How to decide whether to develop native or hybrid Mobile Apps and the rise of React Native

Related Topics: Agile DevOps

by Edith Bondoc – 

For the past decade, we have observed the movement of device usage from bulky desktops and laptops to the ultraportable mobile devices. In 2007, Apple released the first iPhone and jumpstarted the rise of smartphones, and the subsequent release of the App Store in 2008 cemented their leadership position. Soon after, Google Play, Android’s app store was also launched. Since then, application developers around the globe have launched over 6 million mobile apps. This meteoric rise of smartphone usage is pushing every company to change their business processes to reach more prospects and customers via mobile apps. Today, a question that often pops up in programming forums is whether one should build a native app or a hybrid app.

Native Apps

Native apps are developed with a specific platform in mind: Apple, Android, Windows Phone, etc. They are developed using the programming languages which are considered to be native to the specific platform, meaning Objective-C or Swift on iOS and Java on Android. The main selling point of native apps is that they are optimized for making the user experience as smooth as possible. Speed and responsiveness are the two things most noticeable when dealing with native apps. Moreover, since the programming language used is native to the platform, the developer will have more control and access to platform-specific features and components.

Advantages:

  • Better user experience
  • Native components allow users to learn the app quicker
  • Easier to discover in app stores
  • Access to device hardware/software such as Camera, GPS, location

Disadvantages:

  • Higher learning curve (easier to learn JavaScript than Objective-C or Java)
  • Only runs on specific platforms
  • Higher cost of development time and resources

Hybrid Apps

On the other hand, with limited resources and the quest for consistency across multiple platforms, other developers choose to produce hybrid apps made using frameworks like Apache Cordova, Xamarin, and Ionic. Hybrid apps thrive on the ‘one-code multiple platforms’ ideology, which means that a developer can use another language such as C# or JavaScript to develop an app. The app will then be compiled to work on multiple platforms such as iOS and Android. This gives the developers an easier time for pushing apps to production. Also, this allows the developer to more easily maintain the code base. However, one of the main drawbacks of developing a hybrid app is not all features of the platform is exposed to the framework. Hybrid apps also tend to be a bit slower than native apps.

Advantages:

  • Portability, ‘one code multiple platform’ ideology
  • Lower cost of development time and resources
  • Access to some hardware/software services using plug-ins

Disadvantages:

  • Slightly slower responsiveness
  • Additional dependency on a 3rd-party framework

The rise of React Native

React Native is a framework launched by social-media giant- Facebook. React Native’s tagline is “A framework for building native apps using React”. Facebook first introduced React Native in 2015 and it has since gained popularity and mass adoption by developers and some of the leading tech companies worldwide such as Facebook, Instagram, and Airbnb. The framework is based on the React web framework. It is Facebook’s take on the ‘one-code multiple platforms’ ideology. The main premise of React Native is to allow developers to develop user interfaces as fast as building it using hybrid app frameworks but with the performance comparable to a native app. In late 2016, React Native surpassed both iOS and Android according to Google Trends. React Native is being hailed as the future of mobile hybrid app development.

Advantages:

  • ‘One code multiple platforms’ with near-native performance
  • Components are rendered natively
  • Ability to integrate it to existing code without the need of rewriting the whole app
  • Better utilization of platform-specific services

Conclusion

We’ve come a long way since the introduction of smartphones into our daily lives and app developers continue to evolve their processes to cater to the ever-evolving landscape of mobile technologies.

  • Hybrid app frameworks provide an easy way to push an idea out the door. They are a good way to make your app available to a wider audience with a faster development cycle.
  • However, native apps still give a better feel for the user. Moreover, native apps are more stable since you don’t rely on a 3rd-party to make your app with the intended platform.
  • On the other hand, React Native is making a hard case for hybrid app frameworks with its approach to cross-platform app development.

As new technologies emerge, it’s exciting how the debate for native vs. hybrid will develop.

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