Companies looking to build an app for consumers or their own internal users can choose from three different mobile app development options – native, web, and hybrid applications. Let’s explore each type, with a look at the benefits and drawbacks and how you can choose the best route for your needs.
By native applications, we mean an application that is built for a single mobile platform that is actually installed on the user’s device (taking up memory space). These apps are downloaded by the user from a platform’s app store, such as the Play Store for Google and Apple App Store for iOS.
With native applications, companies can custom build their app to provide a quality user experience, one that complements a web site or other channel the consumer might already be using. This continuity is a significant advantage of native applications.
Some other important advantages of native applications:
- Geo-location tagging allows companies to tailor their promotional and loyalty opportunities. Consumers can receive alerts when they are near physical stores, or are eligible for geography-based discounts.
- Analytics about a user's actions (or inactions) can be easily captured and analyzed, making it easier to judge the effectiveness of app features or promotions
- Native apps typically run and “feel” better. Web apps sometimes are built to mimic native apps, but are restricted by internet speeds and the limits to the design options
And some potential drawbacks:
- Native apps are often more expensive to develop, especially for companies that want/need the app on multiple OS platforms
- Native apps have to be approved by the individual app store, and garnering interest in the app can be difficult (unless it’s a company-specific app)
As you might suspect, these applications run on the web browser on the user’s device. These applications are really custom-designed websites that are built to look and feel like native apps, but they aren’t actually located on the user’s device. They’re similar to cloud storage versus data stored on a computer’s hard drive. When properly designed, which includes proper sizing and scrolling, web applications often function similarly to native applications.
Here are some key benefits of web applications:
- Web-based apps are easier to maintain and can work with any type of OS platform
- Developers can offer apps at their own pace, without the need for app store approvals
And some caveats:
- Web apps cannot access data on the user’s device. While this may sometimes be desired, it does restrict many functions that native apps use to tailor the experience
- Users must go through the web, so there is less control over security
- Finding an application might be difficult since it will not be catalogued and searchable within an app store
Hybrid applications function as a middle ground between native and web apps. They actually are designed to look and feel just like native apps. They are still installed on the user’s phone and they are located in app stores. The difference is these are essentially hosted within a native application and are designed to run through a mobile browser’s WebView, so they can access info on the user’s device for an expanded user experience.
Additional benefits of the hybrid model include:
- Hybrid apps offer the most functionality and customization for the user
- Developers are not locked into a certain OS platform, they can instead build a hybrid app that will work with multiple platforms (while functioning like a native app)
- Hybrids are a good option for developers that are building visually-intensive applications such as games (which would not perform well as web apps)
With any solution, there are drawbacks to consider:
- Very complex apps might be best suited as natives
- Development requires additional time and effort (compared to web apps) in order to mimic the native look and feel
- App stores might reject some hybrid apps if they do not perform fluidly
Choosing the proper type of mobile app model is a tricky design, one that is influenced by several factors such as; the technical expertise of developers, the need to access internal device information, the impact internet speeds will have on the app, and if the app is multi or single-platform.