What Is a Hybrid App? (Detailed Guide for 2022)

What Is a Hybrid App? (Detailed Guide for 2022)


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.

Mobile Apps at a Glance

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?

Native vs. hybrid app

Examples of hybrid apps

4 Advantages of hybrid apps

3 Disadvantages of hybrid apps

How are hybrid apps built?

Popular tools for building hybrid apps

Hybrid app frameworks

Empower code reuse and cross-platform compatibility with hybrid apps

What is a hybrid app?

A hybrid app is essentially a web app, but it’s given a lightweight native app “container” that allows it to leverage certain native platform features and device hardware (e.g., a device’s camera, calendar, push notifications, and pinch and spread functionality) that a web application cannot access. Like applications on the web, hybrid apps are built with commonly used front-end development technologies and languages like JavaScript, HTML5, and CSS, giving them a cross-platform functionality.

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:

  • Built with web technologies (e.g., HTML, CSS, and JavaScript)
  • Can achieve native performance with frameworks like React Native (by actually compiling your JavaScript code to machine code, you might argue it’s technically a native app)
  • 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:

Gmail

Yes, the most popular email client is technically a hybrid app. The platform uses JavaScript, AJAX,  jQuery, and Vue.js on the front end.

Twitter

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

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

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.

Untappd

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:

Cross-platform compatibility

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.

Scalability

A single codebase and cloud-native web technologies makes it easier for developers to build scalability into their apps.

Cost effective

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:

Performance

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.

Test complexity

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?

Hybrid application development is about striking the right blend of native and web development technologies to bring your app to life. In a traditional hybrid app the core application code is written with web technologies HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, which is then encapsulated into a container called a webview. More recently, newer cross-platform app development frameworks such as React Native also allow you to compile your JavaScript into machine code to achieve native performance.

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.

Hybrid mobile app frameworks make quick work of programming apps, just like traditional web application programming frameworks. They contain libraries of code, APIs, and other features to make coding your app faster and easier. There are web-based frameworks, which use front-end technology like HTML, JavaScript, and CSS, and cross-platform frameworks, which take a programming language and actually convert the code into native code for the device.

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.

React Native

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

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.

Cordova

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

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

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!

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What Is a Hybrid App? (Detailed Guide for 2022)
Yoshitaka Shiotsu
Technical Copywriter & SEO Consultant

Yoshitaka Shiotsu is a project engineer turned technical copywriter and SEO consultant who regularly contributes to the Upwork Resource Center. He specializes in helping tech companies, startups, and entrepreneurs set themselves up as voices of authority within their target industries.

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