The Full Guide to Hybrid App Development Plus Top 5 Frameworks You Can Implement

There’s a mobile app for pretty much everything. Shopping, dating, gaming, you name it, someone will have made it into an app. Mobile app development is quite literally a billion dollar industry. In 2020 alone, mobile apps generated over $318 billion

Building a great app can boost your business massively. Tools like applause software testing can show you just how much of an impact a successful app can have on a brand’s reputation. As well as earning digital applause, a mobile app opens an entirely new platform for customers or users to interact with your company. The possibilities are endless!

Hybrid app development is the key to making an app that truly succeeds in this market. Software development teams have been working on it for a few years, but only now are we seeing the real potential in this technique. 

This guide will go through the advantages of hybrid apps, as opposed to web and native apps, and the top 5 frameworks to use in hybrid app development. 

What is hybrid app development?

Before we get into hybrid app development, we’ll just do a quick refresher course on App Development 101. Mobile application development covers the process of making software for smartphones and other mobile devices, such as tablets. These apps are downloaded through a native app store (eg. Google Play, the Apple App Store) or accessed on the web.

Programmers working in mobile app development can choose from many different languages, depending on what kind of functionality the app needs and how it will be hosted. For example, JavaScript, CSS and HTML are all commonly used. 

Hybrid vs. native vs. web

Native apps are those developed for one specific operating system – the most common OS is Android, with 70% of smartphones running on the platform. Optimizing an app for just one OS is fine if your target audience is all on that platform, but it can be limiting! Deciding which operating system to design for is a huge choice that can make or break an app startup.

But what if you didn’t have to make that choice at all? This is where hybrid app development makes its case. 

Hybrid apps are developed with cross-platform software so they can work on multiple operating systems. 

There is also a third category: web apps. These are mobile-optimized webpages written in HTML5 that have the appearance and functionality of an app. Developers use web apps to achieve native-like functionality but within a browser. Instead of a homepage icon on the device, web apps are launched from an in-browser bookmark. 

Hybrid apps are sometimes called ‘wrappers’ for web apps. They combine the best parts of both web apps and native apps – the web-based development enables the app to work across operating systems, while you also get the bonuses of a Google Play/Apple Store app.

Advantages of hybrid app development

So the ‘hybrid’ in hybrid app development comes from its fusion of web app and native-like app features. This next section goes into more detail about the specific advantages of the hybrid app development process and the apps themselves. 

1.   Ability to use native hardware

A web app is limited to what you can achieve in-browser. With a hybrid app you also have the opportunity to use the native features and hardware of the device. For example: the camera, microphone, torch, and push notification system.

These features allow a much greater range of interactivity and really give the app a native feel. Push notifications are particularly great if your app would benefit from prompting users to carry out an action, such as give feedback or checkout an online shopping cart. 

2.   Easy to scale up

When your company starts brainstorming ideas for app development, you may only have audience demand on one platform. If mostly Apple users engage with your product or industry then it is tempting to just make that first app for iOS. 

However, hybrid app development leaves room for your audience to grow beyond that first platform at no extra cost.

3.   One app = one database

Only having to manage one database, rather than one for iOS and one for Android, literally halves your administrative workload. This allows you to put your team’s valuable time towards other aspects of the project instead of having to repeat data tasks. 

4.   More efficient use of time and money

It costs an estimated $100k to get apps developed for both iOS and Android. Hybrid app development streamlines that cost into just one project done in one programming language.

Being able to reuse code across platforms can save up to 40% of overall development costs. The motto of hybrid app development is ‘learn once, write anywhere’ – this is the main selling point of one codebase. 

5.   Ability to work offline

Although we would love it to be possible, we cannot guarantee internet connection at every moment of every day. But what if you need to check an app while the wifi is down? Hybrid apps remove this limitation because they have inherent offline availability. 

The app development process

Trends in mobile app development change every year but the broad process stays the same. Research, like reading this article, can form part of the analysis and planning step (see image below) as your company identifies what they need out of the app development stage. 

Adopting a hybrid approach to app development, streamlines the deployment and support stage that comes afterwards. It means that the iOS and Android launches are just that – launches – rather than entirely separate development and optimization processes. The combination of all these different phases is also known as the Software Development Life Cycle

Throughout both the app development and testing phases, teamwork will be crucial. It is helpful to look into workplace strategies, such as the agile scrum manifesto, to make the most out of your team’s valuable time and skills. 

Top 5 app development frameworks

Which app development platform (AKA framework) you choose has a big impact on your app’s potential. With so many frameworks to choose from, this can seem a little overwhelming! Don’t worry – we’ve narrowed this down by summarizing 5 of the biggest and best app development platforms. 

Questions to ask before choosing a framework

Working with an app development company or framework should be as stress-free as possible. Although all 5 frameworks we recommend here are fantastic, it’s still important to use the one that works best for you, specifically. To avoid any bumps in the road, ask these questions before deciding which app framework to use:

  • What does their mobile app development portfolio look like? Are those projects similar to the app that you’re looking to build?
  • Is the platform well suited to your experience level (beginner, expert, etc.)?
  • Will the app be secure? For example, does it protect against malware and viruses, or include meltdown and spectre testing?
  • Does the framework facilitate in-app transactions? If so the mobile app can become an additional stream of revenue for your business. 
  • Will it be straightforward to check in on your app’s status to track its health and response speed? 

Look back at the advantages of hybrid app development that we listed earlier. Fundamentally, if a development framework doesn’t make the most of those hybrid-specific advantages then it is unlikely to be the best choice for your software team. 

The best hybrid development platforms make use of native hardware, let you scale up easily, and run on only one database. They should let you build an app with offline capability that is more cost efficient than developing native apps for each operating system. 

With these in mind, let’s take a look at the top 5 app development frameworks. (These are listed in no particular order.)

1.     React Native

This open source platform builds native apps for both iOS and Android but with one codebase. React Native is the framework behind all of Meta’s mobile apps, including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Instagram. Given that Meta’s apps are the most downloaded mobile apps across the globe, this gives React Native a pretty strong portfolio!

It uses the React JavaScript library which renders to the UI of the native operating system. The renderer used in React Native is a new system called Fabric. This ensures improved performance across platforms, making the apps more consistent. 

2.     Xamarin

Xamarin is development platform that uses C# as its programming language and is owned by Microsoft. The basic Xamarin framework can be used to build native apps on iOS, Android and Windows systems by sharing one application code. The company states that in most cases, 80% of that application code will be shareable through Xamarin.  

Xamarin is now integrated into the .Net framework which gives developers access to all .Net libraries and development packages. .Net is a Multi-platform App UI (MAUI) that is automatically installed if you use Microsoft’s Visual Studio. So, if your software developers already have a history of working with Microsoft products, Xamarin offers the easiest learning curve. 

Xamarin’s biggest drawback is its size. The most basic app package requires 15.8MB of space on the device – in a world where smartphones store their users’ documents, photos and music, they may not have those megabytes to spare. 

1.    Ionic

Ionic’s speciality is user interfacing. Beautiful, intuitive UI is central to a seamless user experience (UX). On top of that, Ionic lets you build a UI that delivers the same high quality experience across all operating systems. 

Ionic is a fantastic choice if you’re more of a beginner in app development as it has quite a gentle learning curve. It also has the highest rate of reusability out of the 5 frameworks recommended here, with Ionic reusing up to 98% of code across platforms. 

2.     PhoneGap

You may know PhoneGap by its open-source name – Apache Cordova – but both versions have all the same great cross-platform development tools. As Cordova, this platform built a large community of app developers, giving the framework a broad portfolio. PhoneGap is even the framework responsible for Wikipedia, so you know it will definitely handle apps with a lot of information!

PhoneGap works with JavaScript, HTML and CSS, so your team is less hindered by which coding languages they know. The main disadvantage to keep in mind with PhoneGap is that it doesn’t have a great success rate with gaming apps.

3.     Flutter

Flutter is Google’s own app development platform. This makes it the foundation of Google Ads and Google Pay, which are interacted with by millions of users each day. Research by Statista found that in 2021 Flutter was the most popular framework used by software developers, overtaking React Native:

Technically speaking, Flutter is a complete software development kit (SDK) not just a framework. As an SDK it also includes widget libraries, integration APIs and rendering engines. It boasts a ‘hot reload’ feature so that any changes to the codebase are reflected immediately in the app. 

However, there is a downside. Flutter’s minimum app size of 4MB makes its apps much bigger than native Java counterparts (539KB). 

Summary

Hybrid app development brings together native and web app functionality to give you the best of both worlds. You get near-native functionality using the device’s own hardware but at a drastically reduced cost, compared to making native apps for every different operating system.

There are literally dozens of app development frameworks out there, but we looked at our top 5 in detail: React Native, Xamarin, Ionic, PhoneGap (AKA Apache Cordova), and Flutter. Which framework you should go with depends on your answers to the ‘questions to ask before choosing a framework’, covering aspects like security and expertise level. 


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