These days, every time you pick up your mobile phone, chances are that you are going to use a mobile app. Given that there must be millions of mobile phones in use, this equals a massive number of mobile apps in use at any given point in time. Also, mobile platforms vary a lot from user to user, with iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows being the most popular development platforms.
Therefore, mobile app development is serious business. There are hundreds and thousands of apps being released every year, each with its own functionality and allegiance to a particular mobile platform. And this is where they get classified into Native and Hybrid apps. But what is the difference between these terms? Well, this post provides a very basic explanation.
Native mobile apps are the ones that are developed exclusively for the platform that the mobile will be powered by. For example, apps developed exclusively for the Android platform – using Java, the default language for the Android platform – will be “native” to Android, and will offer the user excellent use of Android’s functionalities. Similarly, apps developed using Objective-C will be native to the iOS platform.
However, they come with a limitation. Native mobile apps are unable to offer cross-platform functionality, which implies that apps created for a specific platform cannot be accessed or used by any other platform. That is why there are only a limited number of apps for the Windows platform (around 200,000), as Windows is unable to access apps developed for the Android or iOS platforms (which have approximately 750,000 and 950,000 apps respectively). This limits functionality for Windows phone users.
On the other hand, Hybrid mobile apps are developed to offer cross-platform functionality. This implies that a mobile app developed for the Android platform can provide functionality across, say, the iOS platform. And herein lies both its advantage and shortcomings.
The advantage is, of course, obvious (cross-platform functionality), while the shortcoming is that hybrid mobile apps are unable to let users experience the very best out of their respective platforms. This is because of hybrid mobile apps, at least at present, are at best a sort of a compromise between cross-platform functionality and platform dedicated performance.
However, this is not to say that they are of any less importance in the mobile app development market. As hybrid mobile app coding technologies (such as jQuery mobile and Sencha Touch) progress, they will be able to offer more and more cross-platform functionalities.
This implies that the difference between a native and a hybrid mobile app will gradually diminish until possibly, there remains no distinction at all. When this happens, we may just see native mobile apps being edged out, as a cross-platform app that offers excellent user experience will surely be superior to one that is dedicated to a single platform.