Marketing in mobile devices has become one the most important, if not the most important, parts of just about any marketing strategy. People rely on their mobile devices for just about any activity imaginable and any company that is not a part of this global trend seems to be out of touch. Traditionally, there were two main ways how to establish a mobile presence: one was to create a fully native application written in a programming language used by the targeted platform, and the other was to stick with a regular website and give up upon the native feel and look. However, now, in 2016, we have reached the point where more than 50 percent of mobile applications should be hybrid, according to Gartner’s 2013 mobile and wireless predictions.
With the imminent market domination of hybrid applications ahead of us, now is a great time to look at their advantages to see what exactly is behind their popularity. We, also, won’t avoid mentioning their main negatives, in order to get a clear, comprehensive picture of their role in the mobile market.
WHAT ARE HYBRID MOBILE APPLICATIONS?
Let’s start with a brief background: native applications are built using a platform-specific programming language (Objective-C for iOS and Java for Android) and can use all native functionality of mobile devices and mobile operating systems, including the use of GPS, access to the filesystem, or common user interface elements. As a result, they usually have a consistent user experience, offer great performance, and are tied to just a single environment they were developed for.
MAIN ADVANTAGES OF HYBRID MOBILE APPS
With the introduction behind us, it’s time to take a closer look at some of the main advantages of hybrid mobile application. We are not trying to include every single positive aspect of hybrid apps; instead, we are focusing solely on their advantage over native and web applications.
By far the single biggest advantage that hybrid mobile apps can offer is the unified development. Companies can save a substantial amount of money that would otherwise have to be spent on developing and maintaining separate code bases for different mobile platforms. They can develop just a single version and let their hybrid framework of choice do the heavy lifting and ensure that everything will work flawlessly.
Then, of course, directly leads to lower cost of development and, potentially, greater revenue. Many small businesses wouldn’t be able to afford to target all major mobile platforms, if there wasn’t the option to do so with a hybrid framework.
The Minimum Viable Product (MVP) approach necessitates the fast deployment of functional solutions in order to be the first to penetrate the market and gain a substantial competitive advantage. Those who need to have their app in the App Store as fast as possible should seriously consider using hybrid applications.
Basic web applications are cut off from smartphones’ operating systems and built-in functionality. Even though they are getting smarter every day, they still don’t come anywhere near native applications. Hybrid applications elegantly bridge the gap between the two other approaches and provide all the extra functionality with very little overhead. As a result, developers can realize the much wider range of ideas and capture the attention of their target audience.
Web applications are critically limited by their lack of offline support. This may seem like a less important issue for people who live in urban areas, where the access to high-speed Internet access is ubiquitous, but potential customers from rural areas and less developed countries could be cut off from access to the application. At the end of the day, one customer survey showed that 79 percent of consumers would retry a mobile app only once or twice if it failed to work the first time, and only 16 percent of consumers would give it more than two attempts. Local storage can also dramatically enhance the overall user experience by storing personal information and preferences for later use.
Hybrid applications are limited only by the underlying framework. Companies who partner with a good provider can instantly target all major platforms without any additional effort at all. It the platform is popular enough, it can be expected that it will quickly add support for any new mobile operating systems and their respective incremental updates.
MAIN DISADVANTAGES OF HYBRID MOBILE APPS
It would be unfair to ignore the main disadvantages of hybrid applications and paint an unrealistic picture that doesn’t tell the whole story. Because as much as hybrid apps can help small and medium sized business reach wide audiences, they are also limited in several critical ways.
Hybrid apps add an extra layer between the source code and the target mobile platform: the particular hybrid mobile framework, such as Ionic, Cordova, Onsen, Kendo, and many others. The unsurprising result is a possible loss of performance. It really varies from application to application just how noticeable the difference can be, but the fact that Facebook migrated their mobile application from HTML5 to native shows that there really can be a significant difference, at least for large-scale applications. Mark Zuckerberg even went on to say that “The biggest mistake we’ve made as a company is betting on HTML5 over native.”
After all, 84 percent of users consider performance to be an important or very important factor, according to A Global Study of Consumers’ Expectations and Experiences of Mobile Applications by Dynatrace, an American application performance management (APM) software company with products aimed at the information technology departments and digital business owners of medium and large businesses.
That extra layer also makes debugging a potential nightmare. Developers have to rely on the framework itself to play nicely with the targeted operating system and not introduce any new bugs. Since developers are not likely to have a deep knowledge of the targeted platform, figuring out the exact cause of an issue can be a lengthy affair.
It’s hard to believe that the first iPhone was released just in 2007. We have come a such a long way since then, and the mobile industry is showing no signs of slowing down. Mobile operating systems keep evolving at much faster pace than their desktop counterparts, and many people now use smartphones and tablets as their primary computing devices.
Companies who want to stand at the very apex of progress and use all the latest and greatest features and hardware capabilities are probably going to experience difficulties trying to achieve their goals using hybrid frameworks. It can take quite a bit of time before new features are implemented by providers of these providers of these frameworks.
Hybrid mobile applications have their place in every situation where fast development is the main priority or where the high cost of targeting each platform with an individual native application would be downright prohibitive. Big players and companies who need to stay on top of the latest development are not likely to sacrifice performance and control. However, it may be just a matter of time before hybrid application frameworks reach such a high level of maturity that all previously mentioned negatives will simply disappear.