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What are the different app types and how do they work?

Despite their uniform appearance on the screen of your smartphone, apps come in many “shapes and sizes.” Yet, in fact, there is more than one way to create an app and each has benefits and drawbacks that developers should carefully consider before diving into a project.

There are more types of mobile applications than the average user realizes — including native apps, web-based apps, and hybrid apps. And while users may not always notice the difference between these different types of apps, they are very unique. If you are planning to create an app for your business, it is important to spend time familiarizing yourself with the options and what the pros and cons of each app type are. In this article, we will explain the different types of apps as well as their individual benefits.

What is a native application?

Native apps are what most people think about when they hear the word “app.” These apps are built for the operating systems (OS) of each device — usually either iOS or Android. Developing a native app requires you to create separate apps for each OS and take their idiosyncrasies into account. This inherently leads to higher development costs and a longer time-to-market but also means your apps take full advantage of the capabilities of each device and its OS. Developing a native app can take months and hundreds of thousands of dollars, meaning they are often not an option for smaller companies — or companies where time is of the essence.

Even though developing separate apps for each OS may be costly, native apps have several benefits you should consider when deciding which type of app is the best fit for your needs.

3 benefits of native applications

Native apps provide many benefits to the user as well as the publisher. Here are three reasons you may want to consider developing a native app:

  1. Native apps are typically faster and more reliable — leading to a better user experience.
  2. Native apps use each device’s native UI, allowing it to connect more directly to other features, such as Bluetooth, contact lists, etc.
  3. Native apps are typically more secure, providing users with more data protection.

What is a web-based application?

While web apps behave similarly to native apps, they are actually responsive websites that adapt to each device and are accessed via a web browser such as Safari or Chrome. A user doesn’t need to download the app or store information directly on their device. If you come across a call to action asking you to install a web app, it’s likely that you are simply bookmarking the website in your browser. One of the most common types of web apps is the progressive web app (PWA). PWAs are essentially native apps running inside a browser.

Web apps are entirely dependent on the browsers they run in, resulting in a less consistent user experience — as they may function differently from one browser to the next — but this also allows developers some important flexibility.

3 benefits of web-based applications

While web-based apps may have some limitations, they may be a good solution for companies where time and expense are paramount.

  1. Web-based apps do not require customization for each OS making development quicker and less expensive.
  2. Web-based apps do not require a download, and therefore do not take up space on users’ devices.
  3. Web-based apps don’t require users to download updates either, as developers can just push out the update over the web.

What is a hybrid mobile app?

Finally, there are hybrid mobile apps — essentially web apps that look and feel like a native app. Hybrid apps combine many of the best features of web and native apps — with app icons on users’ mobile screens, fast performance, and the ability to function offline.

While some hybrid apps may lack power in comparison to native apps, they have plenty to recommend them. In fact, many of the top apps in the app stores are hybrid apps.

3 benefits of hybrid mobile apps

Hybrid apps are a “best of both worlds” solution that makes them popular among even the biggest name brands. Here are a few reasons they may work for you:

  1. Hybrid app development is quicker and more economical than a native app.
  2. Hybrid apps load rapidly and therefore are well suited to countries with slow mobile connections.
  3. Hybrid apps can interact with a device’s OS in ways that regular web apps cannot.

What is a React Native mobile app?

As we mentioned earlier, the main drawbacks of native apps are the time and expense required to create them, but there is a solution in the form of React Native mobile apps — a type of cross-platform development framework that allows app publishers to simplify the process by using the same code across operating systems.

React Native is an open-source UI framework created by Meta Platforms, Inc. (formerly known as Facebook) and it can be used to develop applications for not only iPhone and Android smartphones but also Android TV, macOS, tvOS, web, and Windows.

Because React Native is open-source, there is a library of pre-built components that can help developers speed up the process of mobile app development. These libraries also stand to make app development more accessible to less experienced companies.

Which type of app is right for me?

Each type of app discussed here has its own ideal use case — but each organization will have to decide which one is the best fit. Many retailers turn to hybrid apps because they allow for a familiar native-like interface, but are easily updated with new products or sale information. If you’re a SaaS company, a full-featured native app may provide the best performance and security for your product users. The important takeaway is that you have options and some of those options are more accessible than you may think.

Want to learn more about e-commerce apps? Read our “E-commerce App Report 2021: Top trends in mobile shopping with insights from Sensor Tower.

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