Web, Native and Cross-Platform Apps: What’s the Difference?
Mobile app development has been on the rise for a recent couple of years with even small businesses trying to attain new clients through features offered in their smartphones. Many people prefer shopping online or receiving services on the fly, and mobile apps facilitate and accelerate the consumer decision journey.
However, there are differences in the way the mobile app can be developed that may affect its functionality and potential. Based on your business goals and expectations from the mobile app, the decision what application – a web app, native app or cross-platform app – is better to build can largely affect your performance management. In this article, we are going into details about the main features of each app type. Considering these factors, you will gain insight into which type fits your business objectives better.
What is mobile web app
Web apps depend on web browsers since they are hosted on the webpages. Users do not need to download the app to a mobile device to access it, which means that users interact with this app through a web view, regardless of the operating system they use. It does not take much time and efforts to build such an app for an expert, and, most importantly, it’s cost-effective and easy to maintain.
However, HTML apps are limited in their functionality since they largely rely on a web browser and Internet connection, have a lower speed and cannot use the majority of mobile device utilities. Thus, they provide poor user experience and are considered outdated, less intuitive and interactive.
What is native app
A native application is a mobile app tailored to a specific platform and written in languages only this platform maintains and accepts (for example, the iOS system accepts Swift and Objective-C, while Android understands Java and Kotlin). Each of the platforms has its own set of software development tools because all newly created apps should fit a particular software framework, hardware and operating system to be able to function on tablets and smartphones. In other words, the native app development process implies apps that are “native” to particular platforms and cannot be shared with third-party platforms.
There are many advantages of native apps development. They ensure maximum compliance with the platform which makes their performance fast and smooth. App Store or Play Market, pre-installed on each device, can provide timely and effective professional support for application performance since they recognize their tools and SDK.
Thus, users receive full compliance and impeccable functioning combined with balanced UI/UX experience. These apps perfectly comply with device capabilities, including cameras, GPS and microphones. However, there are also disadvantages that push developers to choose between native apps vs mobile apps of other types. Native app development requires comparatively high costs and extended development time.
What is cross-platform app
In the case of mobile apps development, the final product can fit with multiple platforms. There is no need to develop and maintain a different application for iOS and Android. There are different languages for cross-platform app dev, depending on the kind of app, development team, and specific requirements.
For businesses, such a mobile app development type requires lower costs and takes less time to design a cross-platform app as compared to a native app. In case of a cross-platform app, its release comes faster as compared to a native app. However, a failure to integrate into the platform correctly may lead to the necessity of rewriting the application.
Especially, if this malfunction violates the agreement with store account requirements( for example, failing to pay fees, providing outdated or incorrect info, interfering with Store account by other third-parties, etc) or results in app ranking drops (only the App Store decides how to rate your app in catalog so that you cannot manipulate rankings or comment sections).
Three types of cross-platform apps: hybrid, compiled to native, PWA
To avoid limitations introduced by mobile web apps and native apps, software developers came up with three different types of cross-platform apps. They are designed to provide standardized applications that would work equally good on different platforms. Thus, the first attempt was to combine web apps and native apps which resulted in the development of hybrid apps.
However, such a combination turned out to be less appealing to the end user than native apps, which required more time and costs. To avoid this issue, some functions of native apps, namely a code accepted by each platform individually, were added to hybrid apps, and this led to the creation of a new subtype - compiled to native apps. It added to positive user experience but still left some critical problems, such as debugging and maintenance complexity. PWAs (Progressive Web Apps) are the third subtype of cross-platform apps that incorporated some features of the web and native apps.
The comparison of native vs. web apps allowed creating webpages with some characteristics of mobile applications. In the end, they received limited functionality which was limited to native features of browsers pre-installed on mobile devices.
What is hybrid app
Hybrid apps have limited possibilities and are more difficult to maintain. They require a good Internet connection all the time of their use and do not run offline. Hybrid app development is less expensive as compared to native apps and does not require a browser. It can boast with a high speed but still has a reputation of poor user experience. However, if we still compare native vs hybrid app, the first one runs faster, while the second cannot be customized to specific platforms.
What is compiled to native app
The hybrid type may not be the best when it comes to making a very performant application. If you still prefer injecting your application with the functionality of native app but want to ensure it runs on all platforms, it’s better to use a compiled to a native type. It incorporates the best features of native and hybrid apps, minimizing their disadvantages and adding to their functionality.
Compiled to native apps have a high speed that can be compared to the speed of native apps and low development costs. They fit all platforms and, in general, are much better than hybrid applications. Also, their maintenance is more straightforward than hybrid apps since native development works upon common practices, standards and guides, and takes less time for debugging. However, they do not support native API and SDK, while requiring time-consuming and complicated native development.
What is PWA
PWA stands for progressive web applications. You must have noticed them when visiting a website with a banner at the bottom asking you to access an app by tapping its icon on your Home screen. In fact, it’s a typical website that is hosted on a server and has its URL.
It’s not distributed through the app stores like all other subtypes discussed above. Instead, they can be found on the web pages. PWAs utilize a Service Workers technology that allows accessing the website even offline. After you visit the page of an application, your browser cache stores the necessary data and saves it as an icon or a bookmark on your devices’ home screen.
PWAs have both pros and cons as well. They offer high speed and require low-cost development. They fit all platforms but require a browser to function. However, they cannot be counted as proper applications since PWAs have all the characteristics of a website. Thus, they require a stable Internet connection at least for its first upload. Such features as a camera, audio recording and video are not possible to add to this application because PWAs maintain only those capabilities which are native to mobile browsers. They offer limited access in the store and often have a poor user experience.
In the following table, we have collected and outlined the essential parameters and technologies that can help you in selecting your ideal type of mobile app. To simplify the table, we focused our analysis on all subtypes of cross-platform apps as compared to the native apps. Each of these criteria may have a tremendous impact on your mobile software development strategy, so it’s utterly important to evaluate their effect on your clientele and target audience.
Mobile apps development is a promising field that will face a measurable advancement in the following years. However, nowadays, opportunities to create a perfect application that would function smoothly and integrate with every customer are limited. The choice is between cost- and time effectiveness and quality.
If you fall to the group that values quality, your application should be native and provide an impeccable user experience to people using either iOS devices or Android ones. If you care about your finances and want to release the app as soon as possible, you need to consider one of the cross-platform options. Given the comparison of these subtypes, the optimum between the quality and flexibility is reached in the compiled to native apps.