When approaching the enterprise mobility strategy, there’s a number of aspects to consider. Depending on the variables at play, the future business app can be built and released employing native, cross-platform, hybrid and even web-only format; any of those can be a valid option to best connect with the intended users of an app.
What Matters When Choosing a Mobile Delivery Format?
The differences between the native, web-based and near-native approaches to mobile app development are vast. We at highlight a few aspects that matter the most in regards to choosing an enterprise mobile software delivery format:
- The levels of access to device-specific capabilities (native APIs). Depending on how many native device APIs need to be accessible for your future app, the options for certain delivery formats might be considerably limited.
- Cross-platform coverage and support. Would you choose multi-platform consistency or single-platform excellency with an emphasis on unique features? The more universal the solution in terms of its platform coverage, the more sacrifices are to be made in the department of platform/hardware-specific features.
- Distribution and monetization channels. The choice between the web, hybrid or native approaches will depend on the primary way of distributing and monetizing the finished app — platform-specific app stores and marketplaces and/or web delivery options.
Key Points to Consider
So how to determine when it’s better to go for native development and when to choose natively compiled cross-platform delivery options? Should you opt for a hybrid app or can an enhanced PWA become the perfect solution? Before deciding on the app’s delivery format and settling on the platform, frameworks, and tools, it’s worth answering the following questions:
- How much does the speed of development matter to you?
- What’s your budget?
- What are your goals with this app?
- Will it rely heavily on some platform/hardware-specific features?
- How important is multi-platform coverage for you?
- Do you consider outsourcing the development or keeping it in-house?
With the above said in mind, here are the pros and cons of each mobile app delivery format, as well as some tips on deciding which one will work better for your specific business app.
Native Mobile App Development
Native development is the most straightforward way of building applications for iOS and Android. While providing full access to the proprietary capabilities of specific platforms and devices at any given moment, native apps have significant drawbacks when it comes to expanding beyond the original platform.
Pros and Cons
- Full access to native APIs within a specific platform/hardware. The best option in terms of performance, reliability, app size, and native look and feel.
- No overlap in languages and technologies used for native mobile development (Swift and Objective-C for iOS, and Java for Android).
- No multiplatform capabilities i.e. standard iOS, watchOS, tvOS, iPadOS versions of the same app will share a great deal of code, but there’s no code-sharing between native iOS and Android apps.
- Apps are distributed only through proprietary marketplaces (platform-specific app stores).
- High costs when building apps for more than one platform; will most likely require a separate development team for each platform-specific version.
When to Use
When the plan is to focus on a single platform and provide a unique system- and hardware-specific experience for your users, native development is a good choice. The same goes for cases when there’s an extensive budget and/or no strict time constraints to develop two or more versions of the app.
However, when time is essential and you have a limited budget to develop a multiplatform app with a sleek UX for your users, you’d better look for an alternative, especially when there are little to no specific hardware and platform features to deploy.
Cross-Platform and Hybrid App Development
When native doesn’t cut it, there’s a thriving market of cross-platform mobile development frameworks to create hybrid and natively compiled apps with a shared codebase. React Native, Kotlin, Xamarin, Flutter, Ionic and other frameworks all provide multiple options.
Pros and Cons
- Code-sharing. For a natively compiled cross-platform app, the business logic and backend are often shared, with the possible inclusion of non-unique UI elements. In hybrid apps, there’s a web app-based core with a wrapper written to run natively on specific platforms and hardware.
- Apps are faster to develop and easier to maintain thanks to shared technologies and the platform-agnostic approach to development.
- Top cross-platform and hybrid frameworks have extensive documentation, online communities and presence with a solid portfolio of top-tier projects.
- Access to native SDKs and APIs. However, cross-platform apps with a shared codebase can start lagging after platform updates or with their hardware-specific features. Additionally, if the framework can’t use 100% native UI components, it can affect the native look and feel of the UI (which is often the case with hybrid apps or Flutter).
- The performance can also vary from nearly indistinguishable from native to somewhat lagging. In hybrid apps in particular, there might be missing features and lags due to the embedded web-views in use, which provide limited capabilities compared to more advanced browsers.
When to Use
When there’s the need for high-performance, near-native multiplatform apps to be released either simultaneously or within a short period of time, native compiled cross-platform app development might be just what your business needs. Code-sharing apps are more budget-savvy and speedier to develop, so they can be a solution for those who want speed and efficiency without much of a loss in quality.
Web and Progressive Web App Development
There’s one more option that has emerged in recent years, creating yet another alternative to the slower native development and the faster but still time- and budget-consuming hybrid and multiplatform options: web apps.
The reasoning behind this approach is that it’s better to concentrate on delivering a stellar website experience with a possible expansion into the PWA territory in order to add missing features.
Pros and Cons
- With web and PWA development, you get a 100% shared codebase and a single tech stack to create a unified platform-agnostic solution.
- It can dramatically reduce costs, especially when there’s a pre-existing web app to base the mobile version on.
- With PWAs, your web app can be installed, have a home screen icon, work offline, send notifications, work in the background, and otherwise provide a native-like experience for users.
- Apps can be distributed through browsers, marketplaces, and other web-based delivery options.
- Limited functionality due to no access to native APIs and SDKs and dependency on the used browser.
- Apps show a worse performance and limited support on iOS compared to Android.
When to Use
The web is yet to take its reigning place in the mobile development area, where native apps have ruled for more than a decade. Fast-developing progressive web apps help bridge this gap and make web experience on mobile closer to the app-like UX, with all the added benefits of preexistent technologies.
In case of a tightly constrained budget, the need for maximum possible device and platform coverage, and no reliance on hardware-specific features, a PWA can be the answer to maximize your reach with a minimal spending.
When choosing a business app delivery format, the traditional approach is to focus on a single platform first and then expand to others as the app gains success and its steady audience. In the past decade though, a number of alternative options have arisen to streamline and simplify mobile app development without the need to compromise on the budget, development time, or platform coverage.
Working together with business analysts and developers, you will have no hard time finding the right approach, mobile app delivery format and technology stack best suited for your business.