Person using native and hybrid apps

6 Key Differences Between Hybrid and Native App Development

Recent research suggests that 90% of the time users spend on their smartphones is on native and hybrid apps. This is a huge and growing market: Apps are currently expected to generate $935 billion in the U.S. by 2023. 

If you are thinking about developing an app, it is important to decide if you want to pursue a native or hybrid approach. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and it’s important to consider these alongside your goals, priorities, and budget reality.

So, how do you know which approach is right for your app project? This guide will walk you through everything you need to know about the two processes. 

Native vs. Hybrid App Development

A native application is designed explicitly for use on a specific device or platform. The two primary mobile operating systems are Android and Apple iOS. Native apps only work on the platform they’ve been designed for, and are optimized for the best possible user experience and maximum integration with that platform’s devices.  

A hybrid application is designed to work on both Android and iOS using the same technology setup and code base – meaning that one app works on both. While hybrid app technology isn’t as optimized for each type of device as native apps are, this technology is rapidly evolving and many of the functions that you likely associate with a typical app are possible in hybrid technology. 

6 Key Differences Between Native and Hybrid Apps

Native and hybrid apps each have distinct benefits and drawbacks. It helps to have an understanding of app development before choosing a software development partner. Even if you don’t know much about app development or have a technical background you can still start thinking about which platform to use by thinking through your goals, the intended use of your app, and other factors that we’ll outline here.  

The following are some factors to consider before making your choice. 

1. Time to Market

If you are in a rush to beat your competition to market, the time it takes to develop your app may be an important variable. As a rule, hybrid apps take less time to develop. This is because in hybrid you just need to build one app, and it will work on both Android and iOS. When building in native, you need to build separate versions of the app for each platform. While you can replicate some parts of the development effort, building two native apps will typically take 1.5 – 2 times as long as building a hybrid app. 

2. Budget

If you want to make your application available on multiple platforms but have a limited budget, you may want to consider a hybrid app. As with time to market, this boils down to the fact that in hybrid you only need to make one app code base as opposed to making one for each platform. The primary factor in determining how much it costs to make an app is the amount of time the developers will need to spend on the project. As such, making one tech build will always take less time than two. In addition to development costs, apps also need to be maintained once they are built, to fix bugs, update features, etc. Maintenance is easier, and less time consuming with a hybrid app, which has only one code base to service.

Person drawing out the structure of an app

3. Features

Every app is different, and the cost, time, and best approach ultimately come down to what specific features and functionalities will be included. While we always recommend starting small with a minimal viable product (MVP), some apps require very complex functionalities. Generally speaking, if an app needs to integrate very deeply with the hardware of a mobile device, building in native is often more reliable. For example, if an app simply needs to access the device’s camera to take a picture, that is a simple integration that can work easily in native or hybrid. However, if a deeper integration is required, such as adding a filter to photos in real-time when using a device’s camera, it is likely that native will be a better approach. 

4. Growth Plan

Even though we always recommend starting your app development journey with a streamlined MVP, it is important to think from the start about the longer-term vision as well. If the features that you want to have in your MVP don’t require native tech, but you know that some of the future features will, it may well make sense to start in native. Even though this may add to front-end cost and development time, building this way from the start will avoid costly and difficult transitions in the future. The tech approach that you choose is like the foundation of a house – once you build on top of it going back and changing it is not easy or advisable. So, if your future plans are likely to require functions that are best serviced by native tech, it makes sense to seriously consider starting with it.

5. User Experience

Both hybrid and native apps can operate smoothly and produce top-flight user experiences. Most of the core functions of the apps that you use every day can likely be replicated smoothly in either technology. In some cases, where the functionality of an app’s user interface is incredibly complex, it may require a level of nuance to adapt to very specific devices. 

For example, let’s picture an app that lets users draw on top of live videos (picture the way sports announcers sometimes draw lines/circles on top of video footage). For a functionality like this, it will be very important for the app to be hypersensitive to the specific device playing the video to maintain perspective. It will also be very important to have a deep integration with the device’s camera hardware, so native tech may be the better option. Native app development ensures consistency across all apps on a platform or device. The apps must conform to the platforms’ guidelines that are intended to enhance performance and provide a cohesive look and feel for an optimal user experience. 

6. Post-Development Efficiency

The most cost-efficient way to build an app, by far, is with hybrid development. The write-once-and-run-anywhere approach allows you to develop and maintain a single code base that can run on many platforms. Once you’ve built an app, you will have to maintain it (fixing bugs, doing app store updates, etc.), and may want to add features and enhancements over time. All of this is easier to manage with a single code base, and can save money and headaches over the long term.

Several factors can affect your decision between native or hybrid app development. You may choose native if you already have established teams with native language proficiency, plenty of time to develop, or a budget that allows for individual platform development. Otherwise, you may want to consider that hybrid app development can get to market more quickly, be used instantly across many platforms for wider adoption, and that there is only one code base to maintain. The good news is that you don’t need to go it alone. Contact YourCTO today to speak with an expert about any native and hybrid apps questions you might have.