Native vs. Hybrid Mobile Development: The Ongoing Debate

Launching a mobile app is a big deal. Businesses want to save money, need outstanding user experience, and best-in-class performance. Can they have it all?

There has probably been no bigger debate in the technology world over the past decade than the ongoing argument over native versus cross-platform mobile development. The issue has been hashed and rehashed ad nauseam and the debate, quite frankly, is complicated.

There is a generally consensus out there that if you can afford it, go native. But that’s a big “if” for many companies that want to save money and think that cross-platform mobile development provides just as good of an experience, or at least “good enough” for their business needs. There are obviously many factors to keep in mind when it comes to deciding on the right mobile platform to launch your business.

In reality, choosing the right mobile framework decision is often more than a simple economics question. Business leaders and decision makers need to take into consideration a variety of issues. For example, what type of app is being developed? Is it for iOS, Android, or both platforms? Will it be design- and animation-heavy, with a unique, intricate GUI? And what about its business logic? 

Launching a mobile app is a big deal. Businesses want to save money, need outstanding user experience, and best-in-class performance. Can they have it all? 

If you’re a business leader who must decide on the best mobile platform to showcase your brand, product, or service, then there’s a lot of information you must take in and sort through. A multitude of articles exist on this topic and it’s easy to get overwhelmed with information overload. Our aim in the following piece is to provide a resource for the everyday business leader who knows they need a mobile app but is still identifying the most cost-effective way to go about it.   

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Native vs. Cross-Platform Mobile Development at a Glance

When comparing native versus cross-platform development methods, the topic becomes very complex very quickly. However, there are a number of important things to mention at a high level when considering this fundamental question. Let’s jump in to this topic briefly to highlight the main differences and distinctions.

Native App Development

First things first, let’s be clear about what is native app development. This approach focuses on developing apps for a particular platform. For example, Swift or Objective-C is used to write native iOS apps, Java is used to write native Android apps, and C# for the most part is used for Windows Phone apps.

One of the biggest advantages of native app development is that native apps can directly access the devices’ operating system and specific device features such as camera, GPS, contacts list, gravity sensor, gyroscope, etc.

In addition, going native means that developers can easily leverage more complex functionalities such as networking, memory management, and more. There are a number of distinct advantages to native development, which are usually called out in discussions on the topic: 

Optimal performance: Native apps use core programming languages and APIs that interact directly with a device’s operating system, eliminating any middleware, and providing optimal speeds, responsiveness, and efficiency. 

Better UI/UX: Designed for a particular operating system, native mobile apps deliver a more natural flow to users, which results in better visuals and better control over the UI.

High security/reliability: Native programming means direct interaction with the operation system and less middleware, which can increase vulnerability to hacks and malware. Native apps ensure the best security upgrades, multi-factor authentication, and remote management controls resulting in the strictest data security and privacy. 

App store support: Native is preferred by Google and Apple stores, since both platforms feature mostly native apps on their store. 

But nothing is perfect, and at the end of the day, despite the obvious strengths of native, there are some downsides to this approach. It is much more cost-heavy and time-consuming. Businesses that want mobile applications for both iOS and Android will require two different development teams, budgets, and timelines. Also, the speed of development is slower and the maintenance and upgrades of each code base is much more involved. 

Cross-Platform Development

As the name implies, cross-platform development offers the advantage of writing mobile applications with one universal language and making that app compatible with more than one mobile platform. The idea of cross-platform is to “write once, run everywhere.” This often means developers can write the core of the application as an HTML5 or JavaScript mobile app and then place a native device wrapper around it. There are a number of advantages to cross-platform development, including: 

Cost-effectiveness: The ability to “write once, deploy everywhere,” or to deploy a single codebase on multiple platforms, obviously translates into less development time and significant cost savings.

Faster time to market: With cross-platform development, it’s much easier to push out a fully functional, feature rich application to market. 

Low maintenance: With less overhead and one code-base, development teams can quickly release new updates or patches to multiple platforms simultaneously. 

Broader reach: For businesses with limited budgets, cross-platform is the easiest way to gain the broadest reach for the least money. A single app can be distributed on iOS, Android, as well as other operating systems like Windows and Linux depending on your business requirement. 

But, as with everything in life, there are always tradeoffs. And the choice of a cross-platform approach does involve some disadvantages. For example, developers that choose this route will struggle with occasional performance glitches and reduced functionality. They will also experience integration issues, including frequent non-compatibility with 3rd party libraries and SDKs.  

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Mobile Development Decision Matrix 

In order to keep up with the rapid pace and demands of mobile hungry consumers, businesses must be able to rapidly plan, build, and deploy applications at the speed of the market. There are a multitude of factors that go into the decisioning process.

To assist in this process, the matrix below represents the top 5 cross platform application development platforms on the market, their primary identifying features, and the pros and cons of each approach.  

Choosing Between Cross Platform vs. Native—a Case Study  

So, when the dust settles on the debate between cross platform and native, business leaders must ultimately settle on an approach. Let’s walk through a hypothetical but realistic scenario of a startup that needs to launch an application in short order.

YouRock is a fitness company that offers a dieting and nutrition app to millennials who are “too busy to workout” but are very health conscious and want to monitor their food and calories. The application doesn’t require a lot of fancy graphics and navigation but needs integration with 3rd party applications and databases – especially for finding caloric information on thousands of food items.

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Janet, the CEO, has been a bit flustered by all the development options and decision factors in bringing her application to market. As a startup owner, she doesn’t have the luxury of time, money, and available resources to make any mistakes.

Janet’s small team of developers have been divided on the right approach to building the YouRock app. Two of her freelance developers are pro-native advocates while the other two advocate for a cross-platform approach.

Janet has a limited budget and needs to launch her application in 90 days. The native-first developers argue that despite high initial cost, dropping a native app into both the iOS and Android stores will provide a much higher return on investment in the long run. Janet is also undecided. She has to make a decision soon but is wary of overspending money.  

What if YouRock doesn’t take off? Then the company is stuck with two perfectly good apps but without any more resources. She can’t imagine the thought of releasing some of her development team. It’s a big risk!

After extensive discussions with her team as well as the advice of a trusted consultant, Janet decides that it makes the most sense to leverage a cross-platform solution like React Native or Xamarin and build YouRock versions for both the iOS and Android stores.

The ability to control costs and “gain the best of both worlds” with good enough performance and native-like features across both major OS platforms becomes the winning formula. Since the YouRock backend is also coded in C#, Janet and her team decide on Xamarin.

Following months of extensive analysis and discussion, the YouRock team officially kicks off development of the application using Xamarin. The build and deployment are completed in just under 90 days and the team is able to deliver both versions of the app to the Apple and Google play stores by the launch deadline.

Janet’s intuition turns out to be correct; she estimates that by managing just one code base and not hiring more developers, she achieved over 60% savings instead of going native.

Within three months after launch, YouRock has gained over 2,000 downloads and the reviews are over 90%. Janet is delighted! Her decision to go with cross-platform development on Xamarin is a resounding success.

Ultimately, the worries about performance and speed were negligible in relation to the overall cost-savings and the ability to meet their launch window. What’s more, maintenance of the application is seamless and the addition of new functions and features has gone quicker than expected. YouRock is a resounding success.

Janet’s experience just goes to show that cross-platform mobile development can provide very fast time to market and solid performance dollar-for-dollar. 


If you consider there are currently 6.4 billion smartphone users worldwide and the global population is 7.9 billion, this means that smartphone penetration has reached over 80 percent. Every business today must have a mobile strategy and application in place to appeal to consumers. Mobile is simply not an option anymore; it’s the key to survival!

If that is the case, then the question immediately becomes: “what is your approach to mobile development?” As is often the case, it really depends.

If you’re a well-established company with deep pockets, then native app development probably makes the most sense. Native apps still remain the gold standard in the market place. However, for startups and smaller businesses that need to control costs, cross-platform development is often the best choice. Using one codebase to reach a broader target audience with “good enough” performance and user experience means that companies can pour the savings back

into business development and strategic growth.  

At Integrant, we’ve been building applications for 30 years, and have been onboard with mobile since the beginning. We are experts in our craft and fluent in both native and cross-platform mobile development. Unlike many development organizations, we see the merits in each approach.

Our aim is to make our customers happy. We do so by first looking holistically at our clients’ business and technical needs. By taking a big picture perspective, we gain a better understanding of all the intricacies and aspects of the organization before we even recommend a mobile solution.

Is your business struggling with adopting a mobile strategy—whether launching a new app or repurposing an old one? Need help determining the right platform to use? Do you feel that you’re leaving money on the table by not having a targeted mobile application? If this describes your organization, then we can help! We’re obsessed with overdelivering for our customers and will stop at nothing to provide the value that they deserve.

If you’re looking for a mobile strategy partner, then give us a call today to learn how we can help you scale your business and grow beyond your wildest dreams. Subscribe below or contact us to see the impact we can make for you and your business. We can’t wait to get started! 

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