Choosing a mobile app development approach: Native or hybrid?

By Becky Lawlor

Deciding upon the right mobile app development approach for your enterprise is not a multiple choice question with one clear, correct answer; the best course of action will depend on a number of factors. While much has changed in the mobile app development world in only a few short years, both native and hybrid apps can be solid choices. It just depends on what you want to achieve.

Here’s a brief rundown of the pros and cons of native and hybrid apps.

Advantages of Native Apps

Because native apps run on the device’s operating system and can take full advantage of a device’s functionality and hardware, native apps have significant performance advantages over hybrids. For apps that are building-processor-intensive or highly interactive, such as mobile games, or for enterprises that want their apps to have access to functions like push notifications, camera and address book options, GPS, offline access or SMS messaging, a native approach is likely the best option.

Another advantage of native apps is their user interface. Native apps run on the device’s operating system, which means they can be built to take advantage of the display features and unique device capabilities. The result is a more integrated look and feel.

Finally, native apps offer more security as they can leverage the platform’s specific built-in security features. For e-commerce and banking apps where security is critical, native apps will be the best choice. For others, weighing security concerns against other native app limitations will be necessary.

Disadvantages of Native Apps

While native apps have several advantages, they also have real limitations that may not make them the best choice. For starters, native apps tend to be more expensive to build and maintain. That is due to the fact that native apps are built specifically for one type of device or platform. App builders have to pick which platforms to support or build separate apps for each platform, which makes native a more expensive option.

Additionally, because of cross-platform support challenges, native apps may not make the most sense for enterprises with BYOD policies that allow a myriad of devices that must be supported.

Another drawback will be integrating the native app into your company’s back end infrastructure. APIs are used to power native apps’ infrastructure, so if your company doesn’t already have an API infrastructure built out, this can be a real hurdle to overcome.

Advantages of Hybrid Apps

Despite the benefits of an outstanding user experience and the high performance that native apps offer, Gartner predicts that hybrid apps will be used in more than 50 percent of mobile apps by 2016. Why? Because hybrid apps have some real advantages over native apps and not as many “big” limitations.

The biggest advantage of a hybrid app comes from its reduced cost to build and run. Derived from the best of both worlds (native and Web-based mobile app development), hybrids are built using HTML, CSS and JavaScript code that runs in an internal browser and is then wrapped in a native app.

The result is that hybrid apps enjoy the integration abilities of previous Web-based apps while also still being able to take advantage of device capabilities. This means hybrids can apply a consistent look and feel across devices and platforms without the cost or time of having to write separate code for each device. This not only makes them highly accessible for enterprises with BYOD policies, but more cost-effective.

Disadvantages of Hybrid Apps

Performance remains the one significant area where hybrids cannot match native apps. If high processing speeds and interactivity are a requirement for your app, the native approach still wins.

The other area where hybrids still struggle to compete is security. Headway is being made on security protocols — sloppy code is as much a culprit as other vulnerabilities — but for now, native apps still offer a layer of protection that hybrids can’t match.

What’s the Right Choice?

The bottom line: Your best option will depend on what you are trying to accomplish with your app. If you’re building a game-like app, need a high level of security or want to be able to use device functions such as push notifications, a native app may be the right choice. But for others looking to accommodate BYOD policies and integration with enterprise systems like CRM, a hybrid approach will make the most sense.

Written By

Becky Lawlor

Technology Writer

Becky Lawlor is a freelance technology writer specializing in mobility, cloud computing, unified communications and collaboration solutions. She develops and writes content that helps technology buyers understand and evaluate technology solutions, modernize their IT infrastructure…

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