A hybrid or native mobile development approach — which to choose? We face this question very frequently when a customer asks us to make a suggestion in app development or when we plan to develop our own product. On the one hand, hybrid mobile development helps to save time because there is only one code compiled for multiple platforms (Android, iOS, etc.). On the other hand, native applications provide a more stable implementation. Here are some “classic” pros of the two approaches.
The war between native and hybrid platforms is endless, and it seems that we will never witness a winner. So, before making a choice, we suggest going through all the opportunities and restrictions that native and hybrid application development bring.
When native is your right choice
If you are about to develop an app for “a professional segment,” and the app itself is your primary product, we suggest choosing native. This might be an app for an equestrian business that helps to identify the level of horse-riding skills and training quality, or it may be for skiing training or creating audit reports. "Hybrid" even sounds unprofessional.
Another time when it's better to go for native application development is when you are dealing with custom UI and app performance is a factor. Complex UI interactions go smoothest on native platforms. Hybrid apps deal with middleware that introduces timing delays, so performance issues might appear.
If your app is connected with hardware, then native is definitely a good option for you. Only native apps give users full control of device hardware without any middleware tricks.
Lastly, if you always want to implement platform native specifics immediately, then choose a native app. Nevertheless, a hybrid mobile application also provides such options; in case you want to use new or unique features, you have to implement some stubs or workarounds when the feature is missing, so you might end up with inconsistent UX design and application logic.
Good arguments to go hybrid
If you develop relatively simple features that do not require some complex “wizard” flow to complete them, you might go hybrid. Such simple features include sending a message, posting some simple text report, or making an order.
When your app needs minimal access to the device hardware, feel free to go hybrid. This means that an app might use a device GPS or camera, but there is no need to change GPS operating modes or camera features.
If you need to develop relatively simple background communication with a server, you might also go for hybrid mobile development. Even though complex background communication might be implemented in both native and hybrid applications, there are still maintenance and development factors.
In general, if you’re developing a content app with “standard” features, like one that displays your business services or contains a list of your products, hybrid is a good option for you.
Compare primary investments
A native application is considered more expensive to develop than a hybrid one since you will need two applications, one for Android and one for iOS. Therefore, opting for a single code base (hybrid) is a good choice for short-term savings. However, there are always exceptions. For example, an initially less expensive hybrid app might cost you later in code maintenance.
The other thing is that, with good planning, native development costs might be reduced to minimize the difference. Sometimes, there is no need to develop a few apps right away, and it’s more reasonable to launch your app only on one platform at first (Android or iOS, depending on what your customers prefer). You might invest in developing the second one only after receiving feedback from end-users and polishing the app.
Also, when developing a native application, engineers are focused only on platform specifics and do not need to consider specifics and issues regarding the middleware. Often, this means shorter development time. Further, if the same engineer implements the same features for iOS and Android platforms, there is no need to develop the same logic again; thus, it requires less time to develop apps for two platforms.
Also consider long-term perspective
It’s important to keep in mind, that mobile application development is not a one-time investment. You need to maintain and update it according to the latest platform requirements and design standards. We’ve compared 4 points to be considered with, say, a 5-year perspective.
1. From time to time (every 3, 6, 9...months), there might be a need for small refactoring.
Native environment/API does usually receive a global update once per year, requiring minor refactoring to keep an application up to date. Hybrid application environments must be updated as soon as each native supported environment/OS gets its updates. So, you need to update your app 2-3 (and even more) times a year, depending on the number of supported platforms.
2. Over the next 5 years, there might be at least 2 significant changes to app UX structure
UI is easier to update for native platforms as, usually, they receive widget-style updates automatically to fit most recent OS style and guidelines.
With the hybrid, you will need to keep in mind that your app is supported by multiple platforms. Therefore, global UX changes take more effort. Hybrid apps also require manual redesign to fit guidelines and best practices since they usually don’t use native OS widget styles.
3. If you have active development, in 5 years, you will get tons of code that will have to be supported.
The complexity of a single line of code that supports 2 platforms is higher. Sure, this is quite a disputable point, and you might say that there is nothing complicated here for a highly skilled engineer. But, in most cases, companies do not deal with top but with average engineers.
4. OS producers (Google, Apple) also regularly introduce changes that affect your product.
For native apps, you can apply immediate updates to fit new OS changes. For a hybrid mobile application, you need to wait until the middleware is updated. That might take time and complicate your customers’ experience.
5. The OS producer may change the primary platform language (as was the case with objective C and swift for iOS and following significant updates to swift).
This might cause additional expenses (for native) if you want to switch to a new language, but proposed platform capabilities might be worth investment. In case of the hybrid, developers do not feel any changes, and middleware update is the responsibility of the hybrid-platform provider and will involve some time delay.
There is no 100% right or wrong answer for whether it’s better to develop a native or hybrid mobile application. So, we suggest you, as for a product owner, make a decision considering the following points.
Is your mobile app your primary product, or is it an addition to your core product or service?
If an app is your main product and you’d like to implement some extra features, that require using smartphone hardware, especially in a custom way, then our recommendation is to choose native development. However, if you need a content app with basic functionality (like messaging, order placement) then the hybrid app might also do the job for you.
How will each platform influence app development costs in the short- and long-term perspectives?
Since mobile application development is not a short project, it is a good strategy to not only compare native and hybrid development from the primary investments point of view but to compare the cost of app maintenance for the next couple of years as well. Long-term investments would depend on how many platforms you’d like to support and whether security is a factor for your application.
Have you already implemented all the software, or is this your start position?
Of course, if you have already implemented complex software and your customers are satisfied, then it would be more rational to maintain what you have. But when you start development from scratch, it is a good time for you to go for the best option.