What are the main types of mobile apps and how can you choose the right one for you?

Mikhail Shchelkunov ◽ Apr 4, 2022

According to the analytical resource “Business of Apps”, app revenue for iOS and Android in 2021 reached $133 billion, up 19% from 2019. These numbers are motivating many aspiring developers to create their own apps.

But before you even begin thinking about design, functionality, and monetization, you need to decide what kind of app you’re going to create. This choice determines how your idea will be realized, and then the final product will be able to satisfy the needs of your audience.

The 3 Main Types of Applications

There are three main types of mobile apps:

  • Native
  • Web
  • Hybrid

We’re going to take a look at each of these types in detail, including their features, advantages, and disadvantages.

Native Apps

These apps are designed for a specific platform - Android or iOS, and written in its native programming language. For example, Objective-C, Swift for iOS, or Java for Android. They are loaded from the device’s memory and have access to the hardware, gyroscope, microphone, camera, GPS, NFC, and so on.

Advantages

  • Stability and high performance due to being optimized for specific hardware
  • The maximum possible functionality. These apps can implement functions using the camera, GPS, microphone, etc.
  • A familiar UI/UX. The interface adjusts to the OS, guaranteeing a positive user experience
  • Autonomy. Most features don’t require an internet connection

Disadvantages

  • An app written for one platform cannot be used on another
  • Development requires a lot of time and resources
  • Reduced potential profits due to a smaller market

Examples: Instagram, Shazam

Web Apps

These apps are essentially adaptive websites whose interface mimics that of a native app. They can run through a browser on any device. Written in JavaScript, Ruby, CSS, HTML5 and other web development languages.

Advantages

  • High speed ​​and low cost of development
  • Downloading not required
  • Compatible with all mobile operating systems
  • Doesn’t have to be uploaded to an app marketplace

Disadvantages

  • Internet dependence. The app can’t function without a stable network connection. And even if you manage to implement offline functions, you’ll need an occasional connection to back up the data
  • Browser dependence. Certain features may be available in one browser but not in another. As a result, user experiences and capabilities differ.
  • Limited functionality. Web apps don’t have access to the camera, navigation, or other features of the device hardware
  • Can't send push notifications

Examples: cnn.com, economist.com.

Hybrid Apps

These are web apps that launch from the device and look and work like native apps. Their development combines the use of proprietary APIs and web technologies, HTML5, CSS, and more.

Advantages

  • High speed ​​and low cost of development. Hybrid apps require less time and resources than native ones. Something that makes this option ideal for launching an MVP.
  • Wide market coverage. The application can be released simultaneously on several platforms, translating to more downloads and installations.
  • Autonomy. Some features may work offline
  • Saves time and money. Creating a hybrid app is far quicker and cheaper than making two separate native versions.

Disadvantages

  • Low speed and stability compared to native apps
  • Bugs on various systems. Hybrid apps aren’t always perfectly optimized for multiple operating systems.
  • Limited functionality. It won’t be possible to fully implement the same functions as native ones. Some can be partially functional, but adding new ones won’t work at all.

Examples: Gmail, TripCase.

Distribution Method

How an app is distributed can affect its success. Native and hybrid apps can be found and downloaded in marketplaces like Google Play or the App Store. The advantage of this distribution method is the organic traffic that the marketplace gets. Popular apps can show up on the main page and attract even more traffic, and therefore more money. The disadvantage of this approach is the strict requirements for apps and market limitations. It’s not always possible to realize your original idea.

Web apps have no limits because they can run just as the developer wants them to. On the other hand, not having the privileges that marketplaces provide is a significant drawback for many.

Choosing the right type of application

Your budget is the main thing to consider when developing an app. Web apps require minimal investment, while native apps require the most.

Native development is an ideal solution for apps that require speed, stability, a beautiful design, and access to all of the functionality of the device’s hardware.

Web apps are for simple projects, something that doesn’t require push notifications, hardware access, or a high level of performance. Informational resources are a good example.

Hybrid apps are suitable for automating business processes when there’s no need for full hardware access. Ideal for when you need to develop an app for several operating systems at the same time. Or if you want to create an MVP, a hybrid app will help you test the idea. If successful, then you can create a full-fledged native version for one or more platforms.


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