Native, HTML5 or hybrid apps?

Text originally posted on http://blog.omnicom.rs
No pictures were retrieved after the blog was taken down.

In my previous post, I mentioned the necessity of mobile presence. No company can afford to limit their presentation compatibility to personal computers, when the use of tablets and smartphones is growing so fast that in no time it will overtake PC usage. If you can’t see profit in it yet, look at it from the user’s point of view: I want to get information wherever I am; if it is displayed in a non-mobile manner then I might search for alternatives – you lost me as a visitor/customer/fan. (A similar thing in different situation happens every time I want to buy something online and the only method of payment is via PayPal…)

We all agree that mobile is not the future, but the present, right? But do you know what kind of mobile application you need? In this text, I’ll sum up all the pros and cons of each of them: native, HTML5 and hybrid apps.

Native apps

Each mobile operating system has its own platform for making apps. The main ones are, of course, Android and iOS, but Windows mobile is doing it’s best to catch up. These three are not the only ones. When you’re calculating the budget for development, keep in mind that developing for different platforms is not just copy/pasting. The coding starts from zero each time, the development needs different software, and performance testing and debugging is done on different devices. Most likely, apps for different platforms will be developed by different teams.

Looking just at the cost of production, it might seem that there are no advantages to making an app native. However, the performance of such an app is much better than that of HTML5 or hybrid, and it’s UI is often more sophisticated and user friendly. Native apps can use the full potential of the phone you have, and have stronger security features. For this reason, many companies have recently switched to native, including LinkedIn. Even though their development is more expensive, and the process of approval on different app stores is often lengthy, once they are approved they can be a certain source of profit (or at least return of investment). It is much easier to make a native app commercial.

Still, you will have to know the market shares before deciding on the platforms for which your app will be developed. No doubt Android and iOS are a must, but do you or do you not decide to develop for Windows, Blackberry, Symbian or others? This is exactly what Nokia’s vice president, Bryan Biniak, talked about in his recent interview for IB Times: the lack of apps makes users choose another platform, but the lack of users makes companies choose not to develop apps for that platform.

HTML5 apps

Easy to develop as an addition to a website, these apps are favourites of many web developers. HTML5 technology is free and developed by a global non-profit consortium, W3C. The combination with JavaScript is enough to make an app look and feel close to a native one. Apps developed in HTML5 use the phone’s browser to display, which means that there is little room for non-compatibility with different phones. Of course, there is always the problem of inter-compatibility within browsers, but most of the main ones support the vast majority of HTML5 features.

Since the code is developed only once and then reused, this is the least expensive option. Also, the app will look the same on all devices, with no differences related to development platform.

Even though apps’ icons can be placed on your screen, these apps are not usable without internet access. That is also the reason why their updates don’t need to be installed separately, but are already available when the app is opened. Since they are not developed specifically for a certain device, HTML5 apps can’t use all of your phone’s features, and therefore their UI is slightly inferior to native apps.

Hybrid apps

Hybrid apps are HTML5 apps wrapped in a “container” to make them feel “more native”. This allows them to be distributed and sold through app stores, while still keeping the development costs reasonable. Online services like PhoneGapTitanium SDK and others, allow this to be performed without additional budget.

The apps run slower than native, but for simple apps this does not make much difference in user experience. PhoneGap bridges the gap between web based applications and different native apps.

Many companies choose to develop a native app only for one platform, while making hybrid apps for all others.

Mobile web

Now that you know the pros and cons of each of these types of apps, it will be easy for you to decide what the best option for your company (or your client) is. However, bear in mind that native and hybrid apps exist only in app stores. They are inaccessible via search engines, and are therefore not a good solution for companies who still need to be discovered and popularised. HTML5 apps can be directly linked to your website.

Even though smartphone users prefer apps to browsers, consider having a mobile version of your site first, so you can assess the number of visitors with smartphones before starting to think about mobile applications.

And when you decide, get in touch with us. We can do it for you.