Mobile apps are becoming more and more relevant. Not only do they influence our private lives but they also have the potential to facilitate different aspects of business. More potential touchpoints with customers, an increase of sales, additional streams of income, improvement of communication with employees – the opportunities seem endless. Creating a mobile app can for sure bring many advantages to business owners if done right but also comes with many challenges.
One of those is to choose the right development approach. There are native apps, cross-platform, hybrid, and web apps which are all developed in different ways. These different approaches have different implications concerning the functionality, look and feel, performance, and speed of the mobile app. Depending on which method you choose you will need more or fewer resources for the development process, you will reach different audiences, and have more or less maintenance work.
This article is made for you to help you decide which approach works best for your project. Every approach will be defined before we look closer into which kind of mobile app is the right choice for your situation. Let’s get straight into it.
Native apps are apps that are created for a specific operating system (mostly either Android or
IOS). Consequently, the programming language used to write the app needs to be native to the OS. In the case of IOS that’s either Swift or Objective-C, in the case of Android Kotlin or Java. Native apps have the highest quality, the best performance, are the most secure, are most responsive and intuitive, and have a look and feel that makes the user believe the app is an integrated part of the phone instead of a downloaded add-on. Furthermore, they also work offline and have access to the device’s hardware like a camera, GPS, microphone, etc.
The high costs are the biggest downside that come with the programming of native apps. As you need to write individual codebases for each OS you need different development teams. Consequently, more time, more money and in the long run, also more maintenance work is required. Furthermore, the user needs to download updates himself or herself which means not everybody will use the same version of the app.
Mobile web apps
Progressive Web Applications
Hybrid apps are a combination of native and web solutions. The code is written with web development languages and then embedded into a native app with the help of plugins like Ionic’s Capacitor or Apache Cordova. The biggest advantage of hybrid apps is that the code only needs to be written once and can be reused for different OS which makes the development process less cost and time intensive compared to native apps. Hybrid apps deliver a performance and user experience close to native apps but are not as good when it comes to visual aspects like navigation patterns.
Like hybrid apps, cross-platform solutions have only one single codebase which makes it less complicated to develop them. To build those kinds of apps cross-platform mobile app development frameworks such as React Native and Flutter are used. Even though just one single codebase is written, some adaptations still have to be made for the different OS. This can lead to drawbacks in functionality, especially for very complex features. The advantages and disadvantages are similar to those of hybrid apps: it requires less time and money to build them but they don’t perform as well as native apps (frameworks are constantly improved though).
As cross-platform solutions increase in popularity, more and more developers strive to learn cross-platform frameworks (especially Flutter and React Native). Consequently, your chances of finding talent on the job market for your cross-platform app development project are high.
What mobile app approach should I use?
Before you choose which kind of app you want to develop there are different factors you should consider:
The end user is definitely one of the most important factors to consider when deciding for an approach because he/she is the one who will ultimately use the app. The success of the whole project is to a large degree dependent on how much the end user likes it, how well he/she can handle it and if the application fulfills his/her expectations. Lots of mobile apps fail because users are not convinced of their usefulness, design, usability, etc.
That’s why it’s a good idea to start by defining your target audience and answering the following questions:
Does your target audience consist of IOS as well as Android users or are they only using one specific platform?
Where are they located? For example, if your audience is living in areas with low internet connectivity or if they are using airplanes often, it might be important that the app is working offline as well (which is best realized with native apps).
Are end-users expecting the app to offer the latest features and regular updates (if yes, native app will be a good choice)?
Delivering a great user experience should always be on top of your list when developing an app. This can be best fulfilled with native apps, but depending on the complexity other approaches might also be sufficient.
If developing a high performing, responsive app is one of your priorities, a native app will be the best choice. While hybrid and cross-platform solutions are able to offer good functionality and a pleasant look and feel, native apps are unbeatable when it comes to performance.
The functionality of the app
What features and functions should the app integrate? How complex should it be? If you are planning a very complex app with lots of complicated features a native app could be the better choice, also because it performs better so loading times will be shorter.
Is the use of the hardware of the device (like camera, GPS, microphone) necessary for the app to function? If yes, a native app will be best.
With solutions like hybrid, web or cross-platform you are able to reach a wide audience (for example Android AND IOS users) with relatively little money and time. That’s especially useful when you want to test an app first before spending more resources on it.
How much time do you have available until the launch of your app? If you don’t have much time, hybrid, cross-platform or web solutions are the better choices as the development is way faster than that of native apps.
If the budget for your app development project is limited, a native app might not be an affordable choice. However, in some cases, it might be wrong to choose a cheaper development approach to save money, especially if it’s negatively influencing the user experience leading to an unsuccessful project.
One option could be that you publish your app first as a hybrid or cross-platform app to test it. If the launch is successful you can invest more money and time to create a native app with less risks involved.
How important is app security? Of course apps should always be secure but there are some cases where security is especially important. For example, if you plan to build an e-commerce app or another type of app where users disclose sensitive data, security must be a priority. A native app will be the best choice in that case.
Deciding for the right development approach can be very complex as there are many different factors to consider. Consulting an expert might help you find the best solution for your project. Generally said, if you have enough time and budget available a native app is probably the better choice as user experience, performance, security and functionality are of higher quality. However, cross-platform solutions are increasing in popularity as having to deal with just one single codebase has many advantages. Also if you plan to test your app first before investing more resources into it, cross-platform or hybrid development approaches are very helpful as you will be able to reach a wide audience while having to spend comparatively little money and time.