June 11, 2019
Alexandra Bohigian

Enola Labs creates custom strategy and products for mobile and web.

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Making the choice between hybrid and native

There are clear benefits to hybrid and native approaches to app development. Hybrid application development is built leveraging a modern website or web app’s code, and the same code can be used for all mobile platforms. This drives down development costs as the new code does not need to be developed for each platform.

Native applications are coded to run on a specific device’s hardware, allowing the code to be optimized for a specific platform. This is more expensive and requires greater engineering support to make changes, however, Native development is believed to be more powerful. You can read more about hybrid and native application development here if you need a more in-depth overview.

Below, we will explore findings from research as to why some companies consistently leverage one approach over the other. This may help to determine if there is a development approach that might be best for a specific project, company size, and/or budgetary constraints.

Small and mid-market businesses tend to go hybrid

Hybrid apps are quickly becoming the go-to development approach for small and mid-market businesses. The key advantages for small and mid-market businesses to develop via a hybrid approach are cost-effectiveness and supportability.

Cost is typically a large factor when developing an application for small and mid-market businesses, as budgets tend to be leaner than large enterprises. A hybrid application provides a greater bang for your buck, but also can usually be supported by an existing engineering team. Because hybrid apps are built using common front end technology, small and mid-market businesses do not need to hire platform-specific native developers.

This is not to say that large enterprises are avoiding Hybrid development. In fact, the Amazon App store, Yelp, and even Gmail are all Hybrid applications.

The test of time has also weighed heavily in favor of hybrid apps. A few years ago, many developers and businesses were hesitant to push hybrid development because of the belief that hybrid was slower or less powerful. However, well-developed hybrid applications have proven themselves to be nearly indistinguishable from native apps over time, which is why they are much more commonplace today.

According to a survey by Ionic, 20% of developers built exclusively with native tools in 2015. In 2018, the same group was surveyed again, with just 8% reporting exclusive use of native tools. The survey also reported that in 2018, 32.7% expected to completely abandon native development and use only hybrid tools.

While the hybrid approach is becoming more mainstream and more powerful when executed well, Native development isn’t as doomed as some might lead you to believe.

Fortune 500s choose native, which makes sense

Fortune 500s and other large enterprises are among the most likely to choose a native approach to app development. This makes sense, as they have the engineering resources and budget to support native. So, when developing a native app, Fortune 500s simply keep an in-house team of experts to support the app rather than relying on outside resources.

Popular native apps by large enterprises include Google Maps, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Walmart. While these apps would perform just fine as a hybrid app, Fortune 500s who can expense to have an app developed native to each platform have no reason not to do it that way. It makes sense to want the power of an app specifically designed to the platform it is on, particularly when your app is one of the most highly downloaded on the market.

… but startups also often develop native apps

Where things get a little interesting is when we look at how startups are developing applications. At Enola Labs, we’re quite often approached by startups who want to develop a native app(s) but also fall into one or more of the following categories:

They have a small engineering team—perhaps one or two people—or no internal engineers at all. Native development requires more specialized development, meaning startups and SMBs would need to have developers with specializations in both platform’s code. This can make it difficult to support a Native application and it becomes even pricier to outsource maintenance.

They want a native iOS app and a native Android app but do not have the budget for this much development and maintenance/support of one native app, let alone two. This leads to huge issues as they begin getting quotes from US-based companies and realize their budget does not align with what they believe are their needs. We often see startups in this situation who end up offshoring the work and receiving a native product that is full of bugs and unsupportable.

They believe they need a native app for it to be high performing. This is a fallacy. Just because an app is developed in native does not mean it is going to be higher performing than a hybrid application. A well-engineered hybrid application will always perform better than a native app that is not well engineered.

Startups can successfully have their app developed natively if on a budget, however, we always suggest having it developed well on one platform and then investing in developing it on a second platform when the value is realized. Native apps are ideal for startups and small businesses that want a different look and features for each platform, but we stress that the quality of development should not be compromised!

Leveraging 2019 trends to choose the right development approach

Trends in 2019 app development can be leveraged to build the app that is best for your specific business, but there is never a one-size-fits-all approach to software development. Look at the trends and at how successful businesses—at a similar size and scale to yours—are developing their products. This can help guide the approach that will best serve the solution you are looking to build.

Ultimately, choosing the right development partner is half the battle when starting a new software development project. Choose an app development partner open to both native and hybrid development to get an unbiased approach to what the best long term solution is for your business.