Mobile app development: native, hybrid or cross-platform?

It is important to choose the right coding language and framework before actually developing the software
mobile app DEVELOPMENT
02 July 2024
We spend 4-5 hours a day in front of our mobile screens, 90% of our time on mobile is spent using apps, and our usage habits are not predicted to change. On the contrary, it is estimated that 299 billion apps will be downloaded worldwide in 2023, more than 20% more than in 2020. In this fiercely competitive environment, companies must choose the right technology for mobile app development. Should you go to market with a native, hybrid or cross-platform solution? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each technology? In this article, we present the different technologies and advise when to choose.
The importance of the mobile app is hardly in question anymore. Companies that fail to exploit the market potential of this online channel risk losing competitiveness as user habits change. By 2023, it is expected that nearly 300 billion mobile apps will be downloaded globally, generating more than $935 billion in revenue from paid apps and in-app advertising.
With such fierce competition, companies will be forced to emphasise quality, accuracy, functionality and other parameters that provide a user experience that will make potential customers choose their services over the competition.
One of the big challenges in mobile application development is choosing the right programming language and framework before the actual implementation of the software because if it is not developed in the most ideal technology for the company, it means additional costs and extra time.
Here are the advantages and disadvantages of each technology (native, hybrid, cross-platform) to help you decide which one is best for you.

Choosing the right mobile app development company

Selecting a mobile app development company or custom mobile app development company is crucial for ensuring the success of your project. These companies offer a range of mobile app development services, including custom mobile app development services, which cater to specific business needs. Utilizing advanced mobile app development software, these companies can create highly efficient, user-friendly apps tailored to your requirements.
Whether you choose native, hybrid, or cross-platform development, the key is to partner with experienced mobile app development companies that can provide the best solutions for your business needs. A reputable custom mobile app development company will help you navigate the complexities of mobile app development and ensure your app stands out in the competitive market.

Native mobile app development

When do we talk about native technology?

Native app development is built for one platform only, i.e. either Android or iOS and therefore can only work on one platform. If a company wants to develop an app for both platforms, it has to do it separately for Android and iOS, with different programming languages and code bases.
Here are some examples of native app users: Google Maps, Twitter, Spotify, and Pinterest.
When developing a native app, it is always a good idea to use the officially released programming language or framework for the mobile platform:
  • For Android: Kotlin, Java
  • For iOS: ObjectiveC, Swift
There may also be third-party open-source frameworks that have a developer base that makes them virtually native: for example, RxSwift.

Advantage of native apps

  • Improved user experience. They do not require any compromise in terms of design UI/UX and functionality, with no constraints on customisability and configurability. Modern, platform-specific UI/UX applications can be created.
  • Multiple functions. With native app development, developers have easier access to specific parts of the hardware, such as platform-specific clocks - e.g. Apple Watch - GPS, proximity sensors, camera, microphone, etc.
  • Better performance, faster operation. Direct interaction between code and underlying resources results in high performance. Because development uses the APIs and programming language recommended by the platform's developer, apps are fast.
  • Increased scalability. They are generally more scalable due to the flexibility of resource management and the variety of tools available.
  • The application is more secure.

Disadvantages of native applications

  • More costly. If the app needs to be developed for both iOS and Android, it requires teams working on two different platforms, the app needs to be built separately for each platform, so it is more expensive to develop.
  • They are more time-consuming. Work done for one platform cannot be duplicated for another platform. Although teams work in parallel, coordination to align UI/UX tends to lengthen development cycles.
  • No code reusability. Teams must code independently of each other, without the ability to reuse code from one OS to another.
  • Duplicate support and maintenance. Maintenance costs will be higher. Application costs do not end after any application is released. In many cases, much of the work is done during the support and maintenance phase. Annual maintenance expenditure can average 20-50% of the application development budget.
  • Slower bug fixes. If the development team discovers a significant and urgent bug that affects both platforms, it will take longer to update the native app.

When should you choose native app development?

If you are designing a mobile app that relies mainly on hardware for its functionality, such as the phone's camera, Bluetooth, GPS, or sensors, or the app has many features, requires high performance and complex solutions (e.g. 3D games, animations), or if you need to develop for platform-specific hardware, such as Apple Watch, AppleTV, Android devices.
You should also choose native if you want to achieve the best possible user experience, increased privacy is important, and you have the budget and time to develop.

Hybrid mobile app development

When do we talk about hybrid technology?

Hybrid app development is, as the name suggests, a mix of native and web technology. When creating a hybrid app, developers need to embed code written in languages such as CSS, HTML and JavaScript into a native app using plugins such as Ionic's Capacitor, and Apache Cordova that allow native functionality to be accessed.
With hybrid app development, code only needs to be written once and the same code can be used across multiple platforms.
Here are a few examples of hybrid app developers: Instagram, Evernote, Gmail, JustWatch, NHS, and Airbus Helicopters.

Benefits of hybrid apps

  • Fast time to market. This technology is ideal for start-ups as it ensures rapid development and launch of the application at a relatively early stage.
  • Easy maintenance. Since hybrid applications are based solely on web technology, hybrid applications are easier to maintain than native and cross-platform applications with complex coding.
  • Lower costs. Companies do not need to invest in building applications for multiple platforms: they develop a single version that can be used on multiple platforms.
  • Favorable UI/UX experience. Hybrid apps integrate the benefits of native and web apps while providing an ideal user experience on Android and iOS platforms.

The disadvantages of hybrid applications

  • No offline support. Hybrid apps do not provide offline support like native apps. Users need an internet connection to access the app's features.
  • Operating system inconsistencies. Since hybrid apps deploy a single code, some features may not work perfectly on other systems, for example, some Android-specific features may not work on iOS devices.

When is it a good idea to develop a hybrid app?

If you want to bring an MVP app to market on different platforms (iOS, Android) in a short timeframe and with a smaller budget, you are targeting a wider audience that will use the app on both web and mobile devices. You want to leverage native mobile device features such as GPS, and camera.

Cross-platform application development

When do we talk about cross-platform technology?

The key difference is that in hybrid development, using programming languages and frameworks that are familiar on the web, the application runs on devices as a browser, whereas in cross-platform mobile app development, a much more feature-rich environment than a browser is created in which the applications run. This allows a more robust, reusable code base to be built using cross-platform technologies.
From a single code base, we can therefore build our applications for multiple platforms in "one development", as the phrase cross-platform expresses: "Write it once and use it many times".
Cross-platform is a kind of middle ground between native and hybrid applications, and the frameworks used for them (Flutter, React Native, Xamarin) are extremely popular these days.

The benefits of cross-platform applications

  • They are more cost-effective. Instead of two development teams working on a project, only one is sufficient.
  • A single code base. Because of the common code base, it is not necessary to develop the same functionality for different devices multiple times, saving around 30%-40%.
  • Less chance of bugs. Developing one code base also means that there is less room for error.
  • Less development time. Only one development cycle is needed to create an application that runs on multiple platforms.
  • More users from the start. You can be present on multiple platforms from the start, reaching more customers and users.
  • A consistent look and feel across all platforms. Easily create the same UX and UI for all users. From the design stage, you can think in terms of a common solution, with a few areas where platform differences need to be taken into account (fingerprint reader vs. facial recognition, GPS settings, other permission requests, etc.).
  • Optimized support. Since cross-platform mobile app development is done with a single code base, it makes the deployment of patches and updates smooth. Patches apply to both platforms.
  • Flexibility from a UI perspective. It is possible to create both iOS and Android-specific elements, and cost-effectiveness gives the designer more freedom.

Disadvantages of cross-platform applications

  • Lower speed and performance. Native apps may perform slightly better and faster. This is because cross-platform applications require an additional abstraction layer and ordering process. For CPU- and GPU-intensive applications, the performance gap can be further exacerbated.
  • Limited functionality. The use of frameworks still provides limited possibilities compared to native development. Developers may find it difficult to access smartphone features such as microphone, camera and geolocation.
  • Limited UX. There are high-performing systems from cross-platform technologies that provide a user experience approaching that of native apps, but there are also less usable frameworks. Because they do not use "native" elements, but rather those implemented in their own engine, this means that a cross-platform app will not reproduce the native experience 1:1. The speed, navigation, animations, and scrolling responsiveness that you are used to in native apps cannot be reproduced by an app written with cross-platform technology.
  • The project can become complicated. If different functionality is required on the two platforms and there are too many differences in the code, the cost of development can increase over time due to increased complexity. Thus, the result is a compromise development that achieves the cost of multi-platform development.
  • Updates for iOS, and Android platforms will arrive later. When the two platforms release updates or introduce new features to their operating systems, cross-platform apps take some time or extra work to support them. Sometimes you may have to wait a few weeks for an iOS or Android update (e.g. iOS dark mode support).
  • Platform-specific solutions are ignored. It is harder to adapt to the specific policies of each operating system, and developer tools are less helpful.
  • Not suitable for developing certain features. Most business and B2C applications can be covered by such a solution, but for some functions it is not the best choice. Examples include augmented, or virtual reality, games (CPU and GPU intensive, e.g. with heavy animations or complex logic).

Who uses cross-platform solutions?

The most popular technologies available today are React Native, developed at Facebook, and Flutter, born under Google's wing.
  • React Native is an open-source and open-use project supported by Facebook. React Native is used by Facebook and many other companies and startups in the field, including Instagram, Skype, Tesla, Uber, Bloomberg, Airbnb and others.
  • The Ionic hybrid framework is also a popular choice for cross-platform developers. Some apps were built using Ionic: Pacifica, MarketWatch, Sworkit, and Nationwide.
  • The Flutter framework is Google's cross-platform solution, and like React Native, it relies on native components, providing the same performance as native apps. A Flutter app is a relatively young technology, with the alpha version released in May 2017 and the stable release in December 2018. It is used by About You, the New York Times, Google, BMW, eBay, and Tencent.

When should you consider cross-platform app development?

If your company has a limited budget, time and resources, you can't afford the cost of developing a native app, but you want to target both iOS and Android app users.
At LogiNet we can also help you develop native and cross-platform mobile applications. Learn more about our mobile app development services!

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John Radford
Client Services Director UK