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“Mobile Development: Choosing Between Native, Web, and Cross-Platform Applications”

Native apps are a great way to create a powerful and responsive product. Web apps are good for simple projects when you just need to get the job done. Cross-platform apps are something in between: good for some things, terrible for others.

Which type is best depends on your goals and ideas. But making the right choice is crucial for financial and business success. In this article, we look at all three types of mobile apps in detail. By the end, you’ll have a better grasp of what to expect from these three types of mobile apps.

Native applications

Native applications are tailored to a specific mobile platform (Android or iOS). Typically, users get them from app stores.

Native apps are the gold standard of mobile development. Written with platform-specific approaches and technologies, native apps can show outstanding performance.

Advantages

Integration with devices. Since they’re written for a specific platform, native apps fit like a glove. They use a device’s capabilities to the fullest. GPS, memory management, cameras, microphones – all these and many other features are available to native apps. This allows for a more enjoyable user experience.

Great performance. Native applications are refined with platform specifics in mind. They’re generally fast, responsive, and as flexible as your imagination. In other words, if you think something up, your developers can probably do it.

No internet connection required. Native apps are installed directly on a device, so they don’t need to be connected to the internet. This is a great feature if people might want to use your product without a cell connection or Wi-Fi.

Intuitive UI/UX. Native applications should follow specific design guidelines. For Android it’s Material Design, and for Apple the Human Interface Guidelines. These guidelines help you achieve an intuitive design. Following platform guidelines keeps interfaces and navigation user-friendly and simple to understand. The user experience tends to be smooth and seamless. There are no limits to possible improvements and customizations. Native apps allow you to have it all.

Discovery in stores. Almost all native applications come from the Google Play Store or Apple App Store. Having your product in a store increases its chances for discovery and distribution. Apart from that, stores offer a great deal of support for their applications.

Disadvantages

You need more than one. Because they’re developed for a specific platform, a native app only works on one platform. Unlike other types of apps, parts of native code cannot be shared between platforms. So you'll need to develop an app for each platform you support.

As a result, you might need to hire a larger development team and plan for a longer development timeline.

Higher development costs. Native applications are complex projects that require professional development and support. This can take a toll on your budget.

Nonetheless, if the price is the only thing stopping you from developing a native app, you should seriously consider how you might cut the scope to make it work. You can always invest in a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) native app first. This way you'll have a functional app on the market in no time. Later, when your budget is more generous, you can improve your app as necessary.

Example of a native application:

Instagram is our top choice as an example of a great native app. It’s available for both iOS and Android, but these apps are entirely different and are unique to each system.

Web applications

Web applications are developed as websites using a combination of HTML5 and JavaScript. These websites are later wrapped in an invisible native WebView container. Some are built using technologies like Cordova and PhoneGap.

When thinking about a web app, imagine a website turned into a mobile application. That’s pretty much all there is to them.

Advantages

Simple to develop. If time to market is your only criteria, a web app is a great solution. Since they require less planning, less architecting, and less development, web apps can be ready in a matter of days.

Fewer requirements. Web apps don’t need to be written in different languages to support different platforms. Usually, C# plus Cordova or PhoneGap is more than enough.

Lower cost. Developing a web application is several times easier than developing a native app. Besides, you only need one, which can easily cut your costs in half.

Suitable for short release cycles. If you want to continue developing your app as an ongoing project, a web app might be a great option. Unless changes are major, users won’t need to update your app through the app store. Instead, updates will be loaded automatically whenever users access the application.

Disadvantages

Poor UI/UX. And we mean poor. With no native features, web apps look and feel like websites turned into applications. Which they are – but this doesn't help with their overall comfort and design.

Less efficient. Web apps are no match to native apps when it comes to efficiency. They tend to be slower, buggier, laggier, less presentable, and quite limited in their functionality.

Constant issues. Web app users are bound to experience lags and bugs. No matter how hard you try to refine them, web apps will always be behind their native counterparts. This can draw away a great deal of your potential customers.

Example of a web application:

Financial Times is a great example of a web app.

It works through a browser on your device, which means that you don’t even need to install it. Basically, you can see that a web app is simply a website that has its inside features designed to look as if it were a real mobile application. One could even have such app submitted to an app store, but users would still need internet connection to use it.

Before considering this option though, you should check it out for yourself first. If this is the sort of experience you’re looking to deliver with your project, then by all means choose a web app.

Cross-platform applications

Cross-platform apps are easier to develop than native apps, and parts of their code can be shared across platforms. The advantage of cross-platform applications over web apps is that they have direct contact with the mobile operating system. They’re usually developed with Xamarin, React Native, Appcelerator, or NativeScript. However, direct access to the operating system doesn’t mean full command of everything it has to offer.

Advantages

Shareable code. Certain parts of code (up to 80% at times) can be shared across devices. This can increase the speed of development, resulting in the need for fewer developers.

High-performance UI/UX. In cross-platform development, the UI and UX are rendered with native controls. This means that it’s easier to achieve design performance very close to that of a native app.

Disadvantages

Still requires some native code. Parts of the code for cross-platform apps can be shared between platforms. However, the parts that cannot be shared still need to be written in a native language.

Performance concerns. Some parts of cross-platform applications are interpreted on the go. This influences the overall speed and performance of you application, meaning it will run a lot slower than a native app.

Frameworks and plugins. Everything within a cross-platform app relies on frameworks and plugins. This can affect application performance and design since it puts limits on what your app can do.

Example of a cross-platform application:

Facebook Ads Manager is a great example of a cross-platform application. Developed with ReactNative, it’s available for both Android (left) and iOS (right).

Conclusions

It is quite easy to make a choice, it just depend on the aims you are going to reach and the functionality to empower your mobile application. If the work of your application requires the devices which maintain a large amount of functionality or information processing rate is very important (games, social networks, geolocation services, photos exchange services, etc.) you need to make a native application. If the work speed is not that important, and user needs to get only information with the mobile Internet, you can absolutely come up with web application. Web applications should also be used as prototypes to estimate users’ reaction on your idea and get a certain feedback. This web characteristic is similar to cross-platform applications. If your interface is not provided for complicated animation and does not perform calculations, you need to quickly enter the market to test your idea, if you are ready to put up with interface problems and so on, - cross-platform application will do.

Here at SteelKiwi, we’ve developed many native mobile applications. If you want to check them out, please follow this link to our Projects page.

Still having doubts about what type of mobile application to choose? Contact our sales department for more details about the options. Today could be the day when we start turning your idea into a real-life project.