Understanding hybrid and native apps
What exactly are apps? Why do we use them? And for which tasks are different types of applications best suited? These are, of course, pressing questions for anyone making decisions within a digitally-driven business. Today, a vast array of different software applications – or apps for short – enable us to undertake all kinds of different tasks using mobile devices, laptops, and desktop computers. One of the most useful ways of coming to a better understanding of applications and the different ways they work is to start thinking about the separation between native apps and hybrid apps. This distinction is, quite simply, the single most important technical difference between all of the applications we use on a daily basis.
In simple terms, a native application is a piece of software that’s developed to be used on a particular supporting platform or operating system. Commonly-used examples of native apps include the suite of programmes available within Microsoft Office that operate on the popular Windows operating system. Software developers tend to build native apps so they are optimised for particular devices running on a specific operating system. For example, a developer might start creating an app designed specifically for an iPhone that’s running the Apple iOS operating system. This app would then be able to use device-specific hardware, such as cameras or location services, and also device-specific software. Native apps can give users a particular level of performance, and they can take advantage of the latest technology.
In the context of desktop computing, the use of the phrase ‘native apps’ refers to apps which are built and configured specifically for different operating systems like Windows and Apple OSX. In the world of mobile apps, the term ‘native app’ refers to any application written to work on a specific device or platform, like an iPhone app that will run through Apple’s iOS operating system.
The two leading mobile operating systems are Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. Developers will build native apps in the specific computer code used for a particular device and its operating system. For example, iOS applications often use the programming languages Objective-C or Swift, whilst many Android-based native apps are created in Java. Native apps work with a particular operating system so they can perform better (and more flexibly) than other application types.
A hybrid app is a software application that uses elements of native apps and also elements of website applications, such as plug-ins, to perform a particular task. We could think of hybrid apps as website apps that have been packaged in the box of a native app. If we imagine an application like a Matryoshka doll, then the hybrid app would be a bit like a small doll inside a bigger one.
Hybrid apps are useful and popular for mobile devices, in particular, since they create an opportunity for developers to write computer code only once and still accommodate multiple platforms. At a technical level, hybrid apps often add an extra layer of software between the source code of the app and the platform it’s running on, so they may sometimes be slower than the native version of the same app.
Benefits and disadvantages of native and hybrid apps
In general, native apps tend to perform better than hybrid apps. This is because they are designed exclusively for the operating system on which they run. As a result, their responsiveness (often called runtime) is almost always superior to that of hybrid apps. The major advantage of native applications then, is that they provide the best user experience and performance for their specific function.
At the same time, there are certain disadvantages with native applications that are worth considering, particularly if you want to create a large-scale app that’s going to need to run on multiple operating systems. Native apps, by their very nature, tend to be more expensive to create than hybrid apps, since they usually need more than one codebase (the computer code the app is written in) to run on different operating systems. This can involve a lot of extra work for the development team, incurring extra cost for the company creating and owning the app.
What’s the best app solution for your business?
Overall, we could conclude that native applications are often best if your business already has an existing app and a community of users and customers on it, simply because native apps almost always offer the best performance, aesthetics, and user experience of all application types. If your company is already running an app, you’ll want to make sure future iterations improve on what’s gone before. Native apps are the best way to achieve this kind of optimization. Also, if your app needs to integrate with external hardware such as a desktop computer or audio equipment, then native apps are usually the best option as they can provide seamless integration with compatible external devices.
On the other hand, if you’re working to a set budget and your app won’t necessarily add revenue to your business, hybrid applications are certainly worth considering. Crucially, if your core business will not depend on the application itself to generate revenue, and the app’s function will mainly be to add value to your wider marketplace or sphere of influence, then a hybrid app may be a much better choice. It’ll almost certainly be a cheaper one, too.
It’s only through close consultation with a digital expert that you can really work out what kind of application will be right for your business needs. At Modular Digital, this is exactly what we do. In close collaboration with you, we can look at your target audience, core business needs, digital functionality and performance requirements, and your application maintenance budget. In the end, all of these factors contribute to the decision of whether you go down the native or hybrid route in your app development. So why not pick up the phone and give our team of friendly digital professionals a call to chat through your requirements in detail? In our experience, all good business relationships start with a conversation.
You can reach out to Emma on 07584 652 285 or firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.