Mobile App Development Blog

Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Building a Mobile App.

Ian Blair

How To Choose Between Native, Hybrid or Web App For Your Business

The moment you decide to build an app, you are faced with many decisions. Technical, business, design, marketing, branding – all of them carry a certain weight and impact towards the success of your app.

They also carry consequences in case you make the wrong decision. The most expensive ones in app development are certainly the technical ones.

Changing your mind about the platform, technology or app type late in the development process can undo hundreds of hours of work and exponentially increase the overall costs. But if you get them right immediately, you will speed up your app development and benefit in the long run.

Choosing correctly between native, hybrid, or web app type sets your app for success – here’s why:

  • A mobile app needs a clear purpose to succeed. By aligning your app type with its core purpose, you will focus on your audience’s pain points and ensure your app features and capabilities are user-driven.
  • App costs can vary greatly by platform. By choosing the right app type from the beginning, you will ensure that you’ll be able to develop the app you intended within your budget.
  • An app requires long-term dedication. Choosing the ideal app type will help you account for all the resources you’ll need for maintenance, updates and the ease of future releases.

This guide is here to prepare you to choose your mobile app type and take the development path that will fulfill your business and marketing goals while aligning with your capabilities, resources and your vision. Read on!

What matters when choosing an app type?

The path you will take when it comes to native, hybrid and web apps will depend on many factors, and two businesses will rarely answer these questions the same.

Before we get to the factors that will affect your decision, let’s first cover some of the key differentiations between native, hybrid and web applications:

  1. Programming languages they are built in. This can vary from native device languages such as Switch and Java, to web based technologies with HTML, CSS and JavaScript.
  2. Access to native device APIs. This implies the ability of the app to use the device’s native features and other available APIs.
  3. Distribution method. This defines the channel through which the app will be findable – app stores or web.
  4. Multi-platform support. This simply means that different app types have different abilities to run on iOS and Android.

Before we get into the details of each app type regarding these key specifics, make sure you know the answers to the following:

  • How fast do you need the app to be developed?
  • What budget are you working with?
  • What are you trying to accomplish with the app?
  • What features do you need in order to do that?
  • What experience do you want to convey with your app?
  • What are your options for in-house and outsourced development?

These answers are your guide to make a choice between the app types based on their unique features and advantages.

Native apps

The simplest definition for native apps is that they are developed for specific devices, in a platform-specific programming language – meaning that an app developed for iOS won’t exist in the Google Play Store or work on an Android phone.

First, let’s cover some native app specifics:

  • Technology: iOS apps are built in Objective C or Swift. Android apps are built in Java.
  • Access to native API: Native apps have the capability to fully access device features and API.
  • Distribution method: Through app stores.
  • Multi-platform capability: None – limited to the platform it’s built for.

As you can see, native apps can take full advantage of the device features, such as the camera, the contact list, GPS, and more. They run directly from the platform they are built for, and they offer a genuine native experience.

However, there are some disadvantages to native apps, too, so here are both sides to it in detail.

Native app advantages

  • They offer a fast, responsive and robust experience to the user and they are reliable.
  • They use the least amount of hardware because of efficient coding.
  • They can access native device functionalities to enrich the experience.
  • They can work with no internet connection.
  • They can use push notifications to increase the app’s use and encourage specific paths and goals within the app.

Native app disadvantages

  • They only reach an audience on a single platform and exclude the other one.
  • Building an app for two platforms is extremely costly and time-consuming.
  • Maintaining and updating the app across the codebase and app store on two platforms is demanding.
  • It is difficult to provide the same experience with two different apps on two platforms.
  • Many developers specialize in one platform, so you may need two developers (or developer teams) to build and maintain your app.

Web apps

Web apps are simply websites that ‘feel’ like an app because of their interactivity and functionality. They are served through the internet, they run in browsers and cannot be downloaded to a mobile device like native apps can.

Web apps’ specifics are as follows:

  • Technology: Coded in HTML, CSS and JavaScript, platform-agnostic.
  • Access to native API: No – they run through the browser as opposed to on the device, and don’t have the access to device’s functionalities.
  • Distribution method: Through web.
  • Multi-platform capability: Same codebase is distributed across different platforms.

From this, you can see there are some clear benefits to the simplicity of web apps, as well as some limitations when it comes to complex features and capabilities. Web apps lie on the opposite side of the spectrum from native apps, and this is clear through their upsides and downfalls.

Web apps advantages

  • Their development is much quicker and with significantly lower costs.
  • Deployment, distribution and updates are easier as they don’t require an update in an app store – the updates can be visible immediately.
  • They are available on both platforms and don’t require developing separate codebases for each.
  • There is no app store approval process to slow down or prevent the launch.
  • Shareability and reach of a classic website.

Web apps disadvantages

  • Inaccessible through app stores.
  • Less intuitive and interactive, slower operating speed.
  • No access to native capabilities of the device.
  • They don’t work without internet connection.
  • They only appear on the home screen if a user bookmarks them through their browser, making it more difficult to build a user base.
  • They don’t run well on older devices and browsers.

Hybrid apps

Hybrid mobile apps sit exactly between native apps and web apps. They have a feel of a native app because they are downloadable from an app store and live on your home screen, but they rely on rendering in a browser that’s embedded inside the app.

Hybrid apps differ from other app types because of the following:

  • Technology: Coded in HTML, CSS and JavaScript, platform-agnostic.
  • Access to native API: Yes – because of solutions that bridge the native SDK and the webview in which the app runs.
  • Distribution method: Through app stores.
  • Multi-platform capability: Same codebase is distributed across different platforms.

Hybrid apps are a brilliant syndication of the best of both worlds. They leverage the native benefits while allowing for the same app to be available both through iOS App Store and Google Play Store.

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Hybrid app advantages

  • They are much quicker to develop because most development is done using standard web technologies.
  • They can use device’s native features.
  • Building on a single base saves resources because developing a single codebase only requires one team and takes less time.
  • They make updates easier to make and deploy.
  • They can work with no internet connection.
  • They are distributed through both app stores and can leverage them for distribution.

Hybrid app disadvantages

  • Its performance can lag compared to native apps as it depends on the quality of webview that displays the UI and runs the JavaScript code, meaning it depends on the user’s device capabilities. However, as devices are getting faster, the performance gap is greatly reduced, often truly applicable at the gaming level.
  • It may be more challenging to achieve some native-like experiences as the app is simultaneously developed for two platforms, adjusting to both at the same time.

How to choose the best one?

If you answered the questions about what matters to you when developing your app earlier in this article, you should now have a clearer picture of which app type might suit your app needs. They vary in cost, time and resourcing, as well as their abilities to fulfill different business needs.

Let’s look at differences between app types through these key implications.

Time to market

The time it takes to develop an app is the shortest for web apps and the longest for native apps, while hybrid apps usually sit in the middle. Native apps may also take extra time because of two separate development processes for iOS and Android.

Another factor that may affect the time to market for native and hybrid apps is the app store approval process, so it’s crucial to account for this early in development and optimize to ensure a smooth and quick launch.

Target audience and user experience

Who you’re targeting makes all the difference. Based on your audience’s preferences, context and pain points, some app types will fulfill their needs better than the others.

For example, if your app needs frequent update – and your audience counts on it – hybrid and web apps will work better than native apps.

On another hand, if you know your audience will need the practicality of downloading an app and accessing it offline, native or hybrid is the way to go.

Features of the app

A huge role in this decision-making process are the key features you want your app to have. First of all, there is a clear distinction between web and hybrid/native from their ability to use device’s native APIs.

Some apps may be perfectly functional without relying on native phone features, but others may be unusable in that case. Knowing what functionalities you need at this stage will make your decision easy!

Another element you need to factor in is the device’s ability to run the app with all its features and layers, as well as any future capabilities you may want to add to it later on. This way, you can make sure to allow yourself space for growth and not restrict yourself because of an app type.

Available budget

The cost of development primarily depends on the programming language and the desired time frame. Native apps are by far the most costly as they require hiring experienced developers and longer time to develop, and the costs may be double because of two platforms and most often two developers or developer teams.

If other factors indicate that a web app will be good enough to accomplish your app’s aim, it is a good path budget-wise. If you, however, require stronger performance and device’s native features, but don’t operate with an extremely large budget, hybrid apps will serve as the best choice.

Discoverability

Your marketing strategy may largely affect your app type choice because of your app’s ability to be organically discovered. While web apps aren’t present in app stores, they are easily shared as websites using email, social and any other channels that have proven successful for your business.

On the contrary, hybrid and native apps live in app stores and can be optimized for search and app store rankings because of descriptions, reviews, screenshots, and more. Web apps are deprived of that opportunity and their distribution heavily relies on classic digital marketing.

And here is your bottom line:

If your app needs to execute more heavy-duty tasks and its speed and performance are the key to its success, native apps are your ideal choice and are worth the time and the budget you will invest. This definitely includes games or any apps that rely on the use of photos or videos.

If you want your app to work in real time and be straightforward, easily updated and isn’t performance stressed, web apps are the way to go. They don’t require access to the native layer and are quick and relatively cheap to develop, allowing you to reach your mobile marketing goals sooner while fulfilling your user’s needs.

And finally, for most app goals and purposes, hybrid apps are the best path to take. This includes productivity apps, utility apps and enterprise apps. Hybrid apps have the advantage of the feeling of a native app while reducing the development costs compared to native apps and making the maintenance streamlined and straightforward, allowing for your business to scale easier.

Conclusion

These three app types each carry their own benefits and downfalls, and the choice you make will impact the course of your growth. This is why the key of this process is understanding your assets and limitations and using them to get the best return in the form of your app.

And after you’ve considered your options and made your decision, it’s crucial you work with developers that can visualize your idea and bring it to life on your budget and according to the core goal of your business. It is important to work with a team that is knowledgeable and experienced in the exact technology that supports your choice so your app can achieve its full potential.

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Ian Blair

BuildFire Co-Founder. I'm a digital marketer by trade and an entrepreneur at heart. I'm here to help businesses go mobile and build apps more efficiently than before.