Are Hybrid Apps the Next Big Thing?

Yes, there is money to be made in apps. The more people hear good things about an app from other users, the more likely they are to try the freemium version. The more they like the freemium app, the more likely they will be persuaded to buy the premium or full version of the app.

hybrid appsHowever, if you really want to monetize an app, you should seriously think about not limiting yourself to one mobile device type or just one operating system. A profitable app is one that can be used on many devices over many systems. With that, the idea of the hybrid app was born.

Hybrid apps have been available for some time now, but are they here to stay?

Hybrid Apps vs. Native Apps

When it comes to hybrid apps compared to native apps (those specifically designed for one particular device or operating system), what is better? Actually, each has advantages and disadvantages.

All About Hybrid Apps

hybrid app developmentWhen it comes to hybrids, developer Eric Miller has said that since hybrid apps use one single code, it’s easier and cheaper to develop for multiple platforms. Miller also mentioned the advantage of hybrids where user-submitted data, such as images, text, or settings are stored. While photos and videos uploaded to applications can stay stored on the user’s device, sensitive information, such as usernames and certain settings, can be securely stored in the cloud.

A disadvantage seen with hybrid apps is that they might not perform up to expectations. Since the user interface is carried over from one operating system to another, or one mobile device to another, some devices may not be able fully take advantage of some features. Services available on one operating system may not also be available on another.

All About Native Apps

native appsAs for the native applications, Miller has said that they have the benefit of familiarity. For example, developers already know how to code for iOS and Android software development kits and can expect how they will function in a certain scenario. This advantage of familiarity extends to users who may be allowed to use the apps.

In terms of performance, native apps are also considered to have better performance since they are really tailor-made for that specific device or operating system, they will also have better access to a broader range of platform-specific features such as GPS or camera and user interface.

However, native apps have a smaller market compared to hybrid since they can only be used for a specific device or operating system. Another downside is the main programming language used on each mobile platform, like Objective-C on the iPhone and Java on Android. A native app will have to require writing a new set of code to run on each platform.

So, which do you choose?

From the company standpoint the choice between hybrid and native apps is a choice between performance and cost, but what other factors may come into play?

Development Speed and Cost

According to technology architect Erick Vargas, hybrids are faster to develop since only a portion of native code has to be re-written for different kinds of devices. With a hybrid mobile application developers only have to maintain a single code base for the different platforms. Native apps require specific developments for each platform, which increases costs and duration.

Required Knowledge

Since hybrid apps are based on Web technologies, it might be easier to find developers to build them and maintain them.  Vargas goes on to say it is difficult in today’s highly competitive mobile app development market to find developers experienced with iOS and Android, even for other mobile platforms like BlackBerry and Windows 8. On the other hand, many budding developers already have a strong knowledge of Web technologies.

User Experience

It was mentioned above that native apps have a better performance record than hybrids. This is because hybrid apps are not executed natively; the HTML5 and JavaScript portion of the app is rendered and executed by the platform’s Web engine, which adds another layer of operation between the user and the app.  This can delay the process to the point where users can notice hybrid apps move slower than native apps.

Data Persistence

With some apps, data storage plays an important role. With data storage, users can save their preferences and other data that can allow for the off-line use of the app. Hybrid apps use HTML5 storage mechanisms, which are usually restricted to a few megabytes of storage, largely depending on what platform is being used and how the HTML5 standard is being implemented. Data-intensive mobile apps are not suitable for a hybrid approach, which is best served by a cloud system.

Immature Tooling

The tools used to develop hybrid apps are not “mature” enough to allow developers to tweak their code or even help solve problems that may be affecting the users of the app.

Cross Platform Support

cross platformMost of a hybrid app is built using Web technologies, but native code is used to allow the app to access the wider functionality of the device.  If the app requires specialized functionality, JavaScript needs to check for the platform it is running on.

This forces developers to maintain different code bases for the native portions of the hybrid app, however it is not at all that bad compared to the extensive development effort required to maintain a completely different code base per platform as in native.

The trouble begins when the HTML5, CSS, or JavaScript implementation on the platform behaves differently between platforms. However, most users are not likely to notice a huge difference from between a hybrid and native app, particularly if aren’t much significant interactive components.

So are hybrid apps here to stay? Analyst and consultancy firm Gartner, says that by 2016 more than half of mobile apps deployed will be hybrid.

byod“Mobility has always been a separate topic for IT professionals, but it is now influencing mainstream strategies and tactics in the wider areas of technology enablement and enterprise architectures,” says analyst and Gartner Vice President Ken Dulaney, “increasingly, enterprises are finding that they need to support multiple platforms, especially as the BYOD (bring your own device) trend gains momentum.”

To address the need for mobile applications brought on by an increasing BYOD culture, enterprises will be looking to leverage applications across multiple platforms.

“Our advice would be to assume the enterprise will have to manage a large and diverse set of mobile applications that will span all major architectures,” said Gartner Vice President for Research Van Baker, “enterprises should consider how applications can be enriched or improved by the addition of native device capabilities and evaluate development frameworks that offer the ability to develop native, hybrid and Web applications using the same code base. Where possible, development activities should be consolidated via cross-platform frameworks.”

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