Skip to the content

Native, responsive, or hybrid mobile apps?

hands on smartphone

There's a lot of information out there, but it's still difficult to understand how to get started when it comes to building a mobile application.

You probably have a good understanding of your users, and potentially what they're looking for in an application, but how do you select the correct user experience to build? There are a lot of options but making a call on the correct solution for your business can be pretty confusing.

The truth is, there are a number of points from where you can start, but probably the first technical decision you will need to make is to whether to go with native, a responsive web app, or a hybrid solution that blends the two. They all have pros and cons so we thought we'd help clarify the differences.

Native apps

When most people think of a mobile application, they're thinking of a native app. These are the apps that either come pre-installed on your handset, or which are downloaded from one of the app stores. They are generally developed for a specific platform e.g. Android, iOS, however at Pattern we use a cross-platform development tool called Xamarin, that allows us to build native applications for multiple platforms from a single code-base.

  • The good: Generally native apps will deliver the best user experience. They will be fast, stable and fully leverage all of the native capabilities of the device e.g. accelerometer, GPS, camera etc.
  • The bad: Native apps require a download which will feel like a commitment to some users, i.e. they will consume screen space and system resources. They also can’t generally be used across multiple platforms, meaning you will need to develop one for use with iOS and another for use with Android. This can have a pretty big impact on your development budget.

Browser apps

Responsive web applications are designed to run in a browser. They adjust (respond) to the different screen dimensions for each device.

  • The good: Dynamically rendering the app means it can be used across a large number of devices and operating systems. Being browser based, it doesn't drag on system resources when not being used.
  • The bad: Responsive apps won't be fully optimised for every handset, OS or browser, which may mean the don't render quite as intended.Responsive apps also require an internet connection to function.

Hybrid apps

Hybrid apps are web applications wrapped in a native app shell. The wrapper provides a native infrastructure, whilst the content is run within an embedded browser.

  • The good: Hybrid apps can leverage the native features of a device e.g. camera, push notifications etc, and to some extent work with them offline. They are downloaded from the app store and are also fairly easy to port from one OS platform to another.
  • The bad: Because the content that makes up a hybrid app is based on web technology, it can be slow to load and will generally require a working internet connection to run. The user experience can feel a bit off, as the design needs to blend native look and feel against web page content.
By Rowan Schaaf