Before you venture off to build your new shiny app, you need to understand the differences between the three major types of apps – native, hybrid, and web. Choosing the wrong type could significantly affect the future of your application if not selected carefully.
The first and most powerful type is a native mobile application. Native apps are built natively on the platform – which is usually Android and iOS. This means that if you are building an iOS application, the app will be coded using the native programming language for iOS, being Swift. If the mobile application is for Android then the app will be coded with the very popular language called Java.
Building native mobile applications can get expensive as there is a code base for each platform. This means that if you want to develop a new feature for your iOS and Android mobile application, that feature needs to be created in both Java and Swift. There are usually extra costs due to the business having to hire a Swift developer and a Java developer.
There are many pros to developing natively, such as reliability (less app crashes), speed, performance, and access to better technology. For example, at Apptivate, we developed an app called SearchParty natively due to the complexity of the technology involved. It needed to utilise the advanced development kits that Mapbox offers for navigation and virtual reality. It also had to be extremely reliable at times of need due to its audience predominantly being festival goers, as festivals are usually hosted in areas with low reception.
A more cost effective way of developing a mobile application for both Android and iOS is to build it with hybrid technology. Facebook and Google have developed their own open-source frameworks for this that any business can adopt. React Native is an extremely popular solution build and maintained by Facebook, and NativeScript is a less popular alternative built by Google.
Hybrid mobile apps have become an extremely popular way to get a new app to market as soon as possible with a low budget and short timeframe. Hybrid means that you have a singular codebase that is compiled into both iOS and Android applications. This is also far cheaper than a native application since the business only requires one type of developer.
This may sound amazing, although hybrid applications do come with their cons. iOS and Android usually release new features when they announce new software versions. Native applications have access to these new features instantly, although hybrid application need to wait until the framework (being React Native or NativeScript) integrates it – which can sometimes take months. Hybrid applications are also limited to the third party solutions that they can use. For example, Snapchat offers a “Login with Snapchat” feature that was only accessible through native code for the first 6 months before they released a hybrid accessible version. Many third parties, such as Mapbox only offer their advanced solutions for native applications only since hybrid would not be able to handle the performance of the tech.
Most startups build their apps with a hybrid framework before moving to a native solution after proving their product in the real world or after securing seed investment.
Building a web application is a whole different ball game. A web app is an application built on the web that is accessible through a URL, such as the web versions of Facebook or Twitter. Most businesses will consider building a mobile application before building a web application. Take Instagram for example – they first built their iOS app, followed by their Android app almost two years later, and then finally a web app six months after that. This is because a majority of users prefer to use a mobile app over a web app.
There are so many different routes and solutions that you can adopt when building a web app. There are hundreds of different programming languages that can power the server of your application, and hundreds are different frameworks that can power the frontend. It’s recommended to use a popular framework and language, such as React or Angular for the frontend and NodeJS or PHP for the backend, mainly so that finding development resources and help is more accessible in the long run.
Understand the complexity of your application, take into account your target audience and what platform they predominantly use, and consider the budget and timeframe you have. It is important to do this before starting the development of your application.
Building natively could send your business broke fairly quickly due to there being twice the amount of code as a hybrid application. Building a hybrid app could affect the performance and usability of your application due to limited technology support. Building a web app can significantly limit your audience and user retention due to it being available for the web only. So think about it carefully before you begin to spend money on development and, and always get professional advice.