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What is the difference between cross-platform and hybrid mobile development?

When any company decides to build a mobile application, they have a choice of the native iOS & Android, cross-platform, and hybrid development options and we’re sure you may have seen dozens of articles comparing native vs cross-platform development or native vs hybrid developments.

The common knowledge is that native languages are the most expensive in development because you write separate code bases for 2 different platforms, thus duplicating the cost for the front-end part of your application, while cross-platform and hybrid languages work on both platforms, the same code is used for iOS and Android devices, though the interface and user experience would be not as superb.

But have you seen articles dedicated to cross-platform vs hybrid comparison? In many cases, they even are mistaken as different namings of the same technologies. When you talk to a software development company you’re usually provided with the choice of native and non-native development and for non-native they suggest the technology that is well-known among their developers. In fact, you should also have an understanding and a choice of non-native solutions that would fit your needs best.

So this article is to showcase the differences and pros and cons of cross-platform and hybrid solutions.

First of all, let’s make the definitions clear.

A hybrid application is a blend of web and native (technology specific for Android or iOS) solutions. To make a hybrid app developers initially write the code with web languages such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript and then “wrap” this code into a container that can be deployed on mobile platforms and downloaded from mobile stores the same way as a native app. The wrapping happens with the help of plugins like Apache Cordova or Ionic’s Capacitor, which allow to access the native features of the mobile device. The containers are called Web Views and they are run on the phone from within a native application downloaded and the phone’s own embedded browser (invisible to the user).

Thus, hybrid technologies are:

  • Ionic,

  • Apache Cordova.

A cross-platform application is an app developed with reusable and shareable on different operation systems code with the help of specific cross-platform frameworks:

  • React Native,

  • Xamarin,

  • Flutter.

Now, let’s see what’s the difference between them both from the implementation team’s and the user’s perspective.

Features

Hybrid

Cross-platform

​Technologies and tools

​Ionic,

Apache Cordova

React Native,

Xamarin,

Flutter

Rendering engine

Browser

Native

​Application’s wrapper purpose

Creates a container that can be deployed on mobile platforms

Compiles the code into native app code to enable native UI components

Time to market

Faster than cross-platform

More time than for the hybrid app needed

Budget

Usually possible to create with a considerably lower budget

Higher than for hybrid

Maintenance

With each upgrade, native app development teams should release new versions for each platform. For app fixes and improvements, you’d have to involve both web and native teams in some cases

Because there is only one codebase, it is quite simple to test and release fixes and upgrades, cross-platform developers are responsible for updates

UI/UX

Inconsistent, non-customizable UX

Close-to-native UX

Performance

Significantly slower than cross-platform apps, slow performance in general

Tangibly faster than hybrid, robust performance

Device resource usage

Light

Requires more resources

Offline-functionality

Offline functionality available

No offline functionality

Access to native device features

Cannot use system interface components, the scope of graphic and visual representation is also extremely limited

Some sources agree on an approximate share of 80-90% native features that can be accessed

As a short summary, we’d say that in most cases if a company decides not to invest in native applications development it would most probably opt for cross-platform solutions: despite the fact they are still more expensive than hybrid ones, they provide the user with better app performance, nice graphics and the majority of native device features, which could be used in case of a native app. That doesn’t mean that hybrid apps have no popularity at all: they may become a good option in case of tough budget constraints or if your app functionality is reduced to a set of features that rarely use the device’s hardware and don’t require complicated graphics.


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