From socializing to satiating cravings, mobile apps have become the go-to gateway for interacting with the world. For startups, building efficient, reliable, and scalable mobile apps is not just crucial, it's imperative.
Scaling and maintaining applications is no mean feat, especially for startups juggling numerous variables. One of the biggest being target market OS compatibility. With iOS and Android dominating the mobile OS industry - iOS exclusive to Apple's hardware and Android open-source for diverse hardware support - startups must tread the path with care.
Reaching a broader audience necessitates startups to develop applications for the two dominant operating systems. Here lies the dilemma: should they opt for hybrid or native mobile app development to maximize their impact?
Hybrid mobile application development
Hybrid mobile development aims to build applications that cater to multiple operating systems. By utilizing a single codebase, hybrid apps run seamlessly on platforms like iOS, Android, and the web - all without being confined to a WebView or treated as a mere web app. Instead, they function as native apps installed on the user's operating system.
Examples of frameworks that are used to build hybrid applications which are natively compiled on devices are Flutter and React Native. These frameworks allow developers to write code that runs on multiple platforms natively, most popularly iOS and Android.
In the early days of hybrid development, there were doubts about hybrid frameworks' capability, efficiency, and security. Still, that sentiment doesn't apply to modern hybrid frameworks like React Native and Flutter. Before frameworks like React Native and Flutter came into being, hybrid applications were mostly webview applications that were not directly installed on the device. These apps were very limited through a browser and could not access native device features like camera access and location services. Thankfully, that is not the case today with hybrid applications.
Today, hybrid applications are built with high-level cross-platform frameworks. React Native and Flutter applications run natively on devices via multiple supported platforms. These applications have access to native features like gyroscopes, location service, camera access, and so on. They render UI components/widgets depending on the operating system the application is running on.
Hybrid application development has been so successful that according to a recent report by VentureBeat - 74% of the top 50 retail apps in the U.S. App Store are hybrid apps. Like many companies and clients I have worked with, major global brands and tech companies like Amazon, Alibaba, Nubank, and Google use hybrid application development for their top products.
Benefits of Hybrid application development
Hybrid apps will allow products to reach a wider audience on iOS, Android or the Web with a single codebase. It leads to having one development team on a product/project because features and functionalities can be built for multiple platforms by the same team. Development time becomes faster because managing multiple teams and codebases is at a reduced rate. It is cheaper and cost-effective. One team and one codebase means less capital spent on development.
Native mobile application development
Native mobile development is when applications are built to serve specific operating systems. Native applications are generally built with native programming languages and frameworks like Objective C or Swift for iOS applications and Java or Kotlin for Android applications. Applications built with native languages can only run on the operating systems that they were built for, and they do it very effectively.
Developing native applications would depend on the target operating system. For Apple's iOS (iPhone Operating System), it is advisable to use Objective C or Swift programming language because Swift is preferred in the modern day. SwiftUI and UIKit are also part as all these technologies are available to build compelling applications for iOS devices.
In the case of Google's Android operating system, it is best to use the Java or Kotlin programming language as Kotlin is preferred in the modern day and Android SDK (Software Development Kit) is required to build truly native Android applications.
Benefits of Native application development
Speed and efficiency are the main benefits of Native application development as these apps are built with languages intended for the specific operating system. Native applications tend to have a familiar look and feel of the operating system making the experience across native applications similar and smooth.
Although native development has its perks, it is not without its demerits. Native development tends to be expensive; building native applications for two operating systems means double the workload, twice as many developers and longer development time. It offers minimal flexibility, and if any mishap occurs on both platforms, this means pushing fixes for two different applications. Adding features is also tasking because they must be implemented on other platforms. There would be two codebases to review, test and deploy
It used to be that Hybrid applications were just WebViews of web applications with no actual functionality to them without browsers. Fortunately, that is not the case anymore. Hybrid applications are now super apps that run on multiple devices with different operating systems and can take advantage of the native features each device has to offer. Hybrid apps are written in a single codebase and compiled down to native code. Instagram is a hybrid application built with React Native. It uses native features, like camera access and makes incredibly complex calculations while using the camera, providing filters, stickers, augmented reality, and other cool features. Nubank is a hybrid application built with Flutter that uses native features like location services and connectivity to ensure the security of its users' capital and information.
When it comes to the juxtaposition of Hybrid and Native development, there is minimal advantage to choosing Native development over Hybrid because when they are placed side by side, the benefits of Hybrid development outweigh those of Native.
Startups typically have limited resources in terms of capital, personnel and time. Nonetheless, when choosing to build applications, the Hybrid way with modern and highly efficient technologies like React Native and Flutter is the intelligent way.