When you’re developing a mobile application, one of the first decisions you need to make is whether it will be a native app, web app, or hybrid app. Each type of app has pros and cons, so which one is right for you? How you decide depends on a few things: budget, timeline, user interface (UI) and user experience (UX), future maintenance, and the skills of your developers.
Because hybrid mobile apps fall in the middle of the spectrum of native apps and web apps, they share some properties of both, giving this middle-of-the-road approach a few clear advantages. Mobile app development is always changing, and hybrid development is constantly improving as well, making it an increasingly popular option. In this article, we’ll go over some of the pros and cons of hybrid apps, with a look at a few of the most popular technologies used to develop them.
What is a hybrid app?
Hybrid apps are available via app stores, can access hardware on your phone, and are installed on your device, just like a native app. But how do they stack up against native and web apps, and what are their benefits?
Native vs. hybrid app
The main difference between native and hybrid apps is that native apps are built from the ground-up for a specific operating system while hybrid apps are built for cross-platform compatibility.
Overview of native apps:
- Built for a specific mobile operating system (e.g., Apple iOS, Android)
- Have access to all the advanced native device features of the target mobile device
- Better performance and security
- Need to be re-coded in a different language to port to a different device ecosystem (e.g., Swift or Objective-C t for iOS, Java for Android)
- Easier compliance with Apple App Store or Google Play store requirements
- More expensive to develop
Overview of Hybrid apps:
- Achieve greater developer productivity through cross-platform compatibility
- Lower overall development costs than native applications
- Support enough native features to run offline
Examples of hybrid apps
While the first hybrid apps were pretty slow, advances in web technologies and frameworks have shrunk the gap between hybrid and native performance. Examples of high performing hybrid apps include:
Twitter boasts a front-end stack of Node.js, Express, and React Native. To be more specific, it’s technically a progressive web app (PWA), a type of next-gen mobile website that delivers superior UI performance through progressive loading of UI layers which ensures the core content of your app is available to users on poor connections.
Instagram’s timeline is technically a webview, which places it firmly in the hybrid app camp. The image-focused social media platform is built with React Native.
Uber uses Base, a web React UI framework for the front-end of its mobile apps which basically run on m.uber.com to provide a webview on your phone.
The famous beer-rating app runs on Ruby on Rails and other web technologies. Not surprisingly it also uses React Native for that cross-platform compatibility.
4 Advantages of hybrid apps
The main advantages of hybrid applications include:
Hybrid app frameworks allow developers to use a common codebase across both Android and iOS devices.
Shorter development time
Increased code reuse cuts development time that would be needed to build native apps for different operating systems.
A single codebase and cloud-native web technologies makes it easier for developers to build scalability into their apps.
Save development costs on building multiple versions of the same app for different operating systems.
Most of the pros of native and web apps
The ability to provide consistent UI across multiple platforms while retaining the capability to interface with native features like push notifications and camera.
3 Disadvantages of hybrid apps
The main disadvantages of hybrid applications include:
While hybrid apps now have work-arounds (such as compiling to machine code via React Native) there technically exists a layer between the operating system and the source code that might bottleneck performance for resource-intensive applications.
Hybrid apps may share a lot of code between platforms, but some of that code is often native in practice to take advantage of the underlying hardware. Depending on your project, this can add to the complexity of your test suite.
Easier to mess up the UI/UX
Whether hybrid or native, it’s on the developers to ensure their app UI delivers a consistent UX. Hybrid app development offers a lot of flexibility, and if you don’t know what you are doing it’s easier to mess up. Poor internet connectivity might lead to an inconsistent UX if you don’t practice progressive web design. You’ll still want to write native code to comply with interaction guidelines on iOS and Android or to access platform-specific APIs.
How are hybrid apps built?
Overview of the tools and technologies used to build hybrid apps:
Popular tools for building hybrid apps
While native iOS apps and Android apps are ideal because they’re optimized for each platform, hybrid mobile app technology is evolving, making it a more viable–and time- and cost-efficient–option for mobile app development. Hybrid apps are able to feel closer to a native app experience thanks to high-powered frameworks that have solved for some of hybrid apps’ limitations. Opt for one of these technologies–and a pro who knows how to maximize its potential–and you’ll end up with a better quality hybrid app, and way less headaches along the way.
Note: Even though hybrid apps let developers use skills they already have, there can be tricky aspects to working with the platform or framework you choose, as well as unique features of each that require a little know-how to make the most of. You’ll want to make sure your hybrid app developer has experience with that particular tool’s runtime, WebView, plugins, and code features.
Hybrid app frameworks
A big appeal of hybrid app development is the ability to write your code once and use it across all mobile devices. While web developers could technically build a hybrid app from scratch, in practice this is usually accomplished with one of the many hybrid app frameworks available on the market. Here are some of the most popular hybrid frameworks.
There’s a reason many of the largest most successful hybrid apps use React Native in their front-end technology stacks. Developed by Facebook, React Native compiles your codebase into native code. That means you have the option to use native views instead of the traditional webview of most hybrid app frameworks. Code reusability is limited to mobile platforms, with React web requiring some tweaks to port over to mobile.
Ionic is one of the most popular hybrid app development frameworks. It uses the traditional webview approach to hybrid app development, where web-based source code is encapsulated within a web view that can interface with certain exposed native APIs via plugins.
Apache Cordova is a veteran in the hybrid app development space. You run a single-page application (SPA) within an integrated mobile web browser, basically a web view. Plugins allow you to access native features as needed.
Xamarin is Microsoft’s answer to hybrid app development frameworks. You can write your apps in C# and gain full access to the perks of the .NET development ecosystem. Xamarin has a higher learning curve, but its C# wrappers can yield native performance without sacrificing code reusability.
Flutter is a relative newcomer to the hybrid app development scene. It uses Dart programming language which combines the faster development cycles of dynamic languages which use just-in-time (JIT) compilation with the stability and execution speeds of static languages which use ahead-of-time (AOT) compilation.The result is a flexible framework that can achieve native performance with AOT and web interoperability with JIT.
Empower code reuse and cross-platform compatibility with hybrid apps
In this article we discussed what a hybrid app is and how they are built. While definitions vary from platform to platform, a hybrid app is basically any app built with a combination of web and mobile development technologies for the purposes of code reuse and cross-platform compatibility. Eager to build your own hybrid app? Hire a hybrid app developer on Upwork today!