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Understanding Hybrid App Development & Should you use it?

Today the mobile applications have become essential part of our daily lives, and with diverse user base every app needs its presence on Android as well as IOS app stores. So for a simple idea everyone needs to do double effort one for Android and other for IOS. This makes us wonder is there something available that can save us from the double efforts the answer is “Hybrid Apps”

For understanding everything in a better way, we’ll use the following definitions:

  • Native apps are built for a specific platform with the platform SDK, tools and languages, typically provided by the platform vendor (e.g. xCode/Objective-C for iOS, Eclipse/Java for Android, Visual Studio/C# for Windows Phone).
  • Mobile Web apps are server-side apps, built with any server-side technology (PHP, Node.js, ASP.NET) that render HTML that has been styled so that it renders well on a device form factor.
  • Hybrid apps, like native apps, run on the device, and are written with web technologies (HTML5, CSS and JavaScript). Hybrid apps run inside a native container, and leverage the device’s browser engine (but not the browser) to render the HTML and process the JavaScript locally. A web-to-native abstraction layer enables access to device capabilities that are not accessible in Mobile Web applications, such as the accelerometer, camera and local storage.

So now comes the big question, “How does the hybrid apps really work?” Let’s the example for Phonegap/Cordova to understand it better.

Phonegap/Cordova : PhoneGap (distribution of Apache Cordova) is a software development framework that helps you to reuse your existing web development skills to quickly make hybrid mobile applications built with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Hence, this is not exactly a JavaScript mobile app framework, however, it’s important for you to know about PhoneGap before you get started.

Phonegap uses an embedded web browser to display app pages.  It takes advantage of the fact that although native code environments for different mobile systems are very different, the way they read and interpret web pages and javascript is very similar.

What is the difference between Phonegap and viewing a mobile website? Phonegap stores as much web content as possible physically on the phone, inside the mobile app . This makes loading Phonegap pages much faster and more reliable than loading mobile web pages across the internet.

In addition Phonegap allows access to mobile features which normally only native mobile apps can access, via plugins – small native code components which you can add to your Phonegap app, which can be called from Javascript via the Phonegap javascript API.

One important thing to note, having said all this, I’m not a Phonegap fan. For what it does, Phonegap is an excellent solution. If you want to create a quick brochure site, say a reference site which displays a lot of web page content, Phonegap is an excellent solution. But in my experience native apps usually look and feel better than Phonegap apps – it is way too easy to hit the limitations of the Phonegap approach, which can lead to uncomfortable conversations with clients, about why their app is not as smooth as someone elses native app.

So the Phonegap/Cordova would have given you a basic idea of how hybrid apps work, now let us try to understand the pros and cons of the hybrid mobile apps.

Pros of hybrid apps include:

  • Will operate on different platforms.
  • Faster build times compared to native apps.
  • Cheaper to develop compared to building two versions of a native app for two different platforms.
  • Easier to launch patches and updates.
  • Can work online and offline

Some cons, however, include:

  • Variations due to leaning development on one platform—as an example, if a development team leans their work on one platform, another supported platform may lack in quality, or suffer from bugs.
  • The appearance of an application may vary from platform to platform.
  • The need to test the application on a range of devices to ensure proper operation.
  • User experience (UX) may fall if the user interface (UI) isn’t similar to and well enough designed to what browsers the user is used to.

So let us try to answer the main question should you use Hybrid App technology for your next app?

To help make the decision, we brainstormed the main requirements with our client and found them to be:

  • A very limited time period for app development. The client wanted this mobile app to hit the market as soon as possible
  • An app for Android and iOS devices that had a single code base
  • The app needed to have native features such as reminders, push notifications, and offline capabilities
  • And the budget for the app development was low.

So what do you think? Let us know in the comments section.

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