Native vs. responsive web vs. hybrid app development

Native vs. responsive web vs. hybrid app development

Hybrid or native? The pros and cons debate wages on without an end in sight. The only consensus is that that there will be no winner, just options to fit different situations. Which makes sense really, because the only way to find an answer as to which mobile path is right for your business is to know what your customers want do with or gain from your mobile implementation. Are you simply making content accessible to people from many devices, or are you providing complex functionality that requires using a device’s hardware? Knowing which questions to ask and gaining an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each implementation are vital to creating a successful product and not wasting your investment of time and resources. Below are the options, and a some points to consider when choosing between them.

Understanding your mobile development options

Responsive Web Development — Responsive web design, it should be noted, is an entirely different animal than the hybrid and native options. Instead of being downloaded onto your phone, a responsive site is still viewed in a browser, like any other website. This means that it has no interaction with the phone itself, but can only interact with the user through the confines of web based elements. Responsive web development is all about making sure that your website is user friendly and entirely accessible no matter what size of screen or what device your user is on. It is useful to note that most web apps are paired with a responsive website, because only HTML is visible for SEO purposes, and apps without web based landing pages would never show up on web browser searches.

Hybrid App Development — Hybrid apps are the compromise. They are OS agnostic. They work on any OS, but operate from one code base, instead of having to be written from scratch each time. This is especially appealing if a company wants an app to seem native and be available for purchase through the Apple and Android app stores, but without having to deal with the hassle of multiple truly native apps. Because native apps, lets face it, are a huge hassle: a minimum of two completely separate code bases, in a minimum of two different languages that are written and maintained by at least two different teams of developers. It is a daunting task in the best of cases. So, we compromise some native functionality for the comparative ease of working with one code base and one dev team, with the ability to fix bugs in one place and release updates to both devices at the same time.

The Spectrum

Native App or Responsive Web App



Native or Hybrid

It is also worth mentioning the importance of this decision. It might not seem like a big difference, you get an app that functions or an app that functions better. However, with users, this will be a big issue. Most people who use smartphones do not know and cannot explain the difference between native and hybrid, but if their experience is anything other than native, they will know. It is exactly the same way in which a casual user has no idea what the technical differences are between a mac and PC, but all of them know the difference when they go to use the rival machine. You might say, so what — it takes them a few minutes to learn to use my app, but my content is be good enough to make it worth their while. In truth though, however amazing your content is, it probably doesn’t matter. If your UX is confusing or even simply not what the user was expecting the user might never give your app a second chance, or even a first. Consider this:

While 79 percent of consumers would retry a mobile app only once or twice if it failed to work the first time, only 16 percent would give it more than two attempts. Poor mobile app experience is likely to discourage users from using an app again.

You cannot underestimate the power of the first impression of your app when that is more than likely the only impression it will ever give. It is this one truth that has the ability to make going native worth your while. With one code base, it is impossible for even the best of hybrids to feel native on multiple operating systems. And yes, your users will notice and it will absolutely affect your success rate.

While you chew on that, we have broken down two possible deciding factors, time frame and performance, to show some of the thought process that goes into a final decision.


If you have the time (and resources, of course) to invest in a native app, it is likely the best way to go. Your app will be faster, easier to use, and more secure going the native route. One thing to remember when getting started is that just because you went native does not mean you must immediately release a version of your app for every OS. In fact, your best option is likely is honing in on the OS that your customers use and releasing only a native app for that OS, and add another if it becomes beneficial. Instagram waited two full years before releasing a native Android app, and many other large companies have done the same without any harm to their business. In fact, focusing on one will allow you to put out a higher quality product off the bat, which might be a bigger factor in overall success than simply wider availability.


There are many other areas and factors to consider when deciding which method for mobile to implement. Hopefully these considerations can give a start to that conversation. All three options have their benefits and costs, but there is a best option for every situation, and the right use of each method can be successful. Responsive Web Development is a fantastic answer for basic web sites that prepares you for new devices and changes in screen size before they even happen. There have recently been powerful advances in hybrid methods, and in the future they might be able to offer near native functionality. Native development will continue to offer new and more advanced functionality as devices progress. In short, the world of mobile development is rapidly evolving to meet the huge mobile need, and we will all have to watch to see what comes of it.

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