Nov 7, 2018, Mobile, Web

Comparing Native, Hybrid & Web

Gabriela Cendrzak Content Marketing Specialist
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Once upon a time, there was a wonderful Kingdom of Applications, ruled by a wise and devoted royal couple. There was a Queen called the Web App, heiress of the great family of Web Pages. And there was a King called the Native App, charming and energetic, loved by the subjects, a true son of the Kingdom.

They had a royal baby called the Hybrid App. The heir of his mother’s flexibility and father’s functionality. But he wasn’t perfect – he inherited the bright, but also the dark sides of his parents’ features.

Years have passed and the kingdom was getting a little distressed. People were whispering that Queen was becoming sluggish and her way of thinking was outdated. There were also voices saying that King’s ideas and actions are hard to afford and that he divided the kingdom into followers of the Almighty Bitten Apple Cult and Association of Supreme Green Robot.

Little Prince was constantly changing himself trying to cope with the task of correcting his parents’ mistakes. But did he ever fully succeed?…

Deciding which type of an application will best fit your needs isn’t simple. You can easily get lost, confused by continuously changing technology and mixed signals you receive from different sources. Who’s right? Are there any universal rules you should follow? The Internet is full of outdated information and misconceptions. Native apps are usually glorified and favoured, but are they really superior in all aspects and in every situation?

The Queen: Web

The concept of a web app itself may sound confusing. What is the difference between our good, old website and something called a web app? Well, the funny thing is nobody knows for sure, because there is a fine line between these two. The most relevant distinction is the fact that a web app is majorly interactive, while websites are generally more like informative blackboards. But of course, the difference is subjective and not always clear.

Web apps are built in HTML5, CSS and JavaScript, just as regular websites. You have the access to templates and frameworks, such as React, Angular or Vue.js, which speed up the process of development, especially its beginning. They may feel like native apps when running on mobile devices. However, they are pretty far out from the thing that first pops out in your head when you hear the word “application”.

As for the things that speak for their benefit, they are usually the most inexpensive option. In most cases, they are easy to build, and also to maintain.

The downsides? Well, their usability is sometimes limited, as they don’t have the easiest access to all mobile devices’ functionalities. They are said not to be as intuitive, and most of the users tend to like them less than the native apps.

The King: Native

Native apps are what most of the people think about when they come across the word “application”. They are almost everyone’s personal favourites. They are developed precisely for a specific operating system, and unlike the web ones, are supposed to be downloaded, not just run in the browser.

Natives, depending on the operating system for which they are addressed, are built in Objective-C or Swift (for iOS) and Java or Kotlin (for Android). Their very specific characteristic is that you can’t run Android apps on an Apple product and vice versa – Google and Apple are competing companies, well known to be frenemies for years now.

When it comes to natives’ advantages, there are a lot of them. They tend to have the best UX, as they are loved by the users (to the point where some of them manifest their loyalty towards their favourite operating system loudly). They are fast, responsive and reliable. Also, they have the fastest and most reliable access to a wide spectrum of mobile devices’ functionalities, such as GPS, camera, gyroscope or microphone. They are intuitive, support gestures and are easy to find in the app stores. In addition, they are less likely to be forgotten, because once downloaded, they constantly remind you about their appearance just by their icon sitting comfortably on your screen.

As you can see, the list of the advantages is impressive. List of the cons may look ridiculously short compared to it, yet it’s hard to omit the fact that those are pretty serious issues. Firstly, if you want your native app to work on both platforms, you need two teams of developers, one of them specializing in Android and the second one in iOS. Which also means that every update, change or amendment must be implemented separately. That highly rises the cost of not only the development but also maintenance.

The Little Prince: Hybrid

Lastly, there is the precious child of the royal couple – a hybrid app. I used the child metaphor because the hybrid app may be described as a web app in native app’s clothes. Basically, while on a mobile platform, they translate themselves into platform’s native code.

Most of the hybrids are built using cross-compatible technologies, such as Javascript. They run on a simplified browser on your mobile device. By using libraries, they also get the access to some features and functionalities native apps have. Hybrids used to be more like web apps in terms of simplicity, but recently things have changed. Currently, we have access to frameworks such as Xamarin or React Native which allow doing the cross-platform development without sacrificing the UX so much and access to native API. Great examples of products based on this solution are Slack or Pinterest.

Due to the changes mentioned in hybrid’s usability, currently, their price tag spectrum and functionalities widened greatly. Their low costs of development used to be their huge advantage, yet nowadays it depends on many circumstances. On the other hand, that also means that you have an access to much more of the mobile devices’ capacity. What’s more,  for sure they are easier to scale to another platform which is one of their crucial pros.

Cons? As it’s been said, although they used to be pretty inexpensive, it isn’t always like that anymore. Of course, they can still be done without a big budget but it also comes with lack of most native functionalities. The similar thing happened to development time, it used to be quite short, now it depends. They don’t always get the App Store approval. And the users seem not to like them as much as they like native apps. Even the greatest design of a hybrid will never give the exact feeling of a native. Either way, the UX suffers.

Democracy in the kingdom

As you have probably already noticed, there is no way to choose the one and only solution for all the projects. You are probably already sick of getting the ‘it depends’ answer all the time, yet there’s truly no remedy. You have to think deeply about what you are heading towards, what your plans, needs and expectations are. You have to understand the differences between the options: take your budget into consideration, also the amount of time you can spend. Well executed workshops can dispel most of your concerns, allowing you to focus on what’s most important.

Although native apps are truly awesome in terms of their functionality, they are not always the best option – especially if your idea is rather simple and does not require much development. Or, for example, you just need an MVP. Do not underestimate app options other than the holy native – especially the hybrids can positively surprise you.

Still, if you are in need of something really sophisticated, big and with many functionalities, native applications are the way to go. When it comes to these features, they still rule the kingdom with an iron fist. It’s also important to remember that every additional, native-like feature in your hybrid app may increase its cost. Sometimes the cost of creating (and maintaining) two separate native applications may turn out to be smaller than the cost of developing one very complicated hybrid app. Always do your research, check out the market and your target group – maybe the greatest and most economical option will be creating a native app for one platform, as the users of the other one aren’t really your intended audience?

You always have to take into the consideration the range of functionalities you want, your target, characteristics of your business scope, things you may want to change in the future, and so on. If you are aiming at something simple and informative, think about the web app. If you are going for something more complex, talk to your agency whether the native or hybrid will suit you better. Their experience will help you find the best solution.

And this is the moment when the fairytale should come to an end – but the glorious Kingdom of Applications, as the land where technology and modernity are inscribed in the constitution, is ever-growing, so the fairytale will go on and on.

The Not-Really-End

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