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When Hybrid Mobile App Development Makes Sense

The number of mobile phone users is forecast to reach over 4.6 billion in 2019—no wonder that digital businesses have stopped asking themselves whether they should build a mobile app a long time ago. Now, they’re asking which mobile development approach they should take.

Choosing the right mobile development approach is never easy. One has to balance conflicting priorities, plan for months and years ahead without knowing how the mobile landscape will look like in the future, and somehow meet growing user expectations while sticking to a budget.

Anyone who has ever built a mobile app from scratch knows that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Some applications are clearly suited for one approach, while other applications can be built using a number of different approaches. In recent years, however, hybrid mobile app development has skyrocketed in popularity, and this article explains when it does make sense and when it doesn’t.

Hybrid mobile app development is taking over

According to the Ionic Developer Survey 2017, which surveyed more than 13,000 developers about the tools and technologies they use when building apps, 32.7 percent of developers expect to completely abandon native development in favor of hybrid. In addition, the survey found a nearly 700 percent decrease in developers building exclusively with native tools.

“The broader trend is that hybrid development is gaining traction, while the native approach is waning. We think that makes sense. The benefits of hybrid are obvious. And as the web evolves, there are fewer and fewer reasons not to adopt,” stated the report.

Hybrid mobile app development trends.

Hybrid apps combine the best and worst elements of native and web apps. They utilize web technologies such as JavaScript, HTML5, and CSS but also provide access to native platform features. Basecamp, Instagram, Yelp, Uber, MarketWatch, or JustWatch, are all excellent examples of hybrid apps that can access native features such as the GPS, camera, contacts, and various sensors and run on both Android and iOS.

Native apps, on the other hand, are written in a platform-specific programming language (Objective-C or Swift for iOS, Java for Android, C# for Windows Phone) using platform-specific development tools.

In the past, all mobile apps were native apps because no other approach existed. But thanks to popular hybrid mobile app frameworks such as React Native, PhoneGap (Apache Cordova), Ionic, and Onsen UI, mobile app developers can finally write an app once and run it anywhere.

But just because mature hybrid mobile app frameworks are readily available doesn’t mean that everyone should use them. The hybrid mobile app development approach has its advantages and disadvantages, and it’s essential to understand them in order to decide when it makes sense.

Advantages of hybrid mobile app development

“If you are a web developer, not only do you know how to build browser applications, but you love the web platform because you can use the same skills to build an app for iOS and Android,” explained Ionic’s CEO Max Lynch. “Hybrid apps are really about embracing the web and making it work for mobile.”

Hybrid mobile app development advantages.

The hybrid mobile app development approach allows companies to leverage their existing web development talent to enter the mobile market. According to Lynch, there are 30 times more web developers than there are native app developers, and their salaries reflect this reality. Startups and small companies can save a lot of money by tapping into this readily available talent pool.

Apart from helping companies save money, hybrid mobile app development also makes it possible to target multiple platforms without maintaining multiple codebases, which reduces the time to market significantly and allows them to reach a higher number of users.

Disadvantages of hybrid mobile app development

The fact that hybrid apps use a single codebase for all major app platforms means that it’s sometimes difficult to match the level of polish of native apps. This can become especially problematic when feature requests start to creep in uncontrollably and without taking into consideration the inherent limitations of the hybrid approach.

Android makes it particularly difficult to achieve consistent design, given its countless carrier and device combinations. The situation is much better on the iOS side, where it’s possible to capture over 95 percent of users by supporting only the two most recent versions of the mobile operating system.

In the past, hybrid mobile apps were plagued by performance issues because of the limitations of the hardware and JavaScript engines that were available at the time. While both mobile hardware and JavaScript engines have improved considerably over the years, it will still take some time before most smartphones have desktop-quality processors and plenty of memory to eliminate all performance issues associated with hybrid apps.

“99 percent of the time, hybrid works very well, as most businesses are not creating high performance, graphics-heavy game apps. They only need to create, read, update, and delete data (CRUD) with a bit of UX sprinkled on top. Sure, if a game is your end goal, then choose native,”

Matt Netkow, Senior Product Evangelist for Ionic.

Conclusion

The decision whether to take the hybrid mobile app development approach is a big one. Everyone in the mobile app development world has an opinion on which approach is best, but the fact remains that every project has different priorities which ultimately dictate how it should be completed. Knowing what the advantages and disadvantages of hybrid mobile app development are allows you to make an educated decision and choose the approach that works best for you.

Matt Warcholinski

Matt Warcholinski is the COO of Brainhub (a software house building awesome node.js web and mobile apps) who loves to build startups and play guitar.

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