Back in 2012, Google launched its Play Store with 450,000 apps and games available to download. Fast forward to today and there are roughly 3.48 million apps. Couple it with 2.2 million apps in the App Store, and consumers literally have an app for everything.
In addition to the abundance of apps, consumer behavior is changing too. As the pandemic has significantly accelerated the shift towards mobile-first experiences, mobile users today spend 90% of their time using apps, and only 10% surfing the web. This makes the mobile app market grow even faster and peaking at US$44.3 trillion by 2027.
Entering the mobile market undoubtedly can be highly lucrative but it’s not an easy endeavor. A lot must be taken into consideration — overall mobile strategy, target audience, timeframe, and budget limitation. That said, one of the first and most important decisions in any mobile app development project is whether to go hybrid or native.
Both approaches are valid with their own distinct sets of pros and cons. We have done the groundwork and prepared a comprehensive overview with some actionable tips to help you make an informed decision.
Native app development
What do Twitter, Whatsapp, Spotify, and Pokemon Go have in common? They are all prime examples of native mobile apps.
A native app is a solution built for a particular mobile operating system with the use of OS-specific technology stack. That means an app written for Android will not work for iOS, and vice versa. Well-known for their superior performance characteristics and tailored UX, native apps are a dream of many product owners. Now, let’s see why.
Advantages of native apps
Built with platform-specific frameworks, native apps are by design fast, reliable, and responsive. Since all the content and visual elements are already pre-loaded, the number of server requests is minimized, translating into better app performance.
Native apps have direct access to a device’s hardware and APIs including camera, microphone, accelerometer, GPS, contact list, and more. These capabilities can further be leveraged to develop a broader feature set for your native mobile application.
Enhanced user experience
Native apps are developed in strict compliance with style guidelines to ensure that all controls, interactions, and visual cues match the user experience of a particular OS and feel natural to a user.
In addition, native apps store data locally on a mobile device, which allows them to be run in an offline mode without an Internet connection.
Native app development allows for more opportunities to implement sophisticated security features like local biometric authentication, comprehensive encryption, embedded certificates, jailbreak detection, and more.
Although the pros indeed are numerous, native mobile app development is not without challenges.
Disadvantages of native apps
Expensive and time-consuming development
Since native apps are built specifically for each platform, you will need to augment your team with more specialized talent — or even have two separate teams for Android and iOS — which makes the upfront costs higher. Couple it with double testing efforts, and the total cost and timeline for developing a native app can be a significant challenge for small businesses and startups.
Given the distributed codebase, you will need to push updates and new features for multiple platforms. This translates into higher maintenance costs that can account for about 15 to 20% of the app development budget.
Any interface customization can be a bit tricky since UI experts closely follow the standards and style guides available for a specific platform. Native is not the only way to bring your solution to mobile users — now, let’s give the floor to hybrid apps.
Hybrid app development
Even a decade ago, hybrid apps were considered a plan B as they couldn’t compete with native apps in terms of performance and user experience. But continuous evolution of mobile technologies has pushed hybrid applications on an upward trend. According to a Forrester report, two-thirds of developers choose hybrid as their go-to development approach.
Today, the hybrid approach is favored by the giants like Instagram, Netflix, and Evernote. As the name suggests, a hybrid app is a mix of a web solution and a native shell. At the heart of a hybrid app is a web app written with web technologies but it runs within its own embedded browser.
Advantages of hybrid apps
Unlike native apps, hybrid apps can be downloaded via a direct link — shared through social media or email — thus avoiding the friction of getting the app store approval.
Lower upfront investments and the overall cheaper cost of development are the most obvious benefits of creating a single codebase and running it on multiple platforms. In addition, a larger talent pool of hybrid app developers and lower rates also contribute to the cost efficiency of hybrid applications.
Faster time to market
As mentioned earlier, hybrid app developers work on a single codebase which significantly accelerates the development lifecycle and allows businesses to roll out their solutions much faster.
Hybrid apps are also easier to maintain since all updates are pushed to both platforms simultaneously. Besides, a developer can make changes directly to a hybrid app without submitting changes to App Store or Play Store for approval.
Disadvantages of hybrid apps
Since hybrid apps use an extra layer between the source code and the mobile platform, it can affect the overall solution performance. And although WebView performance is getting better, hybrid apps with heavy graphics or intensive data processing workloads can experience degraded performance.
Hybrid apps often have limited access to specific hardware features or require special plugins and tools. In addition, these apps require Internet connectivity for all functions to work properly.
Since major operating systems have completely different style guides (Material Design for Android and Human Interface Guidelines for iOS), it’s nearly impossible to create equally appealing UX/UI that would cater to both groups of users.
As you can see, no approach is wrong — it’s about your particular business needs. And although each mobile app development project needs to be considered separately, here’s a rundown of the most important questions to ask before diving in.
Making the right choice
- How fast do you need your app? If fast delivery is your top priority, then have a closer look at hybrid apps that are cross-platform by design.
- Do you have the budget? SMEs and startups can benefit from cheaper hybrid development but if the budget allows, consider going native as it will be more rewarding in the long run.
- Are you building an app for a highly regulated industry like fintech or healthcare? If your application handles sensitive user data, the native app development approach will enable you to implement rock-solid security features to provide users with peace of mind.
- Do you need your app to support high load? If scalability and performance are crucial for your app, you’ll be better off with a native application.
The discussion native vs hybrid is not a new one but still very heated. Both sides try tirelessly to provide arguments that prove their approach is better. The truth is however that while both methods have their pros and cons, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to all mobile development needs. Each project is unique and requires careful consideration to accommodate all limitations and special needs, whether it is top-notch security, superior performance, or fast time to market to beat the competition.
Do you have an idea for a mobile app but not sure what type of app you need? With multi-year mobile app development expertise under its belt, Elinext helps large businesses and startups bring their ideas to life. Have a look at our recent case studies on building highly usable and reliable mobile apps for a variety of industries and domains.