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Hybrid apps: what distinguishes them from other app formats?
What are hybrid apps?
For most users, hybrid apps function like native apps: generally, both can be downloaded from an app store, installed, and then used on a mobile device. As with native apps, there’s a wide selection of hybrid apps on offer, including both small and large programs for very different purposes.
But differences between the two apps begin to emerge during the installation process: when downloading hybrid apps, the device creates a native framework rather than installing the complete program. When the user opens a hybrid application, this happens via a browser-like interface – almost like with a web app.
Web apps use a normal web browser, whereas WebView is used to create hybrid apps. The WebView system runs and displays web content within the app, but without a URL bar or any other typical browser elements. The way that online content is displayed in a hybrid app is the same as the user interface of an ordinary native app.
Advantages of hybrid apps
The biggest advantage of a hybrid app is that it doesn’t depend on its platform. Unlike a native app, which is specially programmed for each operating system, you only need to develop a hybrid application once. Hybrid apps can thus be installed and used on almost all operating systems, including Android, iOS, and Windows phones. This impressive capability has a positive effect on the number of potential users.
This also means that developers save time and money when producing their mobile apps. This can prove particularly beneficial to small businesses who don’t have the capacity to develop multiple versions of a native app. A suitable app framework, which is usually free of charge, can make the programming of hybrid apps considerably easier. Well-known frameworks include Ionic, Onsen UI, Intel XDK, React Native and Famous.
Unlike many web apps, hybrid apps don’t always require an internet connection. They are designed to run independently offline, rather than on a server, although the user must be online when downloading and updating the app. Another advantage over web apps: hybrid apps can access a lot more native device functions such as camera, microphone, file systems, push notifications, GPS, or motion and location sensors.
Disadvantages of hybrid apps
Hybrid apps have to admit defeat when it comes to performance, since they are more of a burden on the hardware compared to native apps. This can quickly lead to damage, especially regarding computing-intensive applications. A bad performance affects the app’s speed and animation fluidity, which detracts from the application’s usability. Other areas are also affected, such as response time and touch-screen precision (i.e. the drag-and-drop feature) and the gesture control (i.e. turning the device).
Hybrid apps also lag behind native apps when it comes to a device’s native functions (GPS, camera, etc.). Hybrid apps can access a large amount of the existing features although this varies depending on the device.
Like a native app, a hybrid app always needs to be installed and therefore can’t keep up with a web app that can be easily accessed through a browser. Other shortcomings include the higher cost of programming and the fact that sometimes designs aren’t compatible with the respective operating system. It also lacks the development and debugging tools for a platform.
Hybrid apps’ potential is constantly developing
Naturally, conventional hybrid apps have some weakness that aren’t found in other app formats. When compared to its native counterparts it seems that the problems are mostly lower performance and usability and also the fact that web apps implement automatic updates more easily. But hybrid apps do offer a great number of advantages (especially in terms of platform independence and cost-benefit ratio). This means they have the potential to catch up with their competitors in these areas – and the development is far from over. Thanks to modern app frameworks, hybrid apps can be programmed very easily, and this is making them more and more popular.
Whether an application is most suited to a hybrid app, native app, or a web app, is highly dependent on their content and purpose. It’s not always necessary to create an app for mobile content if it makes more sense to display it on a website optimized for mobile devices. Discover which app works best for your project in this article about website apps, responsive sites and mobile sites.