Everyone is developing mobile applications, from startups to traditional retailers and big businesses. Apps are an additional way to connect with customers, can add extra functionality to a product or services you already offer, or even function as a product/service within themselves. But how can you decide which development path to take? There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing between a Native App, a Web App, or a Hybrid app. So let’s look at them one by one and then figure out how to make the best development decision.
Native Apps: the top choice
This app type is the one that end users are most familiar with. They are the apps explicitly developed for a specific platform (most commonly Android or iOS) using the corresponding SDK and are purchased or installed through the Google Play, Apple, or other app stores, which is helpful when it comes to marketing.
What makes native apps special is that they are designed specifically to function on their specific platform. Android apps are tailor made to for Android devices and are optimized for speed, UI, and screen sizes. Native apps are also interesting because they can access and store local data on a user’s phone which can personalize the functionality of the app and can also access the phone’s hardware such as the microphone and GPS to add specific functions.
Read our article about Android vs iOS: Where to Start?
Web Apps: versatile but with limited quality
Web Apps are common place, though many end users would not be able to identify this type of app by name. These are apps that can be written in a variety of programming languages as they are stored on a company’s server and open and run through web browsers rather than a user’s phone and need an internet connection in order to function.
The advantage of web apps is that they can be used on any platform, however their performance is worse than native apps and their UI and user experience is not quite as refined. Developers of web apps need to be careful. Web apps are heavily dependent on web browsers and some browsers might interpret the app differently than the developer intended and ruin the app’s user experience. Also, web apps cannot access all of a phone’s hardware or its local data and also cannot store data on the phone.
Hybrid Apps: the in-between choice
Hybrid apps can be installed on different platforms and represent the middle ground between web and native apps. They are often built using HTML 5 and Java Script frameworks and implemented using a cross platform tool like React Native. Instead of having to develop the same application twice for Android and iOS using each SDK, tools like React Native allow developers to create one base application that can be tweaked and adapted to run on different platforms.
Hybrid apps perform better than web apps and feel more like native apps but are missing some of the latter’s features. While hybrid apps are able to run on different platforms their UI and functionalities are not completely optimized for each one. Also, while they can access local date and certain resources on mobile phones but often cannot use hardware features.
App Functionality and Development Strategy
Choosing which platform to develop for is a strategic decision. To know what type of app to develop you need to decide what functions the app actually needs. Although web apps have the worst overall performance they are still more than adequate for certain types of functions.
For example, does your app mostly focus on giving the end user information and only needs to support basic interaction? Then a web app will do that job just fine. If you app needs geolocation and a well-designed UI with multiple functions then you probably need to go with a native app.
It can be difficult to know what functions your app actually needs to serve its purpose. Unless you are very certain about what your app needs it is usually a bad idea to start directly with developing a native app. One thing that many developers do is start by developing a Web app and using it to experiment by trying out different features and using AB testing. Then once the data is collected the developers have a clear idea of which app functionalities are the most important to users and they can develop a well-designed native app in a streamlined package. The LinkedIn app went through this process and the end result was a well-made app.
Developing a web app first is expensive because you then have to develop the app a second time to make it native (or three times if you develop it for both Android and iOS). However, making the app correctly is usually more economic in the long run. If budget is a concern then it is possible to start with a web app and then develop one hybrid app instead of two native apps.
Choosing an App Type is a Part of Business Strategy
When planning a project, an app’s functionality is not the only thing that needs to be considered. Budget and time to market are also important factors. Deciding to build in app is a business decision so needs to be thought about in a business context.
Web apps are the cheapest and quickest to develop. The competencies necessary to develop a web app are common so there is a big market of developers which allows for a quick recruitment process at cheaper daily rates. Also, web apps are often developed from already existing desktop programs and if a base of code already exists development can move quickly. Maintenance cost can also be cheaper as a web app can be stored on the cloud and updates are centralized, rather than having each user individually download an app update.
As with anything that is higher quality, native apps are more expensive and take longer to develop. The market place for iOS and Android developers is also smaller so it can take more time to recruit a team and you will have to pay for their skills. One big drawback of native apps is that you will have to develop the app twice if you want an app for both the iOS and Android platforms which is both time consuming and costly.
Again, hybrids are stuck in the middle, both in regards to cost and development time and as mentioned before they can serve as a budget option that can serve as a substitute for native apps.
Summing it up
To choose the development path of your app you should ask yourself 2 questions:
- What functionalities does my app need?
- What is my budget?
If you know what functions your app needs then you can directly choose the most appropriate path, a web app if it only needs basic functions and a native app if you need more. If you are not sure then it is helpful to start with a web app to experiment and move on from there. If your budget is a limiting factor then when the time is right, instead of developing two native apps you can develop one hybrid app, as long as you can include the functions you need.
To learn even more about mobile application development, watch a recording of our webinar where one of our in house mobile experts talk about the 10 mistakes you should avoid during a mobile development project.