What is the Difference between Hybrid & Native Apps?
Why is it important to know the difference between hybrid and native apps? Because making the wrong move could result in wasted time and energy. Lots of it. Two of the most common and trendy approaches to mobile app building today are hybrid and native.
Before we delve any further into highlighting key differences, let’s thoroughly understand some of the specific purposes behind each approach.
What’s a Native App?
A native app is essentially an app build to support a particular platform – iOS or Android for instance, where the app utilizes a language in order to facilitate development on the said platform; in this particular case Java and Objective-C.
Can the code be ported to other platforms? Well, that depends on how the original code’s written – it varies from developer to developer, as some keep portability in mind while others don’t. Even if they did, a bit of rewriting at some level is required if you also want the app running smoothly on other platforms.
When you’re writing code for native apps , you have access to all hardware features offered by the native code APIs – this typically unlocks nearly all of the device’s functionality, way more than a web app, for instance. For example, Apple’s push notifications are a good example of an iOS-only feature not supported by a web app.
And, it’s considered “native” since the code you write is tailored for that specific platform – it revolves around the native architecture of that particular device. So cross-platform compatibility may be a cause for concern, though not explicitly.
What’s a Hybrid App?
A hybrid app is essentially an HTML5 app designed to work with a native platform such as iPhone, within a native environment based on more than simply a browser view to properly display the HTML5 content. There are additional tools to let your HTML5 app access hardware features normally not accessible within the browser sandbox.
This results in better code portability. How? Since you’re looking to port the app to another platform, you will only require a native environment on the other platform in order to properly run it, while the HTML5 content can be directly ported.
These native environments can be custom written, however, there are great marketplace tools like PhoneGap which can be used to generate them automatically. Using such tools, you’ll have a single point of contact since you want the app to branch out to more than one platform easily and efficiently – all you have to do is generate the native environment and packages that are needed to automate the process through and through.
The folks at PhoneGap have a plethora of configurations on offer along with hardware support to boot, though you might find that the solution not always works the exact same way when it comes to different devices. You see, in practice, hacking and testing of special cases is needed so you can have proper support, since the app is much more than a website in a browser control.
Now that we have a general understanding of both, let’s see how we can all put this in practical terms. Just to put things in perspective, we’ll take the iPhone as a case example.
How do Native Apps Generally Work?
The usability you get with Apple’s proprietary UI libraries and device hardware access are quite good, so let’s go ahead and work with “Native” in order to utilize the UI components. If you’re accustomed to using iPhone apps, the UI experience you’re in for is pretty much what you’d typically expect from iPhone apps and how they function.
It’s up to you if you prefer having hardware access to graphics for mostly performance (games for example) or you need access to other proprietary features not supported within a browser sandbox – Apple’s push notifications, camera access or in-app purchase etc.
When taking the Native approach, on one hand your code doesn’t have as much portability, but on the other, it boasts higher performance as well as more power and capability on the chosen platform. Your app easily stands out in the app store and apart from advertising, you can also monetize your app by leveraging an in-app purchase or initial purchase price.
How do Hybrid Apps Generally Work?
When you go down this route, you must experiment with the capabilities of your chosen platform (Appcelerator for example), and test it out thoroughly in order to determine what the end product can do. These ‘hybrid generators’ continue to evolve as we speak, though their true potential isn’t quite known at the moment or the improvements you might observe in the final product, as a result of using them.
The possibility that your app might be rejected at the App Store cannot be ruled out, when you deploy it using the hybrid method. However, this decision squarely lies with Apple alone, and their criteria for what’s acceptable or not acceptable isn’t exactly made available in black and white.
A known fact though, is that each time an iOS update comes out, you cannot access features until you’re chosen platform starts supporting it. The downside? You’ll be a few paces behind the Native code guys, design-wise, as they get support first, not to mention how you’re relying on a third party to provide the same support.
Conclusion: Key Differences
At a glance (and for quick reference), here a few key differences between the two:
- Apps are written in native code according to platform; iOS or Android for example
- You can distribute them on Google Play, the App Store, Blackberry’s App World etc.
- Need to be developed independently on each platform
- Can be downloaded directly to your mobile device
- Internet connection needed, but not always
- App icon is automatically displayed on your device’s home screen
- Apps written in native code according to platform (iOS or Android for example) which are connected to pages within a web view
- You can distribute them on app stores; iTunes, Google Play, App World etc.
- Can be downloaded directly to your mobile device
- App icon displays automatically on your device’s home screen
- Only accessible through an internet browser
- Internet connection required almost 100% of the time
As a developer, tell us about your experience working with native and hybrid apps in the comments area below. And don’t hesitate to reach out to our app development team to discuss best practices for building each type of app.