Whatever your niche, whether you’re a personal trainer or a whisky distributor, there’s no getting away from the power of apps. Consumers spent 3.5 trillion minutes inside of Android apps alone in 2020, and spent $19 billion on the App Store last year, too. By 2024, consumers around the world will download an eye-watering 184 billion apps per year. Simply put, apps are big business, and creating a custom app for your brand could pay dividends.
However, app development is not only time-consuming and complex but requires an upfront investment, too. It’s also worth noting that there are three types of apps: native apps, cross-platform apps, and web apps. Below, we offer an introduction to each and round up the pros and cons to help you make the right decision when you’re ready to invest in an app.
Native apps are built for a specific platform – like iOS or Android – and are designed to take advantage of the operating system’s resources such as the camera set-up, and exclusive features like Apple Pay or Android Auto. On Android, apps are built in Java, and on iOS, it’s Swift. Larger organisations invest in native apps for the two main operating systems, though some branch out into others such as PureOS, as well as device-specific operating systems like watchOS for Apple Watch and wearOS for Android watches. As native apps are built for specific platforms, they can be optimised for security, stability, and performance; developers know how iPhones work, for instance, and can develop functionality designed just for them.
Native apps are faster as many elements are preloaded onto the device’s operating system, meaning apps don’t need to be packed with functionality and code, and they work offline, so consumers can benefit even when they’re without a signal. Native apps also maintain aspect ratios, and because apps emulate the look and feel of preinstalled apps, users find it much easier to familiarise themselves with the user interface, which leads to higher adoption rates.
There are some drawbacks to developing native apps, however. First up, native apps must be downloaded via the App Store or Play Store, and it can be tough to encourage customers to find you or download your app. There’s no flexibility when you develop for Android or iOS – you must follow the platform’s rules and protocols or your app will not be published. What’s more, you’ll need a native app for both iOS and Android. In the UK, iOS and Android have a 52% and 47% market share respectively. This effectively means that you’ll need to develop and maintain two separate apps, which can be time-consuming and expensive as an SME.
See also: The biggest advantages and disadvantages of hybrid apps
Cross-platform apps, also known as hybrid apps, utilise native development and HTML/CSS to marry the benefits of app and web development. They’re built with a native foundation, they are often considered “one-size-fits-all” apps and are ideal for eCommerce, as they’re effectively built-in HTML and use in-app browsers to view and interact with content, though they’re more advanced than standalone web apps, which we’ll get onto later in this piece.
The biggest benefits of hybrid apps include instant access, easy maintenance, and affordability, and because they don’t need to be approved by the App Store, they’re live as soon as you’re finished developing them. The same goes for updates; if you need to make a tweak or want to introduce features, you don’t need to wait for unnecessary approval first.
There are, of course, some drawbacks to hybrid or cross-platform apps. The first is that, unlike native apps, functionality will be limited, and hardware-specific features like Apple Pay and ARKit aren’t accessible, and users will need to find your app on the App Store just as they do with a native app. What’s more, user management can be limited on cross-platform apps, which will make it harder to track users/collect data to help improve app performance.
Finally, let’s touch on the cheapest option: web apps. Web apps are essentially responsive websites that users can open on their smartphones or desktops, designed to look and perform like an app but without the actual package. Because they depend on a browser rather than the App Store, they’re faster and more cost-effective, but they cannot offer the functionality or performance of native or hybrid apps, limiting their usefulness in some cases.
Web apps are more accessible than any other form of app, as they work on a wide range of devices, including tablets, smart TVs, and computers. Updates can be deployed immediately and you’ll enjoy better discovery on search engines, as you’re effectively building a website rather than an app. It’s cheaper to develop web apps as there’s less development time needed, and web apps can be delivered to market much faster, ideal for time-sensitive apps.
Disadvantages of web apps include no offline availability – you’ll need to be connected to the internet to access your content – and no access to the App Store or Play Store, which could limit the reach of your app. Stability issues are also possible, as you’ll need to test your app on dozens of device types and browsers, and you’ll be limited to native smartphone features like cameras and location data, so bear this in mind when deciding on web over native apps.
There you have it – a brief look at the three most popular app types and the pros and cons of each. If you’re looking to build an app that requires access to native features like a camera or augmented reality, then a native app is best for you, but if you’re on a budget and want the best of both worlds, consider a cross-platform or web app instead. Contact the team at Zudu on 01382 690080 to find out more and arrange a free app development consultation.