Native Apps vs. Hybrid/cross-platform Apps vs. Progressive Web Apps

When it comes to deciding on the app your business needs, many factors must be considered. Which app would suit our business’ strengths, native apps, hybrid apps or PWAs? Which app would fit your budget/time constraints? These are all valid questions and ones that we are going to try and answer with this article.

The battle for your next business decision 

As the digital age progresses, ignoring the mobile market becomes less and less viable. A large number of users spend more time on their mobile devices than they do on their computers. This can be attributed to the rise of smartphones and intuitive mobile app design.

The three mobile app types presented here are Native, Hybrid app (or cross-platform), and PWAs. They all have their strengths and drawbacks and the ultimate decision should be an informed one. Once you commit to the development of an app, redirecting priorities can be difficult and time consuming. Good research and consultation could save you headaches.

native apps

Native apps and their features 

The term “native” explains the framework of native mobile apps well. They are coded in the native language of that platform such as Java, Kotlin, and C++ for native app. Objective- C and Swift are the native coding languages used for iOS. This allows the application to utilize all the features of the platform.

Think of a navigation software or a photo-sharing platform. These apps would need to leverage the GPS functionality and camera of the mobile devices they are on. Also, thanks to being standalone applications, they are as secure as their platform is. iOS apps are a great example.

Native apps also provide high levels of efficiency. Settings are customizable and the battery and data usage are manageable. Having these benefits makes the user experience a breeze. Even the updates that Native apps need are quite palatable in today’s world of automatic updates and constant syncing.

Where do Native Apps work best? 

This is where you would look at what your project needs. The upfront costs and the maintenance of Native apps are a considerable factor. However, the interactivity, fluidity, and functionality they offer can be a make or break for many apps.

One large market within the mobile ecosystem is the gaming market. A game that has bugs or functions less than smooth can turn off users right away. Or an encrypted messaging app like Whatsapp. The level of security that Whatsapp promises its users demands the full security capabilities of the phone they are on. Whatsapp is not using a browser to function, the app exists entirely on the phone. This eliminates many potential vulnerabilities, a vital factor to Whatsapp’s promise of security and encryption.That is a key feature that sets Whatsapp apart from Facebook’s other messaging alternatives.

Another example of an app that cannot function well without having full-access to the features is a navigation app. These apps need constant access to the user’s location to be able to guide them as best as possible. To do so, they need access to the GPS features embedded in smartphones. The seamless flow that these apps can offer is crucial as well. When it comes to taking the right turn and recalculations due to user error, the app needs to be on top of it at all times. With the advent of traffic monitoring based on user data, pioneered by apps like Waze, these apps need to be Native.

Music apps are another part of the market that require seamless interactivity. Apps like Spotify provide users the chance to save music to their phones and listen to it offline within the app. Making it an appealing feature to those who may not enjoy internet connectivity everywhere.

Hybrid/Cross-Platform Mobile apps and efficiency 

Hybrid apps promise the best of both iOS and Android worlds as their names would suggest. They combine elements of native apps and web apps to best suit the project. The web code is presented within a mobile shell or container and depending on the technologies used, can access different features of the phone.

The difference being that the user is viewing pages through a browser, rather than an app contained entirely on their phone. One of the major benefits of cross-platform apps is that they allow the use of one source code. Effectively removing the need for coding for each specific platform. Of course, the more complicated the features that are required become, the more tools the app would then need to rely on for functionality.

A hybrid/cross-platform app can also be updated frequently without the users needing to do so themselves. Since everything is being viewed through a browser “disguised” as a native app using tools like Application Programming Interfaces, the user will always access the updated version. Cached data also allows users to view data offline. This effectively gives more freedom to the developers for updates, especially on a platform like iOS and Apple’s constant validation processes for new updates.

Where do Hybrid Apps work best? 

It is the reusability of the code that cuts down on development time and costs. This is very helpful for startups and new companies. One example of a successful hybrid app is Instagram. Users can still view posts even when their internet connection is absent. Even if a user tries to interact, they will at least see an error message telling them their response will be shared when online. This is key to minimizing user frustration. As telling the user there is an error or there is no connection is far better than the app being non-responsive. For the main functionality of Instagram, which is the sharing of photos and videos, the hybrid app provides more than adequate avenues.

Gmail is another great example. One of the most used email apps used to function as a mobile web app, and would leave users frustrated with the mobile experience. During that time, the app was written in HTML, primarily meant for desktop browsers. But after deploying the hybrid app strategy, Google was able to provide a fluid mobile experience. Vastly improving the reach of Gmail. The key factors here are the accessibility to data offline, the simple updating methods, and the cross-platform reach.

Twitter also employs a similar strategy. For Twitter, this has significantly lowered the crashes the app experiences. By using native tools and the native container to display the website, they have made the mobile user experience more enjoyable and accessible.

Progressive Web Apps and the Technology behind it 

Progressive Web Applications or PWAs, are built using existing web technologies and available tools to provide a similar experience as native and hybrid apps. One difference is the way they are installed.

Unlike hybrid and native apps, PWAs are not installed off the respective app stores, but rather downloaded and added to a menu similar to a tool or a widget. With their incredibly efficient size and shareability, they significantly increase the barrier to entry for a new app. Think of the current “app fatigue” many users experience. With the tens of apps already on someone’s phone, competing for space can be a challenge. PWAs remove that by being easy to install through a link and having a fraction of the size of other types of mobile apps.

native apps

Where do PWAs work best? 

PWAs have been a boon to developers looking to reach every new and old smartphone. Uber taxi app development is one example, where the application can run on the lowest end of phones and can work with a poor connection. It can run well on 2G internet with speeds of 250kb/s and only takes up 50 kbs of space. This is a godsend especially in markets where smartphones are not routinely thrown out in favor of new models every year. It is also important as Uber is an app used on the go. The connection may not always be great, but Uber keeps its market share by being available even in areas with poor internet infrastructure.

Another example that you may have received notifications for in the past, are the “Lite” versions of apps. The main ones being that of Facebook and Twitter. Given that both of these platforms thrive on user-generated posts and data, accessibility is vital to staying relevant. Twitter was able to cut down its app size from 24 mbs (for the standard app) to 600 kbs (for the Lite version). The ease of access decreased their bounce rate by 20% and had 250,000 users interacting with the PWA at least four times a day.

The main factors to consider with Progressive web app design are time and budget constraints, as they can help cut down on those while still providing a comparable experience to native and hybrid apps. Reachability and reliability are other factors. You can reach users on many platforms with a single PWA and offline availability makes it a reliable app for your users.

Main things to consider when making the decision 

At the end of the day, picking the right application type to pursue is dependent on

  • what your business demands;
  • what your time and budget constraints are;
  • whether your main user base is on mobile; and
  • what functionalities your specific app requires to be successful.

For example, a ticket sales app that requires NFC connectivity to let users into a venue, would not be served well with a PWA as that functionality is reserved for native apps. If you have a mobile game, a hybrid app would not work as well due to your dependency on a browser to display data. Eventually causing latency and frustrating potential users.

Throughout this decision making process, having an expert opinion can be a lifesaver. That is why at Twelfth Dream we offer a free discovery session to assess your needs and resources and help you make the best decision. Team As A Service (TAAS) has extensive experience developing a multitude of apps for different clients with different needs. Picking the right option is the first step to boosting your business and staying relevant in this digital age.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Is hybrid app expensive? Depending on customization the price is different? Projects with more customizations cost more.
  2. What is cached data? It is referred to the information stored on your computer after visiting a website.
  3. Is Facebook a native or hybrid app? Yes, it’s a hybrid app.

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