Mobile Development: Web, Hybrid, or Native?

There’s no other way to put it, effectively reaching your mobile audience is no longer as simple as selecting your target platform, developing the app, and then deploying. The rapid changes in device adoption, mobile OS share, and user behavior have had a significant impact on the mobile development process and best practices that will ensure success.

If your business is looking for mobile development, one of the most important decisions to make is whether to develop a mobile web app, a hybrid app, or a native app. We’ve briefly described the differences below.

A Mobile Web App is a mobile-friendly website created using HTML, CSS and JavaScript, likely developed alongside other web technologies. Users access the app using a mobile web browser.

A Hybrid App is a mobile web app which can run natively on a mobile Operating System. They’re typically developed in HTML, CSS and JavaScript, and then wrapped in a native shell which can be deployed to various mobile devices.

A Native App is developed specifically for a certain mobile platform and is developed using the programming languages supported by that platform, such as Java for the Android platform and Swift for the iOS platform.

Once upon a time, there were very clear distinctions between mobile web and native applications, but the recent surge in hybrid apps is blurring the lines and changing the decision matrix.

Device API

  • Mobile Web: limited native access by using the mobile browser’s device API access capabilities
  • Hybrid: uses native shells to access the full device API
  • Native: full access to the phone's hardware and native functionality


  • Mobile Web: runs on top of additional layers; can run at relatively fast speeds
  • Hybrid: runs on top of additional layers; no discernable difference from a native app
  • Native: runs at native speed

Development and Maintenance Cost

  • Mobile Web/Hybrid: app is developed once and deployed to all major platforms; minimal update required for new Operating System versions
  • Native: separate applications required for Android and iOS

Development Process

  • Mobile Web/Hybrid: development process and technologies closely align to web development
  • Native: programming language is dictated by the platform; platforms require separate applications to be developed

Offline Functionality

  • Mobile Web: not accessible
  • Hybrid: can function without internet access because they are running in a native shell, but design must account for offline scenarios
  • Native: can easily store and retrieve data on the physical device

Time to Market and Distribution Method

  • Mobile Web: accessed via web browser; relatively short development time
  • Hybrid: distributed via web browser or app store/direct download; relatively short time to market
  • Native: distributed via app store/direct download; longer time to market (especially for cross platform deployments)

To Recap

The decision to leverage a mobile web app, hybrid app, or native app can be a difficult one and it’s unique to your business and consumer needs. However, the hybrid approach is the only way to deliver benefits of both the mobile web and native apps. 

Your speed to market will be fastest, development and maintenance costs will be lower, and your app has the potential to reach a wider audience and, for the majority of apps, you will gain these benefits with little to no sacrifice in terms of features and user experience.

If your organization is still unsure of what process to undergo, consider getting an IT consulting firm like TDK Technologies involved in the planning process. We’ll ensure critical errors aren’t made during the selection of architecture, tools, or delivery methods in order to avoid crippling the mobile development as it unfolds.

Want to see what TDK can do for you?

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