The Mobile Web Debate

Hybrid or native?
Should I learn Java, Swift, or Ionic? These are all common questions surrounding the seemingly endless mobile web debate. The only consensus is that that there will be no winner, just multiple options to fit different situations, so companies will have to decide which mobile option is best for them and their customers. Knowing which questions to ask and gaining an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each implementation is vital to creating a successful app and not wasting your investment of time and resources.

So what are these terms that get thrown around so much?
Lets start with native apps. If your app (and here we're talking primarily phone apps) is written specifically for one OS, it is native and can take advantage of features built in to that OS. For example, if you are an iPhone user, you get used to interacting with your phone in specific ways, like pulling up and down on the screen to reveal menus. The easiest way to realize how much we rely on these familiar interactions is to sit down at a computer or use a phone that is from a rival OS. It is frustrating, it takes time to re-learn where things are and how to do things, and this makes us reticent to switch to a different OS. A native app is in the programming language associated with each platform (primarily Swift and ObjectiveC for iPhones, Java for Android) and can leverage the full range of OS specific functionalities, but only works on the one OS it was built for. So if you want to make a native app available for purchase on Android and iPhone, that will be two separate code projects, each written in the necessary language. It is a lot of work, but there are some serious benefits to native apps that we will cover later.

Hybrid apps are the compromise.
They are OS agnostic — so they work on any OS and require only one code base. In hybrid apps, software with OS specific wrappers take your code base and make it useable on each type of phone. This approach has been a favorite among small businesses and startups, because the costs, manpower, and time associated with native apps is daunting in the best of cases.However, the success and usability of hybrid wrappers has historically been an issue. Software like Ionic has made huge strides in the ability of hybrid apps to compete in quality and conversions with native apps, but there is still room to grow.

Native and Hybrid apps both have their advantages and disadvantages, and neither is a perfect mobile answer for your app, but the important thing is knowing which to choose (or which language to learn) to best fit your situation. Native apps typically see better returns, faster performance, and more downloads, but these benefits mean nothing if your company doesn't have the money and manpower to make them. It is most common to see large companies eventually migrate their hybrid apps to a native app, once they have seen the returns and usefulness of having a mobile presence. The other common reason to choose a native app is if your target market predominantly uses a specific OS, and you build an app only available to those users. Hybrid apps are faster, easier, and cheaper to build, but though they have progressed greatly towards being competitive with native apps (a well built, modern hybrid app can surely outperform a poorly built native one), there is still a need for improvement.

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