Consumers around the world downloaded about 230 billion apps in 2021. If you're thinking about building an app to gain and nurture new customers for your business or as an income-producing product in its own right, you've likely found that there's a pretty big learning curve for all but the most tech-savvy.
One of the first questions you'll bump into once you start moving forward with your idea is the question of what type of app to make. You might find yourself lying awake at night thinking: "native vs. mobile vs. hybrid– what's the difference?"
Even if it isn't making you lose sleep, understanding the different app types is essential for creating the right product for your brand and customers.
When you're first deciding to develop an app, you might feel pretty overwhelmed about the different app types. Which is the best choice for your digital product? Let's take a look at the basics for each kind of app to help you determine what makes sense for you and your brand.
Mobile apps are the applications you can download from an app store like iOS App Store or Google Play.
There are two different types of mobile apps which we will discuss in the next sections: native and hybrid.
Native apps are designed specifically for one operating system (OS). When developers create a native app, this typically means that they are built for one of the two largest mobile operating systems, iOS or Android.
Most mobile devices around the world run on one of these two systems. While Android dominates the market share globally, clocking in at 71% of smartphone usage in the first quarter of 2021, iOS dominates the profit share worldwide.
Depending on your intended audience, the choice between a native iOS app and a native Android app might be a no-brainer. However, it can be difficult for many brands to determine which operating system to choose when making such a large investment in developing a mobile app.
Native apps are written in the language that is accepted by the chosen platform. For instance, native Android apps are written using Java, iOS apps are written using Objective-C or Swift, and Windows Phone apps are primarily written using C#.
App developers can access development tools specific to iOS and Android through Xcode and Android Studio, respectively.
Once a user downloads a hybrid app from their app store of choice and the app is locally installed, this dressed-up web app can connect to the capabilities provided by the mobile platform. This occurs through a browser that is embedded right in the application.
Usually, when people talk about developing apps, they are referring to mobile apps. However, there are also web apps that are worth mentioning. Depending on your purposes, you might find that web apps are actually the most suitable option for your brand or digital product.
Web apps are accessed using a web browser and provide additional interactivity and functionality beyond what is typical for a regular website.
An important distinction between mobile and web apps is that they don't have to be downloaded the same way a user has to download a mobile app. Instead, they load in a common browser like Firefox, Chrome, or Safari. This means that users don't have to dedicate any memory or storage to the application.
Thanks to the development of progressive web apps (PWAs), web apps can have many of the same features as mobile apps, such as working offline, sending push notifications, or loading on the home screen.
This can be a good choice for people that want to give their audience an improved user experience when they access your site from a mobile device. That being said, it's important to understand that PWAs and web apps alike really aren't substitutes for mobile apps.
As with most things, there isn't a right answer to this question. Depending on your needs regarding features, functionality, accessibility, budget, and more, you'll likely find that one of these app types is more appropriate than the others.
Most apps out there are native. This isn't an accident– there are a lot of benefits to building this type of app.
For one, native apps usually offer their users the most reliable, most responsive experience. On top of that, they also offer the fastest experience. It's also a lot easier to tap into the wider functionality of the user's device, including their microphone, camera, and swipe gestures.
Conventions have emerged for each operating system, and native apps are also much more capable of matching these conventions through their UI/UX. This means that the users can have a much more pleasant experience in many cases.
On the downside, native apps cost much more to build than the alternatives and take much longer to build. Developing a native app is an enormous investment in many cases, both in terms of time and money.
Worried that your next app development project is going to run into hurdles that slow down your ideal timeline? Check out this recent post about how to stop your project from stalling.
On top of that, choosing to build a native app means that you will have to develop separate apps for every platform you want to be present on. For many brands except the largest corporations, this is simply not feasible.
While native apps might have hybrid apps beat in a number of categories, that doesn't mean a native app is necessarily the right choice for you. Depending on your purposes and your budget, you might find that hybrid apps are highly suitable and much more reasonable.
When you develop a hybrid app, you'll save time and money. Not only do you only have to build one app for the different platforms, but you also only have one codebase to manage. This means that you will only need a fraction of the number of developers you would have needed if you went with a native app to develop it in the same amount of time.
On top of that, the fact that you are only building one app can seriously simplify things. Since you only have to manage one codebase, you only have to change the app once if you are tweaking your digital product.
Hybrid apps are also much easier to launch on a different platform as your brand grows. If you want to do this with a native app, you'll have to start over from scratch.
It's also worth noting that you can still access the device features with a hybrid app. While it might not be as seamless, there are a number of ways you can bridge the gap between the native SDK and webview to let your hybrid app function like a native app in this particular way.
On the downside, hybrid apps' performance doesn't quite match those of native apps. It can also be a lot of work to develop apps on multiple platforms, as it can be tricky to get your apps to run perfectly on each of your chosen operating systems. Depending on how close you need to get to replicating the user experience of a native app, you might find that the cost savings start disappearing over time.
Another complaint about hybrid apps is that the user base of each platform tends to be pretty used to how things work in their native apps. This means that even the most benign or subtlest of differences can cause frustration in loyal iOS or Android users, leaving you in a spot where you're scrambling to tweak your apps to fulfill the needs of both camps of users.
Depending on your purpose in building an app, you might find that a web app actually delivers what you need without the headache and high cost of developing a mobile app. That said, it's worth reiterating that web apps shouldn't be viewed as substitutes for mobile apps. If you want your users to be able to download your app onto their mobile devices, you'll want to choose either a native or hybrid model.
On the other hand, if you simply want some of the interactivity and functionality of apps to be available on your site, this is a more cost-effective way to create that outcome.
In addition to being more affordable, web apps offer much more accessibility because they are accessed through a browser regardless of the operating system. This means that you could potentially gain a larger user base and a wider audience.
While some brands might prefer their users to download a mobile app, others might like that users can access their app without downloading it from one of the app stores. Even though a lot of apps out there are free, there is some investment by the user by simply downloading it onto their device.
Now let's look at the less rosy aspects of web apps. For one, they don't have the same integration with device functions as mobile apps. In plain English, this means that some of the specific features of your user's device might not be able to be accessed by your web app, such as their camera or microphone.
Web apps can also sometimes run at slower speeds than mobile apps depending on what is going on with the web browser. Basically, if the browser is experiencing problems, the web app will be impacted.
Finally, web apps also can't be accessed offline in the same way mobile apps can, and users won't be able to find your app in the most common app marketplaces of Google Play and the App Store. This means that some of your users might be looking for a digital product just like yours but not be able to find it.
Essentially a hybrid between regular old web pages and mobile apps, PWAs are able to offer an experience that is very similar to that of a native app. It's no wonder that companies like Uber, Instagram, The Washington Post, The Weather Channel, and Forbes have overhauled the mobile experience of their sites by switching to PWAs.
To be clear, a progressive web app isn't a mobile app. However, they can perform many of the same functions as native programs while being accessed through a web browser.
PWAs have been adopted by some of the biggest corporations for several reasons, including the fact that they work for every user regardless of browser, they're responsive to all of the various screen sizes, and they behave much like a native app when it comes to navigation and interaction.
In addition to those benefits, PWAs are identified as apps and indexed by search engines. Reactivation of the app is a breeze thanks to things like notifications, and users can even save the apps to their home screen on their mobile device without ever having to open the app store.
Finally, PWAs are a big step up from web apps because they are available for offline use.
Of course, there are definitely downsides to this option as well. PWAs can run on Apple devices since iOS 11.3, but they aren't compatible with older devices. Additionally, a number of features on Apple devices can't be accessed by PWAs, including Face ID, Touch ID, Beacons, Bluetooth, battery information, serial, and more.
Since PWAs are still fairly new, it's not particularly a surprise that they aren't supported by outdated web browsers well. That being said, it could lead to user complaints depending on whether they have up-to-date browsers and devices.
Lastly, it's important to recognize that PWAs simply can't do everything mobile apps can. They aren't as battery efficient as native apps, and their performance isn't as good either. However, depending on the features and functionalities you need, you might find a PWA is a suitable alternative to the other options.
Building an app of any kind is a big investment of time, money, and energy. One of the most predictable ways to get the results you want within your desired timeframe is to work with an experienced team of experts. At Planetary, we specialize in helping our clients turn their ideas into a reality, whether they're a Fortune 500 company or a small startup.
Are you searching for the right team to work with to build your next app development project? If so, contact us today and let us know a little bit about what you're working on.
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