Native app vs web app vs hybrid app

Native app, web app or hybrid app: if you need an app, you need to ask yourself at an early stage which technology should be used. A strategic decision with far-reaching consequences. We would like to briefly explain the most important technologies here, point out the advantages and disadvantages and, of course, not forget the costs of development and maintenance.

The 3 major technologies.

Apps can be realized using various technologies. On the one hand, there are the classic native apps, the modern web app (or progressive web app, PWA), which is becoming increasingly popular, and the combination of the two: the hybrid app. They all have different advantages and disadvantages and are more or less suitable for different purposes.

Native apps - advantages and disadvantages

Native apps are, if you like, the original form of apps. They are developed specifically for an operating system in the corresponding language, for example in Swift for iOS or in Java for Android, and then installed on the user's device via the corresponding app store. 

Advantages

The main argument in favor of a native app is certainly the Performance. Anyone planning a complex app that needs to make the best possible use of a smartphone's performance should consider native app development.

Because native apps are developed for specific operating systems, many hardware components (sensors, RF modules such as Bluetooth or NFC, etc.) can be controlled directly and with high performance. The native version is currently best suited for projects that place high demands on the performance of the smartphone.

The usability of native apps is also often better. Dedicated development for each operating system means that the design guides and native UI elements of the respective operating system can be better integrated. 

Disadvantages

The big problem with native apps is the high development costs, because I need a separate development team for each operating system. Due to the different programming languages (Java and Swift), two versions always have to be developed and maintained in the end. There are even additional costs in the design phase: If you want to get the most out of native development, you should have internalized the design guidelines of iOS and Android accordingly and take them into account when creating the UI.

Web App or Progressive Web App (PWA)

The Web App, or Progressive Web App, on the other hand, is a Website with the features of a native app. For example, a mobile website can be supplemented with push notifications or offline functionalities or GPS and camera can be accessed. Classic web technologies such as HTML, CSS or JavaScript are used.

By using common web technologies, web apps are absolutely platform-independent and therefore also the most cost-effective option. Instead of writing a separate application for each operating system, I only have to program one version, which can then be accessed as a website (via smartphone, tablet or desktop PC) or stored as an app (Android and iOS) on the smartphone.

As PWA technology is strongly promoted by Google, it has even been possible since 2019 via Trusted Web Activity and Android Studio publish the app in Google's Play Store. This is a not insignificant factor in the distribution of an app. This is because the store generates relevant installations.

However, Apple shows less interest in web apps. Accordingly, there is currently no option to submit these to the Apple Store.

Advantages of web apps

  • Less development effort due to standardized technology (web + app at the same time)
  • Experience shows faster development

Disadvantages of web apps

  • Currently no distribution or App Store from Apple possible
  • Cannot (yet) keep up with native apps for complex, computationally intensive tasks
  • UX in some cases not completely native, as it is developed for cross-platform.

Excursus: Progressive Web App (PWA)

A progressive web app is very similar to a normal web app in terms of its basic structure. However, a service worker is added to the PWA, which uses caching to ensure that content once accessed online can be displayed on the next visit even without an internet connection. There is also an add-to-homescreen function. Even if it is theoretically "only" a web application, it is possible to store PWAs directly on the end device just like native apps.

Hybrid apps

The hybrid app is a combination of web app and native application. Hybrid apps are based (like web apps) on web technologies such as HTML5, CSS and JavaScript, but run in a web view container. Ultimately, you have to imagine a hybrid app as a web app that has been given a small native housing (= app container) with the help of a framework. Frequently used frameworks for developing hybrid applications are Cordova, PhoneGap, Ionic or React Native. 

The app container acts as an interface between native technology and web technology. This allows native functions to be controlled more directly if required. The native housing also makes it possible to publish the app in the Apple App Store.

Hybrid apps are particularly interesting for those who want an app with native features but are looking for more cost-effective development.

Advantages and disadvantages of hybrid apps

Hybrid applications operate in a Intermediate world of native apps and web apps.

In contrast to the web apps, they are also accepted in the Apple Store.

In addition, the hybrid app (like the web app) is easy to develop and maintain. more cost-effective than a native applicationas only one website needs to be developed, which then only needs to be "exported" for the respective operating system. But: It is mostly more complex than a web app. This is because the frameworks used (React Native, Cordova, etc.) result in additional development and maintenance work (e.g. through updates to the frameworks).

In contrast to the web app, the system components can be accessed "directly". However, they cannot keep up with native applications in terms of performance.

Which technology is right for me?

We have now got to know the 3 main technologies. But which one is right for me?

If your app needs to solve complex, computationally intensive tasks, the native app is the key to success despite the higher development costs. If your budget is limited, you should opt for a web app. For scenarios in between, a hybrid app can be the solution.

However, as is so often the case, there is no simple general answer to the question of which app is the right one. Factors such as cost, time and demands on the app have a decisive influence on the choice of design. There is also no ultimate insider tip as to which variant is the best. Ultimately, it also depends on what makes the most economic sense. 

If you are still unsure: We are happy to advise you! Just ask us. We book an independent initial assessment for you under "good service".

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