Before we jump right into the down-and-dirty details of app development, let’s dip our toes into why subjects like this are so important. We need to focus on mobile usability in general first. Let’s face it, mobile devices are ubiquitous and deeply personal. People’s phones have become their constant companion and first point of connection to the outside world.
Because of that constant connection, it’s more important than ever that mobile experiences are relatable and reliable. Oh yeah, and they should also be served up at near-light speed. Users don’t have time or patience for a bad user experience, so keep your customer’s needs on the forefront of your mind. (And TBH, a Ricky-Bobby-esque mantra of “I wanna go fast” in the background wouldn’t hurt either…)
That leads us to what (hopefully) brought you here. The big question:
Does my business need a hybrid application or a native application?
Ok, well maybe not all of us are quite there yet, technologically-speaking. If you are, feel free to skip ahead to the bottom, where we compare the two types in detail and give some recommendations. The rest of us are probably sitting here wondering, “My boss just said we needed an app and put me in charge of it. What the heck is all this hybrid and native apps stuff?”
No worries, let’s look at what these words even mean. And first things first, let’s do some level-setting for what we’re talking about when we say “app”. Simply put, this is a mobile application that’s usually available for download on either the Apple Store or the Google Play store. It’s one of the icons on your phone’s home screen that you use every day. Easy enough, right?
But really, hybrid or native?
Let’s start with hybrid apps. A hybrid app is an app that uses a native framework1 to wrap a mobile site so that it appears in the app store for download. It’s called a hybrid app because while it uses a native app framework, it’s just your mobile website in an app wrap. This is great news if you’re in need of an application quickly and already have a great mobile website experience! Even if you don’t, it’s usually easier, cheaper, and faster to develop a mobile site and hybrid application than it is to develop a native application from scratch.
On the other side, a native app is one that is completely developed within the iPhone or Android code base. It doesn’t use any outside resources, websites, or links, and could function without web connectivity. Rather than “wrapping” a website, it is completely independent and functions as a standalone product. And since these apps are developed within the established user experience of the operating system, they have the advantage of faster performance and a tendency to just “feel right”. The built-in device functions like swiping, pinching, and familiar styling all lend a legitimacy to the experience and allow the user to intuitively learn the app.
Big Differences between Hybrid and Native Apps
Hybrid/Native App advantages:
- Familiar interface lets users intuitively learn the app
- Access to more in-depth device features (GPS location, shake, calendar, integrations, etc)
- Better user experience overall, includes an “offline” mode if needed
- Better security and performance
- Fully custom functionality, designed to do exactly what your business needs
- Cheaper production costs
- Faster implementation/development time
- Portable between platforms fairly easily (designed once on a mobile site and then “wrapped” with the different iOS/Android frameworks)
- Easier to update
- Still some access to device features, but limited
So, which one should I choose?
If your primary concern (or your boss’s) is “CHEAP & FAST!”, then a hybrid application is definitely the way to go. Companies with a limited budget or timeframe will find that a hybrid app gets you to market quickly and in a cost-effective manner. But before you dive in and call it a done deal, there are some additional things you should consider. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Does your app require super complex, business-critical functionality? High complexity usually means a custom native app. While hybrid apps are quick and cheap, more complex functions can start to slow down an application and turn the user experience from buttery-smooth to frustrating. If your app is business-critical, consider investing in a native app.
- Do you need to adhere to any existing security standards? If so, how strict are they? Native apps offer much better security as a rule. As you integrate with a device on a deeper level, you’re able to use built-in security features like biometrics to further secure your app.
- Will you be releasing critical updates that you need in-depth control over? This one is a bit misleading. If you need to schedule regular updates that could render your users out-of-the-loop, consider a hybrid application. Updates can be made to the web-hosted application or website, and the “app wrapper” portion will load the new content. This allows you to push user updates without actual app updates.
Overall, determine your business’s application needs. If speed, usability, and functionality are your ultimate goals, consider going with a native application. You’ll need a beefy budget and timeline, but it will deliver a better end user experience. But if your budget and timeline are lacking, then a hybrid app may be the solution for you.
And then there’s the “hybrid” approach…
Is there some middle ground? Sure. No one is saying that you can’t develop a hybrid app to get to market quickly, and then begin the longer development cycle of a native application. Ultimately, make the decision that will provide the best experience for your customer.
If you’re looking to develop a mobile app, but still don’t know quite where to start – contact us to get a more individualized assessment. We’ve got a digital team with extensive experience in mobile and web development that can get you going.
In the meantime, check out our website work to see how we’ve leveraged existing mobile technology for our clients:
1 “Native Framework” – basic app frameworks that remove a lot of work for publishing apps quickly. This framework is the base code that is preconfigured to “wrap” mobile websites with an application interface. One framework in particular is called “React Native”. This is the “wrap” part spoken about earlier, that allows quick deployment of hybrid apps.