Native Apps vs. Hybrid Apps - What's Best for You and Your Customers?
Saturday, January 30, 2016

Native Apps vs. Hybrid Apps - What's Best for You and Your Customers?

Native Apps vs. Hybrid Apps - What's Best for You and Your Customers?

There are smartphone apps for everything, whether it's finding your car, managing a project, or keeping in touch with your family and friends. Startups and established companies large and small are developing apps to help their users, share valuable information, and increase revenue. But, if you’re just starting to dabble with the idea of developing a mobile app, one of the first decisions you’ll need to make is weather to develop a native or a hybrid app.

There are two leading mobile platforms for app development - Android and iOS (Apple's operating system.) There are other platforms like Windows Mobile and Blackberry but Android has about 55% of market share and iOS has about 40%. Your decision on developing a native or a hybrid app starts by understanding the differences between them.

Differences between native and hybrid apps

Native apps

A native app is created for one particular platform, generally iOS or Android. For the most part, each platform will have different source code that's independently developed and maintained. So, native apps can make full use of the platform they are developed for. This provides the best possible performance, hardware integration, reliability and overall user experience possibilities.

Features of native apps include:

  • Usually quicker and easier for users to learn and begin using.
  • Better user experience and familiarity.
  • Good integration with existing smartphone features.
  • Greater performance, reliability, and security.

Native apps do have some drawbacks:

  • Developing the app requires technical expertise for the specific platform.
  • Usually, development cycles and time to market are longer.
  • Lower initial market share if you’re developing for just one platform.
  • Typically more expensive to develop and test.

Hybrid apps

Unlike native apps, hybrid apps are developed to work across multiple platforms at once. Only one type of source code is created because the code is put into a special "wrapper" that allows it to work for Android and iOS (and others). Hybrid apps allow you to develop once for multiple platforms but this can impact user experience. However, development costs and time to market are usually reduced.

Features of hybrid apps include:

  • Faster development cycle as the same code can be used for multiple platforms.
  • Reduced development costs because only one type of code is needed.
  • Quicker time to market across iOS and Android app stores.

Drawbacks of hybrid apps include:

  • Poorer integration with existing smartphone features.
  • Less intuitive user experience.
  • Hybrid apps are often harder to get users to adopt and use.

A good developer can reduce some of the limitations of hybrid apps, but even still, it’s almost impossible to make them perform as well as native apps.

Customer experience versus business needs

If a mobile app doesn't work as expected, 80% of consumers will try to use it once or twice, but fewer than 20% will try a third time. User experience is critical and a major factor when choosing between native and hybrid apps. You need to consider this and balance your decision based on your business needs and budget.

Native apps improve your customer's experience

Because native apps are built for a specific platform, they create a better user experience. Compared to hybrid apps, native apps provide:

  • More familiar design and function - Native apps work with the user interface(UI), operating system (OS), and design guidelines of the platform. This means they "feel right," act as a customer expects, and are easier to learn.
  • Greater integration with existing smartphone hardware and software - Because they're built for a specific OS, native apps can take advantage of a smartphone's existing functions. Native apps can access GPS, contact lists, cameras, sharing functions, other apps, and more.
  • Improved performance, reliability, and security - Native apps run more quickly, crash less often, and have better security that their hybrid cousins. They don't rely on a "wrapper" to interface with the smartphone.

These areas make a real difference to a user. Most of your customer won’t necessarily know if you've developed a native or a hybrid app, and they don't need to. But, if their experience isn't perfect, you could lose them.

Hybrid apps can reduce development costs and time to market for your business

Customer experience might be the most important factor, but it's not the only one when deciding on the right approach. Hybrid development does have some advantages:

  • Reduced development costs - You're only paying to develop and maintain the source code once. This will also reduce the costs of testing, bug fixes, and more.
  • Quicker development cycle and time to market - Creating code for two platforms at the same time means faster development than building two native apps, and getting your hybrid app to market sooner.
  • Immediate updates - Hybrid apps often use web pages for user interface elements, so changes to those pages are updated in real time in the app. Changes to the app UI or other app functions still need to be coded and released normally.

Ultimately, you want to find the perfect balance between quality, cost, and speed.

Making the right decision

When you're making the decision between native and hybrid apps, here are some areas to think about:

  • The user experience of a native app beats everything else - There's so much choice in the app markets, if one app isn't perfect, a user will find and use something else. If you want people to share and use your app, you have to make sure the design, functionality, and execution is flawless.
  • You get a larger initial market share with a hybrid app - When you develop across both platforms, you get access to 95% of the smartphone app market with just one development effort.
  • A native app can have more value to the user - Because it can integrate with everything else on the smartphone, native apps provide a more intuitive, cohesive, and complete experience.
  • You can develop a minimum viable product (MVP) with a hybrid app - If you just want to test the market, it can be a good idea to develop a hybrid app prototype. You can release it, measure user feedback, and then develop robust native apps later.
  • You might not need to release both versions at the same time - Many businesses with native apps focus on one platform before moving to the other. You can initially develop for one platform, learn what works, and then develop for the other platform. Instagram didn't develop their Android app for two years.

Your final choice depends on your priorities. If you're looking for a good rate of adoption, positive word of mouth, and have the money and time, a native app is the best choice.

When you need to get to market quickly and keep costs down, consider using a hybrid app. If you do decide to use a hybrid app, make sure you work with developers who put user experience first. A good developer will help you understand how a customer will use the app, and can create solutions to make things easier.