The confusion between Native, Hybrid and Mobile Web applications

Presently, the software development is seeing a booming rise in users as well as developers. But in this chaos of deadlines and a wide variety of choices made available to a customer, one might get overwhelmed on what to choose, when will the product be delivered, the time to market and a lot of other factors. This is quite a big deal when it comes to developing mobile applications. One of the most important decisions regarding a project is about the compatibility of the application and type, number devices supported. This leads to a question: Should you as a customer or a developer, invest time in developing a native, mobile web or hybrid app?

But what do the terms “Native”, “Mobile Web” & “Hybrid” mean, you might wonder?

A native application is designed specifically for a particular device or an operating system such as Android, Windows, iOS. Whereas mobile web applications are cross compatible, meaning they can be used on any platform be it a desktop, android phone, iPad etc. as these applications are only used via the web browser. Mobile web applications are developed using web technologies such as AngularJs, JavaScript. A hybrid application on the other hand uses the same code bases as Mobile web apps but these applications are shipped in the form of native applications for the targeted devices.

Based on these details, you might deduce that a mobile web application seems better in all aspects compared to the mobile apps or the hybrid apps, but consider spending a lot of time developing a mobile app only to realize later that you’d require access to the device features such as Camera, GPS, or the contact list of the phone or rather use the GPU of the phone to run a game. In these cases, a mobile web application might not be the best alternative. Hybrid applications on the other hand are developed using  code bases similar to the ones used by mobile web applications and can be used across a variety of platforms in the form of native apps. Additionally, they also allow usage of the device features such as accessing the GPS, Camera and many others (using supported plugins).

All these details may confuse you even more. But don’t fret. We’ve crafted a questionnaire for you which would help you with your decision. Try answering the questions below before proceeding further:

  • Does the app support offline usage?
  • Does your target user group mainly use a single operating system? (Android, iOS, Windows)
  • Are native device functionalities (GPS, Camera etc.) required by the app?
  • Does your app handle large amounts of user data?
  • Does UX matter in your application?
  • Should the application be available on any one of the app stores? (Google Play, App store, Windows store)
  • Is your application intended to be used repeatedly?
  • Are notifications an important aspect of the app?
  • Are you targeting for customer retention?
  • Is the time to market in the distant future?

If your answers to most of the above questions was YES, a native application would probably suit your needs better. But don’t take our word for it just yet, see the pros and cons of all three types and decide what course will be best for you.


Native applications:

These applications are designed for a specific operating system or a platform such as Android or iOS.


  • Native applications can directly use the hardware of the system which makes execution and loading of data much faster as compared to a browser.
  • Mobile apps can store data and can run using the stored/existing data when internet connectivity is not available.
  • These applications provide the users with a rich interaction experience (UX) which means no lagging scrolls or loading of images in the application.
  • They also provide a good amount of user interface customization and the ability to send notifications to the user.
  • Mobile applications can also run in the background to keep data in sync or to manage any alarms or services.


  • Cost of development is comparatively higher than that for a mobile web app.
  • The support for various OS’s as well as devices would increase the maintenance costs and development time.
  • Support for different screen sizes as well as different versions of OS (Android 6.0, 7.0 or iOS 10, iOS 11 etc.) would also increase costs for development.
  • A native application locks out desktop users as well as mobile users who do not have the application installed on their devices.
  • Native applications require regular updates from the respective app stores in order for them to work efficiently.
  • Native applications also demand storage space on the devices which may not be favorable to users with devices low on free space.

Hybrid applications:

Hybrid application development frameworks include Cordova, as well as Ionic which are similar to web frameworks such as AngularJs or React Native. These applications can be deployed over a large number of devices.


  • Single code base for deployment across a large array of devices thereby saving a lot of development time.
  • Maintenance of applications becomes easier as changes/updates are required to be made only once for all devices.
  • Hybrid applications thereby save development and maintenance costs.
  • Hybrid applications use programming languages such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript and hence resources for quick development are easily available online.
  • User experience is much better as compared to that with mobile web apps.
  • Thanks to recent advances in technology, hybrid apps also provide offline functionality.


  • User interfaces are usually not seamless thereby creating a little difference than the user experience offered by native devices.
  • Plugins need to be used in order to exploit the platform’s hardware thereby resulting in a complicated code.
  • Dependency on the internet connection makes for a less desirable user experience.
  • The framework used needs to work efficiently with the platform’s OS and not introduce new bugs. If bugs are introduced because of the targeted platform, debugging might consume a lot of time.
  • These apps are comparatively slower than native apps.

Mobile web applications:

These applications run using the browser of the device and typically last as long as the browser is running.


  • Mobile web applications require an internet connection.
  • These apps are good for demos and are cost effective as well compared to native or hybrid apps.
  • You could also gain the benefits of Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
  • These applications don’t need require updates because they are called by a browser which always loads the updated web app.
  • A mobile web application intended for a desktop can be made responsive for mobile devices as well thus saving time in developing a separate native app and thereby expanding the reach.
  • These apps do not take up a lot of storage space as negligible amount of data is stored on the device.


  • Even if you design your mobile website in the lightest and most informative way possible, it still may work offline with only limited functionality using cached pages.
  • Mobile web apps do not get any app store visibility advantages and are not as secure as native apps.
  • Limited hardware access and UX may depend on the user’s internet connection. UX limitations include lagging while scrolling or delayed animations.
  • Mobile web apps are also dependent on the browser that the user is using to access the application and hence may limit resources as well as decrease performance.

A table summarizing all the details of different applications is as follows:

Native Web Hybrid
Performance Best Slow Mediocre
Internet Connectivity Optional with caching Yes Optional with caching
Offline storage capability Yes No Yes
Access to system resources Yes No Yes but with limited resources (using plugins)
Development Costs
High Low Low
Maintenance costs
High Low Low
SEO No Yes Yes
App store visibility
Yes No Yes
User experience
Best Bad Mediocre
Updates required
Occassionally Never Occasionally
Storage space
High Low High
Security High Low Mediocre
Cross platform support
No Yes Yes

Native applications are the way to go if you have a highly engaged audience. According to a survey, users spend about 50% of their time using Native apps while using their phones and about 7% in browsing the web. Also, native apps are found to be more popular than their equivalent websites. For less time to market, develop a hybrid/mobile web app for the time being and create native apps when possible.

In conclusion, a mobile web/hybrid application might prove better for customer adoption whereas a native application is useful for customer retention. Update your developed application as per the customer feedback.