The perfect mobile solution for your project
Our constant friend and helper has long been the smartphone in our hands. Especially the apps installed on it make our everyday life easier. We don't worry about whether they are native, hybrid or web apps. But is an app really an app?
Especially for companies, it is important to understand and be able to comprehend the differences between the various designs. The goal is to always offer the user optimal performance and usability. Depending on requirements, either native apps or web apps are the better choice.
On the way to your own app, the following questions are therefore often asked:
What are native, hybrid and web apps?
What are the differences between the technologies?
Which type is suitable for which type of app?
Is there a clear winner?
What are native, hybrid and web apps?
Native apps are applications that are specifically designed and developed for a mobile operating system and usually only run on the target platform. For example, an app developed natively for iOS cannot be used on Android. They are available for the end user in the App Stores of the respective platform.
Native apps have access to all features of the platform released and maintained by the manufacturer via Software Development Kits (SDKs). The features include platform-specific UI elements, augmented reality, GPS, camera or access to other sensors of the end device.
Apple and Google each use and support different programming languages for their SDKs, which are not compatible with each other. Therefore, the code of a native app must be developed individually for each platform. So if you want to use this approach to develop an app for both platforms, you don't have a common code base. It is necessary to develop and maintain the code of two applications, which is reflected in an increased effort.
Native cross-platform technologies such as React Native abstract the platform-specific SDKs of the manufacturers and enable the creation of native apps with a common code base. However, due to the additional abstraction layer, there is also an additional dependency in the project, which brings its own problems and must be regularly maintained by the manufacturer or the community. In most cases this layer does not directly support the full feature set of the platforms.
A Web app is an application that is developed with Web technologies and is displayed and used on the end device via a browser. For the mobile environment, Web apps are usually adapted using a responsive design so that the user interface is also easy to use on mobile devices. Mobile Web apps are often also designed as Single-Page Applications (SPA). The user interface and content are generally delivered from a Web server via an Internet connection. Poor Internet connections therefore usually mean that Web apps are then hardly usable.
However, since a Web browser is usually available on every mobile device, these solutions can run on practically all platforms.
A third variant are the so-called hybrid apps, which try to combine the advantages of both worlds. In this case, a website is embedded in a native app container, whereby the native part and the web-based part of the application communicate with each other via interfaces. The native part of the app must be developed or created analogous to a native app, the web-based part with web technologies. The web-based part of the application can access the platform-specific features of the native part via interfaces.
Similar to native apps, hybrid apps are distributed via the app stores of the platforms.
What are the differences between a native and a web app?
A technical comparison reveals enormous differences in the requirements: While native and hybrid apps only run on the operating systems of the end devices for which the app was developed, a web app works in principle on all Internet-enabled devices with a web browser.
Even the distribution of native apps and web apps differs significantly: Native apps are usually distributed via app stores and updates must also be made available via these stores. With Web Apps, on the other hand, this part is omitted and the distribution takes place as with any normal website. Updates can also be played and made available as with any website, the need for update versions visible to the user is eliminated here.
There are also major differences between the approaches with regard to data storage and offline availability: While a native app is practically only limited by the end device when it comes to data storage, web apps are limited by the browsers in which they run. In addition, Web apps must at least once must be fully loaded in order to function in offline mode.
One of the biggest technological differences between the approaches is the usability of the hardware and platform features. Native apps can usually make full use of features such as push notifications, GPS, camera, gyroscope, Bluetooth and augmented reality. With web apps, on the other hand, you are limited to the functions that web browsers or web engines provide via standards such as HTML5.
There are also enormous differences when it comes to monetization: With native apps, revenues can be generated directly through the App Stores as well as through in-appurchases. In the case of web apps, monetization usually takes place via advertisements or by selling products as part of e-commerce solutions.
What type of design is suitable for what type of app?
The question of which type is the right choice should be considered early on, as a later change is usually only possible with a lot of effort and costs. Choosing the right technology for the project helps to avoid unnecessary development efforts and risks and thus save costs.
The right question is not which approach is generally the best, but which one is the optimal choice for the individual requirements of the project and the users.
The usage scenario is an important decision factor for choosing the appropriate design. For example, if health data is to be accessed, if access to GPS data is required for a navigation solution or if communication with Bluetooth devices is required, a native app is necessary.
Hybrid apps, on the other hand, are often cheaper to develop than purely native apps, which can be a decisive factor. On the one hand, it is often possible to fall back on parts of an already existing responsive website, and on the other hand, a common code base for all platforms can be used for the web-based part.
Only if you know the exact framework of an app project, you can find the optimal solution in the end.
Is there a clear winner?
Each of the app variants presented above has its advantages and disadvantages.
Native apps have a clear advantage in terms of usability, performance and the use of platform functions. A platform-oriented look and feel means that users can quickly find their way around and can concentrate on the essentials of an app. The central distribution and installation learned by users via
App stores also offer significant advantages, including monetization, subscription models and app marketing. This is usually offset by the development costs and the necessary know-how for the various platforms.
Web apps, on the other hand, work with practically all operating systems, on all smartphones and have a larger developer base. This means that you can reach more potential users at a lower cost. HTML5 also allows a limited storage of user data and thus the use of a fully loaded web app even without internet access. Nevertheless, web apps always have limited offline capability. However, since they do not have to go through a publishing process by Apple or Google, they can be published and updated in seconds. A disadvantage, however, is the limited access to the platform features and the user interface. The user usually realises very quickly that not everything reacts as smoothly as in a native app. The price/performance ratio must therefore be weighed individually for each project.
At first glance, hybrid apps may seem like an ideal solution, as they seem to combine the advantages of the native and web-based worlds. However, the development tools and frameworks of hybrid apps bring their own limitations and problems and require the know-how of both worlds. Hybrid solutions are mostly based on external frameworks, which leads to the same disadvantages mentioned above as with native cross-platform technologies. Above a certain level of complexity of a project, the purely native approach can therefore be more cost-effective and target-oriented.
It quickly becomes apparent that there is no simple and unambiguous answer to the question of a winner. Rather, it depends on the wishes of the customer, the requirements and the general conditions of the project, as well as on what makes the most economic sense. Only by weighing these points can one answer the question of which language the project speaks: native, hybrid or web.