Choosing between native, web and hybrid apps – what’s the difference?

2018 marks the 10th anniversary of the app ecosystem we know today. It is estimated that there are 12 million mobile app developers worldwide. As smartphones become more affordable, apps have also become ubiquitous. Android is the leader with nearly 6 million developers building apps for the Playstore while nearly 3 million are focused on the Apple App Store.

Many small businesses are still reluctant to go mobile. You have already invested in a website and are happy with the current traffic. But due to the tectonic shift in the digital space, not adapting to a mobile market can mean not only missed opportunities, but also the future downfall of their business.

To stay competitive, you need to stay current with your customers’ online preferences and behavior. Apps can play an important role in improving customer retention, facilitating payments, encouraging loyalty and increasing profits. When deciding to build an app for your business, there are three main approaches to consider: native, web-based, or hybrid. Each has its own benefits depending on your business goals and resources. Here is an overview of these different app types:

native apps

Native apps are faster and more responsive. They’re called “native” because they’re built for a specific platform, like Apple iOS or Android. They are built using the Software Development Kits (SDK) for a specific framework, hardware platform, or operating system. Because they are optimized for the device’s operating system, they have full access to the gadget’s features, including camera, microphone, GPS, etc., without having to deal with the complexities of native plugins. It can also store data that can be accessed offline. Due to the better responsiveness, it is best suited for graphic applications, HD gaming and intensive animation applications. As native apps are more stable and reliable, users report better user experience and spend more time using other types of apps.

One downside is that each platform requires apps to be developed using a specific programming language. This entails different skills of the app development team, which can increase costs. Each app store also has its own approval and publishing process, which can cause delays in app release.

web apps

Web apps are basically websites configured to have the appearance of real apps provided the device has a web browser. To “install” them, the user simply creates a shortcut on their home screen. They are run by a browser and typically written in cross-platform technologies such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, which are common programming languages. Since they are cross-platform ready, you don’t need a team of developers who are familiar with the Apple iOS or Android platforms. This makes the creation significantly cheaper. Compared to native apps, web apps are also easier to distribute. You have more creative freedom and are not bound by the rules of Google or Apple. They are more convenient to maintain and update, especially when you want to add new features

However, they require internet access and the quality of their performance depends on WiFi speed or cell signal strength. They also have limited graphics capabilities and low device integration. You cannot access certain phone features such as the microphone or camera. Touch gestures are not always responsive and can exhibit a noticeable “lag” that can negatively impact user experience.

hybrid apps

Hybrid apps combine beneficial features of native app and web app technologies. The goal of building a hybrid app is to provide the experience of a native app while maintaining the simplicity of a web app. Some developers opt for hybrid apps to conveniently integrate device features like GPS, camera or push notifications. Because hybrid apps can be distributed through app stores, they have the added benefit of being able to access the consumer bases of Apple and Google platforms. Because they’re still essentially web apps, they’re cheaper to develop but may require experts who have more specialized knowledge of the phone’s various interfaces and features. They also still fall short when it comes to the polished appearance, graphical capabilities, and responsiveness of a native app.

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