Definitive Guide to Mobile Application Development

April 5, 2013

How to Decide Between a Native, Hybrid, or Mobile Web Application, or a Responsive Website

In a previous article, HTML5 vs Native for Web Sites and Applications, I discussed some of the considerations in play when you are in the decision making process for your next web application. I hinted that the decision is not easy and there are lots of factors to consider (e.g. budget, technical resources, feature set). Not finding something that helps organize the decision criteria online, I’ve pulled together a “decision grid” below to try and simplify these factors down and help you make a good decision, whether you are a mobile startup, or gradually moving to mobile, or a business utilizing a mobile first strategy.

Reading the decision grid: A tick means a clear preference for that option. An asterisk means that the option would work but is not the obvious choice. No tick, of course, means that the option is not preferred if that particular criterion is important to you.

[table id=1 /]

[table id=2 /]

Since hybrid mobile apps must be distributed through app stores, by definition they cannot offer the maximum breadth of support for the myriad of internet-capable devices. But, they offer much broader support than a native app.

[table id=3 /]

Extreme budget, time and skill level constraints will be best managed by sticking with a browser-based solution. Hybrid approaches add complexity.

Tech Notes

Hybrid Native vs Hybrid WebView

There are two basic kinds of hybrid web application framework. We’re using “Hybrid Native” for platforms like Appcelerator Titanium that blend the ability to use native UI elements with interpreted JavaScript, and “Hybrid WebView” for platforms like Cordova/PhoneGap that package HTML, CSS and JavaScript into what is essentially a full-screen browser window that exists in app form with full access to device hardware capabilities.

Mobile Web Application vs Responsive Website

These designations can be somewhat confusing and misleading. Both of them refer to a website that is visited in a browser on a variety of devices (desktops, tablets, mobile phones, and everything in between). Is the site a task-oriented application that was designed exclusively for mobile? We’re calling that a Mobile Web Application. Is it more of a regular website (company site, blog, etc) designed to work on desktop as well as mobile? We’re calling that a Responsive Website. The truth is most websites / web applications exist on a continuum somewhere between these two designations, and responsive design techniques are used even when creating a mobile-only web application since form factors vary so much.

Dive Deeper

Your Thoughts?

Do you agree or disagree with this assessment? Did I miss something big? How are you making this decision on your project? Please add your comments below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *