What’s the Verdict on Native Apps vs Hybrid Apps vs Web Apps in 2017?

The internet is overflowing with debates about the faults and merits of native and web apps. Predictably, some favor the former and others the latter. However, it would be naive not to consider the advantages of hybrid apps when discussing app development options.

At Fliplet, our app builder is designed to create hybrid apps to let users take advantage of the benefits of both kinds of technologies.

But what is a hybrid app?

Native, web and hybrid apps

Hybrid apps are quite literally built on a combination of native and web technologies. So in order to understand what this means, let’s start with a definition of the difference between native and web apps.

Native apps

Native apps are apps built using programming languages such as Objective-C (iOS), Java (Android) and C# (Windows 10).

These apps can be downloaded from app stores and installed on mobile devices where they can be accessed via a designated icon on the home screen.

Because they reside within the device itself, native apps are very good at accessing data provided by some of the functionalities in mobile devices, such as GPS information, accelerometer data, contacts, etc.

Native apps can also access push notifications, enabling the app to notify users about content or other updates, which is essential to many apps.

Although web apps also have access to some of this functionality, native apps have deeper integration with it and give developers more ways to build the features as desired.

Native apps usually don’t have the simplest tools for maintaining content, and could take a long time for changes to be made and then published to app stores or redistributed.

Moreover, native apps are constantly working in the background whether the app is open or not; this means that it will continue to process data and receive updates even when you’re not using it.

Native apps are also more suitable for working offline.

Web apps

Web apps, on the other hand, are developed using web technologies such as HTML, CSS and JavaScript. They exist entirely within browsers such as Safari and Chrome and are essentially mobile websites.

It is therefore not possible to download them from an app store, although many mobile devices allow you to “bookmark” them as an app icon on your home screen.

Web apps can be designed and optimized to appear as native apps and some devices even remove the top bar of the browser to make them look even more so.

On the other hand, web apps lack a lot of the benefits that native apps provide; they only work online and they don’t have access to as many phone features as native apps do. There are certain standards that let developers build websites that could work offline on mobile devices. They are sometimes unreliable and could end up with data being lost or make development more complex than necessary.

However, they do have access to some essential features such as GPS, camera and phone calling, which are often sufficient for many apps. Other features such as push notifications are currently inaccessible via web apps.

The reason why many companies opt for web apps rather than native apps is that they are generally considered easier and cheaper to develop, as more developers are familiar with web than with native app technologies. They are also often backed with some form of web-based Content Management System (CMS) to make the web app easier to maintain.

Furthermore, web apps are readily scalable to a variety of operating systems and devices because mobile operating systems interpret web technology in mostly the same manner, and the same code can be reused across different operating systems. Native apps, on the other hand, always need to be built from scratch, taking up more time and resources.

Hybrid apps

As mentioned, hybrid apps combine the power of native and web apps to reap the benefits of both.

At their core, hybrid apps are web apps wrapped in a native shell. This means that while the basic infrastructure of hybrid apps is native, the content is web-based. So hybrid apps are like a native app with a browser embedded within it.

By combining both technologies, hybrid apps can take advantage of all the native features of native apps – accessing data from other apps, offline working, ability to be downloaded from an app store – while the actual content relies on HTML being rendered in a browser.

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What are the benefits of hybrid apps?

Access to device data

Hybrid apps, like native apps, are able to access data that devices pick up via functionality such as GPS and camera, but also push notifications and address book information.

Being able to connect with this functionality gives hybrid apps much more freedom as to the kind of things they can do.

Offline working

Because of their native infrastructure, hybrid apps can work offline. Although, while offline, data can obviously not be updated, users are still able to load the app and access previously loaded data, unlike web apps.

Data created while offline–whether captured via forms, surveys or any other way–can also be stored on the device and sent to servers as soon as the user connects to the internet.

More resources

On the other hand, using web technology for app content makes hybrid app development much easier. The knowledge of web technology far outstrips that of native coding, so there are many more resources and people available to deliver it.

At the same time, the resources and costs needed to code using web technologies are considerably lower than those of native ones, so companies can also save money and time.

Easy scaling

Hybrid apps are also much easier to scale to a variety of platforms and operating systems. This is because web technology is almost 100% similar across different platforms and operating systems so that code can be simply reused with no need to rebuild the whole app from scratch.

Apps created with Fliplet, for instance, work on iOS, Android and Windows 10 devices, with no need to build three separate apps.

What are the challenges associated with hybrid apps?

Despite the great advantages of hybrid apps, some challenges do remain to be addressed.

Slower performance

Because of its content being based on web technology, hybrid apps can be slower to load than native apps. However, there are ways to manage this by using innovative methods.

For example,the Fliplet platform has been optimized to ensure the hybrid framework performs at its best.

Glitches

Another common concern about hybrid and web apps is that the way they render or load content is “glitchy”; for instance, by loading different elements of the app at different times (just like websites do).

This is in contrast to the smoother and more polished native app user experience. However, there are many resources and solutions available to fix glitches, and comprehensive testing will help you identify and get rid of any glitchy elements.

Visual and interactive components

Although visual and interactive components such as games and 3D animation are available in hybrid apps, they still perform better on fully native apps. This is the key reason why hybrid apps are perfect for the needs of professional services business apps, since businesses don’t have a recurring need to produce many games or animated apps. It’s worth mentioning, however, that performance on hybrid apps is improving every day and getting closer to that of native apps.

Native vs. web components

Finally, a challenge to hybrid app developers will be to make decisions on which components of apps should be native and which web-based. This obviously depends on each individual app and its use, so it is something that each development team will need to decide individually.

What are the common myths associated with hybrid apps?

There are a number of myths associated with hybrid app development that can often mislead and deter potential users.

1. HTML5 website responsiveness equals hybrid app

Making an HTML5 website responsive does not mean it has the same capabilities of an app. Although they will have similarities they will have stark contrasts.

The strategic planning of the app is equally important to provide unique value to the user. Determining what features or aspects of the app might be most beneficial to the user

2. “You won’t be able to do that

Hybrid apps are more capable of things than they were years ago. In recent times, there has been an increase in the number of frameworks available to help developers build hybrid apps.

This stems from the developer community recognising that hybrid apps give app creators a more universal and accessible way to build for all platforms.

Therefore, more developer tools are now customized for building hybrid apps.

3. Webview apps suck and hybrids are bad

Webview apps perform a lot better these days than they historically have done. What’s more, the improvement of HTML standards has helped greatly too. If you don’t believe us, get a demo of Fliplet and see for yourself how native these apps feel like.

Are hybrid apps definitely for you?

The process of choosing which development approach to use when creating your mobile app will depend on a number of parameters, such as:

ParameterNative appHybrid appWeb app
Budget££££££££
Timeframe********
Purpose and target audienceGames, high framerate apps, online banking, AR, VRProfessional services, B2B, reporting, internal communicationsSmall marketing campaigns or events, other temporary uses
App functionality***********


With that in mind, there might be times when opting for hybrid applications wouldn’t actually be your best option. For example…

Highly detailed and nuanced UI/UX

There are limits to what you can do with HTML/CSS/JS whilst maintaining performance.

Apps with extremely high performance

We’re talking about apps with 60fps, 3D rendering with sound and map synchronisation and additional holographic VR etc.

Due to the fact that hybrid apps use layers of technologies to make apps easier to develop, two things happen:

  1. the apps need to run more layers which slows down performance
  2. the layers in the middle remove the capabilities for developers to control the performance. There are ways to manage some of these with hybrid apps through programming best practices and techniques, but it also has its limits.

Get started embracing the benefits of hybrid apps

Web apps and native apps may seem very similar, but they are based on completely different infrastructure, both of which have their benefits and their drawbacks.

Hybrid apps are now allowing developers to take advantage of the benefits of both kinds of apps. Although hybrid apps still pose some challenges, developers are increasingly coming up with solutions to overcome them.

At present, the great advantages of hybrid apps make them the most cost-effective ways of building optimal mobile apps and the differences in performance compared to native apps are not significant enough to warrant the extra cost and efforts.

Learn more about why mobile apps should now form an integral part of any enterprise mobile strategy.