-size-fits all solution, at least not yet. Determine your specific business needs while taking into consideration your timeline, performance needs, developers’ skill level, and your customer’s platform preference, then make your choice based on your unique situation.

If you need an expert opinion or simply want to put your idea into an actionable framework, feel free to contact our experienced engineers, designers, marketers and mobile business strategists at Mobile Jazz. To learn more about our work, check out our full range of services on our Mobile Jazz website.

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Joan Martin
Starting with mathematics, continuing with a computer science masters degree and working on mobile development during the past 8 years, Joan is a proficient software engineer. Motivated by great projects and an awesome team, Joan is currently leading the mobile team at Mobile Jazz and enjoying the MJ philosophy at its best.

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