Chapter 2: Knowing When to Choose Hybrid or Native Mobile Applications
September 20, 2018
For the average person lacking a background in technology and programming, it might be difficult to technically tell the difference between a hybrid and a native app. In fact, did you know that both types can be installed on devices in the exact same way and they can both be found in app stores? If you aren’t tech savvy, then you are probably wondering about these hybrid and native apps, what they mean and how to spot their differences. Don’t worry, we will get to explaining all that very soon.
If you have read the previous chapter about an introduction to app development terminology, then you already have some sort of idea about how the whole process works. In this chapter, we will be discussing the difference between native and hybrid applications along with their many different programming languages to help you decide which would be the best fit. You probably did not realize there were so many options in the first place so don’t shy away from this post just because it sounds technical. We are here to help guide you and provide easy to understand definitions and descriptions for the non-tech savvy folk out there.
Understanding the Difference Between Hybrid and Native Applications
The terms ‘hybrid’ and ‘native’ may seem completely foreign to you in relation to mobile applications. So what do they mean? Both are two different development frameworks for building mobile apps and choosing either option depends on the project you want for your brand.
Native applications are built and integrated into the specific platform of your choice, this includes choosing either Android or iOS. These applications are only meant for a distinct operating system and they are considered to be the most common type to develop.
As for hybrid applications, in recent years they have been growing in popularity. They can be built and released across multiple different platforms using the same user interface. They are a combination of both web and native application components and can be perceived as a native app on the surface.
Programming languages such as Swift and Objective C for iOS, and Java and Kotlin for Android, are used to create native applications and programming platforms such as Xamarin and React Native are used for developing hybrid applications. We will discuss these language options more in depth later on in the post, but for now, we will look at the advantages and disadvantages to choosing hybrid or native to figure out which is best for you.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Native Mobile Apps
Reliability and high security are among some of the positive assets to native mobile applications. Here we have provided you with a list of some of its advantages to take into consideration.
Speed. Native applications have faster performance and overall better user experience because they are built to run on a specific platform and Android and iOS each have their own language and SDK (Software Development Kit) to work with.
Consistency. The look and feel of interacting with a native app are consistent with other native apps on the device. This means the user can understand how to use the app quicker because of the consistent user interface (UI). Therefore making the user input and output smooth.
Long-term applications. Native apps are reliable and guaranteed to function on a long-term basis. They typically take 3-6 months to develop.
Easily accessible. Native apps are easy to find and easily approved to be distributed in both the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store.
Access to built-in software. The contents and structure of a native app are already available on your device. They can access and use the built-in hardware and software on a device. This includes the native applications that come with the phone like the location, storage, calendar, address book, GPS and camera. This means they can interact with any feature on the phone.
Quick loading. Most content is already downloaded to your phone once the app is installed. This information is therefore available for quick loading no matter the internet speed.
Concerning the creation of native applications, it is true there are more positive than negative characteristics, however, it is still important to note some of the challenges associated with developing this type of app.
Often costly. Because native applications are only built on one platform, that means they can only work either on Android or iOS devices. If you want to have your app on both, you would have to treat them as separate projects because Android and iOS have to follow different technical and user experience guidelines. This then becomes an expensive and time-consuming ordeal of having to hire more developers. *As a side note to this disadvantage: despite the costs being higher in comparison to hybrid applications, the investment is more solid as native apps have long-term reliability.
As you can see, based on the dependability of native applications, they tend to be a reliable and stable option. But before you decide on having a native app developed for your brand, let’s take a more detailed look at hybrid apps so you have all the information required to make a decision.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Hybrid Mobile Apps
Here is a general idea of some advantages to taking into consideration if you decide to go the hybrid route.
Quick to market. Development time is less compared to creating a native app because of the one code source and the easy programming languages to work with. This means the app is quicker to put on the market, which can be done in less than 6 months.
Low on costs. Because hybrid apps go to market so quickly, the cost of hiring developers is significantly lower than native app developers.
While keeping the positive characteristics in mind, it is also important to understand the challenges associated with hybrid apps.
User experience suffers. Hybrid apps don’t perform as well as native apps. Some developers consider them cheap and inferior to native. They have a slower transition between pages and a delay when scrolling through heavy content like images and animations. The information is also loaded as the user navigates the app, whereas, with native, the information is downloaded when the app is installed.
Less interactivity. In comparison to native apps, the interaction with different features is less interactive, for example, the button presses may not be as reactive.
Limited potential. Because the code is loaded using webview and because the app is also run in webview, it limits the full potential of your device. Developing hybrid apps do not allow for certain possibilities, such as using 3D features.
High maintenance. Although hybrids have one single initial programming language behind it, it will still rely on native elements to be able to operate properly. So to maintain this app, every time you have to make a change in the core code, you’ll have to change it 3 times: on the core code, on Android and on iOS to make sure everything is running smoothly on all platforms. On a native app, that wouldn’t happen, you would change it just once if you want to add a feature and they rarely need any maintenance at all.
Now that you have a better understanding of the pros and cons to creating hybrid and native apps, you must remember that it is important to think of the overall customer experience because this is what determines the success of the app. Users expect excellent responsiveness and they don’t care whether it’s hybrid or native, just as long as it works properly and they have an excellent user experience.
Core Characteristics of iOS Native Programming Language
Earlier in this post, we mentioned the use of different programming languages for iOS native applications such as Swift and Objective C. You might not have heard of these terms before and so below we have provided a description of each along with some of their pros and cons.
Swift was developed by Apple in 2014 and became the dominant interactive modern programming language for iOS development, writing software for all Apple platforms including iOS, macOS, tvOS and watchOS. It was created to build apps ‘swiftly’, hence the name Swift, focusing on speed, optimized performance and the constant evolution of new features. You may recognize apps like Airbnb, LinkedIn and Lift, which were all created using the Swift programming language.
Advantages of using Swift
Safety. Swift focuses on safety by implementing safeguards to easily spot and block errors, unsafe code and code crashes, which can swiftly be eliminated.
Memory. The memory in Swift is managed automatically.
Speed. Swift was intended to outperform and replace its predecessor Objective C. Swift is cheaper to maintain and performs 2.6 times faster because it works with less code than Objective C.
Simplicity. Swift has a simple, clean and concise syntax and grammar, therefore, making it easy to write, read and develop apps with a lesser chance for mistakes. The basics of Swift programming are easier to understand than Objective C, it can even be understood by non-iOS developers. Because of this simple codebase, onboarding more developers to your app development team is quick and easy.
Availability. Swift is available to everyone including developers, educators and students.
Open source. Swift is an open source language where developers can see how it works from the inside. Developers are free to make contributions and suggestions, such as answering questions on forums, reporting bugs, triaging bugs and contributing code.
Compatibility. Swift is completely compatible with Objective C. You can use both interchangeably on the same project, they can co-exist with each other.
Disadvantages of using Swift
Strict. Some developers find Swift to be strict because of the many safeguards in place to avoid errors.
Young. Because it is still a young programming language, Swift needs more time to grow and mature.
Always evolving. Like with most languages, there is usually a need to refresh and update the code to prevent bugs and issues of instability.
Older versions. Swift does not support the older version of iOS, this includes anything before iOS 7. If there happens to be a need to create an app using an older version of iOS, then this would not be possible.
Objective C is a programming language for iOS and it is over 30 years old. It was originally created in 1984 and then in 2006 Objective C 2.0 was introduced at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference. Ever since then it has been used to develop apps on Apple platforms. Below we have provided you with a more in-depth description of the advantages and disadvantages of this programming language option.
Advantages of using Objective C
Ranking. Objective C remains the language of choice for most companies. As of September 2018, it is ranked #10 on the list of the top programming languages to use, whereas Swift is ranked #15.
Compatibility. It is compatible with other programming languages like C and C++, which can be used inside your Objective C files. Objective C is also compatible with Swift where it can easily be imported into Swift code.
Maturity. Because Objective C has been around for so long, it is a very mature programming language. As an iOS developer, it is inevitable that you will have to know how to interact with its components, even though you may be working in Swift. For instance, if an iOS developer takes on an older job or project, the chances are it will be written in Objective C.
Community. Because of its old age, there is a bigger community of people familiar with the language with more experienced developers available.
Disadvantages of using Objective C
Outdated. Eventually, it won’t be able to support new features and keep up with Swift. It will become obsolete lacking the features that other coding languages possess. It could become overshadowed by Swift with not being able to keep up with its speed.
Excessive coding. Swift has less coding language than Objective C. For example, the iOS Lift app was rewritten in Swift dropping from 75,000 lines of code to 22,000 lines.
Prone to errors. Errors are more likely to occur in Objective C. Swift is secure and more immune to bugs and crashes because of the way its syntax is structured and the safeguards it has in place.
Core Characteristics of Android Native Programming Languages
After reading about the different iOS native programming languages, let’s move on to explore the Android options including Java and Kotlin.
The Java project initially began in 1991 and by 1996, the first public implementation of Java 1.0 was released promising a “write once, run anywhere” philosophy. Today, it is known to be a successful open source programming language with over 15 billion devices running on Java and 10 million Java developers worldwide. It also incorporates some of the same features and syntax found in other programming languages like C and C++.
Advantages of using Java
Resources. Java is easy to learn, use and understand thanks to the many available helpful resources such as tutorials, websites, books and classes.
Platform-independent. Java can work regardless of the machines it is functioning on. Java was written to be a portable and cross-platform language where it doesn’t matter what operating system, device or hardware it’s running on. You can write the code once and run the program anywhere, moving and migrating easily from one Java hardware or software system to another.
Object-oriented. Programming in Java revolves around creating objects and manipulating them to work together. The goal of using object-oriented programming is to reduce the possibility of errors and mistakes, making the language more reliable.
Security. Java has a high level of security because its applications run in a virtual machine which safely contains and manages code.
Readable language. Java has human readable language. This means someone who can’t read code and knows nothing about programming will understand what the code says and what it’s doing. It’s not a numerical code and it can be read out loud.
Storage. Data can be stored and restored easily using a Stack allocation system. A Stack is an area of your computer’s memory which is a form of memory management.
Garbage collection. Java contains a built-in garbage collection so developers don’t have to manually clear created objects.
Disadvantages of using Java
With Java being a popular choice for native android app development, there is a very minimal number of disadvantages and complaints associated with this option. However, let’s take a look at the few challenges that exist.
Older versions of Java have experienced some security breaches and instability when applying updates.
Because of its multi-platform set-up, it is slower and takes up more memory space compared to other native languages like C and C++.
The look and feel of applications developed using Java are different compared to other native apps.
Kotlin is an open source language closely resembling Swift and runs on the Java virtual machine. It was developed by the company JetBrains, which is a software vendor specializing in creating intelligent developer tools with the goal of speeding up app production. Kotlin was first introduced in 2011 but it wasn’t until 2017 when it became a popular programming language for native Android apps. At the annual developer festival Google I/O 2017, Kotlin announced itself as a first-class Android development language. From then on, there has been a high demand for apps to be developed using this language and it has been used to create well-known Android apps like Slack, Lift, Netflix, Expedia and American Express.
Advantages of using Kotlin
Readable, concise, expressive, modern and safe are some of the positive characteristics associated with the Kotlin programming language. We have come up with a number of pros of going with this option for your native Android app development.
Compatibility. Kotlin is compatible with Java and all its tools and frameworks. This means developers can keep using Java while learning to integrate Kotlin code and libraries. And vice versa, Java code can be converted to Kotlin, making it possible to use both languages at once instead of losing time rewriting code.
Easy Transition. Because Kotlin and Java are compatible with each other, the transition from knowing Java to learning Kotlin is smooth.
Similar to Swift. Kotlin’s similarities to Swift make it easier and faster for Android developers to understand Swift. Therefore, there is the potential to speed up the development time for clients wanting an iOS and an Android app.
Mature Language. Kotlin has a concise syntax and an overall mature language. It went through many stages of development before it was released, which means Kotlin is guaranteed to work smoothly the majority of the time.
Compact. Kotlin is known for having a more compact code base leaving very little room for errors and bugs. With less code to work with, it is less likely the code will fail, making it more stable. Team efficiency and productivity is therefore increased when more work can be done by writing fewer lines of code
Disadvantages of using Kotlin
Small community. The community of developers is really small compared to Java. There aren’t as many experienced people, making it hard to scope out professionals and there are limited resources for learning the language. Job postings on indeed looking for Kotlin developers increased in 2017 but there is a talent gap in the field.
Conversion failures. The Java to Kotlin conversion isn’t flawless and they can sometimes fail, making it difficult to fix the errors.
Learning the language. Even though Kotlin is compatible with Java, it is never easy learning a new programming language because it takes a lot of time and training.
Core Characteristics of Hybrid Programming Languages
As we brought up at the beginning of the post, hybrid applications are developed using one codebase which is published across multiple platforms including both Android and iOS devices. We also mentioned some of the programming languages used to create these types of apps including Xamarin and React Native. Below we have provided you with their descriptions and their positive and challenging characteristics.
Xamarin is used for cross-platform mobile app development while applying a C# codebase. For those of you who don’t know, C# is a programming language closely resembling other languages like C and C++ and is used to develop apps on the Microsoft platform. The Xamarin company was founded in May 2011 but it was not until Microsoft acquired it in 2016 that it became a popular mobile development platform. A couple of well-known apps developed using Xamarin include JustGiving (online fundraising) and the World Bank (survey app).
Advantages of using Xamarin
The Xamarin mobile app development platform is often used for simple cross-platform applications that can go quickly to market. To keep up with the high standards of native app development, Xamarin is constantly improving itself to get a leg-up, such as providing easy maintenance and timely updates. The following are a few more positive characteristics to the programming platform.
One language. C# is the only language used with Xamarin. It is a mature and high-level language that reads closely to English. Because the codebase is consistent, errors are easy to track, making it simple to maintain.
Native Feel. Xamarin gives the app a native look and feel, making the user experience and performance similar to native. It can even be compared to Swift, Objective C or Java.
Built in Visual Studio. The Visual Studio lets you track and test your app’s performance and its user interface (UI) before releasing it. The Visual Studio software also builds, debugs and publishes applications across all platforms and devices.
Wearables. Xamarin supports apps for wearables like Apple and Android watch devices.
Educational. Xamarin provides an educational platform called Xamarin University to provide training and resources to those new to learning the language.
Disadvantages of using Xamarin
Small community. There are fewer experienced Xamarin developers compared to iOS and Android native communities.
Graphics. Because the platform is only meant for simple apps, this means it can’t support heavy graphics or else it becomes unstable and app crashes can occur.
Large. Applications built using the Xamarin platform take up space and are usually larger than native apps.
Unstable. Xamarin is known for having difficulties with maintenance and stability.
Native knowledge. Developers can’t get away with not having any knowledge of building native apps. To be able to give the look and feel of a native application, developers must have some basic knowledge of native languages like Java and Kotlin or Swift and Objective C.
Advantages of using React Native
Native components. Apps in React Native are indistinguishable from apps built using Objective C or Java because it uses native components. Part of the app can be built using React Native and part of it can be built using native code. For instance, this is how the Facebook app works. React Native uses the same user interface (UI) fundamentals used in regular iOS and Android apps.
Quick development time. React Native applications are fast to build because they share a codebase between operating systems which saves time and money.
Simple apps. React Native apps are useful for prototype or experimental apps.
Hot-reloading.Hot-reloading is a feature that shows a live preview of your app. The changes made in the code take effect right away in the iOS and Android version and there is no waiting time.
One codebase. Developers only have to deal with publishing code to one app instead of two apps with native code (one for iOS and one for Android).
Disadvantages of using React Native
Short-term only. Because React Native is still relatively new, it is less stable and still needs time to mature and prove itself as a reliable option. Long-term apps in React Native are riskier with increased chances of crashing, making this platform only good for simple apps. React Native is not a good option if you require advanced functionality and security (like banking apps) because the speed and performance will lack.
Dependent on Facebook license. React Native is dependent on third-party providers and Facebook’s license which is new and always changing. Facebook has the right to revoke the license if you get into a patent related dispute with them.
Lacks native modules. Creating apps with React Native lacks custom native modules like device sensors, camera and push notifications. Help is needed from iOS or Android native developers to access these features. This means native developers are still needed to create hybrid apps. Either that or a hybrid app developer must have knowledge of native coding to access the features.
Evolving frameworks. Frameworks evolve on a frequent basis. Every time a framework moves, you either keep your code stable and not benefit from any changes or you update your code and it will break and crash in React Native. Unfortunately, there is no balance between these two drastic options.
It is clear that creating an app is a complex affair and taking into consideration hybrid and native options, along with their different programming languages, is the next step to understanding the app development process. In the following chapter, we are going to be discussing connected objects including beacons and the Internet of Things (IoT). Stay tuned for chapter 3!
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