Hybrid app development: Fence sitting can make your life easy

It seems like everyone is an app developer these days. I was out for drinks with some university mates recently, and despite the fact that only one of us actually studied coding, all four of us were working on an app of some kind. I had a guy who studied business sitting on my left, a sound technician on my right and the only actual developer in our group sitting opposite me. In a very uncharacteristic drinking session, our talk didn’t venture near girls, sport or parties, but was stuck solely on each of our apps and the merits and drawbacks of our chosen development tools. Never has such a nerd session been had.

What I took away from our nerd session though, is that I am very much a fence sitter. The business student and the (actual) developer argued strongly for iOS development, while the sound technician would not be swayed about the awesomeness of Android. Apple, they argued, supplied a ready-made framework to work from – as well as great technical support – that made development easy. The argument for Android was that the Google Play Store reaches a much larger audience and because their development language is open source there are a lot of different ways to do the same thing. What none of them seemed to realize though, is that there is a third option out there.

Hybrid mobile app development is gaining traction in a lot of circles and it is what I am using to develop my application. They are like any other app you will find on your phone and can be found in any app store just like a natively built app. In fact, unless you were a developer, most people wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference between a native and a hybrid application. So to enlighten you about this third alternative to app development, I am going to answer three questions that I think you might be asking right now.

So what makes hybrid app development different?

Unlike natively built apps, hybrid applications run on web based languages like HTML, CSS and JavaScript. Also unlike natively built apps, hybrid applications run in a WebView instead of directly off the phone’s native software (think of a WebView as a web browser without the navigation buttons or search bar). Effectively, a hybrid app is a dedicated web page with the added advantage that it can access the phones native capabilities such as the camera, accelerometer, contacts etc. Hybrid apps can achieve exactly the same things as native ones, except that they are much easier to develop if all you have is web development experience.

So why aren’t all apps hybrid?

There are pros and cons to coding a hybrid application. The biggest advantage is that you don’t have to go and learn a native coding language such as Objective-C (iOS) or Java (Android) if you want to code an app. Another big advantage is that you can write one set of code, instead of two, and still publish to both the Apple and Android app stores. Two birds with one stone anybody? Unfortunately, the down side is that the performance of a hybrid app is just not the same as a native one. They can often be slightly slower and less responsive and for this reason some developers opt to go the native route. So I guess it boils down to a matter of preference. Personally I think that minor performance issues are outweighed by ease of development.

If I want to start building a hybrid application, where would I start?

As someone testing the hybrid app development waters, I would recommend that you start by visiting the Apache Cordova website. They offer an in-depth explanation about what you’re getting yourself into and also give you the chance to build your own prototype. If you like the results, I would then recommend that you visit the Telerik AppBuilder website. This is the platform that I use and which offers a bunch of awesome features which will help kick-start your app development.

So if you find yourself in a debate about Android vs iOS like I did, feel free to voice a third option. Hybrid app development is easy and efficient and will get your app onto the Apple and Android app stores in half the time that it takes native developers. Sometimes not taking sides is the smartest option.

Reference: What is a Hybrid Mobile app?’

Mike is Techsys’ Digital Strategist. An ex Rhodent filled with ‘gees’, he will strategise your project with a smile.

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