Mobile Apps: Native vs Web vs Hybrid

Given the increasing number of cross-platform mobile app development frameworks like Xamarin, Cordova, Ionic and React Native which make it easy to develop mobile apps, it is normal to get confused when trying to decide whether to build your app as a “native”, “hybrid” or “web-based” app.

The aim of this article is to give you a sound understanding of different approaches to building an app and to help you decide which one is more appropriate for you.

Native Apps

A Native App is an app developed essentially for one particular mobile platform and must be installed through an application store (such as Google Play or Apple’s App Store). Each mobile platform has its own specific application development toolkit, UI elements, and specification that must be adhered to. For example, iOS apps are typically coded in Objective-C/Swift, whereas Android apps are usually coded with Java/Scala.

Native apps offer the best performance and great user experience by taking advantage of the device-specific features. The biggest drawback of native apps is that they’re unable to be used by other devices outside their relevant platform. This means that you have to write a separate codebase for each platform which requires more money, more time, more effort, and to employ multiple development teams for companies.

Hybrid apps

Hybrid apps are basically web pages wrapped in a native container that provides access to native platform features. They are built using cross-compatible web technologies and packaged with cross-platform mobile app development frameworks such as Apache Cordova / PhoneGap, Xamarin, Ionic Framework, React Native which provide access to device-specific APIs and hardware features. Hybrid apps can be developed easily and quickly. However, this comes at the cost of poor performance when compared to native apps.

Web-Based Apps

Web-Based Apps are mobile-optimized websites suitable for small screens. A web developer doesn’t need to learn any new programming language or tool making it the simplest and easiest way to make your web content accessible on mobile devices.

Web-Based Apps are slightly different from native and hybrid apps in that they can not access native platform functionalities and they require internet connection even when taking advantage of Broswer Caching and Local Storage. Web apps are not downloaded from the App Store and always run in a browser this means that you are not tied to the rules set forth by the terms and conditions of app stores.

Which is best?

By now you should know the different approaches to building an app, but which is best for you? Well, there’s no straightforward answer. So here are some questions to help you decide which option is best based on your situation.

  • How important is speed and performance?
  • Does the app require the use of any special device features?
  • Does the app require internet access for full functionality?
  • How much budget is available for development and maintenance?.

And hopefully the following chart will help you make an informed decision.

  Native Hybrid Web-based
Description ِApps developed for one particular mobile platform ًWebpages wrapped in native container ’Mobile-friendly websites
Required Skills Java - Objective-C - .Net HTML - CSS - Javascript -
Cross-platform app development framework
HTML - CSS - Javascript
Performance Best Moderate Poor
User Experience (UX) Best Moderate Poor
Cross-platform Support No Yes Yes
Distribution App Store App Store Web Server
Can Access Native Features? Full Access Moderate No
Development and Maintenance Speed Slow Moderate Fast
Costs to build and maintain Higher Moderate Lower
Require Internet Access? No No Yes
Best for Apps requiring high performance or full access to native features Apps that do not have high performance requirements, but need device access Apps that do not have high performance requirements, and do not need device access