Hybrid Apps vs. Native Apps: Which Should You Build?

By Ashley MacQuarrie / 23 March 2018

Hybrid apps are best for MVPs or projects with limited budgets and timeframes. Native apps are best for products that require custom features, speed, and reliability. Learn the pros and cons of native versus hybrid app development to determine which app is best for you.

Android or iPhone, in-house development or outsourced, free or paid, ads or no ads…

With the decision to develop an app comes a whole host of important choices that must be made. In addition to the questions above, we’ll add one more to the list –  native app or hybrid app?

If you’re not sure what that means, stick with us.

Native App or Hybrid App: What’s the Difference?

Most mobile apps fall into one of two categories: hybrid or native.

Native apps are built for a specific mobile operating system – either iOS, Android, or Windows – and can only be written in the operating system’s (OS) particular programming language. For the two dominant platforms, that’s Java for Android and Swift or Objective-C for iOS.

Hybrid apps look and act much like a native app – they can be downloaded and installed on a user’s device just like a native app. But they’re actually websites packaged in a container that makes it look like a native app. They’re typically built with HTML5, Javascript, and CSS.

Historically, native apps have been thought to provide a better user experience for users. They can have more sophisticated and complex features and may be faster and more reliable.

However, hybrid apps, when developed well, can look and perform just like a native app to the end user. In fact, some of the most popular mobile apps are actually hybrid apps, including Twitter, Uber, and Instagram.

The choice of whether to develop a native or hybrid app comes down to your budget, timeline, and the features you want to include. Below, we’ll dive into the pros and cons of each type of app.

Pros and Cons of Hybrid Apps

Because a hybrid application is essentially a website packaged in a native container when someone uses your app, it may feel like a unique app, but they’re actually accessing your website using a mini-browser known as a Webview.

While you have access to native APIs, the features you can include in your hybrid app may be limited.

Because a hybrid app, at its core, is a website, it tends to be best suited for content-focused apps.

More complex features will drive up the cost (or simply won’t be possible), so if you require more sophisticated functionality, a native app may be the way to go.

But, if you’re considering a hybrid app, here’s what you should know.

Pros of Hybrid Apps

Cost

A hybrid app is cheaper to create than a native app. Depending on the scale of your app project, you could end up saving anywhere from $10,000 to nearly $100,000 on developing a hybrid app over a native one.

Time

Hybrid apps are typically much faster to build and deploy provided you’re not trying to build a lot of custom features.

If you stick to the basics, it’s a matter of translating your web code for iOS/Android using a hybrid app framework.

But, trying to add many additional, custom features could make a hybrid app more time-consuming to build than a native app.

Native APIs

The most popular hybrid mobile app development platforms offer a range of plugins that enable you to access features on the device, including gestures, camera, and contacts. This means you can offer a more native-feeling app experience.

One Codebase

Native apps must be developed entirely separate for each platform. A hybrid app can be built just once and released on both Android and iOS.

Maintenance

It’s generally simpler to maintain and update web technology than native app technology.

Cons of Hybrid Apps

Connection Limitations

Because they’re essentially websites, hybrid apps don’t work offline.

Hybrid apps will also typically be slower since each element has to download. This is one important reason why they should be simple.

Native Functionality

Because a hybrid app relies on plugins, you might not be able to incorporate all of the built-in features a user’s device offers.

Since you’re relying on someone else’s code, plugins may not always be available or may be unreliable or out of date. You may even find you have to write your own, which can defeat the purpose of opting for a hybrid app.

Platform Inconsistencies

While a benefit of a hybrid app is only developing one codebase for both platforms, you will likely find that certain features or designs aren’t supported on both devices, which requires you to make modifications.

User Experience

User experience should always be of utmost importance, regardless of whether you choose hybrid or native. Nothing is more important to your app’s success.

A frustrated user will quickly stop using your app or switch to a competitor, and they may even leave a bad review.

So, if flawless, fast performance is essential to your app’s core functionality, a native app is the way to go.

Mobile games, for instance, are almost universally native because speed and graphics performance are so vital to the app experience.

Pros and Cons of Native Apps

Built for a specific platform such as iOS, Android, or Windows, native apps are the industry standard, though experts predict that may change in the future as hybrid technology develops.

Pros of Native Apps

Better User Experience

Hands down, a superior user experience is the best reason to opt for a native app.

Native apps are:

  • Intuitive and fluid for the user to learn and interact with
  • Fast
  • Reliable
  • Responsive
  • Have a robust feature set

Offline Mode

Content and images are stored on the device, so nothing needs to download when the user accesses the app.

Native apps can be used offline (depending on the app’s functionality), and speed is not impacted by slow server connections or other potential website issues.  

Graphics and Animation

Native app development provides fast graphics, fluid animation, and smooth transitions.

It may not matter if you’re a banking app displaying a static screen, but for gaming, visualizations, video editing or other applications where fast performance is important, native apps come out on top.

Greater Security

Native apps can be more secure for a variety of reasons:

  • Easier implementation of two-factor authentication
  • Certificate pinning
  • Access to built-in security features like TouchID

Documentation and Support

There are far more support documentation and online resources dedicated to iOS and Android development.

Testing

There are better testing and debugging tools and environments available for native app development. Identifying and fixing a problem in a hybrid app can take much longer.

Cons of Native Apps

Cost

Native apps are more expensive to build and deploy, in part because you must develop multiple versions of your app for each platform.

More Technical

Native apps are built using more technical languages, which means you need more experienced (read: more expensive) developers.

Plus, unless your developers know how to develop for both Android and iOS, you’ll likely need a larger team specialized in each platform.

Additional Reading: Top 100 iOS App Developers and Top 100 Android App Developers

Slower Build Time

You can expect it to take 4-6 months (or longer) to develop and deploy a native mobile app.

However, if the goal is to get it right the first time then the extra initial build time is worth it.

Maintenance

Developing native apps mean two (or more) separate codebases to maintain.

Additionally, native app developers must account for a range of devices and components, known as device fragmentation.

Developers must also continue to provide support for older operating systems since many users are slow to upgrade from older versions.

How to Decide Between a Native App or a Hybrid App

Hybrid App Best For

If you’ve got a few months and very limited resources to get a basic app in the hands of your users, then a hybrid app may be the way to go.

If you’re looking to build an MVP, or minimum viable product to test in a limited market, then a hybrid app is also a good bet. If your app proves viable, you can develop a native version with more robust features, or, if it doesn’t work out, you risked less in terms of development time and cost.

Native App Best For

If you want to incorporate a lot of custom features, or if speed and reliability will hinder the use of the app, then you are better off investing in a native solution. It may even turn out to be the more cost-effective option, rather than spending time and money on customizing or developing an app that performs poorly and frustrates users.

Finally, if you don’t want to build and maintain two codebases and you don’t want to go the hybrid route, there is a compromise. Cross-platform development tools enable you to convert one source code into native code for different operating systems.

Two such tools are Microsoft’s Xamarin and Facebook’s React Native, both of which can provide a cross-platform solution with a more native feel.

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