Team Insights: Understanding hybrid mobile app development

In the last year, the number of smartphone users almost doubled, from 1.56 billion users to 2.71 billion users, making the smartphone the most important device for every one of us (as if it wasn’t already). Smartphones make our lives easier by having everything we need in our pocket. Without the urgent need to plug in and load your PC, you can do just about everything via a mobile app that not that long ago, you could only do in person.  From booking a trip to paying bills to attending an important work meeting, your phone — and the apps that make it more than just a mini monitor — makes you more productive (usually) and better connected (usually).
At Code4Nord, we look at it as a privilege to be building B2C and B2B applications. Today we will explain the nuanced difference between different kinds of mobile app development — and how, if done correctly, the end user needn’t know the difference. And we really dive into what is hybrid mobile app development — and what’s not — and what’s the best framework for it.

Native mobile app development explained

Native mobile applications are built for specific operating systems (OS) and are written in languages that the OS understands. For example, Swift and Objective-C are programming languages for iOS mobile app development, while Java and Kotlin are programming languages with Android mobile app development in mind.

Advantages of building native applications

  • Native development allows developers to access the full feature set of the selected operating system, which includes often essentials like camera, agenda, and GPS.
  • High-definition (HD) and augmented reality (AR) games and applications with intensive animations might perform better as a native application because native code is still faster than an HTML or JavaScript-backed web-based application or website.

Disadvantages of building native applications

  • Separate development effort for each operating system which significantly increases the development time.
  • The code written for each OS will have its own mobile app deployment cycle which will increase the development time and cost.
  • Maintaining the same application on each OS implies having different skills set which will increase the cost of the application.
  • This can all lead to a different user experience depending on the device.

Also Read: One Developer’s Choice of Xamarin for Cross-Platform App Development

Hybrid mobile app development explained

Hybrid applications work across multiple operating systems but still have the user experience of native applications. A hybrid application is a combination of a native application and a Web application. Hybrid mobile app development — sometimes called cross-platform app development — is usually built with HTML, CSS, or JavaScript.

Advantages of hybrid mobile app development

  • A single code base for all operating systems means write once and run anywhere but, for a native application scenario, we need to build and maintain a separate application and code for each platform.
  • Same development teams can deliver an application for any platform including a website as well since all are web-based technologies.
  • Hybrid applications can often achieve the same hardware-based performance acceleration as a native app (depending on the complexity of the application).
  • HTML, JavaScript, CSS, and Angular are the most popular Web programming languages. Building hybrid apps save time and money.

Disadvantages of hybrid mobile app development

  • For most applications, hybrid performance is same as a native application, but for 3D, high-def games, high graphics-oriented applications, hybrid approach might not be the best solution.
  • Hybrid application is able to access all the native device features like media, camera, messages, etc., but it needs some plugins which usually are written in the native language of the platform. If a new device comes with a new feature, it is possible that there is no native plugin yet available to use in order to access that feature.

At Code4Nord, if we are working on an app that won’t need access to native device features — like camera or GPS — we usually choose to build a hybrid mobile application. The second part of this article focuses on hybrid application development.

This hybrid approach not only makes for high-performance apps, but it also means:

  • Less code to write
  • Shorter time to release
  • Lower costs
  • Easier to maintain
  • Easier to add new features.

In short, it’s the perfect solution for many mobile app development projects.

Top five hybrid mobile app frameworks

Let’s start by explaining the most popular hybrid mobile app frameworks and programming languages, and talking about the benefits and drawbacks of each. The Code4Nord team combined our experience and personal preferences to make this list of our top five hybrid mobile app frameworks.

Each of these frameworks is open source, which typically means that it is free and that the onboarding experience is really fast. Plus software backed by open source communities means more hands are working on it, making it faster to release new features and fix well-known issues.

Ionic Framework for HTML5

Ionic is one of the most popular frameworks on this list. It is an HTML5 mobile application development framework which include UI elements which are styled to look like native ones. Many developers choose it for mobile application development because of the tremendous list of features, predefined element components, and, of course, the large open source community of developers always there, willing to help the ones in need.

Advantages of Ionic

  • You can use it with the most popular languages of CSS, HTML, AngularJS or JavaScript.
  • The use of Angular framework, and, in the latest release, it also included support for React JS and Vue JS.
  • The Ionic framework is easy to read for developers, and is simple to maintain and scale.

Disadvantages of Ionic

  • App performance is not as good as applications that were built for a specific environment. When we aren’t using native device features and aren’t building 3D or HD games, this becomes a small disadvantage.
  • Many frameworks we mention are based purely on JavaScript, but for Ionic you need to know Angular as well. Code4Nord’s devs are regular users of both JS and Angular, but, if you don’t understand Angular’s lifecycle, you will struggle to be productive in Ionic.

React Native Framework for best community

Built and open-sourced by Facebook, the React Native framework makes coding easier for developers allowing them to build interactive mobile applications for both iOS and Android platforms, with a single JavaScript codebase.

React Native has the largest community of developers to help if you get blocked with some issue in the development process.

Advantages of React Native

  • The hybrid application renders natively because of the reusable components, the end user having the feeling that is a fully native application.
  • Excellent response time
  • Native application development is way more efficient, as 95 percent of the written code is shared between iOS and Android.

Disadvantages of React Native

  • The navigation components still need to be improved since it can make the user experience not as seamless as desired.
  • There is still place for improvement in the hardware areas.
  • Not recommended for beginners as is a sophisticated framework that is harder to learn — but again the open source community is really supportive.

Flutter for rich widget library

Google’s Flutter is an open-source mobile application development framework used for developing mobile applications for Android and iOS. This framework was launched in 2018 and works well with existing code. Flutter is fast and also helps you with the development of cross-platform applications.

Advantages of Flutter

  • Comes with a wide range of widgets that can be customized based on need, so there’s no need to build from scratch.
  • It gives good competition to React Native framework in terms of performance and mobile responsiveness (to different screen sizes).

Disadvantages of Flutter

  • Flutter is based on Dart – a programming language built by Google which is relatively new, making the Flutter developer community not that wide yet, so it could be that the developers run into an issue that was not yet discussed by the community.

Xamarin for Microsoft’s epic support

Xamarin is one of the hottest tools for building hybrid applications. Developers write code just once to build applications targeting different operating systems including Windows, Android, iOS, MacOS and more.

Advantages of Xamarin

  • Xamarin is C# based – a programming language that our development team is very familiar with.
  • It is owned by Microsoft, supporting all the technical assistance that a tool can ask for.
  • Xamarin ensures that it is similar to the native mobile application in terms of performance.

Disadvantages of Xamarin

  • Xamarin is open-source only for individual developers. For enterprise needs a Visual Studio license needs to be purchased which costs $1119 for the first year and $799 for renewal.
  • Native languages required for building applications with a higher level of complexity, the developers should have at least a basic knowledge of native technologies (Java/Kotlin for Android or Objective-C/Swift for iOS).

PhoneGap for a low bar of entry

As with most of the hybrid application frameworks available, PhoneGap enables the usage of the same code for different operating systems and the use of the web development skills to build small mobile applications that are supported by multiple mobile platforms in no time. 

Advantages of PhoneGap

  • Any developer with basic experience with JavaScript, CSS and HTML can build in PhoneGap from Day One.

Disadvantages of PhoneGap

  • There is a definite gap of more UI widgets or pre-built components in this framework versus others we talk about.
  • Performance is not the best when compared to the other set of tools that we are looking at.

Ionic vs React Native: A battle between the best hybrid mobile app frameworks

Our development team at Code4Nord concluded that Ionic and React Native are the best hybrid application development frameworks that fulfill our needs and that will benefit our next app development project the most. In the table below is a small comparison between these two frameworks that share a similar cost to build.

In the end, there is no best hybrid mobile app framework. You will need to analyse the advantages and disadvantages of every framework available, the requirements of the application that needs to be built, the budget, and your unique development team’s skills. Only then can you find the right fit for your team.

Tell us in the comments your favourite hybrid mobile app framework and why!

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