In the mobile realm, you’ll hear often terms like native app or web app, or even hybrid app. What’s the difference? Which one is the best recommended? Let us check it out!

Native Apps

Native apps live on the device and are accessed through icons on the device home screen. Native apps are installed through an application store (such as Google Play or Apple’s App Store). They are developed specifically for one platform, and can take full advantage of all the device features — they can use the camera, the GPS, the accelerometer, the compass, the list of contacts, and so on. And native apps can use the device’s notification system and can work offline.


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Mobile Web Apps

Web apps are not real applications but are websites. They are run by a browser and typically written in HTML5. Users first access them as they would access any web page. They navigate to a special URL and then have the option of “installing? them on their home screen by creating a bookmark to that page.

Web app in many ways, hard to distinguish from a native app. For instance, there are no visible browser buttons or bars, although it runs in Safari (when accessed from an iPhone). Users can swipe horizontally to move on to new sections of the app. And, due to browser caching, it’s even possible to read the newspaper offline.

Hybrid apps

Hybrid apps are part native apps, part web apps. Like native apps, they live in an app store and can take advantage of the many device features available. Like web apps, they rely on HTML being rendered in a browser, with the caveat that the browser is embedded within the app

Often, companies build hybrid apps as wrappers for an existing web page. In that way, they hope to get a presence in the app store, without spending significant effort for developing a different app. Hybrid apps are also popular because they allow crossplatform development and thus significantly reduce development costs. As the same HTML code components can be reused on different mobile operating systems.

Native, Web App, or Hybrid: Which Should You Choose?

  • Device features: Although web apps can take advantage of some features, native apps (and the native components of the hybrid apps) have access to the full device-specific features, including GPS, camera, gestures, and notifications.
  • Offline functioning: A native app is best if your app must work when there is no connectivity. In-browser caching is available in HTML5, but it’s still more limited than what you can get when you go native.
  • Discoverability: Web apps win the prize on discoverability. Content is a lot more discoverable on the web than in an app. When people have a question or information need, they go to a search engine, type in their query, and choose a page from the search results. They do not go to the app store, search for an app, download it, and then try to find their answer within the app.
  • Speed: Native apps win the speed competition. In 2012 Mark Zuckerberg declared that Facebook’s biggest mistake had been betting on the mobile web and not going native. Up to that point, the Facebook app had been a hybrid app with an HTML core. in 2012 it was replaced with a truly native app.
  • Installation: Installing a native or hybrid app is a hassle for users. They need to be really motivated to justify the interaction cost. “Installing? a web app involves creating a bookmark on the home screen. This process, while arguably simpler than downloading a new app from an app store. At the same time, bookmarking is less familiar to users, as people don’t use bookmarks that much on mobile.
  • Maintenance: Maintaining a native app can be complicated not only for users, but also for developers (especially if they have to deal with multiple versions of the same information on different platforms). On the other hand, maintaining a web app or a hybrid app is as simple as maintaining a web page, and it can be done as often or as frequently as needed.
  • Platform independence: If platform independence is the priority, you definitely have a better chance of achieving it with web apps and hybrid apps than with native apps. On the other hand, native and hybrid apps must pass approval processes and content restrictions imposed by app stores, whereas the web is free for all.
  • User Interface: Last but not least, if one of your priorities is providing a user experience that is consistent with the operating system and with the majority of the other apps available on that platform, then native apps are the way to go. That doesn’t mean that you cannot provide a good mobile user experience with a web app or a hybrid app. It just means that the graphics and the visuals will not be exactly the same as those with which users may be already accustomed, and that it will be harder to take advantage of the mobile strengths and mitigate the mobile limitations.

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To summarize

Native apps, hybrid apps, or web apps are all ways to cater to the needs of the mobile user. There is no unique best solution. Each of these has their strengths and weaknesses. The choice of one versus the other depends on each company’s unique needs.