Native vs. Hybrid vs. Web App: What's the Difference?

Native vs. Hybrid vs. Web App: What's the Difference?

Choosing the right mobile app to develop can be complicated; ultimately, it comes down to what you hope to accomplish by having an app in the first place.

Native apps are found in your smartphone’s app store or on your phone’s home screen, whereas web apps are available on your internet browser. For users who desire elements of both types of apps, hybrid apps are the middle ground.

This article explains each type of app to help you decide which one is the right fit for your needs and those of your customers.

What are native applications?

When you think of an app, you likely picture a branded little icon on your smartphone’s screen.

In reality, mobile apps from an app store are just one type of app. They’re called native mobile apps.

Native apps developed for Android are written in Java, while apps developed for iOS are written in Swift (you may find older iOS apps written in Objective-C).

Native mobile apps are typically faster and more reliable than hybrid or web apps, which lets them deliver a better user experience (UX).

They also let you interact with a device’s application programming interface (API) and internal hardware, granting your company’s app access to features like:

  • Cameras
  • User contact lists
  • The device’s microphone
  • Device location tracking

The ability to interact with a device’s operating system is a big reason many companies decide to develop native mobile applications.

However, native features come with larger upfront development costs that organizations with smaller budgets likely can’t handle.

Higher development costs are a guarantee if you intend for your application to be on more than one device, as this requires your business to create two mobile apps: one for Apple’s App Store and another for Android’s Google Play Store.

Advantages of native apps

Native apps are a popular choice for companies due to their performance and various features. A few reasons native apps are appealing in many situations include:

  • Superior performance. Native applications tend to run smoothly, even when running heavier graphics.
  • Platform-specific features. Creating your app for iOS or Android grants your business access to platform-specific features.
  • Superior user interface. Native applications tend to outperform hybrid and web applications because they must meet platform-specific performance standards.
  • App store visibility. Unlike web apps and hybrid apps, native apps offer your business greater visibility because they’re featured on app stores. This makes it easier for potential new users to discover your brand.

The principal advantage of native apps is that they optimize the user experience. They look and perform better because they are designed and developed specifically for that platform.

Disadvantages of native apps

If so many benefits exist, why doesn’t everyone choose to develop a native app? Simply put, the barrier to entry can be high. Some disadvantages you may discover when developing a native app include:

  • Greater upfront costs. Expenses for native apps can be higher than hybrid and web apps, especially if your business intends to get your app on more than one platform. This may require your business to hire two development teams.
  • Requires experienced app developers. If you intend to build an app for the Apple App Store, you’ll need to hire an app developer proficient with Swift. If you plan to get your app on the Android App Store, your app developer must know Java. Your team could attempt to build the app on their own, but there’s a considerable learning curve to these programming languages (and the resulting app may not be as polished or robust as one made by a professional).
  • Start over with different platforms. If you want to build and launch an app on more than one platform, you must start again from both a design and development perspective for each platform.

What are web applications?

A web application is more or less a website that looks and feels more like a mobile application. Unlike native applications, web apps can run on various internet browsers, like Chrome or Safari, and are written using JavaScript or HTML/CSS.

Web apps have a lower entry barrier than native apps due to their comparative simplicity and tend to be cheaper and easier to develop. The tradeoff is that web apps also tend to be slower and have less intuitive designs for their user interface (UI).

In addition to these downsides, Apple and Android app stores can’t feature web apps. This means your application may have less organic visibility. But what web apps lack in discoverability, they make up for in accessibility.

Even though users can’t find web apps on app stores, anyone can access them from any mobile device with a web browser. And these days, almost every device—from smartwatches to smart TVs—has web browser functionality.

Advantages of web apps

Many users love web apps because they’re easy to develop and maintain. Some reasons people choose to develop web apps include:

  • Easy maintenance. Unlike native apps, web apps use a common code base across different platforms. If something goes wrong with the application, you don’t have to fix both Android and iOS apps.
  • Easy accessibility. As long as your users use the right browser, they can access your web application without downloading anything to their devices.
  • Less expensive. Web apps have a lower development cost than native apps. They’re also easier to make.
  • Less user maintenance. With native apps, users typically have to manually update the app via the app store. On the other hand, web apps let your company update the app without the user lifting a finger.‍
  • No app marketplace approval. Web apps aren’t on the app marketplace, so your business won’t have to go through any approval process to be visible to the public. This means you can release the app whenever you want and in whatever format you choose.

Disadvantages of web apps

Web apps are often easier to develop and maintain, but this doesn’t mean they’re a perfect solution in all scenarios. We cover a few disadvantages when developing or running an app for web browsers:

  • Smaller scope. While web apps are simpler to make, they also lack native features. For instance, they can’t use device features like location tracking or push notifications.
  • More complex UX. Web apps are only available on browsers. While this makes them more accessible, it also complicates the user experience because it takes more steps to get to your application.
  • Less focus on your app. A native app covers your users’ entire screen, making it harder for them to get distracted and leave the app. Web applications lack this feature.‍
  • Less speed. Web apps tend to be slower, less responsive, and less interactive than native apps.

What are hybrid mobile apps?

As the name implies, hybrid mobile apps combine elements of web apps and native apps. Hybrid mobile apps can be installed on the device and run on a web browser, so they sit somewhere between native apps and web apps.

These apps are built in two parts:

  1. The backend code
  2. The native shell (which makes it downloadable on app stores)

Progressive web apps (PWA) are similar to hybrid apps. Both are a bit of a mix between native and web apps, but there are also some major differences.

For one, PWAs aren’t available on app stores, but users can still create an app icon for the PWA on their smartphone. They’re also cheaper to make, easily customizable and tend to offer better speed than hybrid apps in areas with slow internet.

Advantages of hybrid apps

Hybrid apps are a popular choice for many businesses and organizations. If you develop a hybrid app, you’ll enjoy:

  • Developer productivity. Hybrid apps can be built with common web technologies across both the front and back end, reducing development time.
  • Cheaper but greater discoverability. Hybrid apps are simpler and have fewer upfront costs than native apps, and they can also be featured on app stores.
  • Internal API access. Unlike web apps, hybrid apps can use device features like location tracking and push notifications.
  • Cross-platform availability. Hybrid apps are built using a common codebase, so they can be used on both Android and iOS devices.

Disadvantages of hybrid apps

Hybrid apps provide several benefits, but there are also drawbacks to consider. Some obstacles you may face if you decide to develop a hybrid app include:

  • Inconsistent user experience. Hybrid app performance depends on the user’s internet speed, meaning the UX for hybrid applications can be inconsistent.
  • Learning curve. Hybrid apps aren’t built merely using JavaScript or CSS. They must integrate with hybrid app development frameworks like React Native, Ionic, or Cordova—all of which have a learning curve. Cordova is one of the primary tools for connecting to native software development kits (SDKs), which allows hybrid apps to use certain native features.

Hybrid app vs. web app

Perhaps you prefer the convenience of a web app, but you’d also like to have some of the features of a native app. Hybrid apps are similar to web apps in many ways but are not identical. Key differences include:

  • Visibility. Hybrid apps can run in a web browser, but it’s also possible to feature them on the app store. This often gives them greater visibility than web apps.
  • API access. Unlike web apps, hybrid apps can access a device’s push notifications and location tracking.
  • Ease of development. Hybrid apps require knowledge of additional development frameworks besides JavaScript and CSS, making them more difficult to put together.
  • Speed. Mobile web apps are sometimes slower and less responsive than native apps. Hybrid apps may offer faster performance, although the app’s functionality largely depends on the user’s internet speed.

Native app vs. hybrid app

Native apps are enticing for several reasons, but developing one can be quite a chore. A hybrid app might be a reasonable solution if you don’t want to take the time or spend the money on a native app. Like native apps, hybrid apps are visible in the app store and can provide API access to use location tracking and push notifications.

At the same time, you shouldn’t expect an identical experience from native and hybrid apps. Things might look different between each choice, including:

  • User interface. The user interface on native apps is often more consistent than what you may experience on a hybrid app.
  • Development. Hybrid apps use common web technologies, making them an easier project to take on for mobile app development teams who lack the experience or knowledge necessary to build a native app.
  • Platform-specific features. Hybrid apps are accessible on iOS and Android devices. Unlike native apps, you can’t build platform-specific features into your app.

Questions to ask before choosing a native, hybrid, or web app

Now that you know more about the different types of apps, consider which choice might be the right fit for you. Consider the following additional questions as you weigh the pros and cons:

  • How soon do you need a mobile app? Since native apps require more work, they may take longer to develop than a web or a hybrid app.
  • What’s your budget for the app development project? You’ll probably spend less on a web or hybrid app than on a native app.
  • What features do you want to include in your app? Native apps sometimes offer more extensive functions and new features. It’s important to decide which features you want to include.
  • How will the app serve your business priorities? What outcome are you hoping to achieve from offering an app to your customers? This may dictate what type of app you build.
  • Are you catering to a specific platform? Do you want to create something offering compatibility with any operating system or are you specifically marketing your app to iPhone or Android users?
  • What kind of user experience do you want to provide? Offering a strong user experience will make your app more likely to grow. It’s possible for a web app to have a strong user experience, but native apps sometimes make this easier to provide.
  • How important is offline connectivity? Your users can’t access a web app without an internet connection.
  • How often will you make updates? Offering a native or hybrid app means users must visit the app store to install the new version.

Ready to build your own web, hybrid, or native mobile app? Hire a mobile app developer on Upwork who can assist you with your software development.

You’ll save yourself from the time-consuming process of web development and still end up with a great app your customers love.

Which type of application should your business pay a developer team to create?

By now, you should have a pretty clear understanding of hybrid apps, native apps, web apps, and their differences.

A native app is probably the best choice for businesses with a large budget because this type of app delivers high performance and a consistent user experience.

A web application might be the most affordable option for startups or small businesses with a smaller budget.

A hybrid app may meet your needs if your business is somewhere in the middle—desiring visibility on the app marketplace but not wanting the hassle of building two applications for iOS and Android.

Regardless of which direction you go, aim to deliver the best user experience possible. Otherwise, all the time and money you devote to building the app will go to waste because your users won’t enjoy using it.


Projects related to this article:
No items found.

Author Spotlight

Native vs. Hybrid vs. Web App: What's the Difference?
The Upwork Team

Upwork is the world’s work marketplace that connects businesses with independent talent from across the globe. We serve everyone from one-person startups to large, Fortune 100 enterprises with a powerful, trust-driven platform that enables companies and talent to work together in new ways that unlock their potential.

Get This Article as a PDF

For easy printing, reading, and sharing.

Download PDF

Latest articles

X Icon