Not so long ago, native iOS and Android code was the only way to go when it comes to mobile apps. However, this also comes with the problem of maintaining separate codebases for very similar applications, and thus great costs. But mobile app development has dynamically changed in recent years and there are quite a lot of technologies to choose from. Native, hybrid, and PWA mobile apps have their advantages and flaws – but don’t worry. By the end of this post, you’ll be able to choose the right solution for your mobile app.

Native app development

Native app development refers to the traditional approach to developing applications that are meant to work exclusively on a single platform using a dedicated programming language. They are the predecessors of the alternatives discussed in this article because each platform has to be developed individually. For Android, it’s going to be Java or Kotlin, while for iOS, it’s going to be Swift or Objective-C.

These applications are well-known for their performance, stability, good support, and ease of development thanks to large communities. It leads the way in terms of technological capabilities. Performance is faster due to simplified code and native modules can be used in the application. You don’t have to worry about compatibility as it is dictated by the development environment and happens naturally. As a result, users get an application that is fully compatible with the UX/UI of the platform they are using. However, keep in mind that this involves additional work and costs. The reason is that you need a bigger team of tech experts and that the same version of the application won’t work on other systems.

Differences between iOS and Android

iOS is a system designed by Apple and exclusively used on the company’s mobile devices. On the other hand, Android is an open-source operating system developed and supported by Google. This distribution model allows many manufacturers to implement Android in their devices. It also applies to design principles – iOS is made for a restricted number of screen sizes and resolutions. Android designers must adjust their designs for more as there are variances in device interfaces, which impact not just smartphones but also user experience through the app.

The degree of user activity varies. Having a mobile device is not synonymous with using most of its functions. After all, some people are less familiar with technology or older people who use only pre-installed native applications. Worth mentioning is that Android users have a choice of 3.48 million apps as of the first quarter of 2021, making Google Play the app store with the most available apps. With about 2.22 million iOS apps available, the Apple App Store is the second-largest app store. App Store Optimization (ASO) for an Android app differs from that of an iOS app. 

But as already mentioned, the main difference between both is a different programming language. If you consider supporting two platforms at the same time, To support development, you’ll need two teams of experts, each with its own set of problems to solve. You will need those two teams after the development to support bug fixes and new features for months.

Are native apps worth the extra effort and cost?

Considering the pros and cons of native development, the answer depends on your digital product needs. If high performance is a top priority and money isn’t an issue, it’s worth investing in a native app. All built-in apps that come with a smartphone are native. Also, some mobile games or applications like Steppie and Amino are built natively. These mobile apps can fluently connect with the whole ecosystem since they are suited to certain operating systems.

When should you choose native app development?

  • Exclusive app for only one platform;
  • Custom software development that requires smooth integration;
  • Games or animation-heavy applications;
  • Budget and time are no issue.

Hybrid app development

This solution combines native and web solutions, thus the name hybrid. Hybrid mobile apps are web apps that have a native WebView component wrapped around them. You may use web technologies like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to develop them, and by using plugins these apps might have full access to the functionality of mobile devices. Let’s have a look at how everything comes together for a better understanding of this technology.

How are hybrid apps built?

Hybrid applications integrate the native web browser rendering process and a web view controller (UIWebView on iOS, WebView on Android) to show HTML and JavaScript files in a mobile full-screen. WebKit is the rendering engine used among many mobile platforms.

Because there are used standard web tech that doesn’t have to design a solution for every platform, the development cost is rather minimal. In simple terms, it means that you will be able to develop a ready-to-use solution that will be available across all platforms very fast. Gmail, being one of Google’s biggest services, is a hybrid software that shows how an HTML5 online app can work seamlessly.

Yet, hybrid applications are not a perfect solution as they come with their own set of drawbacks. The fact that they are a web page is their biggest problem. As a result, they take slower to load than native apps and usually require a network connection to run. The UI library, like the web-only application solution, must be rebuilt. But here’s where frameworks like Flutter come in handy (covered in the next section).

Native vs Hybrid apps

Native apps provide the greatest level of performance, user experience, and security. But if the targeted market time is shorter, a hybrid app may be a preferable option since the software may be created in a single source code, distributed across several platforms. The key difference is summarized in the table below.

NativeHybrid
PerformanceHigh-performance for complex appsMore features slow it down
Programming languagePlatform-specificWeb technologies
Development costHigh: you need dedicated dev teams of specific mobile platformsLow: you need a web developer, and for the rest, a native developer
Multi-platform supportNoYes

When should you choose hybrid app development?

  • Digital product available on several platforms with a large number of users;
  • Content-based app with no complex elements;
  • Good for testing as Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

Cross-platform app development

Although hybrid development resembles cross-platform, it is not the same. You may use frameworks that provide a far better user experience than hybrid apps. Native components can be used in cross-platform mobile apps to provide better UX regardless of the device.

As a result, the goal of this technology is to create a single codebase that can be natively compiled to run on different systems. This topic was covered largely in the blog post what is cross-platform mobile app development? – here worth mentioning frameworks are React Native and Flutter.

React Native and Flutter

By using React Native or Flutter frameworks, the development is far less expensive than the native one. Instead of creating an application for each platform, you just develop and maintain a single codebase. In terms of UX, this might require a bit more work to imitate native feeling, but with simple apps design, it’s not an issue.

The good thing about Flutter and React Native is that you can still create native platform-specific code for some functionalities and combine the best of both worlds  When maintaining a single codebase It’s easier to reach additional target groups and ship new functionalities to your customers much faster. Some examples using Flutter could be the Alibaba super app or our recent case study on the University of Wrocław app.

When should you choose cross-platform app development?

  • Limited budget while targeting both Android and iOS,
  • Need for creating the app as quickly as possible,
  • The mobile application doesn’t require many platform-specific features.

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs)

An interesting approach is the so-called Progressive Web Application. PWAs are a type of software that may be used as a web application or a website. This technology enables you to create app-like websites in a short time. They resemble smartphone applications in appearance, but they are not to be mistaken for one another. PWAs work in the same way that a website does, but with the added benefit of feeling like a real mobile application.

When it comes to mobile development, PWAs are a must-consider. It’s sometimes referred to as the future of online apps because it’s a new standard that enhances the speed and efficiency of the app in every situation. The big advantage of PWA apps might be that publishing the app to the App Store or Google Play is optional, which makes the process of distributing the app to your clients a bit easier – it can be installed directly from the browser and it doesn’t have to go through the review process. It works on the web, however, after developers put the app online and ensure it passes the “PWA checklist”, users can add it to their mobile home screens.  But if you want to go a step further and make it as TWA (Trusted Web Activity), you can list it on the App Store. It’s essentially a straightforward way to make a webpage designed to work on a mobile device rather than a browser.

Examples of the PWAs 

The PWA’s heart is made up of service workers. Their application opens up a range of increasing possibilities. From managing push alerts to background data synchronization and dynamic data caching. All of these features add up to a great user mobile experience.

Many prominent companies, such as Uber, Pinterest, and Spotify, have opted to invest in this solution. Also, e-commerce solutions are frequently implemented using PWAs (AliExpress comes to mind). Check out our blog post on the best examples of progressive web apps for more information.

Are progressive web apps the way to go?

PWAs have the benefit of lowering digital product implementation costs. The high availability of such apps is something you may see right away. They resemble classic native apps because of their functionality and the overall aesthetic elements. PWAs advancement is determined by UX and because there are no specific frameworks that you must use, so you won’t need to employ an exact specialist. Unlike hybrid apps, PWAs may be used offline. It’s not an issue to use them on many platforms and in opposition to the native solutions, it’s less time-consuming. However, it’s important to know that Apple isn’t a big fan of the PWA method, and some benefits of using it are restricted on their devices.

When should you choose progressive web apps?

  • Modern e-commerce experience – including porting web e-commerce platform to support also a mobile app;
  • A level of security equal to that of web applications is enough;
  • Multi-platform app with native functionality.

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Native, Hybrid, PWA – which should you choose?

No matter which option you choose, each of them has its pros and cons. You should think about your budget, timeframes, target audience, and digital product requirements. All the specifics are important. The vast majority of business needs can be solved by a much cheaper, more universal solution. Your final decision may depend on the money you want to spend on them. If you are interested in the costs of such mobile applications, download our free ebook on custom software development pricing.