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Comparing Hybrid React Native Apps and Native iOS and Native Android

hybrid apps

Mobile applications consume most of our attention throughout the day. Keenly aware of this fact, businesses are in a constant rush to create mobile apps. This shouldn’t really come as a surprise; you can’t sell without having the consumer’s attention first.

For businesses looking to develop an app in such a competitive environment, it is important to understand how app development works. Even more fundamental is understanding the difference between native apps and hybrid apps. The choice between the two is dictated by an organization’s needs and end goal.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the details of both hybrid apps and native apps, describing the pros and cons of each in an effort to compare them. Read on to learn more!

;tldr - Jump to the end if you want my recommendation 😉

What are Native Apps?

The word native offers a bit of a hint in this respect. Native apps are those that have been developed with a specific platform in mind. This means that native apps are more specific in their use cases. They offer a platform-specific experience that will not carry over on another platform.

It isn’t simply about the platform obviously. When we say platform, we really mean a specific arrangement of hardware, software, and frameworks. Kotlin and the Java Development Kit is pivotal in creating apps for Android, while for iOS, Swift and iOS SDKs are used.

Native Apps – Pros

Given that they’ve been built with the platform in mind, Native apps can run faster than hybrid apps. It's important to understand this distinction. Hybrid apps like React-Native, communicate over a single bridge, which if you're doing computationally expensive features (think AI, video filters) then this can slow down the application. If you're just moving and displaying data, then hybrid applications have a negligible difference in performance. For example - Instagram and Facebook have large parts of their applications written in hybrid code.

Additionally, Native apps can be more aesthetically pleasing to users. Most importantly, native apps can offer unrivaled user experience because every aspect surrounding the app has been built with the platform in mind. If you're looking to push the envelope in animations and gesture recognization (for example new swipe functionality), then building native may be the way to go.

It's important to note though that with React-Native you can always drop down to native code. So, in some of the examples above you can still achieve the same functionality and still maintain a largely hybrid application.

Native Apps - Cons

Users on different platforms won’t have uniformity of experience and service since updates will have to be rolled out for each independently. This also means that development can become dull and time-consuming, leading to slower rollouts.

Despite being the same application on different platforms, the company will have to allocate separate resources for each version of the app on each platform. Finally, native apps do not offer the same level of flexibility that hybrid apps do.

What are Hybrid Apps?

Unlike native apps, hybrid apps are generally built using web technologies. They can be considered a kind of native app because they can access all the features that a native app can, but there are several distinctions that make this a poor comparison.

The key distinction here is that hybrid apps use a single codebase for all variants. That means that they can be produced for several platforms using the same basic tools and that developers don’t need to build different versions for different platforms.

Hybrid Apps – Pros

It is far easier to produce, manage and maintain hybrid apps since developers only need to write the code once and then adjust it for other platforms. This not only makes the process of creating and supporting the app easier but also cheaper. The same team or developer can work on the various versions of the app since it’s essentially the same codebase.

Hybrid apps also deliver uniformity of experience like native apps in that they provide the same content in spite of the operating system, device, or platform that they are used on.

Hybrid Apps – Cons

Hybrid apps require excessive testing to ensure that they deliver a modicum of consistency to users. This is because a lot can change between devices, platforms, and operating systems.

Furthermore, since hybrid apps rely on numerous libraries, they must be in sync with these to ensure that the app continues to run smoothly. Finally, hybrid apps rely on plugins that native apps can access readily. If a plugin isn’t available for a specific feature, the development team will have to create one, which will ultimately slow down the process.

What’s Right for You?

Determining which type of mobile application to develop means careful consideration of the types of resources you are willing to commit and the timeline in which you would like to finish the development process.

If you wish to only launch on one platform, then native apps are the obvious choice, but multi-platform releases on a budget are more suited to the use of hybrid apps. In the end, each business will have to choose between the two based on their specific needs and the larger circumstances.

My Recommendation

I have been building iOS native applications since 2009. Tradditionally I would recommend building natively to have the best performance and user interaction. When React-Native came on the scene in 2015 I and my team were skeptical. There had been may hybrid platforms previously like Cordova and Xarmin and we always found they delivered a sub-par user & developer experience. When Belkin approached us in 2016 to build the mobile architecture for their new startup Phyn, we jointly decided to build a prototype in React-Native. These were the early days of React-Native and their were core bugs that would sometimes block critical functionality. But our team collaborated on the core react-native repo and worked around these issues; and in the end we were able to launch and iOS and Android app concurrently with a demanding featureset. Now years later, React-Native is an incredibly stable platform and we recommend most of our clients build on it unless that have a very specific use case that React-Native is not a good fit for. You get double (iOS and Android) for the same effort. What's not to like?

Written by Shane Zilinskas, Founder

Published November 1, 2021

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