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The Future of Native Mobile Apps: Psst…they’re not dying. Here’s why.

By Ahmed Amin | November 6, 2018 | Category:

Will native apps die? The short answer is no. Anyone who says native apps are dead or dying is missing the point – what are you trying to achieve with your mobile app?

Native, hybrid, and progressive web apps (PWA) serve different business cases and teams are choosing the best method for their goals.

Research does indeed point to a decline in native mobile applications while hybrid mobile applications are increasing in popularity. One reason is cross platform or hybrid frameworks are becoming increasingly feature rich. But, these frameworks don’t cover all mobile app requirements and they won’t for years to come. For many reasons, such as a lack of standards across operating systems, one could argue native applications will always exist.

With the rise of progressive web apps (PWAs) the technical community is pondering and debating the future of PWA vs. Native vs. Hybrid mobile applications. PWAs are essentially web apps that look and feel like a native mobile app and they are establishing their place in the mobile application universe. Many tout PWAs as the “breakout technology” of 2018, but we still don’t know how it will evolve and meet mobile app requirements.

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Others are predicting smart watches and devices will take over the world. If they are right, the trend toward the use of hybrid mobile development frameworks may shift back toward native mobile apps.

We will take a look at:

  • The future of native mobile apps and why people believe they are dying
  • The technical reasons why native apps will live on for many years to come
  • How to hire and train your engineers

Why do you people wonder, “Is Native App Development Dying?”

Gartner says 90% of apps are downloaded less than 500 times a day, make less than $1,250 per day, and only 0.01% are considered a financial success.

Building native apps or an app for each OS requires a specialized team and can be very expensive. Cross platform frameworks enable 90%+ of the code to be repurposed. It’s like building two or three apps with one team, development effort, and code base. This dramatically increases time to market and decreases costs.

This is the main reason why people think native apps are dead, or nearly extinct.

It’s much faster and easier for web developers to learn cross platform frameworks because the language and development concepts are similar. Xamarin serves the .NET development community while ReactNative, for example, is easy for JavaScript developers to learn. This means you can retrain and flexibly allocate your current team to work on both web and mobile apps. With native app development, developers must learn a whole new programming language.

According to a Stack Overflow survey of 36,000+ respondents, 72.6% identify as web developers while only 23% identify as mobile developers. Numerous studies show JavaScript and C# are more popular than programming languages like Swift (iOS) and Kotlin (Android). It is easier to hire web developers who have experience with hybrid mobile development. You can also opt to hire a web developer and train them. Strong web developers become productive hybrid mobile developers in about 2-4 weeks.

Some believe PWAs will take over the mobile world. PWAs are essentially web applications providing an app-like experience on the web. If you have strong web developers with responsive web development skills, you can build PWAs. In fact, you can reuse the existing code base for your web app to build a PWA. Google, a major player in the space, released statistics detailing its benefits related to traffic, load times, conversions, and more. The stats are impressive. Ionic surveyed 13,000 developers of which 31% reported building and deploying progressive web apps.

But is it about PWA vs. Native vs. Hybrid? Let’s look at the technical reasons why there is space for all three.

Four reasons why native apps will live on

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1. Core technologies stand the test of time.

With the rise of .NET and Java, they said C++ would die. Today, multiple reputable sources rank C++ in the top 5 most popular programming languages. They said COBAL would die, but many companies still run their core systems on COBAL applications. It’s the same with native mobile apps. Companies have already invested in native and in many cases, it doesn’t make sense to rebuild them.

2. Hybrid mobile apps and PWAs don’t do it all.

We still need highly specialized native development teams for certain types of mobile apps. For example, if you’re building a game, controlling or reading data from devices, or require a highly complex UI and user experience you may need to stick with native application development.

3. Limited access to native APIs.

Cross platform frameworks don’t expose all native APIs. The real figures are always shifting because the frameworks are constantly improving, but here’s an example. Let’s say you’re building an iOS app and you will need to use 100 APIs. If you build the app in Swift or Objective-C you will be able to use all 100 native APIs. If you’re building the same app using a cross platform framework like Xamarin or ReactNative, you may only find 70 or 80 APIs available to you and will need to build the other 20 APIs natively.

4. We will never have one standard across competing mobile operating systems.

It’s doubtful giants like Apple, Google, and Microsoft will set a standard for all mobile operating systems. Today bluetooth and NFC protocols still cannot be built on a cross platform framework. The way Android communicates with a device in your home is completely different than iOS. They use totally different APIs. Because APIs are not unified and some are available for one OS and not the other, it’s impossible to build the functionality on a cross platform framework.

Hybrid mobile development frameworks are narrowing the gap between native and hybrid features. They’ve come a long way. PWAs are working to do the same, but they trail far behind hybrid options. But, let’s remember the key question we need to ask ourselves when selecting a methodology. What are you trying to achieve with your mobile app? There are many business cases for hybrid apps with a 90%+ reusable code base. There are also good business reasons to repurpose existing code to build a PWA. Finally, there are features and functions that simply cannot be built without going native and sometimes it’s good business sense to build multiple native apps.

PWA vs. Native vs. Hybrid?

Are you wondering whether your aging native mobile app should be rebuilt as a hybrid app? Curious about PWAs? Nervous about whether going hybrid will actually produce reusable, maintainable code? Worried you’ll run into limitations by moving off native mobile technologies? We can help.

If you would like to share your views on the future of native mobile apps, please contact us. We’d love to hear your opinions.


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