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Web vs Native vs Hybrid approach in mobile applications.

There are three main paths to develop a mobile application: Web, Native and Hybrid. How can we decide which is the best approach? The answer isn’t simple, but I’ve done this exercise and will try to share my thoughts with you, going through each one in a simple way, analyzing pros and cons with the help some examples.

WEB APPLICATIONS
Let’s start with the cheapest one! Well, this doesn’t mean limited quality; we can say it’s a low-cost solution to deliver a mobile user experience, and in most cases, enough to satisfy user expectations.

Typically, Web apps are just like any website that is built in HTML5, CSS and JavaScript, running in a web browser. There are sets of tools which allow the development process to be fast and more efficient, although web apps are often oversimplified and do not provide the same features as a native one.

Web apps lack functionalities, although they are evolving over time. In fact, functionalities like sending push notifications or access to a vibration device and improved touch features, already exist. These new web apps are called Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) and are a mix of web pages and native apps. Unfortunately, only Google Chrome is compatible with PWAs, which means iOS users are not able to use them.

Web apps are good for news, weather, e-commerce, social and so on. Some examples are Medium, Gmail, The Washington Post, etc.

Advantages:
– No need to support multiple versions of the software
– Can be built for all OS as long they can run a web browser
– Less expensive compared to native apps
– Do not require approval from the app marketplace to be released.

Disadvantages:
– Require internet connection to function properly
– Slower and much less responsive than native apps
– Limited access to smartphone features
– Different user experience according to different web browsers.

Web apps are becoming a powerful business tool. Progressive web apps allow building cross-platform applications without significant disadvantages to the end user. If your project is simple and doesn’t require complex frontend and backend development, you should consider building a progressive web applications.

NATIVE APPLICATIONS
Native apps are the most reliable ones, showing extraordinary performance when compared to the others. Native mobile apps are the most common and they are developed for a specific mobile platform using a particular programming language and technology. For example, Swift and Objective-C for native iOS apps, Java or Kotlin for native Android apps, and C++ for native Windows and Blackberry apps.

High-performance applications like Google Maps, Facebook and LinkedIn are usually developed with native apps, since they are ideal to solve complicated tasks and deliver an exceptional user experience.

Advantages:
– Available in app stores, which grants them quality, security and device compatibility
– Superior user experience
– Better performance
– Access to the device built-in features.

Disadvantages:
– Support multiple versions of the application
– More costly for native than the others
– Difficult programming languages
– Not the best option for simple applications.

By offering great user experience, performance and accessibility, native apps can create a more personalized product. Even with higher development costs at the beginning, they often prove to be the best approach and cost saving solution.

HYBRID APPLICATIONS
Finally, hybrid applications are a compromise between native and web application development. They behave like a native app and work across multiple platforms. Like the web app, they are written in JavaScript, HTML and CSS, however, on the opposite side, they can be distributed over app stores and installed like a normal app running in a webview instead of a browser. It’s essentially a web app that incorporates additional native features, provided with a wrapper when it deploys.

To develop a hybrid app, you should consider two things: the backend code, always written in languages like JavaScript, HTML and CSS, and a native shell. This shell is downloadable and loads the code using a webview.

Hybrid apps are good for banks, news, media, for example, Amazon, Evernote, Netflix, etc.

Advantages:
– Access to device hardware and device internal API
– Only one code base is needed for several platforms
– Downloadable from the app stores
– Web development technology without web browser.

Disadvantages:
– Much slower than native apps
– Dependency of third-parties platforms to deploy
– Although not native, they look and feel native
– Require more customization, which costs more money.

Developing a hybrid app can be the source of issues to native and hybrid systems, which makes bug fixing really tricky. User experience is sometimes sacrificed in hybrid apps development, since it’s not possible to customize the app based on the platform that is running. Performance is also an issue because hybrid apps are loaded in a webview.

In conclusion, when comparing web, native and hybrid application development, none is better than the other. All have a downside and points in favor, depending on a specific business scenario.

Web applications are a must for startups and small businesses when time is critical. This approach is usually used for a minimal viable product, when time and money are limited. However, many companies use these apps not as a temporary solution but because they have a satisfactory performance and they’re easy to support.

When trying to get a better performance and wider functionality with limited money, consider using the hybrid approach. But if you are looking for the best user experience, then native app development is your best choice. It can be more expensive and require more effort, but the result is a consistent user interface and a faultless performance.

The choice between web, native and hybrid development is a conjunction of several factors like timeline, developer skills, business needs and app requirements, just to name some. Choosing a development method should not be determined by your budget but by the solution that better fits the needs of your business, providing a greater user experience. In case you need advice, you know where to find us: polarising.com/services, just challenge us!

Tiago Simões
Polarising Consultant