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11 October

Why Your Startup Should Consider a Hybrid App?

Inspiration has struck, you have an app to build. With any number of devices, platforms and screen sizes to accommodate, which technology do you use, maybe React? A common question, particularly among startups – and one that rarely has a clear answer.

Perhaps because most only consider two options:

  1. Run with HTML5 for a write-once, use-anywhere scenario but with limited access to native functionality;
  1. Develop a native application for optimum performance but compatible only with a single operating system or increasing your overhead if you want an app for both iOS and Android.

Typically, the decision rests on a single factor: a specific functionality, security considerations, offline access, or merely a team’s expertise. But the landscape has evolved. Mobile technology is becoming increasingly dynamic.

Startups can now adopt a hybrid approach, leveraging the best of all worlds. But before we dive into the wonders of the new, let’s first consider the ways of old.

HTML5 Mobile Apps

HTML5 mobile applications are essentially a webpage designed to work on smaller screens. They are compatible with any device, through any browser; guaranteeing access anytime, anywhere.

They are cost-effective to develop: these apps have the lowest barriers to entry as HTML5 is arguably the most straightforward approach. Plus, the fact HTML5 apps work across devices makes them an appealing option for those seeking reach without excessive workload.

Moreover, as the content of your app is web-based, it is searchable; so if you run an eCommerce store, your product catalog will show up on Google.

Still, every device functions in a slightly different way, meaning even the best HTML5 apps can look strange depending on screen size or resolution – never assume HTML5 means a perfect experience every time.

But it is easier to build, run and maintain an HTML5 application given that bug fixes and feature releases only happen once. Then appear instantly across platforms with users seeing the update without having to download a new version. In truth, it’s easy to understand the appeal.

But business owners beware: Do not be comforted by a false sense of simplicity.

If you choose the mass approach, you risk losing out on most native functionality (we’ll get into the detail later). Meaning limited features, sub-optimal performance, and an app lacking the typical UX of its iOS or Android equivalent.

Certain buttons or actions won’t have the expected results. Users will become frustrated by the unfamiliar experience. Capabilities such as offline storage are not an option, while security is less robust.

In an era of data-conscious users looking for seamless solutions, HTML5 often falls short.

Pros:

  • Mass approach compatible with all devices and platforms
  • Simpler to develop and maintain

Cons:

  • Lacks the elegance and functionality of native
  • Fewer offline/data storage capabilities
  • Security vulnerabilities

Native Mobile Apps

Native applications, on the other hand, provide the ultimate usability. They are feature-rich and leverage the elements that make smartphones such a joy to use:

  • Touch-responsive: double-tap zoom, pinch-screen, and swipe;
  • Quick load/refresh: a smoother experience with better graphics, ideal for apps with moving elements, lots of animation, or anything highly-visual in general;
  • Device-specific interactions: cameras, calendars, location – whatever exists on the device, your app can use;
  • Familiarity: users are accustomed to a specific UX, which developers can take advantage of via a native app.

It’s clear to see why native is appealing. Everything a user could want, and probably a lot more with the right amount of entrepreneurial creativity.

But fundamental shortcomings still exist:

  • Native apps are harder to build;
  • They take specific expertise;
  • You have to develop an application per platform, then update/maintain each one individually.

So, business owners face a challenge in finding the approach best-suited to their ambitions, budgets, and resource; unless…

You Choose a Hybrid Application

Hybrid apps take the best of both worlds to create what many consider the optimal approach on mobile. Through a combination of HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript, wrapped in a native container; developers can create a generic multi-platform application that leverages native functionality.

Hybrid applications use the mobile platform’s WebView – essentially a local browser window which runs full-screen – that can access your camera, contacts, location, whatever; leveraging the same native functionality which enhances the typical native experience.

Better yet, your customers will struggle to tell a hybrid app from its native counterpart, creating the seamless experience users crave.

How Do Hybrid Apps Work?

The background technology of a hybrid app is much the same as a website: HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript. It’s the use of a WebView hosted in a native container which allows it to access the platform-specific features; enabling a dynamic, flexible application that behaves ‘natively’ but works across devices, meaning:

  • Simpler to build
  • Broader reach
  • Complete functionality

But yes; alongside the benefits, there is complexity.

Individual platforms have nuances when running a WebView. So, while hybrid apps are compatible across devices, there are several platform-specific considerations to account for – particularly on Android.

Equally, if you want to use certain features on specific platforms, you may require plugins and native code to fully-leverage the underlying functionality. And a word of warning: plug-ins can be unreliable, out-of-date, or just lack what you need. So you might still have a gap in capability or need to build a new plug-in altogether.

Alternatively, you can choose another approach.

If you build within a framework, you overcome these challenges, which is why many developers opt for React Native.

React Native: The Exemplary Hybrid Framework

React Native is an open-source framework that allows developers to build both iOS and Android applications without relying on a WebView. Many regard it as the rising star in hybrid application development as it provides a high-performance environment with access to all iOS and Android API’s, removing dependencies on – and the inherent risks of – plug-ins.

React Native is based on JavaScript, with no HTML at all; this can result in a steep learning curve when first using the framework but as the technology of choice of Facebook, UberEATS, Walmart, and Instagram – you have to respect its power.

The Core Benefits of React Native

  • Open source
  • A variety of plug-ins
  • Fast with a quick response time
  • Aids quicker development
  • iOS and Android compatible
  • Supports Node.JS

Decision Time

There are multiple approaches to mobile app development, even if you choose the hybrid path: Ionic, Framework 7, PhoneGap, and Onsen UI are just a handful of other frameworks you can use, but the list is long, and their strengths and weaknesses are beyond the scope of this article.

If you believe a hybrid application suits your business goals, we recommend React Native. Not only does it make the best of the native operating system without requiring platform-specific development, it mitigates the pitfalls of traditional hybrid applications.

Deliberation over. Decision made.

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