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Type of Mobile Apps: Native, Web or Hybrid

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What’s in a Mobile App? Is it a Native, Web, or Hybrid App?

In an Internet landscape that has more and more users shifting from traditional personal computers to mobile devices like smartphones and tablets to browse the Web, mobile apps are king. As such, it’s common to hear new terms like web apps, native apps, and hybrid apps being thrown around.

Native apps are found on the device itself, accessible through icons on the home screen or app drawer. These apps can be installed through application hubs such as the App Store for Apple and Google Play. Native apps are specifically developed for one platform, and can have features that tap into the device’s camera, accelerometer, compass, contacts, image gallery, GPS and more. These apps can also utilize gestures native to the device or the app itself.

Web apps are not actually apps per se, as they are only websites designed to look and feel like native apps. Web apps run on a browser and use the language HTML5. They are accessible through a URL (just like any other web page) and provide users the option of “installing” them on the desktop by creating a shortcut/bookmark. Web apps gained popularity with the rise of HTML5, which allows for native app-like performance in the browser itself.

Hybrid apps are just that, a hybrid between a native app and web app. Just like native apps, they can be accessed through an app store and can utilise features available on a device. However, they also rely on browser-based HTML—just like a web app—as they feature a browser within the app. Many companies use hybrid apps because they enable cross-platform compatibility, which means they can be reused for different mobile operating systems and allow for lower development costs.

For a more comprehensive explanation on the characteristics of native apps, web apps, and hybrid apps, you can turn to this article by Web usability experts the Nielsen Norman Group.

Which Type of App Do You Go For?

We at Enform think that each of these app types have their own pros and cons. Here’s a look at them.

Device-specific features

While web apps have limited access to device features, it’s a far cry from what native apps, and even the native aspect of hybrid apps, can do. Native apps get full access to a device’s suite of features, from gestures, notifications, camera, GPS and so on.

Offline Function

Native apps work best when online connectivity is a problem. HTML5 allows for in-browser caching, but again, it’s more limited compared to native functioning.

Discoverability

Content on the Web is easier to find than in an app, which gives web apps the advantage over the other app types. People use search engines to find information on the Web; it’s rare for users to go to the App Store to do the same thing.

Installation

Installing a native or hybrid app may be somewhat of a hassle compared to the simplicity of bookmarking a web app to the home screen, but the latter is a less familiar process to users. Native and hybrid apps are still superior in this regard.