The smartphone market is expected to grow in 2019 and beyond, with worldwide shipment volume reaching 1.654 billion in 2022, and the number of smartphone users passing the 3 billion mark by the same year. Clearly, having a strong mobile presence is no longer optional, and companies must see mobile app development as a key prerequisite for growth.
But with the decision to develop a mobile app come many important choices that must be made to successfully capture the attention of smartphone users. Chief among them is the choice between hybrid vs native app development. Each of these two approaches to mobile app development has its own pros and cons, and we will go over them in detail in this article to explain which approach is suitable for which purpose.
What’s the difference between Hybrid vs Native app?
Native apps are developed in a platform-specific programming language, making them compatible only with the corresponding platform. Android apps are developed primarily in Java, whereas iOS apps are developed in Apple’s Swift.
The pros and cons of Hybrid vs Native app
As we said at the beginning of this article, both the hybrid and the native approach to mobile app development have their own pros and cons which companies must keep in mind when deciding how to enter the mobile market.
Cost is probably the most important factor that influences how companies develop their apps. Here, the hybrid approach has the upper hand. Because hybrid apps can be built for any platform from a single code base, they are much cheaper to build than native apps.
To give you a concrete example, it costs approximately $35,000 for a small enterprise to build a minimum viable product using the hybrid approach, but $49,000 when building one native app for Android and one native app for iOS. That’s a lot of extra money that could be spent on other things.
The fact that hybrid apps can share a single codebase to run on multiple platforms also dramatically shortens the time to market. Companies that decide to build a native app often end up launching on one platform sooner, which inevitably angers and alienates the users of other platforms.
Users today have very high expectations of mobile apps. According to one Compuware survey, 42 percent of mobile app users expect mobile apps to load quicker than mobile websites. On average, smartphone owners expect apps to load in two seconds, which is something that’s often possible to achieve only with regular updates and bug fixes.
Developing native apps means there are multiple codebases to maintain (one for Android and one for iOS, at least). Because Android developers are typically not fluent in iOS development—and vice versa—companies that decide to develop a native app should be ready to keep at least twice as many developers on their payroll as companies that choose the hybrid approach.
Native apps are built with platform-specific programming languages, which allow developers to fully optimize them for maximum performance. Hybrid apps essentially add an extra layer between the target platform and the source code, which inevitably results in at least some performance loss.
“The biggest mistake we’ve made as a company is betting on HTML5 over native,” explained Mark Zuckerberg Facebook’s decision to move away from hybrid apps in 2012. Of course, most companies won’t ever build apps of the same magnitude as Facebook. In fact, there are many types of apps that don’t need much optimization to run great on virtually all mobile devices, and such apps can benefit from the hybrid approach the most. Still, native apps win then it comes to performance, which is why you don’t see too many hybrid games.
Most users don’t care about the technology that powers the apps they’re using. All they care about is the user experience itself. According to a study commissioned with Equation Reach, 79 percent of users would only retry an app once or twice if it failed to work the first time. But having a working app is not nearly enough these days. The app must also look and behave in a way that’s consistent with the platform and support common gestures and platform-specific features.
While hybrid apps can look and feel like native apps, the user experience they offer is still not as polished as the user experience offered by native apps. That said, frameworks for mobile hybrid apps, such as React Native, Xamarin, Ionic, NativeScript, or PhoneGap are constantly getting better, simplifying the creation of native-like user experiences.
The verdict of this hybrid vs native app showdown is clear: hybrid apps are perfect for developing minimum viable products with limited budgets and timeframes, while native apps are suitable for products that require flawless performance and custom features.