As a mobile app development professional at the largest independent app developers in the UK, I’m asked on countless occasions by enterprise organisations “should we develop a native or hybrid app for our business?” The poser of the questions then sits, perched forward on the edge of their seat. It’s almost as if I then become the oracle, he who has the answers to all of life’s questions, well all of their mobile app development questions anyway, and then, after a lengthy lament, I lean forward and say “well, it depends…”
Deciding the code base for you app should not be your first question, it’s like saying you want to publish a book and the first thing you want to talk about id the binding method to be used in production before we have even discussed what the book is about!
For those of you that are reading this article hoping to hear that there is one, true, clear and definitive answer to the ‘age old’ development question, I’m afraid that the answer is, there isn’t one. However, what I can do is lay out the pros and cons of both for you and then together we can come to a conclusion as to which development style is best for you and your organisation.
Ultimately it comes down to a number of factors, the primary one being “what you are trying to achieve?” Much has changed in the mobile app development space in a few very short years, and these changes will continue over the coming years and probably at a more rapid pace, but for the most part, both hybrid and native apps can be a solid choice for your organisation.
Because native apps run on the device’s operating system and can take full advantage of a device’s functionality and hardware, native apps have significant performance advantages over hybrids. For apps that are building-processor-intensive or highly interactive, such as mobile games, or for enterprises that want their apps to have access to functions like push notifications, camera and address book options, GPS, offline access or SMS messaging, a native approach is likely the best option.
Another advantage of native apps is their user interface. Native apps run on the device’s operating system, which means they can be built to take advantage of the display features and unique device capabilities. The result is a more integrated look and feel.
Finally, native apps offer more security as they can leverage the platform’s specific built-in security features. For e-commerce and banking apps where security is critical, native apps will be the best choice. For others, weighing security concerns against other native app limitations will be necessary.
Despite the benefits of an outstanding user experience and the high performance that native apps offer, as far back as 2013 Gartner predicted that hybrid apps would be used in more than 50 percent of mobile apps by 2016. Why? Because hybrid apps have some real advantages over native apps and not as many “big” limitations.
The result is that hybrid apps enjoy the integration abilities of previous Web-based apps while also still being able to take advantage of device capabilities. This means hybrids can apply a consistent look and feel across devices and platforms without the cost or time of having to write separate code for each device. This can not only make them highly accessible for enterprises with BYOD policies, but potentially more cost-effective.
There are also cross platform development tools such as Xamarin, that allow a single code base to be compiled to native code – but that is another story for another day.
Which way should your business go
I’m lucky enough to be in the privileged position where we are able to develop both native and hybrid applications, depending upon the customer’s business goals, so I can give an appraisal totally without bias.
As detailed from the outset, your best option will depend on what you are trying to accomplish with your app. If you’re building a game-like app, need a high level of security or want to be able to make full use device functions, a native app may be the right choice.
Also, native applications trump hybrid when it comes to performance and even the most hardened hybrid advocate wouldn’t argue that point. A well coded native app is faster and more reliable by its very design.
Paul Swaddle is a self-confessed ‘gadget geek,’ he has been working at the leading edge of mobile technology for the past 15 years. He co-founded Pocket App, the UK’s largest independent app developers, in 2011 to bring the creative and technical development elements of mobile technology together under one roof. Paul is a crowdfunding veteran having raised over £800,000 on Seedrs in 2016. Paul’s extensive industry knowledge and renowned reputation in the app development sector resulted in him being headhunted for as a guest judge in the final episode of the acclaimed BBC Television flagship programme, The Apprentice, in 2015. Twitter @PocketApp.