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What is a Hybrid Mobile Application?

A hybrid mobile app is a mobile application that seamlessly merges on-device (native) and web technology to present a unified experience. While that definition covers the bases, there’s still a lot of wiggle room for variation.

For example, mobile applications like Quora (iOS, Android) combine both native visual elements and those provided by HTML and CSS:

To contrast the Quora example, we look to Sworkit (iOS, Android), a fitness application built entirely in JavaScript, HTML, and CSS:

When developers use the right tools and follow mobile’s best practices, they can create hybrid applications that users think are native. Mimicking native appearance and performance is vital for all hybrid developers who wish to succeed in the marketplace. Let's see why.

Native vs. Hybrid Applications

Native applications win. That statement appears blasphemous when declared by us, a company that provides a hybrid application development solution, but it is a fact impervious to our opinion. Native applications have uninhibited access to every API, every tool from Apple and Google, every native hardware feature, and every last ounce of processing power.

By default, this unrestricted access translates to a better user experience when compared to similar applications built with hybrid technology. Therefore it’s common for native applications to perform better than their hybrid counterparts. Thankfully, though, that’s not always the case. In fact, hybrid applications have their own advantages. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of both development strategies.

Native Applications: Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Execute at native device speeds
  • May access all device APIs
  • Look and feel "native" by default
  • Can support resource-intensive experiences (3D gaming, augmented and virtual reality, etc)

Cons:

  • Costly to build
  • Limited to single-platform development
  • Expensive to maintain as platforms evolve rapidly
  • Slow and bureaucratic update process

Hybrid Applications: Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Cost-effective
  • Rely on established web technology
  • Version upgrades can be done over-the-air at any time, much like their web counterparts
  • Offer cross-platform support

Cons:

  • Require a native JavaScript, HTML, and CSS interpreter or local web environment
  • Have limited, lagging, or clumsy access to native APIs
  • Struggle to appear native, to “fit in” with other applications
  • Limited or prohibited access to native Objective-C, Java libraries

While native applications often come out on top when you focus on performance and user experience, they may not be the best option for your business or personal project. For example, here are a few cases where building a hybrid application is a superior choice:

  • You or your team are limited to web development skills.
  • You wish to launch your application on multiple platforms without compromising quality.
  • You want feature-parity across multiple platforms without doubling workload.
  • You cannot afford to hire or contract mobile developers (they’re pricey!).
  • You have an existing website and wish to repurpose web assets.
  • Your cross-platform application is not a resource-intensive game or augmented reality experience.

If you think a hybrid application is suitable for your mobile project, then your next step is to learn how to build one. We’ll take a look at hybrid application development and frameworks—right now.

How convenient!

Hybrid Application Development

Your approach to hybrid mobile development will depend on your goals, your budget, and your access to resources. But in general, your options fall into one of three categories: bootstrap, small budget, or enterprise hybrid application development. Let’s take a brief look at these paths.

Bootstrap

Here you’re likely to do much of the heavy lifting yourself. If you’re beginning the app from scratch, the Open Source frameworks in this category will help accelerate development and acclimate you or your developers to mobile patterns. Otherwise, if you want to port an existing website to mobile, you will likely have to learn a bit of native development as well as restructure your site to serve mobile-friendly pages to your app client.

So, to be clear, to bootstrap, you need to:

  • Do it yourself.
  • Recast your existing web skill set to work on mobile.
  • Learn enough Android and iOS to build a custom shell (Quora did this).
  • Or build atop an Open Source framework:
    • Begin with a base layer that accelerates app development.
    • Get started with little-to-no native development knowledge.Stick to standard (or near-standard) web technology.
    • Adapt your existing web development team to mobile development with little effort.
    • Or, try React Native, NativeScript, Weex, Adobe PhoneGap, and others.

Check out our comparison of free cross-platform mobile development tools.

Small Budget

If you can afford them, these small budget app development tools will help you deliver your projects. Not only do they accelerate development, but they also package features to help fulfill major technological requirements for your application: back-end, push notifications, and more. You’ll also be able to:

  • Accelerate development further with a professional suite of tools.
  • Add performance monitoring, crash reporting, push notifications, OTA updates, mobile backend storage and APIs, cloud builds, and more to your mobile project.
  • Get better support and thorough documentation.

Also, some tools offer IDEs that help standardize development for your team.

Read our comparison of small budget cross-platform mobile development tools to learn more.

Enterprise

At the enterprise level, skepticism increases, and each dollar spent receives more scrutiny. Managers and department leads feel more comfortable leaning on their own IT and technical teams than contracting new vendors or outsourcing their workload. However, unlike their web and desktop counterparts, mobile projects do not operate on annual development cycles.

Mobile users expect continuous updates. Apple and Google both consider an application’s update frequency when ranking it among search results, so apathetic developers receive reprimands for their lax attention. Therefore, mobile projects are not one-and-dones; they are ongoing. And each new application compounds the work required. This is where an enterprise mobile solution shines because:

  • It can accelerate development significantly.
  • It’s based on popular frameworks but elevated with enterprise-grade tools of scale.
  • Some tools enable cross-platform development with little-to-no coding.
  • Integrated development environments provide a consistent experience for all developers.
  • Powerful back-ends can integrate both legacy and modern tools.

OutSystems falls into this last category of hybrid development frameworks, and we power hybrid apps in a spectacular number of ways.

How OutSystems Enables Hybrid Application Development

We’ve built a platform that enables rapid mobile application development and delivery through a single development environment. Developers design the HTML, CSS, JavaScript-backed interface, on-device logic, and backend logic and integrations entirely within Service Studio (our IDE). Developers can create custom interfaces or use our templates and pre-made widgets to replicate both the look and feel of native applications.

From there, testing, on-device deployment, and package preparation happen in one click (to both platforms). This video does a wonderful job of explaining how OutSystems developers build and deploy mobile applications:

Deliver mobile and web applications fast with OutSystems

Want to Learn More About Mobile Development With OutSystems?

We have a web page with all the details. You can check it out here.