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Web, Hybrid, Native Apps: Know the Key Differences for Your Next Project

You must be familiar with apps – you use them at work or for personal use. In fact, apps are being created for all purposes, like ordering groceries, booking flight tickets, paying bills, and even playing games.

You may have also heard about the various types of apps present, like web apps, native apps, and hybrid apps. When it comes to using this information for your business, there is plenty of nitty-gritty that you should know about.

Read on to learn more about these different types of apps to improve your business outreach.

Analogy: Different types of apps

Here’s an interesting example to help you ease into this concept. Imagine you’re planning to open a new restaurant, and you’re considering three different approaches to serve your customers, each representing web, native, and hybrid apps.

You can look at web apps as the food truck approach.

A food truck is like a web app because it’s highly accessible. You can drive it to different locations, just like a web app can be accessed from any device with an internet connection and a web browser.

The menu can be quickly changed or updated, similar to how web apps can be updated on the server side without requiring users to download an update. However, a food truck has space and equipment limitations, much like web apps, which have limitations in performance and can’t leverage a device’s features like a native app can.

A native app is like your traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant.

This is like a native app that’s built specifically for one platform. The restaurant is designed for an optimal dining experience, with full control over the environment, similar to how native apps provide the best performance and user experience for their specific platforms like iOS or Android.

Building a restaurant is more expensive and time-consuming, akin to developing native apps, which require more resources and platform-specific development. Just like the restaurant is at a fixed location, a native app is developed specifically for one platform and needs to be recreated for another platform.

Finally, the hybrid app is a pop-up restaurant in a multipurpose space.

A hybrid app is like a pop-up restaurant that is set up in a shared, multipurpose space. It combines elements of both the food truck and the traditional restaurant. It’s more versatile than a food truck but doesn’t offer the full experience of a dedicated restaurant.

The pop-up uses the same basic equipment and shared space but adds its own d├ęcor and menu, similar to how hybrid apps use web technologies within a native app shell.

This approach reaches more people than a fixed restaurant and offers a better experience than a food truck. Still, it might not match a dedicated restaurant’s performance or full capabilities. Similarly, hybrid apps work across platforms and offer better performance than web apps but don’t fully match native app capabilities.

Why do we need different app types?

The existence of these different types of apps can be attributed to the dynamic nature of technology and the ever-changing needs of its users. Below are the major reasons for different types of apps.

  • Diverse user needs: Different users have varying requirements and expectations from apps, depending on their usage patterns, device preferences, and specific needs. For instance, some users might prioritize performance and seamless integration with device features, which native apps offer. Others might prefer the universal accessibility of web apps.
  • Advanced technology: As technology advances, new types of apps emerge to take advantage of these developments. For example, the rise of HTML5 and advanced web technologies enabled more sophisticated web apps, while innovations in mobile operating systems and hardware have continually enhanced the capabilities of native apps.
  • A vast range of available devices: Better technology also gives rise to the multitude of devices like smartphones, tablets, desktops, wearables, and operating systems like iOS, Android, Windows, etc., necessitating different app types. This also culminates in the use of new development tools and frameworks that make it easier to create different types of apps.

For instance, frameworks like React Native or Flutter allow for near-native performance with a single codebase, making hybrid app development more attractive.

  • Constraints: However, development cost and resource availability are significant factors. Smaller businesses or startups might opt for web or hybrid apps due to lower development costs and easier maintenance. At the same time, larger companies might invest in native apps for better performance and user experience.
  • Marketing and business strategy: Different business models and market strategies can influence the type of app chosen. For instance, a company might start with a web app to quickly reach a broad audience and later develop a native app for a more engaging user experience.

Deep dive into web apps

They are the applications that run in a web browser and do not need to be downloaded and installed on a user’s device. They are essentially websites with interactive functionalities and are built using standard web technologies like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Pros of web apps

  • Accessibility and compatibility: They are easily accessible from any device with a web browser, ensuring wide reach and compatibility across different platforms and devices.
  • Ease of maintenance and updates: It is easier to maintain and update them, as changes are made on the server side and instantly reflected to all users without them needing to download updates.
  • Cost-effective development: Generally cheaper and faster to develop compared to native apps, they use common web technologies and don’t require platform-specific development.
  • No app store dependencies: No need to submit the app to various app stores, avoiding the associated fees and approval processes.
  • Ease of sharing: Can be shared easily with users through a simple link, facilitating quick access and distribution.

Cons of web apps

  • Limited access to device features: Web apps have limited access to device capabilities, like camera, GPS, etc., which can restrict their functionality compared to native apps.
  • Performance and speed: Generally slower and less responsive than native apps; they depend on the web browser and internet connection speed.
  • Internet dependency: They typically require an internet connection to function, limiting their use in offline scenarios.
  • User experience: They may not offer a smooth and polished user experience compared to native apps, particularly in terms of look, feel, and responsiveness.
  • Less discoverable in app stores: They cannot be listed in app stores, which might limit discoverability compared to native apps.

Who should use web apps

  • Businesses needing broad accessibility: Ideal for businesses or services that want to reach a wide audience without being limited by the type of device or operating system.
  • Startups and small businesses: Suitable for startups and small businesses with limited budgets that need a cost-effective solution to establish an online presence.
  • Content-focused services: Beneficial for services focused on delivering content or information that doesn’t require deep integration with the device’s hardware.

Who should not use web apps

  • Applications requiring advanced device features: Not ideal for applications that need extensive access to a device’s native features and capabilities, like advanced camera functions or complex animations.
  • High-performance gaming or graphics-intensive applications: Not suitable for high-performance gaming or graphics-intensive applications that require the processing power and graphics capabilities of native apps.
  • Businesses targeting app store traffic: Not the best choice for businesses relying on app store discoverability as a primary marketing strategy.

Deep dive into native apps

They are developed specifically for a particular operating system (OS), such as iOS or Android, using platform-specific programming languages and development tools. They are downloaded and installed directly on mobile devices.

Pros of native apps

  • High performance and speed: Optimized for their specific platform, native apps usually offer the best performance and fastest response times.
  • Full access to device features: They can fully leverage the device’s hardware and software capabilities, such as the camera, microphone, GPS, accelerometer, and more.
  • Better user experience: Provide a superior user experience (UX) with smooth animations, gestures, and overall responsiveness that align with the platform’s UI standards.
  • Offline capabilities: Depending on their functionality, they can operate without an internet connection.
  • Secure and reliable: They are generally more secure, as they must pass rigorous app store approval processes and can utilize the full security features of the underlying platform.
  • Store presence: Being listed in app stores like Google Play or Apple’s App Store can enhance discoverability and credibility.

Cons of native apps

  • Higher development cost: Development tends to be more expensive and time-consuming, as it requires platform-specific coding.
  • Platform dependency: Separate development efforts are needed for different platforms, increasing costs and maintenance efforts.
  • Longer update process: Updates need to be downloaded and installed by users, which can delay the adoption of new features or fixes.
  • App store approval: Must adhere to specific app store guidelines and undergo an approval process, which can be strict and time-consuming.

Who should use native apps

  • High-performance applications: Ideal for applications that require high performance and speed, such as advanced games, intensive data processing apps, or high-quality video streaming services.
  • Hardware-intensive applications: Suitable for apps that need deep integration with the device’s hardware, like augmented reality (AR) apps or professional-grade photo and video editing tools.
  • Applications needing advanced user interfaces: Beneficial for apps where a sophisticated and polished user interface is crucial for user engagement and retention.

Who should not use native apps

  • Startups or businesses with limited budgets: Not the best choice for startups or small businesses with limited development budgets due to higher costs associated with native app development.
  • Simple informational or content-based apps: Overkill for simple, content-based applications where complex functionalities and deep integration with device capabilities are not required.
  • Apps that need quick deployment across multiple platforms: Not ideal for scenarios where time-to-market is critical across multiple platforms simultaneously due to the need for separate development efforts for each OS.

Deep dive into hybrid apps

They are a blend of web and native applications. They are built using standard web technologies like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript and are then wrapped in a native container using platforms like Apache Cordova or Ionic. This approach allows them to be installed like a native app but partly run through web technologies.

Pros of hybrid apps

  • Cross-platform development: Hybrid apps are developed using a single codebase, making it easier and more cost-effective to deploy across multiple platforms like iOS and Android.
  • Access to device features: Though not as extensive as native apps, hybrid apps can still access key device features such as the camera, GPS, and accelerometer.
  • Balance between performance and development efficiency: While they may not be as fast as native apps, hybrid apps generally offer better performance than traditional web apps.
  • Easier maintenance: Easier to maintain and update due to their singular code base. Changes can be made more quickly and efficiently.
  • Wider reach with reduced development cost: Ideal for businesses wanting to reach a wider audience across different platforms without the high costs associated with native app development.

Cons of hybrid apps

  • Compromised performance: Typically slower and less smooth than native apps, especially for graphics-intensive applications.
  • Limited user experience: The user experience might not be as polished or seamless as native apps, with potential issues in maintaining a consistent look and feel across different platforms.
  • Dependency on frameworks and third-party tools: Dependent on frameworks like Cordova or Ionic, which can introduce limitations and the need to wait for these tools to support the latest platform updates or features.
  • Potential for slightly increased latency: We can experience more latency than native apps, as some components rely on web technologies.

Who should use hybrid apps

  • Startups and small to medium businesses: Ideal for startups that need to balance budget constraints with the desire to reach users on multiple platforms.
  • Content-driven applications: Well-suited for primarily content-driven applications that don’t require complex animations or high-end graphics.
  • Projects with rapid development needs: Beneficial for projects that require a faster time-to-market, as the same codebase can be deployed on multiple platforms.

Who should not use hybrid apps

  • High-performance, gaming, or graphics-intensive apps: Not suitable for high-performance gaming or applications that require advanced graphics and animations.
  • Applications needing deep integration with device capabilities: Not the best choice for apps that require intricate integration with device hardware and capabilities, where native app development would be more appropriate.
  • Projects where native look and feel are paramount: If the goal is to have an app that fully conforms to the specific design standards and user interface paradigms of each platform, native development might be more suitable.

Tips for app testing: web, hybrid, and native

The testing principles are more or less common across all app types, though you’d benefit from focusing on the unique aspects of each – like platform-specific characteristics for native apps, browser compatibility for web apps, and cross-platform functionality for hybrid apps.

Testing web apps

  • Cross-browser compatibility: Test on multiple browsers, like Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge, to ensure consistent functionality and appearance.
  • Responsive design: Verify that the app is responsive and provides a seamless user experience across various devices and screen sizes. Read more about responsive design testing.
  • Performance and load testing: Assess how the app performs under varying levels of traffic and data load, especially for dynamic content.
  • Security testing: Since web apps are highly susceptible to security threats, conduct thorough security testing, including SQL injection, XSS, CSRF, etc.
  • Functionality testing: Ensure all functional aspects of the app work as intended, including forms, databases, APIs etc. Read about different functional testing types.
  • Usability testing: Test for ease of use, navigation, and overall user experience.

Testing native apps

  • Device and OS-specific testing: Test on a wide range of devices and OS versions, especially considering the fragmentation in Android devices.
  • Hardware integration: Test the integration with device-specific features like camera, GPS, accelerometer, etc.
  • Performance testing: Evaluate app performance, including loading times, responsiveness, and resource usage like battery, memory, and CPU.
  • User interface and experience: Ensure the app meets platform-specific UI/UX standards and guidelines.
  • Offline functionality: Test the app’s performance offline or with intermittent connectivity.
  • App store compliance: Verify that the app meets the specific guidelines of the respective app stores.

Testing Hybrid Apps

  • Cross-platform functionality: Test on multiple platforms to ensure consistent behavior and appearance, as the same codebase is used across different OSs.
  • Web view components: Test the integration of web view components, ensuring they load and perform correctly within the native shell.
  • Performance testing: While hybrid apps might not match native apps’ performance, ensure they still offer an acceptable user experience, with attention to load times and responsiveness.
  • Device feature access: Verify the app’s interaction with device features like camera, storage, etc., though it may not be as extensive as native apps.
  • Network dependency: Test behavior in different network conditions, especially since hybrid apps might rely more on web content.

Automated testing of the app

You can opt from a number of test automation frameworks to automate your test cases. However, you are likely to yield the most out of a tool that can handle all kinds of apps so that you are not restricted by your testing tool. One such modern, feature-rich tool is testRigor, which uses AI to allow test automation across all platforms, browsers, and app types, like web, native, and hybrid. Use a single tool to test all types of apps easily in plain English.

testRigor uses generative AI, letting everyone in your team write and execute test cases in plain English. It requires no programming knowledge as a prerequisite to test case creation. Read here how to perform end-to-end testing using testRigor.

Summary

The choice between web, native, and hybrid apps depends on a balance of these factors – reach, cost, performance, user experience, and maintenance – aligned with the specific goals and resources of the project or business.

Here is a condensed version of the difference between these three types of apps.

Factor Web Apps Native Apps Hybrid Apps
Platform compatibility and reach They are universally accessible from any web browser, making them platform-independent. This is ideal for businesses wanting to reach a wide audience without the limitations of specific operating systems or app stores. Some applications require a specific operating system’s full power and features, like iOS or Android. Native apps provide the best performance and user experience on their respective platforms, making them suitable for high-performance applications or those needing deep integration with device capabilities. Hybrid apps offer a middle ground, allowing developers to write code once and deploy it across multiple platforms. This approach benefits businesses wanting to target multiple mobile platforms without developing separate native apps for each.
Development cost and time Generally, they are quicker and less expensive to develop than native apps because they use standard web technologies and do not require platform-specific development. These require more specialized skills and longer development time as they are built for specific platforms. This typically makes them more expensive and allows for a highly optimized product. They reduce development time and cost by enabling cross-platform deployment from a single codebase. However, they might incur additional costs for more complex applications that require extensive customization or optimization for each platform.
Performance and functionality They are less resource-intensive but also less powerful in terms of performance and integration with device hardware (like GPS, camera, etc.). Offering the best performance and access to full device capabilities, they are ideal for resource-intensive, high-performance applications. While they can access some native device features and offer better performance than web apps, they might still lag behind native apps in terms of speed and overall smoothness.
User experience They provide a consistent user experience across different devices and platforms but are limited by the capabilities of web browsers. These apps can offer a superior user experience with smooth animations, gestures, and overall responsiveness that aligns with the platform’s guidelines. They aim to blend the cross-platform accessibility of web apps with a closer-to-native user experience, though sometimes with compromises in look and feel or performance.
Maintenance and updates Easier to maintain and update since changes are made on the server side and don’t require user intervention to update the app. The user must download each update, and maintaining multiple versions for different platforms can be more challenging. While easier to update than native apps, they can still face challenges maintaining consistent performance and functionality across platforms.
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