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Hybrid app versus native app development. This is one of the great debates among CIOs when the time comes for their respective companies to release a new app to their consumer base.

Let’s start by defining each. A hybrid app, like it sounds, combines elements of both native (an app running without any external support) and Web (an app run by a browser and typically written in HTML5) applications. The application borrows cross-compatible web technologies, such as HTML5, CSS and Javascript and utilizes a portion of native code for greater adaptability to the user device. Hybrid apps are hosted inside of a native application which employ a mobile platform’s WebView (a browser bundled inside of a mobile application, so to speak). In rudimentary terms, some may say that a hybrid app is a website packaged in a native wrapper. Examples of brands using a hybrid app include Amazon App Store, Gmail, and Yelp.

A native app is developed for a particular mobile operating system (Objective-C/Swift for iOs or Java for Android) and is optimized to take full advantage of all of its platform features (camera, contact list, GPS, etc.). Essentially, a native app is one whose interface is implemented using the native tools of that platform. Examples of native apps include Starbuck’s, Home Depot, Tinder and Facebook, although many consider the release of Facebook’s React Native to be a form of hybrid app development.

Recognizing big companies on both sides of the coin can make it difficult for CIOs to draw a conclusion. That being said, the modern debate over hybrid versus native apps is spurred by the recent wave of top brands ditching native apps in favor of hybrid. What could be the cause of this behavior?

Important Considerations to Help You Decide Between Hybrid or Native Application Development for Your Business

1. Development Cost

Hybrid apps are developed for numerous platforms. Identical HTML code can be applied and reused on more than one mobile operating system. Simply put, when you solicit the development of a hybrid app, your end-product will immediately work on most modern smartphones and tablets. When you’re allowed to design and code across platforms in this manner your development costs are significantly reduced.

Native app development on the other hand requires the writing of a completely different app for each unique device. Unlike hybrid development which borrows from previous HTML5 experience on the web, native development is often considered more specialized. Thus, native development results in a significant increase in cost and is not always practical for SMBs and start-up businesses.

EDGE: Hybrid

2. Development Speed

Hybrid App Development vs Native - Make IT - Custom Software Developer in Vancouver and Calgary

Hybrid apps are often favored by businesses seeking to put something out on the market for mass consumption as soon as possible. Again, because the same HTML code is reused for differing operating systems and only a portion of the integrated native code needs to be rewritten, the app will be outfitted to work on multiple devices in the quickest time possible. Well-known for their web-based project management tool, Basecamp recently noted the speed of hybrid development when devising their new iPhone and Android app. They released the following statement which nails the speed benefits of hybrid development:

While many companies are grumbling over just how slow the development of native iPhone apps can be, even more seem to do so with Android. Maybe because they’re just used to the iOS workflow, maybe because of all the different Android variations, but for us it didn’t even matter either way. We were able to put out a fantastic version of Basecamp for Android by reusing 95% of the work we had already done, and we didn’t need to balloon our team or company to get there. — (David Heinemeier Hansson, Basecamp)

If time is not of the essence then native development may be right for you. But when it comes to turnaround time, you simply can’t beat hybrid development.

EDGE: Hybrid

3. App Updates

Hybrid development allows content updates directly from the web. Unless there is some drastic change to functionality, content updates are seamless. Many of these updates can be rolled out quietly, rather than through an app store. This makes fixing bugs and adding updates more efficient and less of an irritation to the user. However, there is one caveat related to web updates.

A situation may arise where your app targets the features of a mobile platform that is no longer accessible because a plug-in is out-of-date. When this occurs, you are faced with a dilemma - you must either remove an application feature or hire a developer to write the plug-in. The same scenario applies to when new versions of a mobile platform are released. If you want your app to leverage new capabilities, you once again may have to have a developer create a plug-in to accommodate the update, or wait until the community creates one. With native development, you can update your application to handle platform changes and take advantage of new features without counting on ongoing community support of your plugins and without being dependent on community release cycles. If going with hybrid development, perform a comprehensive accounting of both the availability and reliability of plug-ins to avoid surprises in the near future.

EDGE: Hybrid

4. User Experience

Native app pundits note user experience in their win column. While many arguments in the category fall in their favor, it may not tell the whole story.

With native apps you can seamlessly tap into the wider functionality of a mobile device, leveraging the camera, microphone, GPS, swipe gestures, and more. When a business launches a native app, it mirrors the others (natives) a user would have downloaded from the same app store, and from this comes familiarity. The same intuitive gesturing (swiping, etc.) is required from app to app so your application (if native) will not feel foreign to your user. A user’s learning curve is therefore quite small. In the past, this was less the case for hybrid applications, but today the same gestures are well supported by many of hybrid frameworks. For instance, an Ionic framework, which combines AngularJS with HTML5, CSS, and uses Cordova to access native device functions, results in behavior that feels as natural as a native app while relying on one shared code base. Thus, from a user perspective, intuitive gesturing for Hybrid apps (built under the Ionic framework) can certainly seem just as familiar. 

Native apps are also more conducive to push notifications, and while push notifications are possible with hybrid apps incorporating them is less practical and thus you may lose out on a key engagement tool (if content updates are essential to your needs). You’ll want to ensure that your prospective developer is aware of this need and gauge their ability to accommodate push notifications.

Native apps are also commonly developed for use when there is no WiFi or data. For instance, the Starbuck’s (native) app allows members the ability to tap into their account, access their balance, purchase an item and receive rewards without a signal in sight. Hybrid can support offline as well, you just have slightly fewer options. 

Another area where native apps were traditionally given a slight edge is with respect to speed. A native app uses a device’s native language, which can speed up the response time within the application. A hybrid app is potentially not as fast as a native app because the former depends upon the speed of a browser. However this is often only felt by a user in a gaming environment that depends heavily on graphic performance. And even then hybrid mobile application solutions exist, including HTML5 Canvas and WebGL. For most businesses, a hybrid app will deliver consumers a great experience. Speed variance will likely only be felt by those extremely conscious of it (us IT people) an not by the end-user (your B2B/B2C consumer). Knowing your target market will help you decide how important the split-second difference is.


Hybrid App Development vs Native - Make IT - Custom Software Developer in Vancouver and Calgary

5. Security

Hybrid critics may cite Javascript injection or SSL configuration as vulnerabilities, but if you secure a website properly, these are not high-level concerns. However, with hybrid apps, there is more communal knowledge which makes reverse engineering more likely. They also depend upon plug-ins which call upon an extra layer of code, where a security vulnerability could potentially be found. Native apps use native security features without plugins and can use security features more directly, so it’s easier to implement them correctly. Thus, for high-level security applications native development may be preferable. For all other business app needs, hybrid development can offer a more than satisfactory level of security.


6. Cross-platform compatibility

There is one consistent theme across this debate and is something that is one of the most important considerations for businesses. Being able to reach all target markets on all devices is essential. Doing so in as an efficient and cost-effective manner as possible is the key for most SMBs. Hybrid app development ensures this marriage of app and device compatibility in one swoop. With native development this simply isn’t the case - an app designed for an iPhone won’t work on Android, and vice versa. EDGE: Hybrid


Are you looking for a clear cut answer? The only one we can give you is that the best form of app development is the one that suits your unique needs. It will be dictated by your resources and the needs of your end-user. But in looking at the big picture, the below conclusion can be drawn with certainty.

Native app development is development for the perfect world scenario. If your business has a surplus of time, a large budget, and access to a team of specialized developers then native will accomplish your goal of cross-platform compatibility. If otherwise, hybrid app development provides the best of both worlds for your business.