January 20, 2017
Alexandra Bohigian

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

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When businesses and entrepreneurs call us to inquire about application development, one of the most common questions we receive is regarding the difference between Hybrid and Native apps. Native applications are more timely and expensive to develop, which lends itself to the question, “is it worth it?”. The answer depends on several factors including everything from end-user preferences to budget to a business model. This guide will help you differentiate between native and hybrid apps so that you can best decide which type of development is necessary for your project.

Native Power

A native mobile application is an application that leverages code compiled to run on a specific device’s hardware (for example swift, or objective C on iOS, or Java for Android App Development). This allows the code to be optimized for a specific platform while providing direct access to low-level functions such as the camera, SMS, etc., and have a user experience built solely to run on a particular mobile platform. Native applications are capable of image manipulation and processing, performing processor intensive calculations, and generally being quicker to respond than hybrid applications.

Native Support

Because native applications are built with libraries of code that are maintained by the vendor of the platform an app is being developed for, these native libraries should always be supported for the life of the platform (e.g. Swift for iOS, and Android’s Java implementation). This means that if you are only using native platform libraries at some point in the future, your app will not be in jeopardy of relying on code that may become obsolete. It is still possible that your app will rely on third-party native libraries, but it should be possible that if one of those libraries is made obsolete, it can be replaced by custom code or a similar library and continue to function.

Pros of Native Applications:

  • High performance - Smooth animation, can render 3D
  • Built with native components, will behave like any other native app
  • Vendor libraries will always be supported (Apple will continue supporting swift)

Cons of Native Applications:

  • Higher development cost
  • Must build a version for each platform (Windows, Android, iOS)
  • Smaller pool of developers as compared to web developers.

Examples of Application Types Ideal for Native Apps:

  • Games
  • Apps that require image processing or heavy computing
  • Applications which require the perfect user experience

Hybrid Synergy

A hybrid mobile application is built using the same technologies modern websites are built on HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Because the same technologies behind web applications are utilized, a hybrid app can make use of some or all of a website’s code, and can sometimes be developed faster by incorporating the website’s code. In addition, because the same technologies are used on all platforms, the same code can be used for all mobile platforms such as iOS, Android, and Windows phones. This leads to decreased development cost and time spent building the application. For example, if it’s necessary for a developer to create an app which runs on Android, iOS, and a mobile website, it is possible to use portions of that app on all three platforms instead of rewriting the app three times from scratch.

Hybrid Speed

This increased speed comes at a cost, though. A mobile app is not built using code that is optimized for any particular platform, so a hybrid app will run slightly slower than a native one. A hybrid app is not built specifically for any particular platform, so the look and feel may be a little “off” when compared to a native application. Many hybrid frameworks provide styling to emulate the native look, but it won’t always be a perfect match.

Pros of Hybrid Apps:

  • Can be updated without re-submitting to mobile marketplaces
  • Faster development process
  • Multi-platform - Work on Windows, Android, and iOS
  • Large pool of workers experienced in web technologies

Cons of Hybrid Apps:

  • Performance not as good as native
  • May not have the same look and feel as a native application

Examples of Applications Ideal for Hybrid Environment:

  • Simple UI based applications
  • Applications in which time and/or budget are crucial
  • You have an existing mobile website and would like a similar functioning mobile app

In Summary

Hybrid applications have come a long way over the years to the point recently where they can compete directly with native applications in both features and functionality. It used to be that there was a noticeable difference between native and hybrid, where a hybrid application would have very limited functionality and performance compared to native.

If you need an app to be produced inexpensively and quickly and don’t need high performance, it may be best to go the hybrid route. If you need an app that requires a fluid high-performance UI, advanced graphical features, or low-level system integration and are willing to pay for the price and time premium, then a native app is probably more suitable for your needs.

Learn more about our mobile app development capabilities and contact Enola Labs to discuss your specific project.