Native Mobile Apps vs Hybrid Mobile Apps vs Web Apps… which one?

It can be confusing. Trying to understand the mobile app landscape is not for the feint hearted. Then to make a marketing decision on which option to adopt requires a certain degree of technical knowledge. Well fear not… I will attempt to explain below how they all differ and which option is the best for you. Note that this is not and won’t be an exhaustive technical comparison, there are plenty of those out there. This article will only cover IPhone/IPod/IPad and Android apps.

To answer the question, which do i need? the simple answer is… one of them. As to which one, the simple answer is, it depends. Let me explain….

The rise of apps is well known, the technical hurdle in bringing an app to market is, for many… is not so well know.

Native Apps

Native apps are apps built using development tools and software provided by the main companies, e.g. Apple, Google. For a while, it was the only way you could create apps.

Google provides the Android SDK (Software Development Kit) which is what you need to code and build a native Android App. Java is the programming knowledge required to build Android apps using their SDK.
Apple provides Xcode, the software  required to build native IPhone/IPod and IPad apps. Xcode makes use of Objective-C programming language.

The Problem

If, as a company, you wanted to create an IPhone and Android app, you would have to build it twice, once using the Android SDK and then again using Xcode. This is not only a lengthy process, but is also costly, which for many puts their ideas for mobile platform domination on the back burner.

The Solution – Hybrid Apps

The only real solution would be a way of using readily available web development resources, and have one app built which could become available to both the Android and IPhone (aka Hybrid Apps). For a few years, this area has seen a lot of activity. Many such products and services have sprung up allowing web developers to create one app and have it work for both platforms. The two big players are www.phonegap.com (who were bought out by Adobe) and Appcelerator.

The End of Native?

Far from it, products such as Phonegap and Appcelerator require the use of additional software and services to access native phone functionality, which is readily accessible with natively developed apps. Also, there is the problem of performance. Androids adoption by big phone manufacturers has resulted in a fractured, flooded smartphone market with varying hardware specifications, as such, due to the way in which Hybrid Apps work internally, more handset resources (memory, processor) can be required to carry out tasks which Native Apps do with relative ease. As such, the user experience can vary greatly with issues ranging from slow screen transitions to crashes. As such, there is a lot of activity in javascript library development, e.g. JQueryMobile, Sencha Touch to try and increase the number of supported Android handsets.

Mobile Web Sites

Jumping to the conclusion that you require an app can be, for many, jumping the gun. A mobile web site makes use of mobile javascript libraries, e.g. JQueryMobile, Sencha Touch and replicates the functionality found in apps, e.g. the slides, popup messages, tab bars etc to create what appears to be a smartphone app. The difference is that the app is not available from the app store, but from a url, e.g. m.mywebsite.com. Users would access the site by visiting it through their smartphone browser. They offer the least in terms of handset integration (e.g. cannot use the camera, compass etc) but they are a more cost effective way to get a mobile site up and running. A well known site that have taken this approach over having an app created is www.ft.com (try visiting the site from your smartphone). The way it benefits is that it can offer a mobile version of your site as it has instant access to your pages. Using special code, the site can detect that it is being browsed by a smartphone and redirect the user to the mobile version of your site.

So.. which is for me?

As you can see, it isn’t simple. It is all down to your requirements and budget.

I can certainly help you in making an informed decision, so please get in touch using my contact form.