Over the past decade, with the ever-increasing popularity of smartphones, tablets and smartwatches, more and more attention has been paid to the software we can run on them, namely apps.
The most popular and common apps fall into one of these three main types: Native, Hybrid or Web App (or Progressive Web App, PWA).
Why is it so important to understand the difference for those in decision-making roles within a company?
Simple, because the choice between the three impacts everything from timing to development and maintenance costs, from the number of resources to devote to design and development, to the desire to offer the app that is most in line with the specific type of user so that they have an extremely pleasant experience.
In this article we explain the advantages, disadvantages, and main differences between the three, showing you practical examples so you can help you understand which app is best for your specific case.
Native apps are designed for a specific operating system, such as Android or iOS, and are developed using official programming languages, namely Kotlin and Swift and providing a smooth user experience that is very customizable.
On the other hand, hybrid apps are developed using technologies such as Flutter, React Native, or Kotlin Multiplatform Mobile, which allow the creation of a single app that can run on almost any device.
Web apps (also known as “progressive web apps” or PWAs), unlike the first two, can be run directly through your browser, such as Chrome, Safari, Opera or Edge, so all you have to do to access them is type in the relevant URL address.
They in fact have the convenience of not having to be installed, but possess some limitations in accessing the device hardware and may require optimization to reduce battery consumption.
Let us now delve deeper into the analysis, to find out in more detail what are the pros and cons of each type of app and its development process.
What is a Native App?
As we have seen, a native app is a type of app designed and developed specifically for a single operating system, such as Android or iOS.
This approach takes advantage of all the features of the operating system, such as the camera, GPS, motion sensors, and more, providing users with a smooth experience and optimal performance.
In addition, these apps are particularly suitable if the app makes extensive use of the device’s sensors or performs hardware-intensive tasks, such as complex calculations or graphics operations. Native apps are usually more secure, robust, and stable than the other types.
However, the native approach comes at a double cost in that it requires separate development of iOS and Android apps.
It is recommended for those with a large budget who have specific needs, such as collecting data from device sensors or interacting with the surrounding environment, for example, for IOT-related projects.
What is a Hybrid App?
A hybrid app is developed using technologies that allow installation on devices with different operating systems, such as iOS and Android.
In some cases, the same code can also run on the Web via a browser and as a desktop application on Windows, macOS and Linux, reducing overall development time as well as cost.
The main advantage of hybrid apps is the ability to write a single source code, which speeds up development time and optimizes costs.
There are several technologies dedicated to hybrid app development, including Flutter, React Native, Ionic, and Xamarin, as well as others on the market.
In particular, Flutter is officially supported by Google and is the preferred choice for us at Spinlever to create apps that offer high performance and a user experience comparable to that of a native app.
What is a Web App?
Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are browser-accessible apps that mimic the user experience that device-installable apps give.
PWAs use strategies such as offline caching to function even in the absence of an Internet connection, allowing the app to run with some functionality limitations.
One of the strengths of Web apps is that they do not have to be installed by users, decreasing some of the marketing investment allocated to convincing your target audience to install the app.
This is not a problem with PWAs, since the app can be accessed directly through a URL and users can use it simply by clicking on the link.
The main disadvantages of PWAs are limited access to device hardware and potential excessive battery consumption if not properly optimized.
Nevertheless, PWAs still offer a convenient and versatile alternative for reaching users on different platforms.
Which to Choose for Your Project
We have identified five key elements that we consider to determine which type of app is best suited to your needs:
- Purpose of the app: What is the main goal of your app? Do you need to provide advanced functionality or interact with the device hardware? The answers to these questions will influence your choice.
- Target Users: Who are your users and on which platforms are they most present? If your target audience is focused on a specific operating system, you might opt for a native app to provide an optimized experience.
- Budget available: How much can you invest in app development and maintenance? Native apps require separate efforts for iOS and Android, while hybrid apps can offer a cheaper and faster approach.
- Design originality across platforms: If you want a custom design for each platform, a native app may be the best choice. Hybrid apps may require design compromises to fit both operating systems.
- Hardware usage rate: Do you need access to specific device features, such as the camera or sensors? Native apps offer more comprehensive access to hardware functionality.
For example, if you own an online store and want to increase sales by reaching users on mobile devices, you might opt for a hybrid app. This choice would allow you to reach users on different platforms with a limited budget, creating a presence on app stores.
In conclusion, the choice of app type depends on the specific context and needs of the project. In short:
Native apps: Ideal for providing a high-quality user experience, taking full advantage of the capabilities of the device hardware.
They are recommended for projects with an adequate budget and the need for maximum performance and interaction with the operating system.
Hybrid apps: Optimal for those who want a cheaper and faster solution.
With a single source code, an app can be developed that works on multiple platforms.
They are suitable for projects with limited resources or that need a presence on multiple operating systems.
Web Apps: An attractive choice for reaching users via the Web and providing a similar experience to installed apps.
PWAs are accessible via the browser and do not require installation, making them convenient for deployment.
They are suitable for projects that want to reach a large online audience and do not require advanced capabilities of device hardware.
Each type of app has specific advantages and disadvantages, so it is important to carefully evaluate the needs of the project, the available budget, and the target audience to make the best choice.
Consulting experts in app development can be of great help in identifying the best solution for your needs.