When it comes to getting a mobile app developed, you have a series of choices over the technology it’s developed in. This often comes down to the following set of choices: Native vs Hybrid vs PWA vs Xamarin vs React Native technology.
Although the actual development and therefore technology side of things is in the hands of developers creating the app, this can influence the outcome. It can impact the cost, scalability, security, user experience, and numerous other factors. In this article, we will look at the pros and cons of PWA vs Xamarin, plus the three main options: Native vs Hybrid vs React Native.
What does the difference between Native and Hybrid apps mean?
Mobile phones are crucial, for everyone who has one, which is most people. Imagine losing your phone. Do you put off trying to find it, or do you search for it straight away? Of course, almost everyone would search for it straight away unless there was something even more urgent happening.
Smartphones are incredibly personal devices. Which means people don’t download, and certainly don’t keep apps on their phones unless the user experience and service it’s providing is exactly what they need.
As a company commissioning an app, you always need to have the above in mind. User experience is crucial, and to keep people engaged with your app, it needs to deliver on or above expectations. Which means the technology it’s developed using makes a difference.
In answering this question, we need to think: how many apps do you want, or can you afford to have developed?
A Native application is created in a language appropriate to the relevant platform. For example, for iOS (the Apple mobile operating system), apps can be developed in Swift or Objective-C. This way, the app is completely in-sync and works smoothly with native software and hardware features. If the bulk of your target audience/user-base are iOS users, with iPhones and iPads, or other Apple devices, then this approach makes sense.
Whereas, if your audience is largely on Android devices, then Java is usually the right choice for an Android app. Again, this way it integrates smoothly with native software and hardware within the Android platform.
However, if your audience is spread across both platforms, or even Microsoft and others, then a Hybrid app could be the best approach. Especially if you can only budget for one app. Create one app, and push it live across both platforms. For end-users, these will appear to be iOS or Android apps, and should be available to download from the relevant app stores (App Store or Google Play).
It usually costs less to have one app developed this way, instead of two or more, which is one of the key differences between Hybrid and Native apps. React Native is another way to develop a hybrid app; but in our experience, a superior choice, and one that’s better for companies commissioning apps.
We will look at the choices in more detail, including the option of PWA or Xamarin, and the pros and cons of the three main options: Hybrid vs Native vs React Native.
#1: What is a Native app?
A native application (app) is built for the operating system it will exist within. Such as an iOS app for the Apple mobile operating system (or macOS for desktops), or Android, Microsoft, and any others you need.
Pros and Cons of Native apps
Pros: A massive pro, is for whatever platform you are developing these apps in, is they are integrated completely with software and hardware of that platform. This makes them faster, more scalable, secure, and integrated more completely with native features.
Cons: One of the main cons is the time and cost a native app can take to develop. Compared to hybrid, especially if you need apps on more than one platform, it can double the cost, as a minimum. Also, these native apps can take longer to develop, and this requires having two teams, able to develop for as a minimum, the two major platforms (iOS and Android).
#2: What is a Hybrid app?
A hybrid app, as the name suggests, can operate on more than one platform. Usually, when a hybrid app is developed, the idea is that it’s launched for iOS and Android simultaneously. This way, you only need to fund one app being created and launched, rather than two or more.
Pros and Cons of Hybrid apps
Pros: One website, packaged as an app, wrapped to appear native on more than one platform ensures that hybrid apps are cost-effective to build. Hybrid apps are more portable, scaleable, cheaper to get off the ground, and therefore give you a quicker route to market and they can connect with various native operating system features and hardware through plugins.
Cons: Depending of course on who has developed it, the way it integrates with native features, and the time/budget allocated, hybrid apps risk not being as good, secure, fast or efficient and user-friendly as native apps. Often, if there are time sensitive requirements, a hybrid app can be rolled out fast, but that doesn’t always mean the quality is going to be as high as native apps, which is a downside.
#3: What is PWA?
A PWA, or Progressive Web App (PWA) is effectively another version of a hybrid app. It’s a more advanced version of a website, wrapped up with the look and feel of a native app, although with the ability to be published across multiple platforms, such as iOS and Android.
Pros and Cons of PWA
Pros: Google first proposed the idea in 2015. As a combination of the best features of a web and mobile application. PWA’s allow for a relatively easy development process, especially since they function well with APIs. It’s equally helpful that every version of the app operates using the same code-base, making multi-platform launches easier and more effective.
Examples of high-traffic and user-friendly PWAs online include Alibaba, AliPay, Pinterest, Starbucks, Airbnb, Forbes, and even the dating app Tinder. Hundreds of apps are built using PWA’s, and these seem as popular, if not more so, then when Google engineers first proposed the idea in 2015. Generally speaking, PWA’s are lightning fast, user-friendly, reliable, secure, efficient and adaptable.
Cons: Downsides of PWA’s are similar to that of hybrid apps; the fact they aren’t native. Also, there are some compatibility issues with PWA’s operating on older versions of iOS and older Apple devices. Apple also doesn’t allow PWA’s to interact with any of the following: Touch ID, Face ID, ARKit, Bluetooth, Serial, Beacons, the altimeter, and battery. Apps created this way also can’t do everything you would expect from a native app on Android either, and there are numerous difficulties when it comes to legacy devices.
#4: What is Xamarin?
Xamarin is an open-source platform for developing apps, used by around 2 million developers around the world. It started life as an open-source hybrid framework, and then was bought by Microsoft in 2016, and is now part of Microsoft Visual Studio, and the original framework (Mono) was released under the MIT License, and through the .NET Foundation, under the same license.
Pros and Cons of Xamarin
Pros: For those developing apps using Visual Studio, especially if these apps are supposed to be cross-platform (and therefore hybrid, effectively) this can be a useful platform to use. The core language underpinning it is C#, which is made more powerful when underpinned by the .NET framework. It gives apps a clean and native feel.
Cons: However, when it comes to other hybrid options, developers can only transfer across up to 90% of the code for an app. Quite a bit of native integrations and development work is required to make an app ready to launch. It does come with a license cost, which is why it’s not always ideal for smaller companies, and has a limited open source library. Unlike other open-source platforms, the community surrounding Xamarin is smaller and more limited. And yet the apps developed using it are usually larger, which can be a problem for developers and end-users alike.
#5: What is a React Native app?
Pros and Cons of React Native
Cons: Compared to other options, including developing in a Native language, React Native has very few downsides. And for developers experienced using it, any downsides are even more insignificant, thanks to the experience and knowledge acquired from long-term use of React Native.
What to choose: Native vs Hybrid vs React Native?
Ultimately, whether you go with Native vs Hybrid vs PWA vs Xamarin vs React Native for app development, very much depends on a number of factors surrounding your business and the project. Decisions need to be made, such as:
- How much can we afford to spend on this?
- Do our users/customers NEED native functionality, or would a Hybrid or PWA approach be enough for what they want/expect?
- How much do we need native integrations?
- Can we achieve something similar, although quicker and more cost effectively, with a Hybrid app developed using React Native, for example?
- What sort of security, scalability and user-centric features do we need?
- How soon do we need to launch this app?
As you can see, there are a lot of options when it comes to app development. Ideally, you need something that has the look, feel and user-experience of a native app, without the cost and time it would take to develop numerous apps for different platforms. For that reason, alongside the ease of development, React Native is the most effective and powerful hybrid option for app development. Based on our experience, we would recommend it above all others.