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App Development Showdown: Why You Should Care About Revisiting The Native Vs. Hybrid Debate In 2017

Back in 2007, the world met the iPhone for the very first time. After Apple’s product debut, it took less than six months for work to begin on PhoneGap, which would become one of the first and most adopted frameworks for hybrid mobile app development — that is, for apps written simultaneously for multiple platforms using HTML, CSS and JavaScript, rather than coded in native languages.

When compared with the prospect of learning an entirely new language and development environment in order to program iOS (and soon Android) apps, the appeal of this type of development to the already huge population of web developers in the world was palpable.

Further Reading on SmashingMag: Link

As with many things, however, execution in the real world didn’t quite live up to the hype.

It quickly became apparent that giving apps created in hybrid frameworks a “native” feel wasn’t always easy. Because these apps were essentially just rendering a web app in a native shell, mobile Internet connections and device hardware speeds at the time caused performance in many hybrid apps to range from “This is loading a little slower than my other apps” to “Apple straight up rejected this from the App Store for not behaving as expected!”

In short: Hybrid hadn’t quite delivered, and many would-be hybrid developers bit the bullet and learned to work in native development platforms, or decided to delay their app development ambitions indefinitely. It was kind of a bummer.

Hybrid app development is vying for your attention again.4
Hybrid app development is vying for your attention again. (View large version5)

As time went on, however, advancements in technology — namely, phone hardware — allowed for enough progress in the performance of hybrid apps to drive some bold new claims. A notable example is the report published by industry research giant Gartner predicting that, by 2016, 50% or more of apps deployed to the App Store and Google Play would be hybrid. The prediction was published way back in 2013, and the figure of 50% was picked up6 and plastered7 on virtually every8 website covering the mobile development industry.

Now, many native frameworks and development tools even boast robust showcase libraries highlighting hybrid apps that have successfully made their way to market. Probably among the most notable are Ionic’s9 and Appcelerator’s10.

Bringing The Record Current Link

Have hybrid apps hit parity with their native counterparts yet? There have been several indications that we’re at least moving in that direction. At any rate, being in the latter half of 2016 warrants a renewed discussion of the hybrid versus native debate — and what opportunities it might hold for current developers.

Native Apps Are Still Faster, But That Statement’s Weight Is More Limited Than Before. Link

There’s no beating around the bush: In our current development world, there are still situations in which native apps load and move about with more agility than their hybrid counterparts. That being said, the difference in experience is far less noticeable than even just a few years ago. Software development outfit Azoft wrote over a full year ago that, in its experience, hybrid apps were in many cases “just as good as native apps.” Additionally, the general consensus has gone from “Native is better” to “Native is better in certain cases.” Those certain cases tend to boil down to a few key factors now:

  • Graphical behavior
    Apps that need to utilize advanced 3D graphics, particle effects and multilayered animations are still not well suited to hybrid. Additionally, due to the knowledge and work put into such graphics, often used in games, the extent to which hybrid can expedite development (one of its main selling points) is diminished. This is because, where programming in hybrid frameworks can help you accomplish page-building and other app development tasks with less code, creating games and animations in general still requires specific knowledge and intensive work to get right.
  • Hardware responsiveness
    Apps that require very quick, responsive access to things like a device’s accelerometer or similar hardware components are often still better suited to native development as well. This is because the need to call on these components with JavaScript — as is the case with hybrid apps — represents an extra step the device has to execute. That being said, this reality is declining in severity and will only continue to do so as phone hardware becomes more powerful.
  • CPU requirements
    CPU-intensive apps (such as those that intercept camera input in real time to apply live filters, or that quickly render video, or that process large amounts of data simultaneously, etc.) are the other category of native-suited apps, due to the same logic we touched on above. Again, this gap will likely narrow over time.
A shot of this year's hit Pokemon GO11
A game like Pokemon GO almost certainly falls beyond the limits of hybrid development in 2016. (View large version12)

Hybrid Apps Still Have a Shorter Development Cycle and Time-To-Market. Link

Even in an extremely pro-native post on Y Media Labs13, the author concedes that clients are probably better off seeking hybrid development “if the desired time to market is less than six months.” His experience is far from exclusive: Most articles14 that explore this debate15 conclude that development cycles can be greatly reduced by opting for hybrid.

Despite a rapidly growing number of developers with native coding skill sets, traditional app development is still a slow and complex process in many cases, and the timeframe within which a company or individual wants to get their app rolling can sometimes rule out native on its own.

Native tools regularly improve to help developers work more efficiently, but they are often outpaced in time savings by their counterparts in the hybrid world. The developers behind Ionic, a barebones framework for developing hybrid apps with raw HTML, CSS and JavaScript, recently launched Ionic Creator16, a product with some drag-and-drop elements for prototyping; newcomer Aquro17 is making waves by combining visual workflows with web coding in its own way; and enterprise-focused companies such as Telerik18 have similar platforms as well.

It’s also worth noting that much of this discrepancy in development efficiency between native and hybrid can be attributed to multiplatform projects. Because Android and iOS (and, in some hybrid platforms, Windows and web apps) can be developed simultaneously, the work hours needed to be put into a multiplatform mobile app can be significantly reduced by going hybrid. Plus, every time a client needs to update or add features to an app, again, those changes only have to be written once to be deployed across all of their platforms. That’s generally a big advantage for both developers and their clients.

This Shorter Development Cycle Usually Means Lower Costs, as Well. Link

In a Comentum article19 by app developer Bernard Kohan specifically comparing native development with development of hybrid projects in PhoneGap, he concluded that, depending on the size of an app project, businesses could save between 32 and 36% on their bill by opting for hybrid. When app development projects in the business world almost always operate in the five to six digit range, that can mean a difference of a lot of money, and clients will start to take notice and more often request hybrid development if they feel it meets their needs.

The research for Kohan’s writeup was conducted in January of 2015, but the same trends have further developed since, and more recent investigations still find differences in the cost associated with the two development strategies.

What This Means For You, And How To Take Advantage Of It Link

The real takeaway from this shifting dynamic is a massive business opportunity for those who bother to take advantage of it.

Hybrid app development is likely to enter a golden era, when more enterprise clients and mid-sized businesses will want apps, but pricing can still be placed at a premium until the market is saturated.

Savvy developers can still charge large development fees to create apps for these clients with hybrid technologies, while undercutting native costs just enough to give these clients a deal they can feel good about. Plus, they can develop these apps at a quicker rate, which means a high hourly income and a client that’s going to sing your praises for delivering their company’s app in two and a half months, when native-based firms have projected four to five or more.

In a few years, however, the time savings of hybrid development will be better known, the expectations of buyers will be more closely aligned with the actual time involved in the creation of these apps, and the number of developers offering hybrid development will be higher, increasing the need to bid for jobs at competitive prices. Remember that this exact trend has played out in the world of website development over the past couple of decades.

A Hypothetical Example Link

Let’s say, today in 2016, ACME Thumbtacks wants to contract a developer for an internal Android and iOS app to link up with its inventory system and let workers submit new orders from within the app when stock is low.

They approach a native development house, which quotes them $80,000 and gives a projected delivery date six months away. Armed with your favorite hybrid framework and development environment, you are approached by the client for a second opinion, and you let them know that you can complete the job in just two to three months, for $50,000.

Huge project savings and half the lead time?! They’d be fools not to go with you, and you pocket one heck of a price for a couple of months’ work. Of course, these numbers will vary wildly from project to project, depending on the customer’s needs and ability to pay, but you get the idea.

A word of caution: It is still important to be clear about client expectations for their app and the feasibility of those expectations within a hybrid development framework. This ensures you’ll avoid embarrassing situations in which you might over-promise on functionality that should really still be executed natively!

This Same Scenario Might Look Different A Few Years From Now. Link

ACME Thumbtacks now knows that their app’s requirements aren’t intensive enough to necessitate native development, so they explicitly look for hybrid developers. Because so many others have jumped on the trend and are perfectly happy with quoting a client just $20,000 for a few months of work, gone are the days of easy money!

While you’ll still have plenty of work as an app developer, your golden goose will have flown away, or at least will have become more of a, uh, bronze pigeon. Plus, as the hybrid market becomes more and more crowded, those early adopters with more satisfied clients, testimonials and connections will be in a good place to maintain a high level of demand.

Much like web development in the late 1990s and early 2000s, hybrid app development will be a skill set that can be sold at a premium over the next few years. That, my friends, is the definition of an opportunity!

Of course, a lingering stigma continues to dog the hybrid development world. Depending on the structure you’re working in (freelance or independent, or working in a firm with immediate superiors to report to, etc.), you might need to help more people overcome the perception that clients of hybrid development projects might be left with a subpar product.

One of the best things you can do to address this is to have those skeptics download a few of the apps from the showcase pages linked to earlier (or a few of PhoneGap’s20) and consider whether the experiences they encounter would be satisfactory to a client. The truth of the matter is that most of these apps are likely indistinguishable from natively developed ones.

In the end, the decision of whether to jump through the hoops necessary to switch gears and/or start a whole new hybrid venture is up to you. But, hey, those hoops might just end up being made of gold.

Takeaways Link

  • Hybrid development maintains its speed advantage over native coding, especially for apps that need to run on multiple platforms.
  • Phone performance has helped hybrid development grow out of its stigma of clunkiness, but it’s still far from a perfect solution for some project types.
  • The hybrid route currently presents a great opportunity for web developers to make a seamless (and lucrative) move into app development.
  • App development, whether native or hybrid, has an upward trajectory in demand that’s probably worthy of your attention over the coming years.

(da, vf, il, al)

Footnotes Link

  1. 1 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2016/04/consider-react-native-mobile-app/
  2. 2 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2014/10/providing-a-native-experience-with-web-technologies/
  3. 3 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2016/07/cross-platform-native-apps-single-code-set-telerik-nativescript/
  4. 4 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/1-app-development-showdown-large-opt.png
  5. 5 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/1-app-development-showdown-large-opt.png
  6. 6 http://gadgets.ndtv.com/apps/news/over-50-percent-of-mobile-apps-to-be-html5-native-hybrids-by-2016-gartner-355385
  7. 7 http://www.idownloadblog.com/2013/02/04/gartner-mobile-apps-2016/
  8. 8 http://memeburn.com/2013/02/gartner-half-of-all-apps-to-be-hybrid-by-2016-expect-a-50-smartphone-this-year/
  9. 9 http://showcase.ionicframework.com/
  10. 10 http://www.appcelerator.com/customers/app-showcase/
  11. 11 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/3-app-development-showdown-large-opt.jpg
  12. 12 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/3-app-development-showdown-large-opt.jpg
  13. 13 http://www.ymedialabs.com/hybrid-vs-native-mobile-apps-the-answer-is-clear/
  14. 14 http://www.makeit.com/hybrid-app-development-vs-native-better-company/
  15. 15 https://www.mobiloud.com/blog/native-web-or-hybrid-apps/
  16. 16 http://ionicframework.com/
  17. 17 http://www.aquro.com/
  18. 18 http://telerik.com/
  19. 19 http://www.comentum.com/phonegap-vs-native-app-development.html
  20. 20 http://phonegap.com/app/

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Scott Hendersson built his first computer at the age of 11, and has been married to the IT world ever since. In 2011, he made his love of all things tech official with a degree in Information Technology from the University of Colorado Boulder, and now works primarily with web and mobile app development.

  1. 1

    Felipe Fidelix

    December 20, 2016 2:48 pm

    What about https://www.nativescript.org/ ?

    This seems to be the best of both worlds.

    8
  2. 3

    Revisiting native vs hybrid in 2017?
    What about visiting hybrid vs progressive instead?

    7
  3. 4

    For my company, the biggest reason for choosing native over hybrid was user experience (UX). Android and iOS have distinctly different design patterns. Navigation and button placement differ — which often leads to different workflow. Styling is different. Then there’s integration of native features that bring up native screens (such as the gallery). Hybrid apps tend to feel wonky because they’re not optimized for either environment, and fall into the Uncanny Valley of weird UX. You can ensure a more natural user experience for users of each OS by giving them native apps that adhere to their OS’s design patterns.

    10
    • 5

      I’m actually a UX developer and have created mobile apps using both react-native and web technologies. While I understand your reasons for choosing to go native, many of your arguments do not hold up anymore. You can access native date pickers on mobile simply by using , or access the camera like this . And that is just the input element. Here is a full list of what you can do with web technologies on mobile:

      https://whatwebcando.today/

      I would go as far as to say that web technologies may outpace native in the very near future. When companies like Google are pushing Progressive Web Apps, it’s hard to argue that you get a better “experience” with native apps. Comments like that are very subjective.

      5
  4. 6

    Y u no mention react native? Is it still not good enough?

    2
  5. 7

    Is there any way to secure and hide source to binnary with hybrid HTML apps?

    -3
  6. 8

    The hybrid frameworks are still lacking. I have wrote and deployed an ionic app for my current work place. It was a nightmare to give a good and smooth UX experience, especially with the 1.x versions, 2.0 might be different, but at the end of he day, Cordova/PhoneGap sucks. Why? The plugins are barely maintained and does not update ahead of any OS updates, especially when recently android and iOS had required more permission checking and a lot of the plugins had just broke with no updates. Furthermore the plugins are just elected to be part of the plugin offerings, it’s more like hey this camera plugin can do most of what people need and is popular, sure this can be the official Cordova plugin, we’ll write angular wrapper around it and call it a day. But a lot of these plugins are either lacking or don’t work or some don’t even implement the android counterpart.

    I also dabbled with reactnative, this is definitely more promising as some parts of the development feels buttery smooth the process. But I haven’t done enough of it to see the shortcomings, I think again, it would probably be lacking in the plugin side of things that provide the bridging to native.

    6
    • 9

      I actually think you’ve hit on something important, @WP, which is that the health of the plugin ecosystem will directly impact the health of the framework. I’m on the NativeScript side of the house and we are working very hard as a community to build quality plugins that really help enhance your mobile app development. There are some really great articles out there about how to develop Hybrid vs. JavaScript-Native style plugins – and it seems clear to me that the ease of building NativeScript plugins, as compared to Cordova/PhoneGap plugins, is a big plus for this type of solution. Read more here (by my colleague TJ): http://developer.telerik.com/featured/write-nativescript-plugins-theyre-easier-cordova-plugins/

      -1
  7. 10

    Hi Scott,

    I appreciate the article, but I personally disagree with your conclusion.

    “Hybrid app development is likely to enter a golden era”

    I find this prediction unlikely considering PhoneGap interest, downloads, and usage have been consistently declining for the last three years. See Google Trends data, npm download data, and the State of JavaScript 2016 survey results to see what I mean.

    I find it far more likely that the future is heading towards Progressive Web Apps and JavaScript-driven native frameworks (e.g. React Native, NativeScript), both of which are on the rise, and both of which are not considered or addressed in your discussion. I have some definite bias here, as I’m a member of the NativeScript team, but I’m mostly looking at usage and survey data to draw my conclusions. If you’re interested I provide a more detailed argument in an article I wrote last month.

    5
    • 11

      If the statement is well-qualified it’s probably not off mark, but the idea that hybrid as we currently see it will pick up is pretty laughable.

      React Native (and similar equivalents) has some potential, as does the potential for some generic cross-compiled app with a common UI/OS layer

      But yeah – fundamentally this article is either deceptive or plain ridiculous

      0
    • 12

      Christian Justus

      January 23, 2017 11:18 am

      The PhoneGap/Cordova powered Ionic 2 stack is in fact just overtaking React Native and NativeScript in Google Trends:

      https://www.google.com/trends/explore?date=2014-01-01%202016-12-20&q=ionic2,nativescript,react-native,ionic%20framework

      I have worked with all of those technologies and can say that the demand especially for Ionic 2 and React Native is really high right now. The term golden era might be a bit worn out but I would bet on all of them gaining more interest in the coming years.

      1
  8. 13

    Hello
    I liked the article. I disagree with your conclusion.

    I’m sure you might have come across Xamarin.
    . Native App Development is possible.
    . Code sharing is also possible across platforms I.e., Android, iOS and Windows.

    Apps can be developed at much faster pace as well.

    So why Hybrid wins here ? Xamarin which is now free will have a huge say here in terms of Time to Market.

    3
  9. 14

    The cross breed structures are as yet inadequate. I have composed and sent an ionic application for my present work put. It was a bad dream to give a decent and smooth UX encounter may be distinctive, yet toward the end of he day, Cordova/PhoneGap is poor. We tried with http://coastalmediabrand.com as well as http://seo4roi.com. Besides the modules are simply chosen to be a piece of the module offerings, it’s more similar to hello this camera module can do the majority of what individuals require and is prevalent, certain this can be the official Cordova module, we’ll compose rakish wrapper around it and turn in until tomorrow. Be that as it may, a great deal of these modules are either missing or don’t work or some don’t actualize the android partner.

    -1
  10. 15

    Native still wins hands down. If the app your are developing has trivial functionality then sure try hybrid. If your developing a trivially simple app tho guessing no one is going to find it useful so maybe not bother at all.

    -1
  11. 16

    Have built hybrid and native apps. Hybrid is cool in the beginning and faster seemingly but after you develop good patterns in native code you can develop just as fast.

    The external library dependencies for hybrid apps are its downfall. Being able to code freely in Android Studio and refactor code easily is well worth the adjustment to native platforms. Apple is another story currently with an inner language war between Obj-C and Swift.

    0
    • 17

      Frankly, the native vs hybrid becomes a moot point if google would make swift a first class language on android. You already have linux and macos/is support, as well as web frameworks running on swift. Coupled with its vastly superior syntax in comparison with languages like java and the enthusiastic community, you could have the cake and eat it – on all (or almost all, sorry microsoft) devices.

      My opinion on the next few years: swift and javascript continue growing. The traditional web languages will continue to dominate, but will slowly be losing ground to the duo. By the time swift is really relevant, hybrid vs native will become irrelevant, as the two will naturally merge.

      0
  12. 18

    The native vs non-native debate is never going to end! Even 3 years back the then available hybrid frameworks showed good promises but lacked in experience, device features support and performances compared to native and the hope was that as it matures this gap will reduce. But till today the hope continues and not able to narrow this gap. Because the devices are coming up with newer features and the expectations on the experience and performance are getting higher and higher and the hybrid framework still lacking behind the native to meet this fast changing needs.

    Out of my experience in developing apps both in native and hybrid – you can go with confidence while developing in native but when with hybrid you are not sure until the app is complete and the customer signs off!

    1

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