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Hybrid App Development – The Middle Approach, Tools and Platforms

The online market is flooded with a plethora of mobile applications. Also, the internet provides with numerous of web applications. But sometimes, you encounter a situation where you need the best of both – mobile apps and web apps. The solution lies in the hybrid applications. Hybrid applications provide the best of both the worlds.  Let’s go to the hybrid app development process!

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What is hybrid app development?

A hybrid application is essentially a web application which can run in a thin native container and as such can use the functionality of both web and mobile worlds.

A native application is a software that is designed to run on a specific device. The mobile applications are basically native in nature. They are designed either for Android or iOS devices. So, a native app is one which is designed for a particular device or platform.

Web applications, on the other hand, make use of the client-server architecture. The client typically runs on a web browser and sends requests to a web server over the internet.

What is hybrid app and how to build it? A hybrid application is built using HTML5, CSS and JavaScript are capable of some offline functionality and can use your device’s camera, calendar, geolocation, contacts and more. The mobile provides what is known as the WebView for running your hybrid application. It is a miniature web browser or simply put, a chrome-less browser. It lets you display and interact with web pages.

To the layman, it is difficult to distinguish between a mobile application and a hybrid application. On an Android platform, a WebView has all the features of a browser like a history, cookies, HTML5, JavaScript support and more. On an iOS, a WebView may contain tap highlights and touch callouts.

Also, the virtual keyboard will contain the Next and Previous button. There is a difference in the scrolling momentum of a WebView and a native view on an iOS. A network analysis tool can be used to detect whether the application is a hybrid one in iOS.

Some important tools available for hybrid app development

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  1. PhoneGap (Apache Cordova) – It is the most popular mobile hybrid app development tool. It used to be formerly called PhoneGap and later renamed Apache Cordova. It is a free and open source framework. It lets you build applications using HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript. It does not make use of any platform-specific APIs.  The resulting application is neither completely native nor web-based hence the name hybrid applications. The HTML5 and various plugins let the application access the various features of the phone like the camera, contacts, and others.  It is supported by almost all platforms like Android, iOS, Blackberry, Nokia Symbian to name a few. PhoneGap automatically converts the files uploaded to websites to App files.
  2. Sencha Space – It provides a secure and managed environment to develop applications for any mobile platform. It provides various cross-platform development tools.
  3. Trigger.io – It uses JavaScript API which lets you access the device camera, contacts, and other functionalities. In addition to this, it contains a cloud-based service which lets you compile the application for each mobile operating system.
  4. IBM Worklight – It is an open and advanced platform for developing hybrid applications. It lets you build applications for many operating systems. It is an Eclipse-based IDE and uses SDKs for various development platforms.
  5. Ionic Framework – It is an open source, free to use web-based platform. It uses Bootstrap3 and AngularJS. Also, it has a wide number of third-party plugins and extensions to aid development.

Hybrid App Development Specifics

The next important point to consider is when to go for hybrid mobile app development. There might be a number of occasions when hybrid apps are required, the most important being lack of time, limited budget, a single code across all platforms and availability of your application in the app store.

The other situations demanding hybrid development would be the availability of a workforce with HTML, CSS and JavaScript competencies but also requirement to use native features like push notifications, reminders and offline working.

Another use a hybrid application has is that it does not require to be updated very frequently as updated pages can be accessed through the server. This gives another reason to choose hybrid application development while updating or launching an app on an app store takes longer.

Besides the above-stated reasons, there are certainly other advantages of hybrid applications. They provide a uniform User Experience across all platforms. The hybrid applications are quicker, can adjust to any screen sizes and resolutions and can easily load complex graphics.

The ease of maintenance of hybrid applications makes them scalable. Hybrid applications are able to provide most of the functionality of a mobile application like connecting with your friends through social media, take photographs etc.

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The hybrid apps can reach more audiences than native apps as they can be used on all mobile platforms. This helps in increasing the customers and the revenue. Besides, hybrid applications are also useful when implementing BYOD (Bring Your Device) in an organization as the hybrid app can run on multiple devices.

An organization wanting to implement Minimum Viable Product technique can easily use hybrid applications as they can be updated faster through pages and a web server to make it available to the early adopters as soon as possible.

Hybrid applications make the need for learning different languages for different platforms redundant. Any new mobile operating system can be easily included in mobile applications. So, it has a ‘write once, run anywhere’ approach. A popular example of hybrid application is Netflix.

Also, another benefit of using a hybrid app is you can reach your customers faster than a native app. If the time to reach your customers is crucial for you as you don’t want to fall far behind your competitors than a hybrid app is a way to go.

Mobile apps and web apps on other hand have few downsides. Web Applications are responsive websites which run in browsers like Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and others while native apps run on a smartphone or a tablet. Web apps are slow, less user-friendly and not always on a user’s smartphone like a mobile or hybrid app. Mobile apps are expensive to develop and maintain. Getting a mobile app approved for an app store is also a difficult task.

As with any other technology, hybrid applications also have certain shortcomings. The hybrid applications are slower than the native applications as there is an extra layer added to the source code and the mobile platform. If the developers are not well-versed with the target platform then debugging is a tedious task.

Mobile operating systems are frequently updated with new features and organizations want to use these feature as soon as possible to stay competitive. It takes time to include these features in the hybrid apps which make organizations opt for mobile applications instead.

Hybrid App Development & Testing

Testing a hybrid app takes longer as it must be tested in numerous environments which is not the case with native apps which are built for proprietary platforms.

Hybrid apps work well for small-scale projects but not recommended for heavier applications which are feature rich and require the use of many low-level functionalities. This is the reason why Facebook shifted from HTML to a native application. There is also a dearth of expert hybrid app developers and might not be able to create sophisticated applications.

The user experience is found to be more wholesome with the native app than hybrid apps as the former can access all the functionalities of the device. Also, if you plan to develop a product then the Native app is a better option.
On a more technical note, it has been found that the WebView in Android lags the WebView in iOS which may limit your application. If your application is a gaming app or requires animation and videos, then build a native application.

It is difficult to handle gestures in hybrid apps than in Native apps. They are handled programmatically which may slow down the application.

Web apps are easier to maintain, can work even on older devices and no app store approval is required.

Winding Up About hybrid app development

A hybrid application is in the true sense a middle path between a web application and a native application. It is a cost-effective and easy to use and develop a solution. Certainly, the best approach in various scenarios.

Ashley Marsh
Ashley Marsh is a Senior- Content Writer at Maan Softwares Inc. She has been with this company for past four years. She is specialized in the technical writing genre especially in mobile development, web design, and, latest technologies. According to her, it has been a great exposure for her as each day the technology is updating itself resulting in new ideas that keep her fresh daily.
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