Native, Cross-Platform, Hybrid, and Progressive Web Apps: Choosing the Right Kind of an App

When you go to a market, you surely know how the product you need differs from the ones you don’t. When it comes to ordering SaaS development services, the very same need for distinguishing between the things you need and you don’t, applies perfectly well. Understanding the difference between native, cross-platform, hybrid apps, and progressive web applications is key to choosing the right app model to meet all of your users’ needs and requirements.

The kind of app you choose for your business has a lot to do with major business performance metrics’ success. Improved customer experience, enhanced customer engagement and retention, and even the speed of reaching your target audience are directly dependent on the kind of app you choose to have developed for your company.

Every modern business has to understand that mobile devices are the key medium of communication for the majority of people, and thus customers. Nowadays, more than 50% of website traffic is coming from mobile devices, while there are nearly 2 million apps in the App Store and around 2.6 million in Google Play Store available for download, and the numbers are going to grow because apps are today’s pivotal bridge between companies and customers.

VOX claims that American adults spend at least 3.5 hours a day on their phones — chatting, viewing videos, listening to music, and using a huge number of apps. It seems like there’s no more need to prove why choosing the right kind of app is crucial for your business. Hence, let’s cut to the chase and talk about native, cross-platform, hybrid apps and progressive web applications. At the end of this article, you will be able to choose an app that fits your clients, and thus your business, best.

What Is A Great Mobile App?

Before we take to discussing the advantages and disadvantages of every kind of the aforementioned applications, it seems quite relevant to provide a general overview of what a “great” mobile app is. Why do we put “great” in inverted commas? Because there’s no unified definition for this term. A great app for one business is surely wrong for another. Yet, there are some universal features that can be considered characteristic of every “great” app.

The basic requirement for any mobile app is the ability to serve its purpose and help the customer accomplish anything they’ve been looking to accomplish, be it booking lodging or making new friends. Yet, the difference between a mediocre app and a great one can be expressed with 9 key characteristics:

  • In-detail personalization;
  • Sleek UI/UX
  • Enhanced performance & responsiveness;
  • Offline functionality;
  • Regular updates;
  • Powerful search features;
  • Social media platforms integration;
  • User feedback channels;
  • Strong privacy and security;

Now, let’s dwell upon each of them in more detail, as we will talk about the value of each feature for native, cross-platform, hybrid, and progressive web applications.

In-Detail Personalization

Catering to the needs and preferences of all the groups of prospective customers is impossible. Hence, focusing on your business’s target audience might be a good idea. Potential clients of coupon exchange apps from, let’s say, Los Angeles and Berlin won’t find the same design and functionality useful, even though both audiences want to save money on grocery shopping. At the very least, you will need to localize your app. At the very best, conduct extensive market research, identify your target audience, come up with user stories, and you will end up understanding what your customers expect from your app.

Sleek UI/UX

A user’s journey throughout the app must be smooth. There must be no design barriers for them to stumble upon. If the app’s design is not well-thought-through and polished, it really itches the client’s eyes. Think of the most logical and convenient placement of the interface elements, sequences of app screens, etc. Providing a sleek and inclusive design ensures a consistently positive customer journey, and proves you invested sufficient effort into planning everything out. This shows your customers you care about them — so they will care about your product and not just swap it for a competitor’s with ease.

An integral part of a user-friendly design are interactive animations. Lots of popular apps in both Android and iOS stores all look and feel alike. They provide minimalistic and flat design, intuitive customer journeys, and self-explanatory functionality. However, there is a considerable difference between the best and the rest. The best apps provide interactive animations that enrich the customer experience. The animation trend is steadily gaining popularity and it will impact app development in the upcoming years.

Enhanced Performance & Responsiveness

According to Google statistics, 3 seconds is the longest time an average user is ready to wait for the app to load. 53% of mobile users abandon the sites that load for more than 8 seconds (which is a problem for hybrid apps, as we will show later). A clear and well-optimized code, pre-loaded content, cashing, and many other techniques help shorten the load time for a mobile app. Making your apps responsive means they will run smoothly regardless of the platform and hardware the end-user prefers.

Offline Functionality

It seems like we’re living in the epoch of the utmost connectivity: 5G, 4G, 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and the other connectivity options seem to provide a solid foundation for app continuous functionality. Nonetheless, there are times when there is no connection, while your users might badly need to use your app. This is where the native apps start winning the competition, as they can use various device features — Bluetooth, GPS, positioning sensors, etc. quite easily. Thus, even if there is no stable Internet connection, your customers will still be able to use certain app features — from viewing some cached images to orienting in an unknown location based on previously cached GPS data.

Regular Updates

Gone are the days when customers had no choice but to reinstall Skype every time a new version was released. Telegram, Facebook, Instagram, you name it — all the most popular apps now automatically upload the new builds and update on reboot. This way the customers don’t even feel any disruption in their normal app usage. Besides, this approach is essential as a part of the continuous integration of customer feedback. Thus, you are able to respond to your customer necessities faster and roll out new features once every couple of weeks, not annually.

Powerful Search Features

Great apps usually operate tons of rich, user-generated content, which can be hard to put under predefined categories. However, finding something quickly is the feature the users expect by default. Thus, regardless of the market segment that you operate in, your native, cross-platform, hybrid, and progressive web apps must have powerful filtering and search features enabling the users to find the content by keywords or phrases.

Social Media Platforms Integration

Nowadays, it is all about sharing an experience and not living it through. Therefore, communication and collaboration are essential in ensuring customer satisfaction. While all apps provide email support channels, the best ones integrate with social media platforms, messengers, etc. Social media is powerful and everybody knows that. So, make sure to harness the potential offered and give your customers an opportunity to share their achievements, comment on their experiences with your product, and discuss it with their audiences. Miss no chance of exposing your brand to a wider audience.

User Feedback Channels

There is no better way to show users how you appreciate them than to allow them to participate in app improvement by leaving feedback. Include several feedback channels in your app — and you will be surprised with the number of creative ideas for app improvement, or your product’s growth highlights.

Strong Privacy and Security

Customer data is one of the most valuable digital assets of any business, and with the ever-increasing number of frauds and malware, ensuring strong data privacy and security is essential. Make sure the apps you develop are secure by design, free of common vulnerabilities and exposures (CVEs), while complying with the NIST regulations. Using multi-factor authentication, working with secure APIs and trusted libraries are the best practices of mobile app development.

Native, Cross-platform, Hybrid, and Progressive Web Apps: The Pros & Cons Identified

The aforementioned recommendations apply to any type of mobile apps. Nonetheless, the process of infusing each of the scrutinized types of apps with those features might differ. Hence, let’s learn more about the pros and cons of native, cross-platform, hybrid, and progressive web apps.

Native Apps

Native apps are mobile software applications built in a specific programming language for a specific platform. Native apps for iOS are built in Objective-C or Swift, while native Android apps are written in Java. Providing stellar performance and smooth user experience is one of the biggest native app development advantages, as they are built to fully use all the hardware and software capabilities of the device.

Thus, the majority of native apps boast low battery charge consumption and an intuitive interface. Yet, this is not a complete list of the perks offered by native apps, as there are some more to learn about.

  • High Performance. Due to using the native programming language of the device, such apps can support a full range of features offered by the smartphone or tablet. Most importantly, they do it quickly and resource-efficiently.
  • Intuitive UX/UI. Native apps are flat, simple and provide intuitive UX. You just know what will happen when you tap or swipe and you use the app intuitively. This is achieved by implementing the best design practices and popular UI approaches for the users of a particular mobile OS.
  • Full Hardware Engagement. Native apps can benefit from using the full range of device components — camera, GPS, positioning sensors, Bluetooth, player, contact list, NFC, etc.
  • Offline Functionality. While most applications require internet uplink to function, native apps can make use of local storage, data caching and synchronization to work offline.
  • User Data Security. Native apps support two-factor authentication and other security features that ensure customer data privacy.

However, native apps have several quite significant shortcomings:

  • Higher development costs. You need to hire 2 stack developers and maintain 2 codebases. Even if you develop both apps in parallel, you will have to spend twice more to release the app.
  • Memory consumption. Android apps require at least around 15 MB of device RAM on average, while iOS counterparts can require anywhere above 40MB RAM. These numbers might seem insignificant, yet they can be much higher depending on the app type and complexity — and stack up quite fast when users run several apps simultaneously.
  • No SEO promotion. While hybrid apps can benefit from keywords in their content for promotion, you need to dedicate significant effort — and budget — to promote native apps on app stores.
  • Installation. More than 50% of users prefer to browse and shop on a brand’s website to avoid the need to go to the app store, download, install and configure the app.

Thus said, native apps are a great choice if you want to provide a wide range of features to cumulatively deliver a top-notch user experience to your clients. Here are some examples of popular apps that are native.

  • Lyft — a worldwide known Uber competitor provides a seamless native mobile experience for ride-sharing customers.
  • WhatsApp — one of the most popular messaging apps with impeccable performance.
  • PokemonGo — a recent phenomenon that delivers exciting and engaging digital gaming journeys using AR capabilities of iOS and Android devices.

All things considered, native apps are powerful and can provide solutions to copious business issues. Yet, developing native apps requires access to skilled iOS and Android developers, a sufficient budget, and extensive project deadlines. Nonetheless, the availability of native SDKs, libraries, and frameworks makes the native app development process quite predictable, and easy to plan.

Cross-Platform Apps

Cross-platform apps are applications with a single codebase to run on multiple platforms. These are built using Flutter, React Native, Xamarin, Unity, and other frameworks to minimize the app development time. As a result, cross-platform apps are built once and run anywhere — but it is important to note that they must be rendered separately into each platform.

In fact, cross-platform apps have a lot of benefits to offer:

  • Stunning Design. Cross-platform apps allow for sleek, near-native designs and seamless UX.
  • Code Reusability. Up to 80% of code can be easily reused across all the platforms, should you choose the most fitting framework and tech stack. This cuts development time in half or even more, as compared to native app development.
  • Wider exposure — a single app can work with iOS, Android, Linux, Windows, macOS, and even smartwatches or smart home appliances, granting access to a much larger user pool.
  • Cheap Maintenance. Updating your apps once a week can consume up to 10–15% of monthly revenue. With cross-platform apps, these costs are largely negated, as a single code update applies to all app versions.

Here is where cross-platform apps fall a bit short:

  • Performance. If the app must perform a task requiring lots of CPU or GPU power, cross-platform apps built in React Native, Xamarin or Unity fall significantly behind, as compared to Flutter or native apps. The reason for that is that Flutter renders itself directly into the native code canvas using the Skia rendering engine, which results in near-native performance.
  • Complexity. Developers with experience in iOS or Android development have to deal with a steep learning curve when mastering Xamarin or React Native, which results in a notable lack of React Native experts. Flutter, on the other hand, uses Dart — a C++ and Java-like OOP language, which is much easier to master, and even allows writing code for web apps through Flutter Web. Thus, experienced app developers prefer Flutter to other cross-platform frameworks.
  • Limited 3rd-Party Support. Most 3rd-party modules are intended for iOS or Android, requiring the developers to find ways to integrate them with cross-platform apps. Once again, Flutter comes ahead in this situation by offering platform channels to easily integrate platform-specific modules and features with your cross-platform app.
  • Limited Hardware Access. Cross-platform apps can have access to most device features, though they would need more resources to interact with them, as compared to native apps.

Below, we list some notable examples of cross-platform apps:

  • Facebook — the world’s biggest social media app providing a feature-rich user experience is built using React Native.
  • Slack — the software developers’ communication platform of choice, Slack runs equally well on any mobile device, Windows, Linux PC, or Mac.
  • Skype — the world-known enterprise-grade communication platform is built using Electron and currently shares codebase across nearly a dozen operating systems.

Thus said, cross-platform app development helps businesses save time and money by developing and maintaining a single codebase for all platforms.

Hybrid Apps and PWAs

What about the hybrid apps and PWAs? Put bluntly, these types of apps emerged as a result of the developers’ attempts to use a web code that runs on mobile devices in order to avoid the complexities, costs, and hurdles associated with native app development.

There is a distinct difference between hybrid applications and PWAs:

  • Hybrid apps combine web-based back-end components with native mobile front-end coating through an interim rendering layer — a so-called wrapper. Thus, their core operations are performed in the cloud while they provide a seamless near-native user experience on mobile devices. They require a stable Internet uplink to operate yet can provide limited offline functionality and might use some mobile device functions.
  • Progressive Web Applications (PWAs) are websites accessed on mobile devices via browsers. They can also be packed in a wrapper and serve as standalone applications. They don’t require installation, but at the same time, they can’t work offline. They are written using web development tools, frameworks, and libraries. Their core benefit is that they can run easily on any mobile device and provide near-native viewing experience.

Hybrid apps are usually web-first products built using HTML5 and JavaScript. They use mobile frameworks like Sencha, Ionic, or PhoneGap to build wrappers — code containers that envelop the web code to enable the native mobile feature. While this approach decreases the app performance, it also ensures the app’s wide accessibility with minimum resource allocation. This approach is adopted by multiple popular apps:

  • Twitter. What? How? Twitter is surely native! Well… yes… it is now — but it was hybrid for nearly a decade before releasing native apps for iOS, Android, and Windows, and it handled the booming popularity growth quite well, didn’t it?
  • Instagram. No way! Instagram is a native app! Actually, it is a hybrid, which allows it to process tons of content offline and minimize the amount of traffic used. By the way, Facebook remained a native app even after acquiring and integrating with Instagram.
  • Evernote. Due to its stellar performance and smooth design, many Evernote users believe it to be a native app, especially as it is available for Mac, iOS, Android and Windows separately. Well, it actually is a hybrid, which shows the viability of this approach.

As you can see, some of the most popular social apps out there are hybrids, so if you are building a new social network — this might be a viable app type for you.

Questions to Ask

Every journey starts with the first step. Nonetheless, you have to know the direction to move in. Hence, while we have already agreed on the importance of developing an app for your business, here are some questions to ask if you still doubt exactly what type of app your business needs.

  • Do you want to use a broad range of device features and provide a sleek design and smooth UX? Go native!
  • Do you want to minimize the development budget while delivering highly-performant and visually stunning apps for all platforms? Choose cross-platform applications!
  • Do you intend to enable your users to use the app on any mobile device, while not facing the cost of an arm and a leg for the development? Go for hybrid apps!

Conclusion

We are living in a world where it is all about personalization and customization. Hence, when it comes to choosing the best type of app for your project, you should know that there is no such thing as the best type of app. There are only apps that can help you deal with your business goals and those that cannot. Developers can help you come up with a platform that will meet your requirements. The only thing you need to know is the very set of requirements. Hopefully, our article has been a great help to you, and you will choose the “right” kind of app for your business.

SPsoft is a Managed Services Provider specializing in end-to-end software development: https://spsoft.com/

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