With the surging enthusiasm towards the development of apps for mobile devices, there has been a myriad of questions & lots of confusion over cross-platform vs native vs hybrid app development approaches, particularly from novice developers. The lack of enough end-to-end resources for choosing the right mobile app approach has continued to serve as a major barrier to finding a lasting solution for the iOS vs Android banter.
Even so, given that both platforms are critical for a fruitful mobile app strategy, cross platform mobile app development might seem to be the best answer for this debate. Today it is no longer tenable to simply build an app that targets only one platform – we need multi-platform apps that can support both Android and iPhone smartphones and ensure no one is left out.
Cross-Platform Mobile Apps
There are distinct operating systems running on various smartphones with Android and iOS featuring as the most widely used. Each of these platforms utilizes a distinctive programming environment with its own language and API.
As such, the need by mobile developers to reach the largest possible user-base, regardless of their preferred platform has given rise to more value being seen in a cross platform mobile app. Tools like Xamarin have made cross-platform app development widely popular and accessible.
What is Cross-Platform Application?
Cross-Platform Application simply alludes to the advancement of mobile applications that can be utilized across a variety of different operating systems. It is the process of developing apps compatible with multiple mobile platforms using a solitary codebase, rather than having to create the app on multiple occasions using the respective native technologies for each platform.
Why a Cross-Platform App?
Applications created utilizing a cross-platform framework are free from OS impulses and thus offer multi-platform usefulness. They provide an incredible solution when you need to release a mobile app on different platforms at a low cost or constrained budget in terms of money, time and effort.
Pros of Developing a Cross-Platform Mobile App
- It’s cost-effective. The issue of native app vs cross platform apps can be debated but when it comes to cost efficiency, cross-platform development beats the latter hands down. In addition to most cross-platform development tools being unreservedly available, the approach further spares the cost of having to contract separate developers to create apps for different platforms.
- It’s reusable. With cross-platform apps, developers no longer have to write unique code for each operating system. They can instead use a common codebase to transfer the code to different platforms.
- It allows you to reach a wider audience. Creating a multi platform app frees developers from the need to choose among platforms - they can target both Android and iOS users without losing the potential audience.
- Consistent app performance across platforms. If a developer writes a native app for each operating system, the two might require significant changes when it comes to UI and features supported due to the differences in how the two platforms implement functions. With cross-platform apps, drastic changes between the applications on various systems are not much of an issue as the two share a common codebase. This way there will be fewer visible performance and UI changes, so your brand identity will remain coherent.
Cons of Developing a Cross-Platform Mobile App
- Complex development process. It takes a skilled developer to create an application that would be well-adapted to a few platforms. Basically, there’s a need to keep all the little differences between operating systems and the hardware they run on especially when it comes to implementing a complex interface and features.
- Challenging integration. Developers can experience difficulties while integrating cross-platform applications to local setting and engaging a third-party cloud service provider. The code of an HTML5 cross-platform app is complicated as the result of callback-style programming used to communicate with native plugins.
- User experience might be somewhat limited. A cross-platform app might not be able to offer a wide array of user journeys. This is mainly caused by the fact that there are features that are supported only by a particular operating system.
Times when you should consider developing a cross-platform app:
- When it’s not clear right away which platform is more lucrative to go with
- Your app doesn’t have any sophisticated features that would be to challenging to maintain over different platforms
- Budget constraints don’t allow you to hire separate teams to create both Android and iOS applications
Cross-Platform App Examples
There are dozens of cross-platform apps that we use every day. They prove the efficiency of cross-platform development as well as the benefit from creating products for a few platforms with tools like React or Nativescript simultaneously.
Back in 2012, Mark Zuckerberg stated at a TechCrunch Disrupt conference: “The biggest mistake we’ve made as a company is betting on HTML5 over native.” He noted that the experience of maintaining a native app on iOS has proven to be faster in the long run and more liberating than the hybrid approach the company used before. Hybrid apps are known to be quite slow for users, and, as a high-traffic application, Facebook needed to provide as fast and seamless of an experience as possible. That’s why the company has shifted from HTML to React Native - a framework designed to create native Android and iOS apps.
Skype has been around for quite a while now - it is widely used across various devices and operating systems. In fact, a famous communication tool is a cross platform app developed with Electron. On a PC scale, it shares a codebase between Windows and Linux. When it comes to smartphones, Skype has a cross-platform iOS/Android app.
The user experience of Skype doesn’t suffer from system limitations or a complex codebase. In fact, last year, the development team completely redesigned the app to make sure it looks native-alike.
Slack is proof that a cross-platform app can still have a ‘native’ feel to it. Apart from simplifying the group communication process, Slack enables access to bots and can help operate various day-to-day work tasks.
Over the span of just a few years, the platform has become everyone’s favorite collaboration service. If they would have had to choose one operating system, Slack would’ve lost a huge chunk of its audience and would never have arrived at its current peak.
The app of a largest online retailer is a cross-platform app created with Flutter. There are dozens of features available - a shopper’s account, a reliable payment framework with a checkout system, shipping integrations, the display of user ratings and reviews, etc. This array of features supported proves that frequent complaints about the lack of features in cross-platform apps at times don’t have their merit.
Hybrid Mobile Apps
Hybrid apps are the golden mean between native and web applications. They consist of two parts - backend code and a native viewer that can be downloaded to display the backend in a web view. Unlike web apps, hybrid mobile apps don’t require a browser for access and can take advantage of any plugin and the APIs of a device. They are cheaper in development than native apps but their performance is mostly slower as well.
What is a Hybrid Application?
Building a hybrid app has its own advantages and drawbacks that we are going to take a closer look at.
Pros of Building a Hybrid App
- Cost efficiency. Compared to native cross-platform apps, hybrid applications are cheaper. Depending on the number of platforms you want to reach, you can save up to $100,000 in development.
- Faster development pace. Due to the fact that the app uses the same backend code for all platforms, it doesn’t take too much time to create a hybrid app. Basically, all a developer has to do is to create a native shell to view the code that has already been developed as a web app. Keep in mind, however, that hybrid apps with lots of features can be even more time-consuming so it’s better to keep it simple.
- Simpler in maintenance. Due to the fact that hybrid apps are based on web technology, they are easier to maintain compared to native vs hybrid app that are more complex in terms of coding.
- Ability to use native APIs. Hybrid apps allow developers to access the features that only a user’s device can provide. Connecting with a user by getting access to GPS, camera, or other device settings, a brand can establish a deeper bond with its audience.
Cons of Developing a Hybrid Mobile App
- They are impossible to access offline. Due to the fact that hybrid apps are essentially web-based, they don’t work without the Internet connection. Moreover, as all the elements of the app have to be loaded, the performance speed is generally slower. Needless to say, this imposes a ton of connection limitations on the application user. Connection issues are a significant difference between native and hybrid app development.
- Operating system inconsistencies. Due to the fact that hybrid apps share a codebase, certain features might be supported by Android and not displayed on an iOS device and vice versa. It takes more testing sprints to identify inconsistencies and a ton of modifications to fix these issues.
- There’s still a need for native app developers. Essentially, you need two types of talent to create a hybrid app. You need a web developer to write backend code for the hybrid app as well as native app developers to create an application shell. Creating a hybrid app just to avoid a struggle of hiring a native app developer is not the best approach since you will still need one.
You should consider building a hybrid app if:
- You want the app to run on different platforms but you don’t have the time to develop a cross-platform solution
- You want to make use of the device’s native features - camera, GPS, etc.
- You want to distribute a web application across application stores
Hybrid App Examples
While at first glance hybrid apps might seem like nothing but a cheap fix, in reality, a fair share of top social media applications are, in fact, hybrid. Let’s take a look at most popular hybrid app examples:
Using the hybrid development approach allowed developers to create an app that supports rich media. While the Instagram feed can’t be refreshed when there’s no Internet connection, you can still access data that has been loaded already.
As of now, Instagram has over a billion downloads. This proves the convenience and power of hybrid apps.
Evernote provides more proof that hybrid applications can be extremely high-functional. The app has an amazing UI, the app layout is simple yet efficient, there are dozens of features that make Evernote one of the best (if not the absolute best) productivity apps.
Gmail is the most popular email provider in the world at the moment. It has been a web HTML-application for a long time. Gmail’s mobile application is a powerful combination of the native web-application infrastructure and native application.
The hybrid application for Gmail is just as solid in its performance as its PC version. The high customization level and dozens of features prove that hybrid application can be just as rewarding as a native one in the long run.
Native Mobile Apps
A native app is usually written in one programming language for a particular operating system. Compared to other types of products, native apps offer a consistent performance and are times more reliable. Depending on the platform an app is developed for, specific programming languages are used. For iOS, it’s mainly Objective-C and Swift, while Android developers write in Java or Kotlin.
What is a Native Application?
Native applications allow developers to take advantage of system-specific features that can improve the user experience in a way that wouldn’t be possible with hybrid or cross-platform solutions. Creating native apps is a solid choice for high-performance apps such as mobile games and high-traffic platforms.
These applications are fast and polished - their performance can hardly be surpassed by hybrid or cross-platform software.
Pros of Developing a Native App
- High speed. Thanks to the fact that native mobile applications don’t have a code that’s too complex, they tend to work faster than other apps. Many app elements are displayed quickly because they are preloaded beforehand.
- Work well offline. Native apps work with no issues even when there’s no Internet connectivity. Obviously, that makes such an application way more convenient to users as they can access all the features on the go or on the airplane when there’s no connection.
- Maintains aspect ratios. The aspect ratio (the width/height ratio for different devices) is a big determining factor in the quality of the user experience. When creating native apps, developers have access to layout features so that they can scale the aspect ratio to different screen dimensions. Moreover, both Android and iOS offer tools to adjust the aspect ratio of native apps (Constraint Layout and Auto Layout, respectively).
- Access to hardware features. The integration of native apps with a device’s features is way stronger than what other types of apps are capable of offering. The option to directly access hardware features inevitably makes native apps more powerful and fun to use.
Cons of Developing a Native App
- No reusable code. If a developer wants to create native apps both for Android and iOS, he would have to develop two separate native apps. Obviously, that would take a lot more time and effort than developing one cross platform mobile app with a reusable codebase or a hybrid app with shared backend code.
- More talent involved. As native apps are language-specific to the core, companies usually struggle to find a skilled developer to pull off developing a native app back-to-back. When comparing native app vs cross platform app, if a company wants to reach out to a wider audience, it’d have to hire two development teams for native app development. Whereas it could have gone with just one in the case of cross platform.
- Maintenance may cost a penny. The maintenance cost of a native app make up to 25% of the entire development cost, according to Clutch.co. That is the result of tech talent shortage among experienced app developers as well strict requirements set by app stores (getting an approval for putting a native app up for download is quite tedious, indeed).
You should consider building a native application if:
- Users never used your product before (as a web application, for instance) and you want to impress them with the best experience possible
- You want to take advantage of device-specific features - camera, GPS, etc.
- The app is going to be used by a large amount of people or has complex features that would be a nightmare to bugfix as a cross-platform app and impossible to load as a hybrid one
- You want to get a base of DAUs in order to get VC investors to fund the product, so the app needs to be as intuitive and easy-to-learn as possible
Native App Examples
Most of the apps smartphone users install on a daily basis are native. Here are some of the most prominent examples of what native app development is capable of.
Google Maps ↗
Google Maps is a native app available for both Android and iOS. Both apps have common features - street view, turn-by-turn navigation, public transit information, etc. As a native app, Google Maps is able to profit from the device’s built-in features. While it does need online access to be used to its full performance, Google Maps can be displayed in an offline mode as well.
LinkedIn is another example of an application that switched from a hybrid to a native app. The quality decrease when it comes to performance, slower rendering speed, and storage space issues due to the increasing amount of daily active users forced LinkedIn to consider native apps as a development vector.
Developers wanted to include animations and rich media to the interface, but the power of the application wasn’t sufficient to support these features. The LinkedIn development team has also remarked that there are simply not enough tools for hybrid apps supporting the further development of a platform as powerful as LinkedIn.
What’s the Difference?
Choosing a winning framework among all the approaches to app development is a challenging task. Depending on the needs of your project, the number of developers and their skills, the budget, and the timeframe needed to complete the application, you can make a choice in favor of any of the three strategies.
In order to make the selection process easier, we’ve prepared the comparison of native apps vs hybrid apps vs cross platform apps.
What’s best for you?
So who comes out as a winner in cross platform vs native vs hybrid app development? When comparing the three options, there are still advantages and challenges to overcome for each specific development approach. Choosing the right one for you is determined by the talent you have available, the budget, and the time constraints.
When choosing an app development approach, it’s always helpful to have a team of professionals ready to have your back. At EGO CI, we are ready to help with all aspects of the app development process. Over the years we’ve helped develop dozens of native, hybrid, and cross-platform apps for SMEs and big companies.