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Hybrid Mobile Applications

Mobile apps are ubiquitous nowadays. We use them every day on our smart phones and they are truly indispensable. Social media apps enable us to keep in touch with friends and relatives. Media apps enable us to play music and videos on our phone. Gaming apps are the favorite pastime of young and old people. Banking apps enable us to keep in touch with our banks and transactions. Email, Notes, Task and Video conference apps enhance our productivity while on the go. Then there are apps for online shopping, food delivery, ad posting, antivirus, phone junk cleaners, online wallets, utilities and lots more. There is an app for almost everything these days.

Hybrid mobile apps are just like any other app that you can find in your app store. They are called “hybrid” because they are built using web technologies like HTML5, CSS and Javascript but are enclosed in a native app “container” that enables it to access native platform features and device hardware. Since hybrid apps are developed using front end web technologies, they can be compiled for various platforms like Android, iOS and Windows with minimal change in the code. Thus, Hybrid apps are a cross between Web apps and Native apps.

The advantages of hybrid apps over native apps are low cost, cross platform compatibility, consistent user interface and responsiveness across all platforms, easy integration with other apps, offline caching support and easy app maintenance. Maintaining a hybrid app is as simple as updating a web page. The main disadvantage of hybrid apps is speed. They depend on the native browser, so they are not as fast as native apps.

There are many frameworks that can be leveraged to build hybrid apps. Apache Cordova, Ionic and Appcelerator are the more popular ones. The lesser used frameworks include Xamarin, Sencha Touch 2, Rho, Corona and MoSync.

Cordova is an open source hybrid app development framework. Using Cordova is like creating a web page. You will use HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript to create a web app and enclose them in a native Web View app using Cordova. There are Javscript API’s used to access hardware and device features like sensors, data, network status, etc. This is done using Cordova plugins.

Ionic is another open source framework with Bootstrap 3 and Angular JS components added to it. It is easy to learn and is designed only for hybrid app development. It uses HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript, similar to Cordova. Lots of third party extensions and plugins make it easy to develop with.

Cross platform frameworks allow a developer to write a single set of native source code, which is compiled to run natively on all supported platforms. Write once, run on Android, iOS, Windows, etc. Two popular cross platform frameworks include Appcelerator Titanium IDE, a JavaScript-based framework that is one of the best in the market, and Xamarin, a cross-platform software that uses a single C# code base along with its hybrid framework, PortableRazor.

So why would a company choose to develop hybrid apps over native apps? The main reason is cost effectiveness. Companies need to hire only one developer instead of many (one developer per platform). This developer can write HTML, CSS and Javascript and use a framework to target multiple platforms. The company will also make the choice based on the number of platforms that they plan to support.

If you need to distribute the app via the respective app stores or need to access native device features, you will need a hybrid app or a native app, but not a web app. The time taken for a developer to learn multiple native coding platforms is another factor in favour of hybrid apps.

We must choose wisely between native and hybrid apps. Both have their own strengths and weaknesses. Mobile development is a constantly changing area, with mobile OS updates getting pushed out every 6 months with unique features that can be accessed only through native API’s. The native app containers bring these new features to hybrid apps. Mobile apps are amazing tools for companies to penetrate markets and stay competitive. Hybrid apps make this easier. Giants like Uber, Twitter, and Instagram have already taken advantage of hybrid apps. When will you?

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