A client comes to us with an idea for an application. Some of their functional requirements, goals, or success criteria may not even be completely fleshed out yet, but they know one thing for sure: “We want this to be a mobile app.”
And our immediate thought is: “Sounds great. What kind?”
There are three main types of mobile apps that you can consider for a mobile app development project: web, native, and hybrid. All three have their purpose. All three have pros and cons. Our job when we get a request for a mobile app is to help figure out which approach is right for you. Which option will best meet your business objectives, serve your customers, and give you the most successful end product?
A web app is accessed via the browser, and requires internet connectivity to function. It provides significantly more functionality and interactivity than what we normally call a website, which is usually mostly informational, with a focus on content.
- Requires only an internet-connected browser. No downloading necessary, and doesn’t take up storage space on a user’s device.
- Usually the fastest to develop, and least expensive option.
- Doesn’t require review and approval from an app store; can be released at any time, and use any technology that fits.
- If built as a Progressive Web App (PWA), can give mobile users a reasonable approximation of a more native app experience.
- Since app isn’t downloaded, user doesn’t have to update it; they always see the newest version.
- Not as performant or responsive as a native app.
- Tougher to discover. Since it’s not housed on an app store, users need another way to learn the app exists.
- Doesn’t work offline; requires internet connectivity to function.
- Cannot take advantage of the device’s built-in functionality (e.g. camera, contacts, geolocation, etc).
- Less visible on a user’s device; no icon automatically shown on the home screen.
- Not as easily accessible; the user has to first go to a browser and then navigate to the app’s URL.
Native apps are what many people are thinking of when they say “mobile app.” A native app is built specifically for a mobile operating system, like iOS or Android. Native apps tend to feel very natural to smartphone users, and can provide a superior user experience.
- Built to a mature set of technical and user experience guidelines for the operating system (OS).
- Looks, feels, and behaves like other native smartphone apps. This consistency and familiarity can contribute to increased learnability and usability.
- Can seamlessly take advantage of built-in capabilities of the user’s device, including the camera, calendar, geolocation, contacts, light detection, accelerometer, etc.
- Usually offers fast performance and higher security.
- More likely to have an “offline mode” or offer more functionality when an internet connection isn’t available.
- Approval requirements by the app store helps ensure quality.
- Easy to discover in the app store.
- If you want to serve both iOS and Android users, you’ll need multiple code bases. Add another if you want people to also be able to use your app via the browser.
- Requires updating by the user (via the app store) to get the latest version.
- More expensive to build, often with longer development cycles.
- May be overkill for simpler applications.
Hybrid apps work across multiple platforms. They look and feel like a native app, but they’re essentially websites that have been packaged into a native app wrapper. While they can give you the “best of both worlds,” there are corresponding tradeoffs, too.
- The web application core means that the functionality can be used on multiple platforms with a single codebase.
- Native wrapper means the app has access to a device’s internal APIs and hardware.
- Loads data and information as needed, versus a native app which downloads most of its required content when first installed.
- Plug-ins can offer access to additional useful hardware/software capabilities.
- Often have a shorter time-to-market development cycle than native apps.
- Slower performance than native apps.
- User experience isn’t as seamless, as the app isn’t custom-designed to standards for a particular platform and doesn’t necessarily follow patterns present in native apps.
- The native wrapper part of the hybrid app requires a third-party platform to deploy.
- Quickly becomes a less economical option the more app customization is required.
- Bugs can come from either the web app or native wrapper portion, making support more difficult.
When you’re considering building a mobile app for your business, the question of whether to move ahead with a web app, native app, or hybrid app is one of the main technical considerations we need to hammer out before moving ahead with your project. And the right answer to that question is “it depends.” When our clients request a mobile app, our first step is to propose a discovery project so we can build a foundation of information that will let us make the best recommendation for the specific needs of the client, the project, and the customers they’re trying to serve.
Contact us today to learn more about our approach to mobile app development and how we can help make a mobile app a reality and a strong digital asset for your business.