Hybrid apps vs. Native Apps: Which Approach Suits You in 2021?

The smartphone market is a fast-growing one. It was valued at USD 714.96 billion in 2020 and it is expected to reach USD 1,351.8 billion by 2026. This means that having a robust mobile presence is not optional for companies anymore; mobile app development is crucial for market penetration and growth. 

When exploring a new app idea, a common question that comes up is “How should we build it? Native or Hybrid?”. Unfortunately, the answer to this question, like most things, is not so simple. 

Native and hybrid apps differ from each other in the way they are developed. Native apps are built specifically for each smartphone platform, so you will need to create two versions of your app: for iOS and Android. On the other hand, a hybrid app is developed using a common codebase that can run on both iOS and Android. 

Both native and hybrid apps are widely found in app stores and there’s a high probability you are using examples of both without even knowing it. 

However, when it comes to deciding on which development approach you should take, there are many factors to consider. Here we will explore the pros and cons of each approach in more detail to help you in your decision-making. 

What is a Native app?

Native apps are smartphone applications built for a specific mobile operating system. Think Swift or Objective-C for iOS, or Java for Android. Since they are made for a particular platform, they directly access all the device features and default UI components. This direct access means that native apps function smoothly and perform better, though the performance difference becomes noticeable on graphics-intensive apps and games. 

Native apps run only on the specific platform they were written for, so an Android app can’t run on iOS and vice versa. To reach both audiences, you will need to build two versions of the app, typically requiring two separate teams, each with specialist skillsets. This extra effort increases time and costs, not only for the initial build but also for continuous maintenance and new feature development. 

What are the pros and cons of the Native approach?

Pros

  • Native behavior: The user experience is tailored for each device, creating a smooth and familiar experience for users. 
  • Load time: Native apps are usually faster to load since the code is integrated so closely with the device.
  • Speed & performance: While there may not be a noticeable difference for more simple apps, native codebases are better for graphic-intensive apps such as games. 

Cons

  • Cost: Native apps are more expensive to build, maintain and support since all work needs to be carried out on two codebases, each with a specialist team. This can double or even triple your costs. 
  • Time: As you will expect, developing two apps on separate codebases will take longer. 
  • Maintenance: Simultaneously maintaining two codebases increases cost, time and complexity. 
  • Customization: Native development has set design patterns that can make specific UI customizations a bit difficult. 

What is a Hybrid app?

Hybrid apps are built for multiple operating systems from a single codebase and behave like native apps. They adopt a “write once, run everywhere” approach. Hybrid apps use open web technologies like HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript at their core, but unlike a regular web app, hybrid apps can use native plugins to achieve the same capabilities as a native app. This means the app can access native features such as Face ID, fingerprint recognition, camera, and GPS. 

A hybrid app runs in a web view, which is a full-screen web browser that the user cannot see. This webview is then built into separate packages that can be submitted to the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store, giving the appearance of two apps while, in reality, there is only one. And since there is only one codebase, this approach is more cost-effective to develop and maintain than a native app. 

What are the pros and cons of a hybrid approach?

Pros

  • Time-to-market: Hybrid apps can be developed quickly for multiple platforms, making them an ideal fit for companies taking an MVP approach. 
  • Cost: With only one codebase, it is cheaper to develop and support continuously. You also need just one team to maintain multiple platforms. 
  • Consistency: The app looks and behaves the same across all platforms, giving users a unified experience. Switching from an iPhone to an Android phone will feel very natural.

Cons

  • Graphic performance: Hybrid apps can struggle with high-performance apps, such as games and AR, due to the overhead of webviews.
  • Native Experience: While the user experience of a hybrid app can be excellent, taking this approach makes it more challenging to replicate a smooth native experience. 
  • Plugin reliance: Hybrid apps rely on third-party plugins to integrate with some native functionalities, making it very important to select well-established and reputed plugins to ensure app stability and performance. 

Conclusion

There are distinct advantages and disadvantages for both hybrid and native approaches, which is why this is a relevant discussion in 2021. Tech giants themselves use both methods; some examples of well-known hybrid apps are Instagram, Gmail, Uber and the Apple App Store itself. 

The route to take really depends on each company’s unique need, so:

For performance-heavy apps with a tightly integrated user experience, the best choice would be the native approach. 

However, you should go for a hybrid approach if a quick time-to-market, easy continuous maintenance and lower costs are most important. 

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