The Complete Guide to Mobile App Development: Web vs. Native vs. Hybrid

The Complete Guide to Mobile App Development: Web vs. Native vs. Hybrid

There are three main app types you can explore for your mobile app development project: web vs. native vs. hybrid, but which is better to build?

Depending on your business objectives and overall goals, this decision can make or break the success of your mobile strategy. When deciding to build your app as either a web, native or hybrid app, there are a variety of factors you need to consider.  This comparative piece will examine all three approaches to development, outlining the advantages and disadvantages from the standpoint of a company looking to develop a mobile app.


Web App Development

Web apps are hosted on web browsers, and  are essentially websites that look like native apps. However, instead of installing the application to the device’s home screen, like a native app,  users interact with the app through a webview. This type of app is easy to build, easy to maintain and an inexpensive option; however, they require a web browser, are  much slower than native apps, and can’t leverage device utilities. Web apps are also much less interactive and intuitive than native apps.

Native App Development

Native apps are built for specific platforms and are written in the languages the platform accepts (for example, Swift and Objective-C are common languages for iOS apps and Java or Kotlin are common for Android apps). Native apps are fast and responsive, distributed in app stores, offer intuitive user input and output, and don’t require an internet connection. Overall, native apps offer a better user experience but are more expensive to develop than other options.

Hybrid App Development

Hybrid apps are essentially a combination of native and web apps. A hybrid app consists of two parts: the first is the back-end code, and the second is a native shell that is downloadable and loads the code using a webview. Hybrid apps are less expensive than native apps, don’t require a browser, and can leverage device APIs; however, they’re slower than native apps and are not customizable to individual platforms like native apps.

Web App Development

How are web apps different from a website? A website typically provides users with more information than is usually displayed on  a mobile site, whereas a web app condenses this information to improve functionality. Web apps load in browsers like Chrome, Safari, or Firefox, and don’t need to be downloaded from app stores like mobile apps. Web apps also don’t take up storage on the user’s device.

People classify web apps as new technology that blurs  the lines between web vs. native vs. hybrid apps. So much so that  it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish which apps are web apps, which are hybrid apps, and which are websites built with a responsive design.

Sometimes, what seems like a native app downloaded from the app store is actually an app in a webview (which is written in the native language) containing a URL to the web app. The majority of code is handled outside of the native language. To some, that satisfies the requirements of a native application, and to others, it’s just another format for a web app. Web apps are essentially websites that look like native apps, but instead of being installed on the home screen, the user can create a bookmark to that page.

How Do You Build a Web App?

Typically, web apps are built in JavaScript, CSS, and HTML5 and run inside a browser (Safari, Chrome, etc.). There is no software development kit for developers to use; however, there are templates that developers can work with.

If you choose to develop a web app, it can be straightforward and quick to build. Although, they are often oversimplified and don’t offer the same features native apps provide.

What are Progressive Web Apps?

Progressive web apps are hybrids of regular web pages and mobile apps. Web apps lack the functionality of native apps, such as sending push notifications or working offline. Browsers and web apps, however, are becoming more advanced. Now, progressive web apps can leverage features similar to native apps. Here are a few of the functionalities:

  • Send push notifications
  • Use touch gestures and your phone’s accelerometer
  • Use some of the device’s hardware such as vibration

Despite the improvements progressive web apps offer, a huge downside is that they are only compatible with Google Chrome. This means that iOS users can’t use this type of app. Considering that iOS users spend the most money on apps, this can be a significant disadvantage depending on your business goals.

Advantages of Web Apps

  • Easy to build
  • Easy to maintain
  • Inexpensive
  • Build one app for all platforms – iOS, Android, etc. as long as it can run in a browser

Disadvantages of Web Apps

  • Needs a browser to run. Users have to take another step to type in the URL, which contributes to a complicated user experience
  • Much slower than native apps
  • Less interactive and intuitive than native apps
  • No icon on the mobile desktop as you would if it were downloaded from app stores
  • Cannot leverage device utilities

Native Mobile App Development

Native mobile apps are the most common type of app. They are built for specific platforms and are written in languages that the platform accepts, for example, Swift and Objective-C for native iOS apps and Java or Kotlin for native Android apps. Native apps are also built using the specific Integrated Development Environment (IDE) for the given operating systems.

Both Apple and Google provide app developers with their own development tools, interface elements, and SDK. Most companies will invest in native mobile app development because of the multitude of benefits offered in comparison to other types of apps. Here are some of the main benefits:

Advantages of Native Apps

  • Native apps are very fast and responsive because they are built for a specific platform
  • They have the best performance
  • They are distributed in app stores
  • They are more interactive, intuitive and run much smoother in terms of user input and output
  • Native allows developers to access the full feature set of the given platform
  • Internet connection is not required, although it depends on the functionality
  • Overall better user experience. To the user, the flow is more natural as each platform has specific UI standards

Disadvantages of Native Apps

  • Difficult programming languages to learn which means you need experienced developers
  • More expensive
  • Not the best option for very simple apps

Keep in mind, native apps require users to keep downloading updates to improve accessibility and user experience, while developers can publish updates to web apps without any involvement from the user.

While  the initial cost may be higher with native app development, this option will save you  time and money in the long run. By offering a great user experience, better performance, and leveraging device features,  you’re able to offer users a more personalized experience. The multiple advantages to native will result in higher conversion rates and will ultimately boost customer loyalty. If you’re looking for a more in-depth breakdown, we’ve outlined the benefits of native mobile app development in this article.

Is There Another Option?

With native, as mentioned earlier, you have to build an app for each platform, for example, one for iOS and one for Android; however, developers have new technology to work with. Two platforms, in particular, Xamarin and React Native, can be classified as other types of native app development.

Xamarin App Development

Xamarin is created by Microsoft and it lets developers build one app that runs on many platforms using C#. With a C#-shared codebase, developers can use Xamarin tools to write native iOS, Android, and Windows apps with native user interfaces and share code across multiple platforms.

React Native App Development

React Native is built by Facebook and lets developers build real, native iOS and Android Apps with one codebase. With React Native, you build an identical mobile app to an app built using Objective-C or Java. With React Native, however, you use JavaScript and React.

In mobile app development, the term native is defined as an ecosystem that Apple or Google, for example, chooses for developing apps for their operating systems. Xamarin or React Native technology is very complex and can be classified as either native or hybrid. Xamarin, in particular, can be considered both as a native and a hybrid app development platform, as it builds native Android, iOS, and Windows apps in C#, with either Visual Studio or Xamarin Studio. It also creates hybrid apps for multiple operating systems sharing C# codebase, IDE, language, and APIs. However, since there is another layer between your code and the platform, many people consider it a hybrid.

Hybrid App Development

Hybrid apps work across multiple platforms and behave like native apps. A hybrid app is essentially a combination of a native app and a web app. Although this type of app can be installed on a device like a native app, it technically is a web app.  These types of apps are built with HTML, CSS, or JavaScript and run in a webview.

Hybrid app development can essentially do everything HTML5 does, while incorporating native app features. This is possible when you deploy a wrapper to act as a bridge between platforms to access the native features.

A hybrid app consists of two parts: first, the backend code which is built using languages such as HTML, CSS, or JavaScript, and second,  a native shell that is downloadable and loads the code using a webview.

Advantages of Hybrid App Development

  • Built on web technology, so it’s much easier to build
  • Less expensive than a native app
  • One app for all platforms using technology like Cordova
  • No browser is needed as opposed to a web app
  • Access to the device’s internal APIs, i.e. can access storage and other device hardware
  • Faster to develop than native apps because you have a single code base

Disadvantages of Hybrid App Development

  • Slower than native apps
  • More expensive than web apps because you require a wrapper. Essentially, you’re dependent on a third-party platform
  • Less interactive than native apps
  • Customization will take you away from the hybrid, so you might as well build a native app

With hybrid app development, you have to contend with issues that stem from both native systems and hybrid systems, which makes bug fixing more difficult. Performance is also a disadvantage because hybrid apps load in a webview. The user experience is often sacrificed with a hybrid app as you cannot customize the app based on the platform.

Customizability is a significant disadvantage to hybrid apps. The more customization you do, the more you’re steering toward a native solution. If customization is important to you,  then taking the native approach to development will be more beneficial. In fact, the more customization you want in your hybrid app, the more expensive the project will be, and therefore a native solution will end up being more cost-effective.

Web vs. Native vs. Hybrid: Which Approach is Best?

The decision to build either a web, native or hybrid app should be based on your business objectives. Before jumping into development, you should consider the following factors:

  • How fast you need the app
  • The quality of the user experience you want your app to have
  • The complexity of features you need for your app to work

Whichever approach you choose should, above all, be quick, responsive, and reliable. As users are demanding more from mobile experiences, it’s important to keep up with their changing demands. Whichever app you decide to build, remember the following:

  • Your API infrastructure should have reliable and easy access to your content and services
  • A mobile app should not be a replication of your website, rather an extension of your brand
  • Always have an understanding of your users’ expectations and behaviors and adapt as market demands change

Finally, it’s important to work with an app development company that specializes in platform specific design and development.

Should Cost Decide Your Development Approach?

In short, choosing a development method should not be determined solely by cost. User experience should be the primary factor that helps you decide whether to build a web, native or hybrid app.

While a hybrid app may have lower upfront costs, hybrid apps are more prone to bugs which can end up costing you more money. Not to mention losing frustrated users to a subpar user experience. With hybrid app development, you have to contend with issues that stem from both native systems and hybrid systems, making identifying and fixing bugs more difficult. When working with the latest features released for a particular operating system, bugs become a huge concern for hybrid app development. This carries cost implications and can extend the timeline for development.

Similarly, web apps may not be as expensive as native apps, but depending on your business goals and required functionality, a web app might not meet user expectations for user experience.

Native apps outperform other apps because they are developed to comply with both technical and user experience guidelines. Native apps can also easily access the inbuilt capabilities of the user’s device (e.g. contacts, GPS, camera, etc.). Whenever an organization plans to build a mobile app, we usually recommend native app development. It is best to stick with native and not sacrifice on the design elements that are unique to each platform. However, if you aren’t too concerned about the overall user experience and want to get something to market fast and cheap, a web app may be the way to go.

Closing Thoughts

The debate around which type of app is the best is still very relevant today as the lines between the three approaches are becoming increasingly blurred. While the discussion to differentiate the three mobile apps continues, it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t choose an approach for the technology, but instead, choose based on what you want your app to do. If you choose an approach that doesn’t allow your app to utilize device features, for example, then you’ll end up wasting a lot of time and money when you decide to add features.




Kinjal Dua

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The choice between web vs. native vs. hybrid is dependent on a number of factors, including business needs, app requirements, developer skill, and timelines. The bottom line is that each type of app offers an entirely different experience and it’s important to know the strengths and weaknesses of each before jumping into development.

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