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What is a hybrid app? Understanding the pros and cons

TL;DR: Hybrid apps are cost-effective, cross-platform mobile applications that blend both native mobile app and web app functionalities, using a single codebase and web technologies like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript within a native app shell. They offer the convenience of web development with access to native device features, though they may face performance and testing challenges compared to fully native apps.

What is a hybrid app? Simply put, it’s an app designed to run on multiple platforms using one codebase, using web languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, and all within a native app frame.

As you read on, you’ll learn how hybrid apps compare to their native and web counterparts, the technology they use, and the unique advantages they bring to the table.

Key takeaways

  • Hybrid apps blend native and web app features, using web technologies within a native app shell, which allows for a single codebase across multiple platforms and access to native device functionalities via plugins like Apache Cordova.
  • To work well, they require you choose an app builder that supports multi-platform compatibility, fast build times, and simplifies updates. App builders must manage unique challenges of hybrid development such as performance optimization and compatibility across different operating systems.
  • Hybrid apps must undergo extensive testing, which involves both manual and automated strategies to ensure proper functionality across web and native components. Testing tools like TestComplete facilitate this process, despite challenges in testing webview interfaces and local file access in hybrid environments.
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Understanding hybrid apps: Combining native and web features

Illustration of a hybrid app combining native and web solutions

Hybrid apps are a fusion of both native and web applications, operating on multiple platforms through a unified codebase. They mimic the look and feel of native apps by embedding web technologies such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript within an encapsulating native application framework.

The appeal of hybrid apps lies in their capacity to cater to various mobile platforms while only requiring one instance of coding effort. These apps are crafted using well-known web technologies housed within a component termed webview – this enables the hybrid app to function across different platforms following just one development phase.

The role of webview in hybrid apps

Hybrid apps use webview as a vessel to render HTML, CSS, and JavaScript content within the structure of a native app interface. This functionality allows hybrid apps to showcase web-based material while incorporating native app capabilities. Frameworks such as Ionic harness this feature by wrapping web-originated code within webview and enabling interaction with native device APIs via plugins.

Through the use of webview, hybrid apps can display responsive websites in full-screen mode on devices using the inherent browser rendering engine, ensuring an integrated user experience that combines web technologies with native performance seamlessly.

Fact: Hybrid apps rely on webview to display 90% of their content, with the remaining 10% typically being native user interface components.

Accessing native device features

Hybrid apps distinguish themselves by tapping into native features of mobile devices. These capabilities, including using the mobile device’s camera, microphone, GPS system, and accelerometer, are often beyond the reach of traditional web apps. By employing specialized bridge libraries or plugins, hybrid mobile apps can connect with a mobile device’s unique functions that typically surpass what is possible within a standard browser environment.

The internal mechanics of a hybrid app rely on its built-in browser engine to process HTML and JavaScript content while simultaneously drawing upon the operating system and native APIs for hardware-related operations exclusive to the particular device. This dual-function approach allows it to circumvent typical constraints faced by web-only applications.

By using frameworks such as Apache Cordova, these types of mobile applications execute HTML and JavaScript inside an embedded web browser component. They harness plugins to directly engage with assorted native functionalities available in embedded browser and on the user’s smartphone or tablet — merging both worlds’ strengths in one application package.

Tip: Access native device features like the camera and GPS to enhance user engagement and interface intuitiveness.

The architecture of a hybrid app

Illustration of HTML, JavaScript, and CSS as core technologies behind hybrid apps

Hybrid apps blend web technologies, including HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, within a native app framework. By using hybrid app coding languages and doing so they can:

  • Use the capabilities of devices while capitalizing on the familiarity of web development practices.
  • Craft code in languages such as C# or JavaScript which are then transformed to run across various platforms for broad compatibility.
  • Maintain one set of code that supports multiple platforms allowing developers to expand their application’s reach to Android, iOS, Windows etc., without having to recreate the software.

Hybrid apps offer ease when it comes to updates – they can be rolled out simply by refreshing them like a webpage. This feature streamlines the update process for developers and ensures users quickly receive the newest version of an app.

Core technologies behind hybrid apps

Hybrid mobile apps are created using primary web development languages such as HTML5, JavaScript, and CSS for both the user interface design and logical implementation. The convenience in developing hybrid apps stems from these universally recognized programming languages, which also eases the search for skilled mobile application developers.

These applications’ web-based components are inherently designed to be cross platform. As a result, much of their coding can be repurposed across various platforms with only minimal modifications needed to achieve full compatibility between them.

Embedding browser capabilities

Hybrid apps incorporate a native ‘shell’ that operates web-based content, employing tools such as UIWebView on iOS to present web pages.

Unlike pure native iOS apps, the content for a hybrid app may be kept either on the device or fetched from an external server, facilitating access to regularly updated material while taking advantage of the unique hardware capabilities of the device. Enhancing webview’s performance can be achieved by implementing asset caching methods which subsequently expedite reload times.

To enhance loading efficiency within webview, refining your approach to how assets are loaded and diminishing any impact caused by external SDKs is advised.

Establishing a communication conduit between the native portion of the application and its webview component allows not only for data exchange but also enables leveraging native APIs directly through webview.

Tip: Enhance the user experience by leveraging the full potential of the device's native browser with advanced caching strategies and by minimizing the impact of external SDKs.

Choosing the right app builder for hybrid app development

Illustration of considerations for choosing the right app builder for hybrid app development

When selecting an app builder for hybrid apps, you should take into account:

  • Whether it supports a range of frameworks such as Median.co, Bubble.io, and Flutter that enable development across multiple platforms.
  • The ability to expedite the construction process.
  • Its cost efficiency compared to creating individual native apps for various platforms.

It is important to opt for an app builder that eases the deployment of patches and updates, leveraging one of the key benefits of hybrid apps. Considering platform differences can complicate hybrid app development. It’s important to choose an app builder that can navigate this complexity with ease.

Key features of app builders

Key functionalities within app development tools include compatibility with various versions of Android and iOS, along with mechanisms to emulate user interactions on interface elements.

Automation tools such as TestComplete facilitate the replication of user behaviors and the verification of both web-based and native interface components in hybrid applications.

During automated testing, methods tailored to specific controls along with their inherent properties are used to mimic test operations on the application’s control elements, ensuring that the webview app operates seamlessly alongside native app components.

Navigating app store submissions: Google Play and Apple App Store

Illustration of app store submissions for hybrid apps

It's important to understand that navigating the app store submission process is essential for the success of webview mobile apps. The Apple App Store, known for its meticulous review standards, particularly emphasizes user privacy and high-quality design. Most app reviews in the Apple App Store are completed within 24 hours, although the timeline can extend if the app is complex or the submission lacks completeness.

It's important to note that the Apple App Store will not approve apps that are deemed incomplete, such as demos or betas. They mandate that submissions consist of fully developed and functional webview apps that fulfill all app testing requirements.

Understanding Google Play review time

Submissions of new applications and updates on the Google Play Store are subject to a review procedure that might take from several hours up to multiple days.

The duration of this process is not consistent. Some developers may receive approval in just a few hours, while others could be delayed for much longer periods.

Elements such as an app’s complexity, how often it gets updated, and the track record associated with the developer’s account all play roles in affecting the timeline of Google Play’s review times.

For new developers or apps that seek access to sensitive permissions, there can be a longer wait in review timeframes due to necessary additional verifications being carried out by the Google Play publishing service.

Tip: Google Play review times vary, but generally, the review process can take from a few hours to several days, influenced by factors such as app complexity and developer history.

Understanding the App Store publishing process

To effectively manage the process of publishing on the Apple App Store, one must have a comprehensive understanding of Apple’s requirements. About three-quarters of apps are turned down due to issues related to design standards, user experience quality, and operational aspects.

For an app submission to comply with the guidelines set by the Apple App Store, every link within it should be fully functional and all necessary information has to be included — for instance, providing demo account details if needed.

App creators can increase their likelihood of getting their app accepted by the Apple App Store by ensuring that their application loads swiftly, offers intuitive navigation through its interfaces, and presents a refined look that adheres closely to what’s outlined in Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines. Using an App Store publishing service can further streamline this process.

Testing your hybrid app: Meeting the requirements

Illustration of testing hybrid apps to meet requirements

Testing is a vital part of the lifecycle for hybrid apps, much like any other mobile app. It’s essential to test these applications across multiple devices due to their unique ability to operate differently than pure native mobile apps or web apps. The testing process for hybrid mobile apps includes:

  • Confirmation that both web and native controls are functioning correctly
  • Necessitating an instrumented version of the app
  • Needing a testing license in order to proceed
  • Requiring connectivity to the internet when the app contains web content

TestComplete provides a structured object hierarchy which helps distinguish between native code and web controls while also supporting asynchronous operations within webviews during tests.

Test strategies for hybrid apps

When it comes to testing hybrid apps, several methods can be applied. Tools such as TestComplete enable automated interaction simulations and confirm the functionality of both web and native controls within these apps.

The advantage of using automated testing is its ability to handle large-scale apps by conducting multiple tests simultaneously in a cost-effective manner. It’s particularly effective for carrying out repetitive tasks and performance evaluations, especially when frequent updates are made to the code, making it ideal for regression testing.

In a nutshell, manual strategies include:

  • Tests that have been recorded
  • Manually crafted keyword-driven tests along with editable scripts
  • Ad-hoc or exploratory approaches which depend on the tester’s own expertise, understanding, and inventive thought processes.

Overcoming common testing challenges

Hybrid app testing presents a unique set of obstacles, such as limitations when trying to access frame contents from pages that are loaded locally. This necessitates particular configurations or scripting provisions to allow for this level of accessibility.

The unpredictable nature and inherent security concerns make it tough to differentiate between web and native components within hybrid apps, complicating their interactive processes.

When using TestComplete for hybrid apps on iOS devices, there’s an inability by default to discern content in frames using WKWebView if they’re sourced from local files. Alterations must be made within the app’s WKWebView settings prior to initiating tests.

Challenges may also arise with hybrid app assessments due largely to partial support for HTML5 features along with restricted abilities regarding document object model (DOM) methods and properties concerning web pages.

Advantages and limitations of hybrid mobile app development

Hybrid mobile app development offers a range of benefits, including:

  • An easier process for creating apps
  • Cross-platform compatibility
  • Cost savings through the reuse of code, which leads to shorter development periods
  • Quicker production times than those associated with native app development, allowing companies to introduce their offerings into the market at an accelerated pace.

These hybrid apps are designed to provide web developers and users with a uniform experience across diverse platforms. They strive for performance that closely matches that of native apps and possess the capability to operate without internet connectivity depending on their specific features.

Cost-effectiveness and speed to market

The advantage of hybrid apps lies in their cost-efficiency, as they use a single codebase to function on multiple platforms such as iOS and Android. This approach negates the requirement for creating unique platform-specific code, thus enhancing development efficiency.

By leveraging existing web app code within hybrid apps, there’s less reliance on various development kits or developers with specialized knowledge in specific platforms. This streamlines the process and cuts down overall expenses significantly.

Performance considerations

Contrary to widespread misconceptions, hybrid apps are capable of delivering outstanding performance that can even exceed that of both responsive and progressive web applications. Performance is an essential factor in the process of developing a hybrid app.

Depending on the app service you choose, these types of apps can have somewhat slower performances compared to native or standalone web apps due to the additional layer between their source code and the intended mobile platform. But again: this can depend on the app development platform and solutions provider you choose.

In some other cases, hybrid apps’ reliance on browser velocity can cause reduced speed during transitions and potential lags within an app — but this specifically affects high-performance software like advanced games where such delays are more noticeable.

Real-world examples of successful hybrid apps

The real-world success of hybrid app development is evident, with a variety of well-known companies integrating it effectively into their business strategies. Companies such as:

  • Microsoft Teams – A collaboration hub that combines workplace chat, meetings, notes, and attachments.
  • Tesla – An automotive and energy company's app that includes remote control of vehicles and energy products.
  • Uber – A ride-hailing service app that allows users to book rides and track their drivers in real-time.
  • Instagram – A social networking app focused on photo and video sharing, with interactive stories and direct messaging.
  • Discord – A communication platform designed for creating communities ranging from gamers to education and businesses.
  • Any of the apps created by Median.co (many examples can be found here on the Median.co example apps library).

These brands have embraced the use of hybrid apps within their operational strategies with notable success.

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Summary

Hybrid apps are a smart fusion of web and native app features, designed to run on various platforms using a single codebase. They are built with familiar web technologies like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, all wrapped within a native app shell. The beauty of these apps lies in their cost-effectiveness, speed to market, and multi-platform compatibility. Although they may have certain performance drawbacks, these can be addressed with effective strategies and technologies.

The architecture of a hybrid app combines the responsiveness of web content with the advanced capabilities of native device features, thanks to tools like webview and plugins. Developers can craft and build a hybrid app with single code that works everywhere, from Android to iOS, and update their apps just as they would update a web page. By striking a balance between native and web app benefits, hybrid apps offer a versatile and economically savvy choice in the fast-paced world of mobile app development.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a web native app and a hybrid app?

Native apps are distinct from progressive web apps in that they’re downloaded via app stores, whereas web apps can be reached using a web browser.

Conversely, hybrid apps merge features from both native and web applications, offering an intermediate solution.

What are the disadvantages of hybrid apps?

Hybrid apps blend the benefits of both native and web app technologies, providing a unique user interface that leverages webview. While they may not always fully exploit device capabilities such as advanced 3D graphics, they still offer a rich set of features that can include native device functionality.

What is the hybrid app approach?

An application that merges components of both native apps and web apps into a singular platform is known as a hybrid app. This strategy facilitates the creation of versatile applications compatible across multiple platforms, offering businesses an economical solution, and end users a native app-like experience.

How do I know if my mobile app is hybrid or native?

To determine if your mobile app is hybrid or native, you can check if the app displays web pages within a webview, indicating a hybrid approach, or use the “Show Layout bounds” option in Developer Options to identify native android apps by the highlighted layout rectangles.

What is a webview in hybrid apps?

In hybrid applications, the use of webview enables embedding HTML, CSS, and JavaScript within a shell of a native app, which significantly improves both functionality and the user interface.

How do I identify hybrid mobile apps?

To identify whether a mobile app is hybrid, you can look for certain characteristics that differentiate it from native apps. Hybrid apps typically load web content within a native app shell using a webview component. If you notice the app occasionally displays web pages, or if there's a slight delay when interacting with the app (a common trait due to the webview's loading times), it could be a hybrid app. Another method is to check the app's installation package; hybrid apps often include files commonly associated with web technologies, such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript files. Lastly, developer tools or certain mobile browsers' debug options can reveal whether web content is being rendered within the app, confirming its hybrid nature.

What are native apps?

Native apps are applications developed to run on specific platforms or operating systems, such as iOS for Apple devices or Android for a wide range of smartphones and tablets. Unlike web or hybrid apps, native apps are installed directly onto the device and can take full advantage of all the device's features, such as the camera, GPS, and accelerometer. They generally offer the fastest, most reliable, and most responsive experience to users.

*DISCLAIMER: This content is provided solely for informational purposes. It is not exhaustive and may not be relevant for your requirements. While we have obtained and compiled this information from sources we believe to be reliable, we cannot and do not guarantee its accuracy. This content is not to be considered professional advice and does not form a professional relationship of any kind between you and GoNative.io LLC or its affiliates. Median.co is the industry-leading end-to-end solution for developing, publishing, and maintaining native mobile apps for iOS and Android powered by web content. When considering any technology vendor we recommend that you conduct detailed research and “read the fine print” before using their services.*
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