Hybrid Mobile App Development Benefits

I discussed in my previous article the benefits native of mobile app development. This article I am planning to dive into the benefits of hybrid mobile app development. I will start with a quick overview of what hybrid mobile development is. Then I will discuss the current state and direction of hybrid mobile platforms. Finally I will give you tips on the top general use cases for hybrid app development.

What is Hybrid Mobile Development?

HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript Logos

The tools of hybrid app development: HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript

For those that are not sure what hybrid mobile app development is… this section is for you.

Traditional mobile apps (or native app development) use the framework’s libraries and tools to build mobile apps. Traditionally this means using XCode with Objective-C or Swift for iOS apps and Android Studio or Eclipse with Java or Kotlin for Android apps. Hybrid apps differ from this by using web technology (HTML, CSS and javascript) to customize webviews running in a mobile app shell to handle navigation, display, user interaction and more. Plugins are used to interact the web code to with native functionality of the phone (such as the camera and locations services).

The sales pitch is this… use web developers and the tools of web development to build mobile apps. You can support cross platform apps with a single push thanks to the web code abstraction.

The Current State and Direction

In the late 2000s when Nitobi (and then Apache) developed what is now branded as Cordova. (More history here). The early years of hybrid apps had issues with looking like web pages crammed into an app link and performance issues because of the poor performance of javascript running on various devices. Hardware interaction was shaky and relied heavily on creating custom code for each project.

Today that has largely changed. Devices have greatly improved their webview performances, device interactions have numerous plug-ins pre-built and open sourced.

The other major change is the rise of eco-systems like Ionic that have made hybrids become a real alternative for creating mobile apps. Ionic is the most well used platform currently. The Ionic source code is completely open-sourced. It provides everything that you need to build and deploy your first hybrid app. Performance tweaks and even your app icon generation are available right away. The CSS even modifies the styling of the apps to better the design guidelines of each mobile operating system without any changes made to your own code. This coupled with a lot of their free and paid services offer a tremendous advantage for hybrid developers.

Hybrid app development is becoming quicker and easier for developers and non-technical people to publish their creations in the app store.

When is Hybrid the preferred methodology?

You can find articles around the internet that will greatly vary on this topic. Some developers claim that hybrid is ALWAYS the way to go. Others argue that hybrid apps were tried by Facebook once and it should never be used ever again. As you would expect, neither is the full truth. The true answer varies as much as the types of mobile apps that people create. Remember everyone’s background, resources, project constraints and use cases differ and so will your decision on which platform type is the right one for you. There are times when a public facing, large user base application absolutely makes sense with hybrid, these are just general tips.  With that out of the way, here is where I see hybrid apps being the preferred way to go most often.

Ionic Creator for Hybrid Drag & Drop app creation

Ionic Creator

USE CASE: Line of Business Apps

The Internet of Things (IOT) and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is becoming more commonplace in today’s business environment. This means that public facing mobile apps are no longer the only useful apps for a business. Doing inventory, tracking sales, ordering, monitoring equipment and more use cases do not always work well with just a mobile friendly intranet site. Mobile apps are starting to fill this gap. The problem though is that in most cases this expenditure can seem more frivolous to decision makers. As such the budgets are usually not there to build the apps needed by them employes. There is also a concern for dedicated mobile app resources. You will be hard pressed to find small and medium sized businesses that have non-consumer mobile developers or mobile developers in general that can be dedicated to such projects.

In these cases, hybrid mobile applications are a great solution. Apps can be spun up quickly and target a variety of devices and cross platforms without a lot of extra effort. Using tools like Ionic Creator means that in some cases, simpler apps can be created with little or no code required. You can use this tool to drag and drop your interfaces and get an app out quickly.

USE CASE: Minimum Viable Products (MVPs)

Your next great idea to revolutionize the app world could be more plausible by doing your MVP as a hybrid mobile app. Typically you can get to market quicker by targeting both platforms at the same time with the same resources. Again, even non-technical people can use the new tools like Ionic Creator to create early prototypes and experiment with interactions before getting to a point where more substantial funding and time would be required.

The caveat to using hybrid development for MVPs is about the project type you are targeting. Are you using existing technology and interactions to create a new service? Then you should be okay. However if you are developing your own protocols, new interactions or other bleeding edge technology, you will likely have little to no support for ready to use code. In this case you will be writing your own plugins. This could result in more development time and resources to get the wrappers built for your plugins than just using a native approach.

Wrapping It All Up

Mobile developers have more options all the time to build apps with. Finding the one that works for you just takes some time. Do your own research and experimentation to pick the platform(s) that work best for you.

If you would like to give me feedback on what I had to say, or need help deciding for your own project, please reach out over Twitter (@matt_ridley) or through our contact form. Thanks!


Matthew Ridley is mobile developer and principal of Milk Can. Milk Can designs and builds mobile solutions for local, national and international clients. He has been developing professionally for nearly 15 years and has worked across a variety of platforms and languages. He started his career building applications and websites and has now shifted his focus to mobile app solutions.


  1. June 2017
  2. May 2017