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Native, Cross-Platform, and Hybrid App Development: What to Choose

Digital transformation
Mykhailo Bohdan Content Writer
| 19 min read
cross platform native and hybrid development
cross platform native and hybrid development

Native, cross-platform, or hybrid app development approach? If you want to get the best return on investments of mobile software, you should choose the most relevant option.

And that’s a hard decision to make as you have to consider a lot of factors: your budget, competition, the complexity of your mobile software, load the app will have to handle, your target audience’s preferences, support and maintenance limitations. You need to have a solid understanding of mobile app development to make the best decision.

Our goal is to help you achieve this understanding by examining the differences between native, hybrid, and cross-platform apps as well as their advantages and disadvantages for your business.

An Overview of Native, Cross-Platform, and Hybrid Apps

Currently, there are 5.2 billion mobile users in the world with

  • 74% of people who prefer Android,
  • 25% of people who prefer iOS,
  • Less than 1% of people who stick to the underdogs, such as KaiOS, Windows Mobile, Tizen.

Android and IOS market shares infographic

Both Android and Apple market shares are so gargantuan that you, as an entrepreneur, want to target both to get the maximum benefit out of your app. And, that’s when you run into a problem.

Since you cannot simply run a single app on iOS and Android because of the architecture differences, you have three options:

  • Native app development. You create two separate apps for iOS and Android using native tech stacks of each operating system to achieve the best performance. A straightforward and reliable but costly approach.
  • Cross-platform app development. You use one of the many cross-platform development tools that allow compiling the same codebase for different operating systems. It’s quicker and cheaper than native, but the mobile app optimization for both platforms can be really difficult and not always effective.
  • Hybrid app development. You combine native and web tools to create, well, a hybrid mobile app that can run on different mobile platforms without much tinkering under the app’s hood.

You want your app to function and look equally good on any relevant device across the wide iOS and Android spectrums. At the same time, you need to consider your business needs, address budget goals, and take into account your scaling strategy.

You have a difficult choice to make.

As you might have guessed, there is not THE best mobile development approach as each one comes with its specifics, pros, and cons. So, let’s examine each of the approaches closer.

What is Native App Development?

Following the native app development approach, you develop two separate codebases for Android and iOS apps using the respective native tech stacks/SDK to ensure maximum compatibility with the operating systems.

Native apps are the most common ones. Most likely, the absolute majority of apps on your smartphone are native. Why so, you ask? Well, it’s because of the advantages native apps provide.

Pros and cons of native app development banner

Pros of Native Mobile App Development

  • The best performance. Built with operating systems’ unique features and architectures in mind, the performance of the native apps is unrivaled by the cross-platform or hybrid alternatives.
  • Better access to device features. it’s easier to tap into the microphone, accelerometer, gestures, face id, and other utilities of a mobile device, using native mobile app development platforms.
  • Slicker UI/UX. By focusing on the platform-specific design and functionality requirements, you can be sure that your users will receive the app with the feel they are so used to.
  • Better security. It’s easier to ensure security standards on two separate codebases tailored to the specifics of the respective operating systems than on hybrid or cross-platform ones.

Cons of Native Mobile App Development

  • Higher costs. You will spend more time and money developing two apps instead of one. For a lot of companies, this is a massive disadvantage and a deal-breaker, which makes them consider other options.
  • Bigger team. You need Android and iOS developers to build both apps. It means that you either need to recruit more people for in-house development, which adds to overhead costs and makes management more difficult, or hire a bigger dedicated team.
  • More difficult support and maintenance. You will have to support and update two different apps with different issues and bugs.

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Native App Development Tech Stack

One of the unspoken blessings of native app development is that its go-to tech stacks/SDKs are settled.

If you decide to go native, you wouldn’t struggle with choosing a tech stack.

There are some technical differences between languages or usability differences between development environments. However, unlike in cross-platform app development where the chosen framework plays a significant role, your team will develop well-performing and fast apps regardless of the preferred tech stack.

Native Approach’s Business Viability

On one hand, native mobile app development is the surest way of creating the fastest and most convenient app. On the other hand, native development is an expensive and time-consuming approach.

For a company with budget limitations, committing to native app development is a difficult call to make. Besides, the native approach is not always justified. If your mobile app is going to be a big, complex piece of software native development is essential for the best performance. The bright examples of successful native apps are Twitter and PokemonGo, which uses AR and relies heavily on the precise usage of GPS, camera, and accelerometer.

However, if your app is relatively simple, hybrid or cross-platform mobile app development approaches can be better options. The same goes for small companies and startups without considerate investments.

Also, if your competition is dense, native mobile app development is a safer bet because it gives your product a competitive edge. Currently, users rarely download new applications. Thus, they will always pick the fastest and most convenient app.

Furthermore, you should remember that you have two approaches to native app development.

  • Developing two apps in parallel

In this case, you hit the market faster and have better chances at grabbing a bigger audience. However, the two apps developed in parallel will most likely have widely different logic and architecture, which will make them harder to support and maintain.

  • Building an Android and iOS apps one after another

In this case, you can launch the first app, be it for Android or iOS, and then, gather user feedback, analyze data and the app’s performance. As a result, you can develop the second app with the new insights in mind. In addition, you will already have the app’s architecture and a solid foundation to create the second app much faster.

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Also, s startup or a small company can use the gap between two apps to accumulate more funds required for mobile software development. Such an approach can be particularly beneficial for startups.

Conclusion on Native App Development

If you have a budget, if your app is complex and will have to handle heavy load, our advice is to go native. The better scalability, competitive edge, and high performance that comes along with native app development are worth the price.

What Is Cross-Platform App Development?

Cross-platform apps are apps that were built on the same foundation but can run on different mobile platforms. During cross-platform app development, developers use special frameworks, such as Flutter, Xamarin, React Native, and others, to write a single codebase. Then, they compile and optimize the codebase for Android, iOS, or other operating systems.

However, note that often you still need to write some purely native code to support cross-platform functionality. Even if 95% of the codebase will work for both platforms, the remaining 5% should be natively developed. For example, the native code may include testing or some reporting/analytics tools.

For a layperson, it’s impossible to determine whether the app is purely native or cross-platform. A properly developed and designed cross-platform app would feel good on any operating system or device. Only developers would know what difficulties they bypassed, and which features they somewhat limited to ensure that the app would perform well on different mobile platforms.

Thus, if you have a successful cross-platform mobile app, somebody can spend some time and money to create a similar native app with slightly wider functionality. If properly developed, such an app would be faster and more reliable than yours. And, with proper marketing, the app of your competitors can quickly get ahead.

Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of cross-platform app development.

Pros and Cons of Cross-Platform App Development infographic

Pros of Cross-Platform Mobile App Development

  • Cheaper. Mobile app development process for one codebase instead of two is faster and cheaper.
  • Quicker. Even though you still have to optimize apps for different devices and platforms, working with one codebase requires less time.
  • A smaller development team that is easier to manage and scale.
  • Easier support and maintenance. Hunting bugs and implementing new features into one codebase is quicker than into two separate ones.

Cons of Cross-Platform Mobile App Development

  • Performance. It’s difficult to optimize single-codebase apps for proper work on different mobile platforms.
  • Native features access. It is more complicated to access native features, such as gestures, accelerometer, face id, camera.
  • UI/UX complications. Making responsive apps that will look and feel equally good on all iOS and Android devices is difficult and may lead to slightly awkward or odd user experience.

Short Overview of Cross-Platform Frameworks

Unlike native development, which has established tech stacks/software development kits to work with, cross-platform app development offers widely different frameworks with various strengths and weaknesses.

The most popular cross-platform development frameworks include: React Native, Xamarin, Flutter.

Xamarin: an open-source .Net-based framework by Windows.

Pros

  • Powerful .Net framework as a foundation
  • Good for relatively high-performing apps
  • Compatibility with native hardware
  • Great for quickly building simple apps

Cons

  • Comparably heavy apps and slow loading time
  • Difficult or impossible to use solutions beyond .Net ecosystem
  • Costly for enterprises though is free for individual entrepreneurs
  • Experienced Xamarin developers are a rare catch

React Native: an open-source React-based framework by Facebook.

Pros

  • Well-established platform with numerous third-party solutions and APIs
  • Access to native hardware
  • Comparatively shorter development times
  • Powerful responsive UI capacity

Cons

  • Though you can access native utilities, the JavaScript layer between an app and the hardware makes the process slow on scale
  • A lot of updates that developers have to keep track of.
  • Bad for high-performing apps or apps with numerous background threads

Flutter: an open-source UI toolkit / framework by Google  

Pros

  • Quick development speed and convenient hot reload
  • Layered widget-based UI layout great for design customization
  • Emulates native performance somewhat successfully

Cons

  • Quite young framework with a lot of unresolved tech issues
  • Creates relatively heavy apps
  • Insufficient support of some third-party solutions and libraries.
  • Worse for iOS than Android apps

There are many more cross-platform frameworks as well as plenty of conflicting information regarding their effectiveness on the Internet.

Often, the selection of the most comfortable cross-platform mobile app development platform is a path of trials and errors.

For instance, Shopify has announced that it goes all-in on React Native, claiming that the framework is “its mobile future.” At the same time, Airbnb decided to try something else after two years with React Native because of the technical and organizational difficulties as well as the necessity to support three different platforms.

As you see, companies have widely different experiences with frameworks, which further reinforces the idea that the development approach selection is very individual and should be performed on a careful case-by-case basis.

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Often happens that the choice of the framework depends on which tech stack your software development team is the most comfortable with, and it’s a normal practice.

If you need consultation regarding your mobile app development, contact us.

Cross-Platform Approach Viability for Your Business

Despite some drawbacks that the cross-platform approach has compared to native, there are situations where its flexibility and cost-efficiency are invaluable. Native is great for edge cases of the most demanding apps. At the same time, cross-platform development is more than enough for a wide range of apps that don’t rely heavily on hardware features or implement the newest tech, such as AR. Unfortunately, there isn’t universal advice on when to go cross-platform. If you want to know for sure, we suggest conducting a thorough business analysis phase or Discovery phase.

What is Hybrid App Development?

A hybrid app is an app that combines web app with native elements. A codebase of a hybrid app is written with web development tech stack (HTML, CSS, JavaScript). Then, it is installed on a device in a special native container that allows it running on Android or iOS as well as accessing native features.

In essence, hybrid mobile app development is a middle ground between web development and a cross-platform approach.

Some of the most popular hybrid mobile frameworks include Ionic and NativeScript.

As a side note:

You can often see hybrid and cross-platform mobile apps mixed up in one way or another on the Internet. And, it’s not strange as they’re pretty similar on a contextual level. However, the technological difference between the approaches is significant enough to have two different names for these development methodologies. While in the heart of hybrid app development is a web technology-based codebase wrapped in a native shell, the cross-platform app’s codebase can be compiled into native iOS and Android applications.

Pros and cons of hybrid app development infographic

Pros of Hybrid App Development

  • Cheaper. The hybrid approach is even cheaper than the cross-platform one because the development is faster and, on average, the salaries of web developers are lower than the salaries of native or cross-platform programmers.
  • More developers. There are more experienced web developers in the industry than developers proficient in the native or cross-platform tech stack.
  • Easily converted and optimized for the web. If you have a hybrid app, you basically already have the codebase required to develop a web app. The opposite is true as well.
  • Simple support and maintenance. Adding new features and hunting bugs is comparably simple with hybrid apps because of the web tech stack and a singular codebase.

Cons of Hybrid App Development

  • Intermediary for native features. To communicate with native functionality, hybrid apps use special bridges, such as Cordova or Capacitor. If your app uses native features, the presence of such an intermediary makes the app slower.
  • Difficult optimization. Because of the separation of hybrid apps from native hardware, they are challenging to optimize for iOS and Android.
  • Not great for complex apps. Just like with the cross-platform approach, hybrid apps are not really cut out for apps with complex functionality.
  • Testing for mobile. Most hybrid development frameworks are great for web testing. However, they lack tools and features to comprehensively quality assure your app for iOS and Android mobile devices.

Hybrid App Viability for Your Business

A semi web, semi cross-platform app may seem like a strange idea. However, there are plenty of big players who leverage hybrid apps to great success. For example, the Amazon app is known for using WebViews. Also, Chinese WeChat is a hybrid app.

Overall, apps that are big on checking and exchanging information, such as chats, insurance apps, or online retail apps are great candidates for a hybrid development approach.

Also, if your goal is to hit the iOS and Android markets ASAP as well as establish a strong web presence, hybrid app development is a way to go.

Conclusion on Hybrid App Development

Hybrid app development is a great solution for mobile software that doesn’t have a lot of native features or complicated functionality. Also, if your business already has a web-site or web app, a hybrid app development approach can be a quick and cheap way of expanding to iOS and Android platforms. In addition, startups and small companies can seriously benefit from the hybrid app development approach because of its cost-friendliness and quick development.

A Note About Progressive Web Apps

If the distinction between native, cross-platform, and hybrid apps wasn’t confusing enough for you, we will make it slightly more confusing by mentioning progressive web apps (PWA).

Progressive web apps are an “unofficial” fourth option for companies that want to target all platforms with minimum investments or don’t want to invest in native, cross-platform, or hybrid apps.

A web app is basically a website with an app’s functionality. Thus, a web app can run on any device that has a browser and access to the Internet. At the same time, a progressive web app is a complex web app that can be installed on smartphones as a browser’s extension.

Thus, PWAs have the desired desktop presence, which reminds users that the app exists.

Thus, the primary difference between a hybrid mobile app and a progressive web app is that PWAs are browser extensions that are hosted on servers and accessed via URLs while hybrid apps are separate apps.

Overall, progressive web apps are an optimal solution for companies with small budgets who don’t want to commit to a native, cross-platform, or hybrid app but find a usual web app an insufficient option. A progressive web app grants a cost-friendliness of a usual web app or a website with more complex functionality and the presence on an end user’s home screen.

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Conclusion

To summarize the technical difference between native, hybrid, and cross-platform mobile app development approaches:

  • For native, you create separate mobile apps for iOS, Android, (as well as Tenza, Windows Mobile, Blackberry if you are a niche player)
  • For cross-platform you write a single codebase, then, compile and optimize it for different operating systems
  • For hybrid, you use a web tech stack to write a codebase that any device can execute and then encase it into a native shell to create an app that can run on the desired operating system.

From a short-term business perspective, the most significant difference between native, cross-platform, and hybrid apps is the cost of development.

  • The native presents the most expensive but most reliable way of mobile development.
  • Hybrid — the cheapest and quickest one.
  • Cross-platform — a middle ground between investments and results.

However, in the long run, the very success of your product depends on the choice of the development approach.

Usually, the most popular, highest-performing apps are native. However, the evolution of cross-platform, hybrid, and progressive web technologies allows for creating reliable and scalable mobile software with smaller budgets.

And a lot of multinational enterprises are already leveraging the power of the alternative mobile app development approaches to great success. To make the proper decision that you wouldn’t regret in the future, you need to carefully consider the market, research competition, and analyze the app’s requirements.

If your team lacks tech expertise to help you resolve this complex question, or actually develop a native, cross-platform, hybrid, or web app, feel free to contact us.

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