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An image of a woman sitting at a table in a cafe. There is software coding on her laptop screen and a mobile phone on the table that she is reaching for as well as a coffee cup to the left of the laptop on the table. It's intended to show a developer working on coding an application as context for the article about the differences between native app development, web app development, and hybrid app development.

Native, Web or Hybrid App: What is the Difference?

There are three main options for creating a mobile app: native, web, and hybrid. Choosing one development path among these three options can be challenging due to several considerations you have to make, from the cost of development and maintenance to your target audience’s preferences.

However, before making a decision, it is important to remember that opting for the right development path is crucial when you want to exceed customer expectations and thrive in the digital marketplace. Ultimately, it all comes down to what you want to accomplish. 

To this end, each development path will have its own advantages and disadvantages. Which one is better for your mobile software solution? Learn more about web and native apps vs. hybrid apps below.

What is a Native App?

A native app is a type of mobile application developed specifically for a particular platform, such as iOS or Android, using the programming languages and tools provided by that platform. For iOS, developers typically use Swift or Objective-C, while Java or Kotlin are commonly used for Android.

Key characteristics of native apps include:

  • Platform-Specific Development: Native apps are built using the native development language and tools provided by the platform, ensuring deep integration with the operating system and access to device-specific features.
  • Access to Device Capabilities: Native apps have full access to the hardware and software features of the device, including sensors, address book, camera, GPS, and more. This allows developers to create highly functional and feature-rich applications.
  • Performance: Because native apps are optimized for a specific platform, they tend to offer superior performance compared to other types of apps. The code is compiled directly into machine code, making it faster and more efficient.
  • Native User Interface (UI) Elements: Native apps leverage platform-specific UI controls and layouts, providing a consistent and familiar user experience for users. This includes standard UI components like buttons, menus, and navigation controls, which are optimized for each platform.
  • Distribution Through App Stores: After development, native apps are published through the platform’s official app store, such as the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. This provides visibility and support for the app but also subjects it to the rules and restrictions of the app store.
  • Platform Exclusivity: Apps developed for iOS cannot run on Android, and vice versa. This means developers must create separate app versions for each platform, leading to potentially higher development costs and longer time-to-market.

What is a Web App?

A web app is a software application that runs on a web server instead of being installed locally on a device’s operating system. Users access web apps through a web browser using a network like the Internet. 

The core technologies used to build web apps are standard web technologies: HTML (HyperText Markup Language), CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), and JavaScript. These technologies allow web apps to be platform-agnostic, meaning they can run on any device equipped with a web browser, regardless of the operating system.

Web apps have several key characteristics:

  • Accessibility: They can be accessed from any device with a web browser, offering flexibility in terms of where and how users can interact with the app.
  • Maintenance: Because the application is hosted on a server, updates and changes can be rolled out without requiring users to download and install updates manually. This simplifies maintenance and ensures all users are on the latest version.
  • Development and Cost: Building a web app can be more cost-effective than developing native apps for multiple platforms (iOS, Android, etc.) since it involves using a single codebase that works across all platforms. This approach can also reduce development time.
  • Internet Dependency: Web apps require an internet connection to fetch the web pages from the server, which might limit their functionality when offline. However, advancements in web technologies, such as Progressive Web Apps (PWAs), are bridging this gap by allowing some offline functionality.
  • Discoverability: Unlike native apps, which benefit from visibility in app stores, web apps rely on search engine optimization (SEO) for discoverability. This can be both a challenge and an opportunity, depending on the app’s marketing strategy.
  • UI/UX Considerations: While web apps can deliver rich user experiences, replicating the look and feel of native app UI controls and gestures might require extra effort. Numerous libraries and frameworks (e.g., Angular, React, Vue) are available to help developers create responsive and intuitive user interfaces that feel native to the platform.

What is a Hybrid App?

Hybrid apps represent a middle ground, combining elements of both native and web apps. They are developed using web technologies like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, which are then encapsulated within a native app shell or wrapper. 

This approach allows the app to leverage the benefits of web technology – such as the ease of development and cross-platform compatibility – while still having access to the native platform’s features and capabilities through plugins.

Key aspects of hybrid apps include:

  • Web Technology Core: The core of a hybrid app is built using web technologies, which means the development process is similar to that of creating a web application. This core is then run within an embedded browser component within the native application, invisible to the user.
  • Native Application Wrapper: The web application is wrapped in a native application shell using tools like Apache Cordova (PhoneGap) or Ionic’s Capacitor. This shell acts as a bridge between the web app and the native platform, allowing the app to be distributed through app stores just like a native app.
  • Access to Device Features: Using plugins, hybrid apps can access a wide range of device features, such as camera, GPS, accelerometer, and more, overcoming the limitations typically faced by web applications. These plugins extend the app’s capabilities, making it possible to incorporate native functionalities.
  • Cross-Platform Development: Because the core of the app is built using web technologies, it can be deployed across multiple platforms with minimal changes. This significantly reduces development time and costs compared to developing separate native apps for each platform.
  • Performance Considerations: While hybrid apps can closely mimic the look and feel of native apps, they may still face performance issues or quirks due to running in an embedded browser. The performance might not be as optimized as that of a purely native app, especially for complex or resource-intensive applications.
  • UI Components and Libraries: To address the challenge of recreating native-like UI elements, there are frameworks and libraries such as Ionic, NativeScript, Xamarin, and React Native that provide pre-built UI components. These components are designed to look and feel like native UI elements, helping to enhance the user experience.

What Are Their Differences?

Native Apps vs. Web Apps

Mobile applications are typically developed using two primary approaches: native and web. Native apps are built using platform-specific programming languages like Swift or Objective-C for iOS and Kotlin or Java for Android

This approach allows native apps to take full advantage of a device’s capabilities, resulting in a superior user experience with access to hardware and software features. However, the development and maintenance cost of native apps can be high, especially if you’re targeting multiple platforms, which demands a significant investment of time and resources.

On the other hand, web apps utilize universal web technologies such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, making them accessible on any device with a web browser. This approach significantly reduces development complexity and costs but comes with limitations in performance and access to device-specific features. 

Since web apps run within the browser, they rely on its capabilities, sometimes leading to slower load times and reduced functionality compared to native apps. 

Moreover, web apps are distributed through something other than app stores, which impacts their discoverability and update process. However, this frees them from these platforms’ constraints and approval processes.

Web and Native Apps vs. Hybrid Apps

Hybrid apps present a balanced approach by combining the easy cross-platform development of web applications with the access and distribution benefits of native applications. These apps are developed using web technologies and then wrapped in a native shell, allowing them to be published on app stores and access device features through plugins. 

Although hybrid apps aim to deliver a performance and user experience similar to native apps, they may encounter limitations due to the presence of the web view component. Despite possible performance issues, hybrid apps are known for their cost-effectiveness and swift market entry, making them an attractive option for projects with limited budgets or those seeking web presence and app store visibility.

Make Your Vision to Reality With Jackrabbit Mobile

Choosing the right type of app for your project – be it native, web, or hybrid – is essential for ensuring the best user experience and achieving your business objectives. Each type has its own set of advantages and challenges, and understanding these can help you make an informed decision.

At Jackrabbit Mobile, we specialize in developing various applications tailored to meet specific needs. Our team is equipped with the latest technology and knowledge to advise you on the best approach for your application. By choosing Jackrabbit Mobile, you’re not just getting an app development company but also a partner dedicated to delivering innovative digital solutions that engage your users and drive your business forward.

Ready to start your app development journey? Contact Jackrabbit Mobile today to explore your options and take the first step toward bringing your vision to reality.

Let’s Make Your Idea Reality

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