Before making an investment decision over mobile apps, businesses have to decide between native apps, hybrid apps and web apps.
Here I aim to define and describe the differences between various app categories not only for business owners but also for an app developer!
Which app is best and what are the major points of difference among the three?
They are installed in the device from an application store (such as the App Store, Google Play) and show up on the device as icons. They stay with the device and utilize the device features such as the camera, contact list, accelerometer, the GPS etc.
They are designed and coded to cater to one platform (for a specific device). For instance, iPhone apps are coded in Objective-C and the android apps are coded in Java. Coding apps in this manner helps users to have a responsive user experience and apps are able to integrate standard operating system gestures or new app defined gestures.
Native allow push notifications to be used by the business for real-time information for the users. They keep on functioning offline and can use the device's alert system. They function in accordance to the design and standards of the platform (either android or iOS) which leads to customer satisfaction.
They are platform specific (an iOS app will not work in an Android platform) due to difference in coding language. A business which seeks to develop an app which is operational in both the platforms would be expensive as it would require creating two different versions (for both platforms). Depending on budget, investment decision can be made to develop an app for single or multi-platform option. Example are Angry Birds, Shazam, etc.
Mobile Web App
They are mobile optimized web pages which are not actually apps but websites. They resemble a native app in look and feel and are ideal when the objective is to make information or features available over a mobile phone and developing a native app is not a viable option financially.
Coded in HTML 5, they run on a browser and users access them just like normal web pages. They provide an option of installing them to home screen as a bookmark.
Many websites use HTML 5 to turn their web pages in to web app for users which can appear as appealing as a native app. Example being the mobile optimized web pages of news websites.
Web app has limited functionality and generally requires an internet connection to function. Users can easily forget them unless they run as a constant reminder on their home screen. They do not feature on any app marketplace. With huge daily traffic in the application stores, they miss out on the potential to be discovered as compared to native or hybrid app.
Hybrid apps are a combination of native and web app and are downloaded from an App store. Faster and cheaper to develop than the native, they are better than browser-based web app.
Organizations go for hybrid apps to make their presence in the application store without making significant investment of money or effort in developing a separate application.
However, if the company wants to go too close to a native design, the cost and coding effort would rise making the development difference between a native and hybrid app insignificant. Examples of hybrid app include Facebook, LinkedIn, Banana Republic etc.
Which to Choose
The decision to choose a category of app entirely depends on the client's need – the best return to his business based on user requirements. If the primary requirement of the organization is to provide content for its readers, a responsive web application would be better. On the other hand, native app would be advantageous for task completion.
A user can decide upon a category depending on the application's compatibility with device features, need offline / online task completion, speed factors, ease of maintenance, dependability on platforms, content limitations, ease of installation and fees involved.
Maintaining a web app is much simpler for both the user and the developer as it involves maintaining web pages while native are complicated as developers need to code the same information for multiple versions across different platform.
Application stores pose various limitations on content and design of the application with variable in subscription cost. Web apps, on the contrary are free of content censure and less taxing in terms of cost and time. Hybrid and web apps are comparatively cheaper to develop than native.
If the client's priority is enhanced user experience compatible with a specific platform, in which a lot of apps are available, it is best to develop a native app. At the same time, even web and hybrid app can provide a good user experience with variation in graphics and visuals.
To conclude, native, web, or hybrid apps are all tools for a mobile user to satisfy variable needs and requirements. There is no specific solution as each category of app has their own strengths and weaknesses and going for one of them depend on the client's unique need assessment.