Native app development vs cross-platform

What is the difference between a hybrid app and native one? Is native app development dying? Ultimately, which mobile approach is better? Let’s look closely at the mobile battle between native and hybrid apps. And find out on which corner we are. 😎

native vs hybrid app

What is the difference between hybrid and native app development?

Native app development refers to building an app exclusively for one mobile system. So, you develop an app only for iOS or Android. You use native technologies dedicated to that process such as Java or Kotlin for Android and Swift or Objective-C for iOS.

Cross-platform mobile app development takes place when you build one common system for Android and iOS. In order to do that you use frameworks that transform your code into a solution for Android and iOS as well. One of the most popular frameworks are: Flutter (by Google) and React Native (by Facebook).

Is native app development dying?

As many say time and money run the world, so the hybrid app development process gets lots of attention. Hybrid apps are usually cheaper to build. You don’t have to hire both teams: Android developers and iOS developers. Naturally, building a cross-platform app seems to be faster than native. Furthermore, it is especially beneficial for teams specialising in web development that want to start with mobile. Web developers know JavaScript and CSS well so they can just continue using these languages and create a web app that works for mobile.

Nevertheless, is building hybrid apps really a low-budget and effective process? Is it the truth that native app development is over? 

It’s time to come clean. 😅 At Bright Inventions, we specialise in developing mobile apps with native technologies. We use Swift and Kotlin languages. Nevertheless, our team has tried building hybrid apps (using React Native) in a couple of projects, and after gaining that experience we decided to stick with the native app development. In our opinion building hybrid apps may seem to be easier and cheaper at first sight but when you look at the bigger picture, it might cause some problems that you may have not anticipated at the beginning.

Of course, this is our perspective and we know that every development team can have a different approach. Let us explain why we prefer native development over hybrid one.

Why native mobile app development is better than building cross-platform apps?

  • Hybrid app development means working on a framework that brings another layer to your code, and to be honest – to the whole software development process. It is another place where there could be some issues and bugs. That is also another level exposed to cyber-attacks.
  • When you build hybrid apps, you are dependent on framework providers. If there are some issues with React Native or Flutter, you may have to wait till they are resolved.

iPhone notch case study

After Apple launched iPhone with a notch (2017), it took React Native a couple of months to support the irregular shape of a smartphone screen. Developers building apps for iOS had to use 3rd party libraries or handle it on their own when iOS naturally backed this feature from the beginning for native developers.

  • Even if you build a cross-platform app, it doesn’t mean that you are free from native solutions. Technologies like Bluetooth or OCR (Optical Character Recognition) have to be developed natively. Only then you can bridge them with your code on the hybrid framework. So, your native skills still have to be built anyway.
  • The community built around native development is bigger. Of course, the main reason is the fact that native technologies are older than Flutter or React Native frameworks. Therefore, developers have had more time to learn, share knowledge and build libraries.
  • Another issue related to React Native and Flutter is the fact that they are still relatively young frameworks which might cause some turbulence for developers. Using young platforms increases the risk of updates that violate backward compatibility. As a result developer teams have to sacrifice days or even weeks of work on updating the software according to the recent changes. In terms of iOS or Android systems, the major API changes take place once a year. Furthermore, the changes are announced beforehand so native developers have enough time to adjust their apps. In theory, everyone should have enough time to get ready before the official launch of a new operating system. In practice, native solutions provide developers with the latest API at the moment the new system is announced, while it takes up to a couple of months for hybrid technologies to catch up.
  • Also, when you go for native, it is simpler to achieve a user-friendly experience. Hybrid apps are usually less UX friendly, less easy-going for users and less stable. Why? iOS and Android – they both have their characteristics and differences. Taking them both into consideration during cross-platform app development you have to compromise some of these specific features to sort of cover both platforms. Alternatively, by going native your software is fully supported by Android or iOS. You have access to API, your code answers to every little aspect related to the software. Apps are easily optimised for different resolution screens or other specifics related to the new smartphones. 

A study: Native vs. cross-platfrom

A study conducted in 2020 by a couple of Universities across Europe investigated the performance of cross-platform frameworks compared to native apps. The results have shown that:

“ (...) Based on statistical analysis and a weighted evaluation of the results, we investigate how well our developed artifacts perform compared to a developed native baseline artifact. Our results indicate that the use of cross-platform frameworks for the development of mobile apps may lead to decreased performance compared to the native development approach. Nevertheless, the results also indicate that certain cross-platform frameworks can perform equally well or even better than native on certain metrics but no framework scores best across all features in this study. These findings reinforce the importance of well-defined technical requirements and specifications, without which deciding on a cross-platform framework or overall development approach can potentially lead to underperforming apps.”

Are you ready to compromise?

When you build hybrid apps, you have to make compromises to meet “the expectations of both systems”. If you build an app for internal use and the user experience is not one of your priorities, the cross-platform compromise may fit you. However, if you build a commercial app that has to stand out from the competition, hybrid development may not be enough.

In the end, choosing hybrid app development means that you are choosing to go with another provider, another dependency. You have to wait for your provider to react to updates in Android or iOS API. In the meantime, native teams have a chance to be ahead of you already upgrading their code. 

What’s your opinion about native versus hybrid app development? Which side are you on? Let us know in the comments!

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