Mobile app development is complex. To build apps that reach all users, developers must deal with many different operating systems, SDKs, development tools, screen sizes, and form factors, as well as a technology landscape that is still in a constant state of flux. And if that were not enough, there are also several different ways to build mobile apps that development teams must sort through before beginning any new mobile effort.

Choosing how to build a mobile app, though, can have the most dramatic effect on the eventual cost, time, and success of a mobile project. This is second only to determining the scope and functionality of the app itself. Failure to match an application's requirements to the right mobile development approach all but guarantees wasted time and effort–often resulting in a less effective end result.

There are three primary approaches to building mobile apps today: Web, Hybrid and Native. This blog aims to explain the primary differences between these approaches.

Native App Development

Native App is developed for a specific platform using platform-specific SDKs and development tools provided by the platform vendors. For example:

  • For iOS, apps are built using Objective C or Swift in Apple’s XCode.
  • For Android, apps are built using Java or Kotlin and Google’s Android SDKs.

The advantage of native apps is that they can get full access to device capabilities. As stated in an MGI Research study titled Buyer's Guide for Mobile Enterprise Applications Platforms (MEAP),

“Native architecture tends to offer the richest, most graphically engaging user experience, high performance, and the ability to integrate with native device functions and backend enterprise systems.”

Native apps provide full access to the device’s hardware, such as its GPS sensor, contact list, camera, microphone, gyroscope, and accelerometer. These capabilities are essential for apps that require device data, like geographical location or device position/movement.

But these advantages come at the high cost of development and time as you’ve to build two similar applications for iOS and Android. Also, maintenance cost increases as developers have to maintain source code for two platforms.

Still, when maximum power is required, nothing beats native apps.

  • Essential skills*: Objective-C or Swift for iOS, Java or Kotlin for Android, HTML/JavaScript
  • Essential tools*: XCode (for iOS), Eclipse (for Android)
  • Platform reach: Each app only reaches one platform
  • Sharable cross-platform codebase: 0% (No UI, No logic)

Pros:

  • Complete access to device hardware, APIs
  • Installable, can be app store deployed
  • Maximum control over performance
  • Powerful platform-specific development and debugging tools direct from platform vendors

Cons:

  • Multiple implementations required to reach multiple platforms
  • Multiple skill sets and programming languages
  • Requires installation (and device provisioning if private deployment desired)
  • New tools needed to manage app security, enforce data security policies

Mobile Web App Development

Mobile web applications run in the device’s browser which gives a feel of mobile apps. Unlike native apps, mobile web apps run on both platforms: Android and iOS. Also, they are accessible via the web and do not require installation on the devices.

Mobile web apps can be built using the same skills and technologies (PHP, Node.js, ASP.NET) as developers use to build web applications. To give the feel of native mobile application, developers build custom experiences using HTML, JavaScript, and CSS that conform to mobile specific UI conventions.

Since mobile web apps are accessed through mobile browsers, it’s the fastest way to reach mobile users. Unlike native apps, you don’t have to build different apps for different platforms which ultimately save lots of development cost and time. Also, the learning curve for the developers would be very less as most of the development teams are familiar with web development technologies and approach.

Unlike native and hybrid apps, mobile web apps are limited to the features built-in to mobile browsers. Also, they are unable to access some of the device’s hardware, contact list and deliver push notifications.

  • Essential skills: HTML, JavaScript, CSS
  • Essential tools: Anything capable of developing web apps
  • Platform reach: iOS, Android, Windows Phone or any HTML5 capable mobile browser
  • Sharable cross-platform codebase: 100% (UI + Logic)

Pros:

  • Familiar, very low developer learning curve
  • Easy to deploy, no software installs
  • Easy to share code with desktop websites
  • Maximum reach
  • Reuse existing security and software management solutions
  • Open standards-based platform (no vendor lock-in)

Cons:

  • Limited access to device hardware, APIs
  • Poor offline support, requires “always on” Internet connection
  • Unable to “install” on a device or publish via an app store
  • Unable to match native performance for rich, animated interfaces

Hybrid App Development

Hybrid apps are a combination of native and mobile web apps. Simply, a hybrid app is a mobile web app wrapped in a platform-specific shell.

Hybrid apps are developed using standard web technologies, like HTML, JavaScript, and CSS. But, to overcome the limits of web apps, developers use platform-specific native “wrappers” to package and deploy the code. The native wrappers allow hybrid apps to be installed on devices, deploy via app stores and access native device APIs via JavaScript.

The hybrid approach allows the cross-platform development of mobile apps and thus the significantly reduces the development costs. That’s the main advantage of hybrid apps that developers can build mobile apps for both platforms with lower development cost and time. In addition, hybrid apps are identical to native apps. In fact, prior to rebuilding their mobile apps natively, Facebook used hybrid technology to create some of the world’s most popular mobile apps, reaching millions of users.

The primary limit of hybrid apps is the speed and performance of the web container on each target device. For this reason, hybrid development is best used when the requirements of an app exceed the limits of the web, but do not demand the full power of native.

  • Essential skills: HTML, JavaScript, CSS, Hybrid container (such as Apache Cordova, PhoneGap)
  • Essential tools: Anything used for web development* + hybrid SDKs
  • Platform reach: Limited to reach of hybrid container, but most reach all major platforms
  • Sharable cross-platform codebase: Almost 100% (Some platform-specific UI may be desired)

Pros:

  • Low learning curve for web developers
  • Installed, can be app store deployed
  • One code base for all platforms
  • Easy to transition from web to hybrid development, reuse code
  • Extensive access to device hardware, APIs

Cons:

  • Performance limited by web’s capabilities
  • Requires installation (and device provisioning if private deployment desired)
  • New tools need to manage app security, enforce data security policies

So, which is better?

Now, choosing the best approach for mobile app development depends entirely on the target users, business requirements and budget. As such, it is impossible to prescribe the “right way” to build every mobile app, the pros and cons of every approach will help you decide the right app development approach.

Our developers at BlueKite Apps have experience of building all three types of mobile app development. Also, We are recognized as a top E-Commerce Design & Development Company on DesignRush”.