A man holding an android phone

Understanding Mobile App Development: What is a Native Mobile App?

David Barlev

December 28, 2020 · 5 minutes

If you’ve heard the term “native mobile app” you’re probably in the market for a mobile app developer.

However, what does the term really mean, and more importantly, what can it mean for your business’ development.

Although mobile app development can get pretty technical, we’re going to do our best to make a complex subject, simple.

Here’s a quick breakdown of native mobile apps, native mobile app development, and everything in between.

Let’s dive in.

Overview: What is a Native Mobile App

A phone on a laptopOkay, so let’s get the easy stuff out of the way first.

A native mobile app is an app designed for a specific mobile device (smartphone, tablet, etc.). Native mobile apps are downloaded onto the device itself. Think of these apps as digital tools or extensions of the device’s inherent capabilities. These are apps can be things like a smartphone’s camera, calendar, flashlight, etc.

Although some of these apps are pre-installed on the device, they can also be downloaded from an online store such as a marketplace like Apple’s “The App Store” or Android’s Google Play store.

With that understood, Native mobile apps are coded in specific programming languages. These languages include things like Objective C for iOS devices or Java for devices running Android.

Although we’ll get into the chief benefits of native mobile apps in a moment, one of the key draws to this form of development are their superior performance and reliability. Due to the fact that these apps can natively connect to the applications inherent to the device (camera, calendar, etc.) they’re renowned for their fluidity on the devices they appear.

Perhaps most importantly, these apps can be used without an Internet connection (for example, many video games on smartphones are native mobile apps.)

However, one of the biggest obstacles with this form of development is its cost to create (more on this later).

In general, here are the pros and cons to be aware of when it comes to native mobile apps…

Pros

  • Offline access
  • Faster performance
  • Local data storage on the device
  • Allows device-specific hand gestures
  • Get app store-specific approval
  • Have direct access to device hardware

Cons

  • Expensive (requiring two teams to create two apps for Android and Apple)
  • Maintenance cost is higher (requires two teams for continued updates)
  • More difficult approval process

With the broad brushstrokes of native app development understood, let’s dive a little deeper into the core benefits of native mobile apps.

Breaking Down Native App Development

A man at two laptop computersSuperior Performance

Thanks to the fact that native mobile apps are designed and optimized for a specific device, they’re built for superior performance. Not only are native apps faster, but they’re also more responsive. Combining core programming languages and helpful APIs, native mobile apps take full advantage of the devices capabilities to deliver breakthrough power and performance.

Complete and Total Access

Other types of apps are more accessible on various devices (web apps, hybrid apps, cross-platform apps, etc.). However, due to the level of specificity inherent in native mobile apps, they’re chiefly designed to fully utilize the devices hardware for best effect. This means that typical apps like GPS, camera, microphone, etc. are lightning fast in comparison to other types of similar-function apps.

More Security, Less Bugs

Since native mobile apps don’t require internet access to be used, they’re naturally protected against external hacking and threats. Adding to this, due to the fact that native mobile apps are so fine-tuned to the device in which their featured, many native apps are free of bugs, experiencing the consistent, high-level performance.

Greater Interactivity for Users

Thanks to the increased performance of native mobile apps, users often find them more intuitive—and ultimately, pleasurable—in use. As a result, when launching a new native mobile app for new customers or prospects, you have the potential to set a strong first impression, creating an incentive for long-term adoption and use.

Summarizing Native Mobile Apps

The Advantages

  • Better performance than a web-based, hybrid, and cross-platform apps
  • Total support from their chosen app store
  • UX and UI are often clearly superior to users
  • Stricter approval and vetting process for native mobile apps fine-tunes them
  • Secure, safe, and generally bug-free

The Disadvantages

  • Requires a team of specialists depending on the platform
  • Specialized team(s) raise the budget and labor costs of these projects
  • Not necessary for simple applications

What Are Web-Based Apps? Native Mobile Apps vs Web-Based Apps

A group of web designersWhile native mobile apps may be the most common type of app out there, they aren’t the only type worth mentioning. By their nature, native mobile apps are built for specific platforms (iOS vs Android) and limited to very specific languages.

For example:

  • iOS: Swift and Objective-C
  • Android: Java or Kotlin

These platforms have their own development tools, interface elements, and SDK. As a result, many companies make deliberate choices to invest heavily in native apps when they feel the return in performance, and use-case warrants it.

So, What About Web-Based Apps?

A progressive web app (PWAs) is effectively a hybrid of regular web pages and native apps. In this sense, they function less like native apps—i.e. no offline access—but hold the ability to send push notifications, access hardware like vibration function, as well as improved hand gestures.

Unfortunately, PWAs at this time will only work with Google Chrome.

And that’s a big deal because it means iOS users can’t use them.

However, web apps in a general sense, are simple enough and quick to build. Using languages like Javascript, CSS, and HTML5, they can run inside most web browsers, and there are plenty of helpful templates to pull from.

Although these web apps aren’t as robust as a truly native mobile app, they do have their own benefits that make them appealing to both developers and businesses.

Summarizing Web Apps

The Advantages

  • Easy to build and maintain
  • Has a common code base across multiple mobile platforms
  • Accessible to all platforms since they run through web browsers
  • Less expensive compared to native mobile apps
  • Don’t need app store approval
  • Faster to launch

The Disadvantages

  • Smaller in scope compared to native mobile apps
  • Requires a browser to run (ultimately requires internet access)
  • Utilizes more steps in the process; this weakens user experience
  • Forces users to interact with different browsers hurting data on road mapping
  • Slower than native apps
  • Less secure
  • Less intuitive and as interactive as native apps
  • Fewer branding opportunities

Overall, web apps have their place in the market. However, when it comes to developing a new mobile app for your business, you’ll want to have a clear vision for the user experience you wish to present (as well as your budget).

Moving Forward with Native Mobile Apps

Due to the fact that native mobile apps present an almost inarguably superior user experience than other app development options, you’d think it was the obvious choice.

However, it’s important to keep in mind the cost of developing a native app, particularly when your goal is to have your new app featured on both android and iOS devices.

As a result, always have a clear sense of vision before starting your next mobile app development project. Define your budget, the user experience you wish to provide, and the capabilities you expect out of the app, and the right choice should become obvious.

Have more questions about native mobile apps?
Click here to schedule a quick, 15-minute consultation and let’s talk it out!

About David Barlev

David is the Co-founder and CEO of Goji Labs. David loves working closely with passionate founders to understand their vision and help them build beautiful applications while focusing on risk-mitigation. As an author, he focuses on informative and educational blogs that enable our clients to make the most of their businesses.

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