The evolution of application development is tied to the constantly changing selection of devices used today, from phones to tablets to the growing wearable market. Apps face constant scrutiny, as consumers are pickier and more sophisticated than ever when it comes to their mobile experiences. Today, and unquestionably more so in the future, apps need to run flawlessly regardless of the platform they’re used on, the tools that were used to build them, or the language in which they were initially written. This presents a myriad of challenges for developers, and it leads to an important vetting process as they determine what kind of app to build and which the best framework to use is.
Native apps are emerging as the top choice for developers. UI is hugely consequential to an app’s survival, so naturally the UI must be flawless. The lifespan of an app is a delicate thing, as without any perceived value to the consumer, the app will be uninstalled and permanently dropped from use. While Hybrid and mobile Web apps are still valid choices for many, Native is steadily becoming the go-to choice to ensure that apps have a better chance of sticking. Stickiness equals survival—the ultimate goal for apps—so apps need to perform both without disappointing users while continually demonstrating value.
Though it’s difficult to highlight major differences between various types of app development, Native applications unquestionably deliver the best performance. Ideally, their user interfaces react immediately with all interactions and widgets, performing without lag. And, like the AppDev industry as a whole, Native application development is evolving to offer developers new breeds of frameworks.
Just a few years ago, AppDev was a different and less mature art, and the choice of app type was less definitive—there wasn't a true one-size-fits-all solution or a clear frontrunner. As they are now, considerations of budget and time-scale were pertinent, and most mobile devices used one of two dominant operating systems: Google’s Android or Apple’s iOS. Today, while there are respective advantages and disadvantages to consider for any type of app, Native is becoming the easier decision to make.
Hybrid and Web apps are still viable options for developers, depending on what app is being built and what their budget considerations are. They both have their upsides, and making any app—Native included—that runs flawlessly across different platforms and devices doesn’t come without challenges.
One of the biggest challenges frequently encountered when designing an app is the developer’s need to learn a new programming language depending on the specific platform they're using; developers are often required to rewrite code from scratch for each platform, which consumes valuable time and resources. Each platform requires a specific language and tooling (for instance, a developer making an Android app is probably using an Android-specific program,like Android Studio), and a major fallout resulting from this is that the full AppDev cycle isn’t properly addressed. In many cases, developers don’t have the capacity to monitor the full lifecycle, through designing, coding, testing, debugging,distributing, and managing.
This is mitigated somewhat in Hybrid apps (which normally rely on Apache Cordova and HTML5), as developers reuse code when writing a new app, which makes projects easier to ramp up. Hybrid app development is simple in that developers need only write code for an app once, or even more simply swap code to build an application that can be used for multiple platforms. This means one set of code for any device, resulting in time and money saved. However, Hybrid apps can find themselves stuck in this “nearly Native” quandary where they should feel truly Native, but respond more like a mobile Website. Mature frameworks like Kendo UI and Ionic help to mitigate this, but so far there is no silver bullet.
By far the least expensive option, mobile Web apps are quick and relatively simple to create, and there aren't any restrictions on browsers. Their development is fairly straightforward, as coders don’t have to learn many (if any) new skills—they simply need to scale the code down to make the site accessible on any device. However, that doesn't mean that Web apps are always the top choice for developers. Web apps are less intuitive, limited in what they can do in regard to features, and they’ll likely always require an Internet connection to function unless Google’s “Progressive Web Apps” initiative is more widely embraced. What’s more, consumers don’t install Web apps when they use them, so there’s no stickiness in terms of getting a new app on a mobile device permanently. Mobile apps are a fine choice to meet certain demands, but they’re not pushing the innovation envelope.
Web apps are less intuitive, limited in what they can do in regard to features, and they’ll likely always require an Internet connection to function.
Ask someone to think of an app they use every day and they'll probably think of a Native app: one that’s downloaded from Google Play or the App Store that then lives in a device's app library, launched with the touch of an icon. Native apps have terrific UI, and actually look like they belong on the platform being utilized. They provide users with superior performance along with reliability and responsiveness, which boosts the user experience as a whole. As Native apps have to be developed separately for each platform, they’re the most expensive to make. Still, there’s no uncanny valley with Native, which arguably makes Native worth the time and cost.
Because of the advantages of Native apps, new breeds of cross-platform tools and frameworks are becoming more widely available, including those that satisfy a “write once,deliver to many” criteria. With these, solutions are cross compiled so that developers write code in the language of their choice, which then is compiled for them into Native code. These enable truly Native code and a truly Native app. However, “write once” frameworks won’t be ideal for some coders, as they require developers to wait on a company to make updates to match the latest platform before they can have access. In this situation, there will always be dependence on others, and some developers might not want to face any potential delays during the app creation process.
Today, and unquestionably more so in the future, apps need to run flawlessly regardless of the platform they’re used on, the tools that were used to build them, or the language in which they were initially written.
As to be expected, each new framework will present a learning curve. For the new Native frameworks, developers will still be using Native concepts in their methodology, so the learning curve won’t be too steep. That said, the growing prevalence of Native apps is a trend to watch in the coming year and beyond, as they stick around for the long-term—bolstered by innovative frameworks and superior UIs.