Beginner’s guide to apps: Native vs Hybrid vs PWA

The app world is an extremely dynamic one.

A few years ago, the only choice available for a mobile app was a Native app built with the platform’s native programming language. Today, there are many more options to consider; and you might be wondering how they differ from each other and which one would best serve your purpose. 

Here’s a quick comparison between Native, Hybrid and Progressive Web Apps —

Native Apps are built using programming languages and/or tools provided by the platform (i.e. iOS or Android). They run directly on the device (desktop or mobile) without a browser and are installed from an app store.

Hybrid Apps are called hybrid because they are built with web technologies (HTML, CSS, and JavaScript) but allow access to platform features that a browser can’t provide.

Progressive Web Apps are essentially websites that load instantly on any connection, regardless of whether you’re online or offline.  They are designed to be compatible with any kind of device, but allow access only to platform features that browsers provide.

Let’s dive in deeper to see what kind of app is best for your project. Buckle up, because you’re in for a lot of exciting learning!

All about Native Apps

How are Native Apps built?

Native apps, also known as platform-specific or device-specific, are built using the programming language that a platform provides (Objective-C for iOS and Java for Android). If you want to have your app in both Android and iOS, you would have to build your app in two separate programming languages.

Native apps come in the form of APK for Android and IPA for iOS. Once you have these files, you can publish your apps through a publishing platform like Google Play Store or Apple App Store.

When to use Native Apps?

Pro #1 Native apps are usually faster than Hybrid or Web Apps and load instantly on the user’s device because they’re pre-installed with an app store (Apple App Store for iOS or Google Play Store for Android).

Pro #2 In addition, if your users are using different devices that aren’t updated at the same time, Native apps allow multiple versions of an app to be published in each app store. So even though a new OS update comes out, you can still provide support for older devices through separate release channels.

Pro #3 With Native apps, you’re able to access all of the features on a particular device. This includes things like camera function, GPS location and Bluetooth capabilities, to name a few. You can even use these features in creative ways to provide additional value to your users.

Pro #4 Your app will be available on all the devices that are compatible with the platform you’re developing for. In addition, app stores like Google Play Store and Apple App Store, have tools that allow you to communicate with your users, measure user engagement, manage distribution, use analytics and view reports – all in one place.

Pro #5 You have complete control over the app and can make any changes you need at a moment’s notice.

Pro #6 If you want to offer in-app purchases, subscriptions, or access premium content, such as video and audio, Native apps might be the only way to go.

Pro #7 If you want to create a core app that can be extended or used by other websites and apps through 3rd party plugins in the form of API.

When not to use Native Apps?

Con #1 If your primary goal is to make money, you should choose the platform with the greatest reach.

Con #2 If you want your app to be widely used and be as accessible as possible, then choosing Native probably isn’t the best fit for you.

Con #3 If you want an app that’s cross-platform, with little development time, you should choose Hybrid App.

Con #4 If you do not have enough budget for development and ongoing maintenance, choose Hybrid App or PWA.

Con #5 If you want your users to be able to use your app without storing data in the platform that you use, you’re better off with either a Hybrid App or PWA.

Con #6 If your users do not need the features available only in native apps, such as push notifications and integration with hardware devices, including cameras and GPS trackers.

User Experience with Native apps

Native apps have the advantage of being installed quickly and easily, with very little loading time. Your app can use hardware natively, which gives your users the best experience possible.

For example, a camera app built in Objective C for iOS will provide the user with more functionality and better photo quality than one built-in Java + PhoneGap (a hybrid solution). Also, some device or OS-specific features are only available once you develop a Native App.

Your users will be happy because there are no lags. Native apps provide faster performance than hybrid or web apps. Plus, native apps can still be used even without any internet connection.

You can also use it for push notifications, which are great for engaging your users with relevant content in real-time!

How much does it cost to build a Native App?

Native apps require knowledge of the native language for each platform, so it’s easy to see why Native app development can be more expensive — it requires more people and more time.

It’s also harder to fix bugs once your app is live because you need a developer on each platform. So if you have an existing budget and want to make sure that there will not be any hiccups when your mobile team starts developing your app, then Native apps are probably the way to go.

If something breaks or needs updating on one device or operating system version, fixes can easily be pushed to all versions simultaneously.

On the other hand, this might not be that big of a deal for small companies or start-ups which don’t have dedicated mobile teams. Generally speaking, it’s more important to get an app that is running quickly even with limited resources than having a perfect product from the start.

How long does it take to build a Native App?

Building a Native App is very time-consuming. It can take anything from two months to a year to build a decent app, from the design process to its release into the app store — depending on how many features it has and how much work is required.

All about Hybrid Apps

How are Hybrid Apps built?

Hybrid apps are coded with web-based technologies, like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. The resulting app can usually be found on Apple App Store or Google Play Store by searching for the name or URL of the website it’s based on. What makes them “hybrid” is that they use WebViews to present their content — think of them as mini-browser windows inside your mobile application.

A sample of this is Cordova which is a carrier app framework that enables the creation of hybrid apps, using web technologies. A sample of this includes PhoneGap, Ionic and AppJS.

This contrasts with Native Apps which run directly on your device or desktop operating system’s Application Programming Interfaces (APIs); Hybrid Apps run not only in the browser but in another environment altogether.

The result of this architecture is an app that feels almost exactly like a regular one made specifically for your OS. It might even seem faster because it doesn’t have to be recompiled for each handset.

Also, being hosted on a server means it’s easier to update – you don’t have to wait for Apple or Google to approve your app every time you want to put out a new version. It takes seconds instead of days and also costs nothing in fees (or developer license).

When to use Hybrid Apps?

Pro #1 Fast development

When you build a hybrid app using Cordova, you’re writing code that targets a browser instead of a specific native OS. This means less work for you since there’s no need to update multiple apps; when an OS upgrade is required for one version of your app, it also applies to all other versions built with Cordova.

Pro #2 Better cross-platform support than Native apps

Cordova uses the device web browser to display your app. So, if you’re building for mobile devices, it doesn’t matter what platform their OS is based on. You still build a single app that runs as HTML and JavaScript in all modern mobile browsers.

Pro #3 Your code can run on multiple platforms without needing extra work

With a hybrid app, you write your business logic once (in a framework like Cordova) and it will run in the WebView of any supported device. Because of that, you don’t need two separate projects for iOS and Android, but rather just one shared project with different configurations for each platform.

Pro #4 Hybrid apps are more stable than Native apps

Hybrid apps are more stable because they always run in an “interpreter” and as a result, can handle some cases that would otherwise cause the app to crash.

Pro #5 Hybrid apps are easier to maintain

This should be fairly self-explanatory – since you have less code to do, it’s easier to stay on top of things. You don’t have to worry about features like auto-updates and you can re-use your code across multiple projects because of its relative simplicity.

Pro #6 Hybrid apps are less expensive than Native, especially if you want to monetize them

You know what’s really cool? In hybrid apps, you can offer in-app purchases and ads without having to worry about distribution.

Pro #7 You don’t have to learn a new language

If you want to develop mobile apps for multiple platforms, then it’s less work if you only need to learn one language.

I know what you’re thinking — if hybrid Apps are so good, why doesn’t everyone use them? Here are some of the reasons why some people don’t choose hybrid apps:

When not to use Hybrid Apps?

Con #1 If you are after the benefits of App stores (larger market, monetization, etc.), then choose Native Apps. With a hybrid app, you’d have to “walk” the user through installing the web browser on their mobile device in order to allow them to install your app.

Con #2 If you want your app to be available on Google Play Store, then you’ll have to “ask” permission, once again from Apple/Google servers because they don’t consider your app a Native App, and therefore block it from their app stores. 

Con #3 If you want your app to work even when the user is offline, a Native App is what you’re looking for.

Con #4 If you need the full feature-set on a particular mobile device or OS – Hybrid Apps only have very limited access unlike Native Apps.

Con #5 If you want full control over app updates – because hybrid apps are built on the browser, they are dependent on the developer community which builds them.

Con #6 If you want a smooth and fast performance – there’s always a risk of slow loading time and poor UX since WebView will load every resource from the internet (all JavaScript, style sheet, html…). Users may have to wait a long time while resources are downloaded.

Con #7 If you want more security – A Native App Is More Secure than Hybrid Apps. If you are using an open-source WebView component that has known vulnerabilities, your application would also inherit those vulnerabilities. Even with mitigations in place to prevent exploitation of the weaknesses in WebView (such as SELinux), attackers still have access to a wide variety of exploits and attack vectors.

User Experience with Hybrid Apps

It is good to have a few Hybrid apps on your phone, but in most cases, the user experience is quite poor.

The main problem with these kinds of apps is that their interface and behaviour are quite limited because they cannot access some system-level features (e.g., camera or local storage), which limits their functionality and usefulness.

This lack of full function might influence the popularity of an application, especially if it has to compete with high-quality native ones for the same purpose.

However, HTML5 based mobile applications run faster than Native ones, so they tend to look more modern and up-to-date even though they don’t have certain platform-specific features.

Some hybrid app frameworks such as Ionic and PhoneGap solve the performance issue by compiling your HTML5 code to a native code (since each platform has a different programming language, they need to be compiled into platform-specific executable files).

How much does it cost to build a Hybrid App?

Hybrid app development costs can vary depending on the type of hybrid, but it can be expected to cost much less compared to a fully-fledged native app.

These apps are built with HTML5 and CSS which are open sources; hence creating support for a Hybrid App comes at a cheaper price. Also, the fact that Hybrid Apps are not dependent on any platform makes it easier for developers to create and maintain them.

The best part is that you will always have the latest version since you don’t have to wait for your developer to update the code once the platform releases an update or upgrade. This makes hybrid app maintenance cheap as well.

How long does it take to build a Hybrid App?

Hybrid apps are the middle ground between native and web apps, which means that they’re often a compromise between speed of development (with iOS/Android) and platform features.

In terms of time development, a hybrid app takes less time to develop compared to a Native App but a little longer than a Progressive Web App.

All about Progressive Web Apps (PWA)

How are PWAs built?

The PWA is the app world’s latest newcomer, introduced by Google in 2015 as a way to bridge the gap between web and mobile applications. Just like a hybrid app, a PWA is also built with modern web technologies (HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript) but with a few extra bells and whistles.

PWAs have added functionality, such as push notifications via Google Cloud Messaging, access to APIs like geolocation and camera, offline support, etc. These features are all achieved using a service worker and other tools under the hood. 

To build a PWA, you use a framework called Ionic which is built on Cordova (a tool made by Adobe allowing you to package the web app as an app that can be installed onto Google Play Store or Apple App Store).

Also, unlike a hybrid app, you can publish a PWA on different platforms through installation from an app store, or add it directly on a website without going through any approval process.

(Fun fact: Google wasn't the first to introduce the idea of PWA to the world. It was actually Steve Jobs who first presented the concept during the iPhone introduction in 2007, but it was eventually developed and launched by Google.)

When to use PWAs?

While PWAs are in their infancy compared to their native counterparts found on iOS and Android devices, it has many advantages over Native and Hybrid Apps that made brands like Twitter, Forbes, Trivago, Aliexpress, Alibaba and Starbucks embrace it.

Pro #1 Better search engine ranking

PWAs are often indexed by search engines (Google, Bing) and rank higher than apps. For instance, if you look for something on Google Play Store with an app name in a search query, the first link that comes up is often the PWA page of that app. With no special effort, its organic visibility goes up and it ranks higher than the native one.

Pro #2 Greater availability

Given how seamlessly PWAs work across different devices and browsers, there aren’t many reasons why they won’t be available for users to access via their mobile browser and on desktop machines too, without too many hurdles.

Pro #3 More shareable

You can create bookmarks or save pages as shortcuts since PWAs are sites that load in browsers.

Pro #4 Works offline

This is the greatest advantage PWAs have over native apps, and why you should start thinking about PWAs for your next project — they work offline-first!

However, since not all platforms support service workers completely yet, this feature was toned down to ‘online only’ mode for iOS devices; it works on Android but Google Chrome has to be added as the default browser first.

Pro #5 No mobile storage issues

PWAs can store data on the device but they don’t need to use up space on your phone.

Pro #6 Light app size

PWAs are comparatively smaller than native apps because of their light architecture. For example, Twitter’s Native App weighs about 100MB, whereas their PWA is just 7MB.

Pro #7 Accessible anytime

With a PWA, you can access your app from any device or browser without having to install anything. No more switching between apps and no more waiting! The app will always be there for you on demand.

Pro #8 Native-like performance

PWAs are designed to load super-fast and offer near-native performance. If you look at how Twitter’s web interface looks on mobile, you’ll be able to spot no difference between the Web App and its Native App.

Pro #9 Google-friendly

This is another advantage that is obvious for developers who want to earn money from their product via AdSense or other affiliate programmes while going through the approval process quickly. There is no need to submit those pesky screenshots when you’re using a PWA.  

Pro #10 Full control over your APIs

You have full control over the APIs you’re going to use with PWAs. You can choose whether or not to use an API, then go ahead and set up custom parameters like authentication methods, request limits, etc. This is very useful when you want to restrict access only to users who already have a login account on your website or mobile app.

API or Application Programming Interface makes it easier to develop apps by using a set of predefined rules and functions. You can think about an API as a contract that defines how an app will communicate with its backend through the internet. For example, the Google Maps API allows you to embed a map in your app, pull the location data from Google servers and display this on your mobile app.

When not to use PWAs?

PWAs look so promising in so many ways, but there are a couple of reasons why you should not opt for a PWA:

Con #1 If you want users to use your app longer

Note that PWAs run on technologies that aren’t intended for the mobile environment (browser) unlike Native Apps which are mainly intended for mobiles. Hence, devices need more power to interpret the code, which leads to more battery consumption on mobile phones and tablets.

Con #2 If you’re after full access to native features and APIs (like camera)

Since PWAs run on browsers, both Hybrid Apps and PWAs only have limited access to device features unlike Native Apps.

Con #3 If you want your app to work even on old OS and devices

The latest devices have no problem loading PWA sites through browsers, but old devices with out-dated OS will have problems. This can result in frustrating experiences for users and potentially cause them to uninstall your app. So, even if you have a fast PWA, it will only be experienced by users who have fast devices. This can be a significant limitation if your app has features that require a lot of bandwidth or instant responses.

Con #4 If you want your app to run on a range of browsers

Yes, PWAs are still not supported by some browsers. If your target users are Internet Explorer users or if you’re planning to support older Android devices, then this may be an issue for you depending on the amount of traffic you received from these browser groups.

User Experience with PWAs

There isn’t much of a difference between PWAs and Native Apps in terms of load time and performance. In fact, some people are fooled into believing that PWAs are native apps. PWAs are also completely functional offline on supported platforms.

Just recently, Google has also made it possible to have PWAs published on the Google App Store, giving PWAs more benefits in terms of visibility and accessibility. When a user installs a PWA through an App Store, it will render to the device as an app through an icon, but opening the app will open the web browser that directly opens the app’s URL.

As per the UI and UX interface of PWAs, it looks and feels more native-like due to the use of WebViews and browser APIs that are comparable with their native counterparts (although browser APIs are still limited, it won’t be a surprise that we’ll see more APIs available with how Google is placing more emphasis on PWAs).

Some developers argue that PWAs offer better UX than native apps because they are accessible from any device at any time. Others consider this an advantage only for small businesses or start-ups with budgets that aren’t enough for the development of a full-blown Native App.

How much does it cost to build a PWA?

PWAs are less costly than Native and Hybrid Apps because they run only on readily available web technologies (HTML5 & CSS), which makes them less complex to build – no platform or device-specific issues such as different resolutions or hardware capabilities that need to be accounted for.

To put it simply, Native Apps need separate developers for different languages, Hybrid Apps need a developer who is knowledgeable in both web and native languages, while PWAs need only a developer who’s knowledgeable with new web languages such as HTML5 and CSS.

How long does it take to build a PWA?

PWAs are the fastest to build since all of the assets (HTML, CSS and JavaScript) are pre-built. The duration it takes to build a PWA depends on how complex the back-end is and how many third-party APIs you need to integrate with.


Congratulations on making it this far!

It’s not going to be easy, but you should be better equipped now to make an informed decision about which of the three apps you should choose for your projects.

To help you make an even better choice, we’ve created a quick-reference chart summing up the details so that you have an overview of how Native, Hybrid, and Progressive Web Apps compare with each other:


Please note that this article is for educational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice. If you have specific questions or concerns related to this article, you’re most welcome to make use of our FREE scoping and ideation session to help you turn your idea into an awesome app!

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