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Is taking a hybrid approach the right direction for your mobile app?

By Evan Wade / July 29, 2013


Form versus function is a consideration in almost every new endeavor. In mobile app development, the question often becomes a three-way battle between native, web and hybrid apps. Mobile software developers have to ask themselves which method works best for building their application. Choosing your app’s backbone will influence every other decision made from that point on.

Depending on your circumstances, it’s worth considering a hybrid approach for mobile apps. Flexibility, portability and ease of use are just three advantages it offers the discerning mobile developer. IT research firm Gartner predicts more than 50 percent of apps will take the hybrid route by 2016 — will yours be part of the revolution?

A renowned (and flexible) approach

“There’s an increasingly compelling case to go with hybrid apps these days,” claims a recent post at 50pixels.com. They’re far from the only people making the statement: blogs, columnists and IT professionals all over the world have been singing the approach’s praises for quite some time. It’s a jack-of-all-trades methodology that offers a lot of benefits for developers with multiple platforms on the menu. And now, with advancements in HTML5 technology, the hybrid approach is a legitimate possibility for anyone making a business-focused application.

Perhaps the biggest upside to the hybrid approach for mobile apps is its cross-platform capability. Building an app with mobile-friendly web tools means far less tweaking when it comes time to port and less upfront work if your app will launch on multiple platforms.

For end users, hybrid apps mean a consistent experience no matter what device they’re using. If you’ve ever struggled to find an Android app that works flawlessly on the iPhone, the potential allure should be obvious.

Making the call

What does your app do? As plain as the question sounds, it’s key in deciding whether to go hybrid or pursue other options. “A good starting point is to ask whether users are primarily completing a task or accessing information,” suggests Paul Boag, co-founder of web design agency, Headscape. If they’re completing a task, hybrid very well may be the way to go.

Consider some of the apps you use on a daily basis. You may or may not be able to tell if they’re hybrid just by using them, but there are always a few telltale signs. If it looks more or less like a website, yet can access phone features like the camera, chances are it’s hybrid. The Facebook app, for instance, allows users to post pictures they’ve just taken. The NBA’s Game Time app looks like a fancy HTML5 website, but allows users to post from their Twitter accounts and view game times adjusted to their device’s local clock. If accessing multiple features is crucial to your app, consider a hybrid approach.

Some downsides

Not everyone is on board with the hybrid revolution. In a zdnet.com post titled “Here’s why HTML-based apps don’t work,” Matt Baxter-Reynolds claims hybrid apps generally aren’t as pretty, fail to offer all the same features and often result in extra effort for developers trying to make their application work on multiple platforms as their custom-made counterparts. According to Reynolds, the final point often comes down to the minute differences between operating systems.

An enticing future

If Gartner’s predictions come true, a lot of apps will employ a hybrid approach in the very near future. Will it work for you? Every situation differs, but web technology is only moving forward. Make sure a hybrid approach is part of your considerations as your own apps evolve.