Coke or Pepsi? Christmas Eve or Easter? A question from the developers world can undoubtedly join the ranks of these perennial discussions: hybrid or native app? There is no right or wrong here. The superior technology will be the one which better corresponds to your needs. In the case of a mobile app, it mostly boils down to satisfying the users’ needs and realizing business objectives.

What is a hybrid app?

A hybrid app, as the name suggests, is a combination of web and native app solutions. The universal code of such an app is created based on Internet technologies like JavaScript, CSS or HTML, which are compiled using relevant frameworks and plugins for handling unique functions of the platform. Another method involves reaching for tools like Xamarin  or React Native , which make it possible to share the code on multiple platforms using native components. Apps created this way are called cross-platform due to the use of offline technologies. Many people accuse hybrid apps of shortages in performance, the use of relevant tools may level them significantly.

To keep things simple - a hybrid app is an internet page packaged in a native functionality, thanks to which it resembles and works as a dedicated app. The basic code is shared between platforms.

Most users may even not be aware of the fact that they are using this kind of app, despite their popularity on the market. They work great in apps for content sharing. Until recently, this had been the technology used by Facebook, though it might not be the best example, as the app underwent disastrous optimization and ended up being strongly critiqued by the users. Currently, the most popular hybrid apps include: Instagram, Twitter, Gmail or Uber. Nay! Even Apple App Store is built on HTMLS5. Search results are nothing else but web pages.

What is a native app?

A native app is created having a specific platform in mind, with the use of an officially supported programming language. In the case of Android, these are Java and Kotlin, whereas apps running on Apple iOS are built with Objective-C and Swift. The native code allows the app to better use resources and potential of the device (GPS, video camera, address book and any types of sensors and detectors such as the accelerometer or gyroscope). Apps created for one operational system also offer easier adjustment of the navigating and design to the prevailing standards.  Because the native app does not have to be linked to internet tools, and the entire content of the program is downloaded to the phone’s memory, it is possible to use it offline.

Apple and Google offer their own programming tools to the creators. Transcribing a native app to another platform involves programming from scratch using a new development team specialized in a given language. Native technology is usually used for more extended apps or games that may work regardless of access to the network.

Benefits of the hybrid app

Sharing a base code between platforms is first and foremost a great saving of resources and time. All that you need is a development team to create an app for various systems. Less working hours mean lesser financial effort.  On top of that, it may get to the market faster and has greater reach to both iPhone and Android smartphone users.

This is not the end of the investor’s savings and benefits, hybrid apps can be modified and bugs can be fixed simultaneously on both platforms. Updates can take place live on both sides of the server, meaning that the user is not bothered with manual downloads of the latest alterations, they are simply visible upon the next launch of the app. A great number of people installs ad-blocking plugins on their browsers. Nothing similar can be done in an app (and at least it can be monetized by purchasing a premium service to remove ads), allowing to  increase our profit.

Even the simplest hybrid app significantly improves the user experience with our content. It gives direct access from the device’s desktop instead of having to manually type in the address in the web browser. When the user does not have access to the Internet, his browser becomes useless, whereas the app can display a part of the information that is of interest to him, downloaded during the last visit. Push notifications are also engaging and increase our user’s loyalty. Thanks to downloading navigating elements to the phone, the app loads faster than a traditional website and works more efficiently, e.g., when switching between subsequent tabs. Moreover, a hybrid app can work from the level of the browser like the Progressive Web App (PWA) and not require manual downloading from the store. All this comes down to the fact that mobile users spend as much as 86% of the time on apps.

Benefits of the native app

The undeniable benefit of the native app is its high performance regardless of the Internet speed and the possibility to adjust the interface and set of gestures to the habits of the user of a given platform. The entire content is downloaded to the device’s memory, making access is more reliable. Unified technical specification and programming language allow the developers to create even more expanded and eye-pleasing apps through the use of better resources. An example are games with modern 3D graphics. From the coding side, native SDK packages enable easier access to unique functions of the device without having to deal with the complexity of plugins, which may accelerate work and, in the future, exclude any problems with overdue libraries.

A compliant UX design allows the user to intuitively navigate through the interface without feeling an unpleasant cognitive dissonance in the beginning. It significantly decreases the chance of the app being discarded after the first launch. Native apps are often perceived as safer, because data does not have to migrate to the server and may be encrypted in the infrastructure of the app itself.

Downsides of the hybrid app

As we have confirmed above, one of the main benefits of native apps is efficiency. The question is: are hybrids worse in this regard? Both yes and no. They are most of all dependent from the connection to the server. Mobile app developers can have significant problems with introducing an offline mode in this type of app. Of course, a part of the data is downloaded to the device, but without quicker access to the network, the user may experience unpleasant delays or, worse, he might not have access to the basic functionality at all. The same negative effects will come with a server overload or its failure. This is why a hybrid model works great in content-oriented apps, which are usually not very expanded.

When creating a hybrid app, coders may encounter unexpected problems, as some native functions of devices may be accessed only through plugins of third-party firms, and in the case of new devices, at times they have to create them themselves. This may be an unreliable solution, especially if we want the app to use the device’s functions in a nontypical way. Though difficulties do not necessarily mean a limitation of possibilities, but rather only the need for a greater output of work and budget, a hybrid app may use augmented reality, but it is necessary to purchase an extra set of SDK tools. Our library must always be synchronized with the latest changes and versions of the system.

Simultaneous creation of an app for two platforms is also a compromise design wise. Hybrid apps should be possibly neutral and readable in terms of navigation. If we use a set of gestures known from, for instance, Apple devices, then the users using Android on a daily basis may find it nonintuitive.

It is worth paying attention to the words of Kiran Prasad, LinkedIn director, spoken after transferring from a hybrid to a native app:

“There are a few things that are critically missing. One is tooling support — having a debugger that actually works, performance tools that tell you where the memory is running out. If you look at Android and iOS, there are two very large corporations that are focused on building tools to give a lot of detailed information when things go wrong in production. On the mobile web side, getting those desktop tools to work for mobile devices is really difficult.”

Downsides of the native app

Creating a native app comes with the need to employ specialized coders. When creating iOS and Android versions simultaneously, we need two development teams, which obviously translates into an increased budget. If we decide that the native app should have its priority platform, and then want to transport it, this will not only absorb more resources but also spread over a significantly longer production cycle. During our product’s life cycle, each update will have to be elaborated separately, and different platforms may come with different problems. Therefore, it is not just the starting budget that should be larger, but we will still need separate development teams in the future.

A hybrid app or a native app, which should I choose?

If you need an app based on browsing content, you want to reach the largest number of recipients possible, you are running a store or internet page and want to facilitate access for mobile users, it’s best to go with the hybrid model. The same goes for introducing an idea to the market through MVP (Minimum Viable Product). Wanting to check the demand for a specific functionality or stir up the interest of potential investors with your idea, often times you will not need a very extended path, and a hybrid may still offer an aesthetic design. A hybrid app first and foremost comes with smaller costs at the beginning of the product’s life and easier and faster update. So, if you have a limited budget and time, go for the hybrid. Particularly if the app is meant to be merely a supplement to your existing business.

If you want to create an expanded app, that will perform regardless of access to the Internet, then it’s worth reconsidering the native app. Most importantly, this may increase user experience thanks to the reliability of access and interface tailored to the platform. Games targeted at offline gameplay with a refined graphic design sold for a fixed price are probably the best example. Apps which must use the device’s components to a large extent must be written natively. Perhaps you have concrete research at hand showing that your target group uses one platform exclusively or you mostly care about the local market with one dominating platform (in the United States or in Japan, these are Apple products). Of course, in the case of a reversed trend, you will be forced to another investment to reach your customers.

After having a read, you are probably able to assess which model is best tailored to your needs. If you are still hesitant, you may establish the technology with the software house after sending them your functional specification. The agency will give you detailed information on the required budget, completion time, functioning and limitations resulting from the use of hybrid or native app solutions.