Hybrid development has seen some massive improvements lately, making it an attractive option for app creators.
If you’re interested in building a mobile application, you have two main options for development: native and hybrid. For those who don’t know, “native” means an application developed for a specific operating system (like iOS and Android), while “hybrid” means a web app wrapped with native functionality that can be used across multiple platforms.
Most people in the tech industry will tell you native development is the way to go, giving a one-sided argument on the shortcomings of hybrid. However, these may be outdated opinions that don’t factor in recent improvements to hybrid development. This post is meant to be a counter-balance for anyone interested in building an app and is weighing their options. Let’s compare how hybrid stacks up to native when looking at current technologies.
One codebase to rule them all
When you develop natively, the codebase is written in a language that only works for that one platform. Android apps are written in Java and iOS apps are written in Objective-C/Swift. That means you will either have to limit your app’s availability to one segment or pay double for two separate codebases.
If your goal is to build a minimum viable product (MVP), either of these options can feel quite risky:
By choosing one platform to develop for, you’re essentially cutting your user base in half, which not many new apps thirsty for traffic can afford to do.
By creating two separate codebases, you’re spending your money on redundancy instead of other critical expenditures like marketing.
Pick your poison.
Speed to market
Since hybrid apps are built with web technology, they have the advantage of having access to a huge library of plug-ins. To the non-technical, a plug-in is simply a piece of custom code that someone wrote and made available for others to use in their existing code.
An example of this is a plug-in to incorporate Tinder-style card swiping into your app. Normally, this would take many hours for a hybrid app developer to create from scratch. However, by installing a plug-in, most of the heavy lifting is already done and the developer just has to tailor the code to fit the project.
There are hundreds of different plug-ins to choose from, each helping to give hybrid apps a unique, custom feel. More importantly, they cut down on development time since the developer doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel each time they want to perform a complex function.
If speed to market is a priority with your mobile app, hybrid development holds a clear advantage over native. Often times, the difference between the two can be months.
Hybrid quality has caught up to native
The main reason native has traditionally been preferred over hybrid is quality. Native apps have full access to the platform’s functionality and generally perform really well. On the other hand, hybrid apps have a reputation for being a bit slower and limited in capabilities.
A few years ago, that would have been an accurate assessment, but hybrid development has come a long way since then. Frameworks like Ionic have evolved to the point where the average user wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a hybrid app and a native counterpart.
Let’s look at this demo for a hybrid app built with Ionic. The branding is very minimal, but pay attention to the subtle animations when the user opens a new screen or presses a button. This attention to detail is something people have come to expect in quality applications and hybrid frameworks have adapted.
The smoothness of hybrid apps has caught up to native as well. A combination of improved frameworks and more powerful smartphones has allowed developers to make great experiences with hybrid apps. The only reason a hybrid would be noticeably slower than a native counterpart would be because it was built poorly.
What’s the catch?
So far, I’ve explained how hybrid apps are more affordable, easier to manage, and faster to market than native apps. They’re also highly comparable in quality.
There must be a catch…
There are definitely situations where building a native app would be a better option than hybrid. Here are some scenarios:
- Your app needs to perform in the background (like a music app continuing a song when a different app is pulled up).
- Your app requires unique interactions with the hardware (like Snapchat’s lenses which apply real-time effects to what the camera sees).
- You want to build a graphic-intense app (like a mobile game).
Some outdated limitations are noticeably missing from this list. Hybrid apps now have access to nearly every device component (camera, GPS, gyroscope, etc.), can function properly offline, and can perform in-app purchases. As hybrid frameworks and web plug-ins continue to improve, the above list will get shorter and shorter.
Just look at the growing number of successful apps built with hybrid technology. Popular apps like Evernote, Untappd, and Sworkit are all hybrid and have thousands of active users.
If you look up “Native vs Hybrid Development” right now, you will probably read a bunch of articles from 2014 saying native is clearly better. This post will hopefully give you some perspective on how the two compare by today’s standards.
Hybrid development went through some growing pains, but is now lightyears ahead of where it was a few years ago. Keep that in mind when you’re deciding how to build your mobile app.
Check out the case study below to learn more about how Spikeball uses hybrid mobile app development to connect their 1,000,000+ U.S. players