App Development FAQ: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About Hybrid App Development

Are you trying to decide the best approach to developing a mobile app for your organization? The goal of this post is to help answer four frequently asked questions about hybrid and mobile application development that are probably near the top of your list.

Are you trying to decide the best approach to developing a mobile app for your organization?

With multiple stakeholders, hundreds of questions, and so much at stake, it can be difficult to know where to begin. The goal of this guide is to help answer four important questions about hybrid and mobile application development that are probably near the top of your list. To make sure this list is as valuable as possible, we avoided the promotional content you might usually see in FAQs and focused on the experience of actual customers of Ionic, the leading open source platform for building mobile and desktop apps with hybrid technology. 

Head to the section that’s top of mind for you and your team and check out the scenarios. If you want more information, click through to the case studies themselves to gain insight into more details.

If all this leads to more questions, get in touch with one of our App Strategists to develop an app development approach that works with your goals, challenges, and team.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Hybrid App Development:

User experience: The user experience has to be great. How can a hybrid approach help me deliver a high-quality experience across my target platforms?

Cost to build and maintain: Cost is a significant concern. Can a hybrid approach help me reduce cost, without sacrificing quality?

Time to market: Timely development and release is critical. How will it help me to build and update apps for my target platforms?

Fit for development organization: Hybrid App Development FAQ #4: I’m all for using new tools, but how do I know they’ll be a fit for my organization? Will my team be able to adopt it? What skills are required?

Quick Definition of Hybrid

Before we get too far, it’s helpful to start with a basic definition of hybrid app development.

Hybrid is a way of building mobile apps using open web technologies like JavaScript, HTML, and CSS, rather than using the proprietary or specialized languages used by iOS, Android, and others.

From a user’s perspective, apps built with a hybrid framework like Ionic are identical to a traditional native app. They’re downloaded from a platform’s app store or marketplace, and access the same native features and hardware-based performance acceleration as any app built with a native SDK.

Hybrid apps run in a full-screen browser, called a webview, that is invisible and feels just like a native app to the user. Through customizable plugins, they can access the native features of specific mobile devices (such as the camera or touch ID), without the core code being tied to that device. That means hybrid-built apps can run on any platform or device, all from a single codebase, while still delivering a completely native experience.

If you’d like to learn more, be sure to look through our comparative guide: Hybrid vs. Native: An Introduction to Cross-Platform Hybrid Development for Architects and App Dev leaders.

Now that you know the basics, let’s move on to the top issues you should be trying to address.

Delivering a Great UX Across Platforms

Hybrid App Development FAQ #1: The user experience has to be great. Will hybrid be able to deliver a high-quality experience across my target platforms?

You can have the most engaging content, the best product, or the most useful services, but if your app is difficult to use, it doesn’t matter. Users don’t care about the number of devices you’re developing for, the amount of resources you have to put towards your app, or your time constraints—and they shouldn’t. Users just want your app to be easy to use and perform as expected, every time.

A great user experience is the key to building lasting, meaningful relationships with customers. With so many apps available, very few users are going to stick around for a 2-star experience. Getting that user experience to 4 stars—or higher—will do wonders for your business, and it doesn’t have to be difficult.

More Time to Focus on Features

With a hybrid approach, you can build apps for multiple platforms using a single codebase. This reduces the overhead of building and maintaining separate codebases for each target platform (desktop web, iOS, Android, Progressive Web Apps, etc.), leaving more time to focus on shipping features and improving app quality.

What do actual customers say? Here’s the perspective of a Development Manager at a multi-billion-dollar game maker. Bill and his team were charged with building a high volume of internal apps for company employees. He summarized why they chose a cross-platform hybrid approach for tackling the app backlog:

“Working cross-platform is so important. We don’t even think about it. We’ve been hybrid from the beginning. It’s settled. We have it. My stress points would be significantly higher if we had to code everything over again for each platform.”

You can read the full story by checking out the case study.

Faster Iteration in Response to User Feedback

Compared to native toolsets, many development teams find it faster to build hybrid apps using familiar web tools like HTML, JavaScript, and CSS. Ionic goes a step further by offering premade templates and visual design and development tools that allow you to quickly scaffold your app before jumping in to customize the code. This all translates into faster iteration to test out new features and design concepts, and to respond to user feedback.

Let’s take a look at a real-world example: Pacifica is a mental health app serving over 1 million users. It’s frequently cited as one of the top App Store apps, with user reviews of around 4.7 out of 5. Here’s what Dale Beerman, Pacifica Co-Founder had to say about the importance of rapid iteration:

“Ionic allowed us to get up to speed quickly, so we could constantly improve the app based on our users’ feedback.

With Ionic, we can run our app across multiple platforms from the get-go, so we can focus on iterating features that are important to the product, as opposed to getting mired in the intricacies of native development.”

Seamless Experiences Across Platforms

What makes a good UX? Solid performance and design are often must-haves. But users have also come to expect a seamless app experience as they move across devices. This is easy to deliver with a hybrid cross-platform approach. You can easily deliver the same set of features and experiences across desktop and mobile, all from a single codebase. Plus, when you use a framework like Ionic, the look and feel of your app will automatically adhere to the unique design patterns of whatever device your users are on at the time, whether it’s Android, iOS, or Windows.

For the team at Dow Jones MarketWatch, a popular news app serving over 600,000 monthly active users, consolidating onto a single codebase helped their small team of two developers deliver a high quality experience across all of their target platforms. Brian Aguilar, Product Manager at MarketWatch, put it this way:

“Building and maintaining each of these apps [for iOS and Android phones and tablets] natively was just a non-starter for us. When we were working natively, our user satisfaction scores were like 3 stars on Android. All time low was 2.5 stars on iOS.

Now we are at 4.5 stars on iOS and near 4.5 stars on Android.

There’s no way we would have had the equivalent of four apps with two developers, without Ionic.”

Speed and Performance

Mobile app performance is absolutely critical to delivering a great user experience. So how does hybrid stack up when it comes to load times, scrolling, and other moments when speed is critical? The best way to answer that is to find out for yourself, by checking out the many successful consumer apps built using hybrid technology—from award-winning apps like Pacifica and Sworkit, to highly popular apps like Shipt and Untappd. Our take? Unless you’re building a highly graphic intensive app, such as a 3D game, hybrid will deliver the speed and performance you need. 

Minimizing Cost to Build and Maintain

Hybrid App Development FAQ #2: Cost is a significant concern. How can a hybrid approach help me reduce cost, without sacrificing quality?

There’s no way around it. When it comes to IT, cost is always a concern. App development is no exception. Yet, the traditional application development process can be a complex, expensive process—with no guarantee that it’ll deliver a great user experience on all platforms. 

Fortunately, there’s no reason to continue using the traditional app development process. The hybrid app development approach delivers the experience your users demand, while saving your IT department time and money. It’s, quite simply, the best way to deliver an app your users will love, with a cost and development time that your budget will love.

Save on Hiring Costs by Tapping In-House Talent

The first opportunity for savings is talent related. Since hybrid development is based on common web tools, there’s no need to go out and hire expensive native developers for each target platform. Instead, you can tap into the existing talent pool of web developers that are most likely already present in your organization. Plus, since more than 70% of developers know how to build web apps (compared to just 8% who understand Swift and 4.5% familiar with Kotlin, according to the 2018 StackOverflow survey), hiring new developers to work on your hybrid app project is much easier.

Mike Sigle, VP of Product Development at Napa Group, describes the talent related cost savings of going with a hybrid approach over native:

“[If we were building with native tools], we would have needed to hire a dedicated app person for each platform, a UX designer for each type of platform; it would have been prohibitively costly, and required far more coordination across teams.”

Take a look at the full Napa Group story for more on their experience with hybrid.

Lower Initial Development and Maintenance Costs

Ionic customers often report that building with hybrid toolsets is faster than working in native code, while ongoing maintenance is easier because you only have one codebase to worry about. This usually translates into lower costs for initial development and ongoing maintenance of your apps. 

According to Aladin El Hedri, CEO of Xtraball (maker of Siberian CMS):

“[Working with hybrid] saved us around 60% in development time compared to native coding, and 80% savings on maintenance versus native coding.”

El Hedri also stated that his team can hire new developers in half the time, because of the large talent pool of web developers to draw from.

Improving Time to Market

Hybrid App Development FAQ #3: Timely development and release is critical. How can hybrid help me speed up and simplify app delivery?

No matter what your IT budget is, there’s one thing everyone shares: the need for more time. Whether it’s development schedules that need to be measured in days, not weeks, or a requirement to fix bugs in minutes not hours, time is one of a company’s most valuable resources. An app dev cycle that causes delays in development, testing, and release can cripple your company. Hybrid web apps eliminate the need for app store approval and other time consuming tasks, streamlining your app release cadence.

Rapid Iteration and Release of New Features

How does a hybrid approach help you go faster? With only one application to worry about, it’s easier to add new features for all of your target platforms compared to building in parallel for each. Pacifica was a great real-world example of this. And as we already mentioned, Ionic provides pre-made templates and starter apps that help you go from zero to app in just a few minutes.

Live Updates Directly to Your Users

Perhaps the biggest differentiator of a hybrid architecture is the ability to send updates directly to your users. How is this possible? Well, app store policies require that any changes to native code must go through the app stores. However, it is permissible to make changes to the parts of your app that are considered web assets. And, since 90% of hybrid apps exist at the web layer, that means you can change most of your app by pushing changes directly. That includes new features and critical bug fixes, which can be sent in real-time.

Note: While a hybrid architecture makes this possible, you still need a product like Ionic Appflow to send app updates to your users.

The ability to send live updates is a significant benefit cited by real-world users. Here’s Josh Rachner, Digital Practice Lead, SenseCorp, talking about the importance of being able to get new versions into the hands of users:

“Ionic allows you to very rapidly develop features and functionality within a native mobile app container and push those out on a user’s device very, very quickly. We’re doing daily builds and could get versions out in an hour or less. That is a real win.”

Similarly, Mike Sigle at Napa Group shares the importance of real-time updates for his team, which manages an app used in premium wine auctions. The nature of their business requires that they make any new updates within a tight two-week window:

“The amount of risk goes down exponentially compared to deploying the app on the app store, waiting for it to get reviewed, realizing there’s a bug and taking two or three more days before you can get a fix uploaded. That deployment speed is a huge asset for us.”

Choosing the Right Approach for Your Dev Team

I’m all for using new tools, but how do I know they’ll be a fit for my organization? Will my team be able to adopt it? What skills are required?

Developing a great user experience, at a lower cost, taking less time, and maintaining the flexibility to update that app often is a worthwhile goal for any team. But, when choosing a solution to help you do this there’s one consideration that rises to the top: Is the solution a good fit for my team?

Let’s face it, a tool can provide all the benefits in the world, but if your team doesn’t use it, it’s just shelfware. Finding a solution that your team can use immediately, without expensive ramp-up time, isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have.

Existing Knowledge of Web Tech (JavaScript, HTML, CSS)

Because hybrid development approaches like Ionic are based on open web tech and open web standards, all that’s required is the ability to work with basic tools like JavaScript, HTML, and CSS. If you know how to build a web app, you’re ready to build mobile apps with Ionic. Compare that to native development that requires specialized knowledge of Swift for iOS or Kotlin for Android.

When the UK’s National Health Service was planning a series of mobile projects to help traveling nurses who were out visiting patients, they engaged an outside consultant, Sani Yusuf, to help find the right solution. Sani proposed Ionic based on the NHS team’s existing knowledge of web development. According to Sani:

“Because they already dealt in HTML, CSS and Javascript, all I had to do was brush them up on some AngularJS, and then using Ionic Framework they were able to pretty much carry on. If I had had to teach them native iOS or Android it would have meant at least three sets of training around five days each. As it was, they were up and running in two days.”

The App Development Manager at NHS who led the project, Harvi Singh Kaley, echoed that sentiment:

“It was not a very steep learning curve at all, and other staff have now picked it up as well and haven’t found it very difficult to get a grip on.”

To learn more about the NHS team and their experiences building apps with Ionic, check out the case study.

Client’s Proficiency with Different Mobile Development Approaches

For digital consultancies and agencies, it’s worth calling out the importance of being able to hand over a development project once it’s completed. While your in-house teams may be widely skilled across various approaches, it’s always important to consider the skillset of the client. To that end, the fact that hybrid requires nothing more than a basic knowledge of web development is an advantage. Here’s what Josh Rachner at SenseCorp had to say after helping his client build a fleet management app to track over 500,000 vehicles:

“This is a very quick ramp up for them. [The client’s] ability to consume, understand and quickly become proficient in developing… it’s really a lot of the web technologies they’re already familiar with and that’s a big selling point. And a big advantage for us in that we are not re-tooling, re-teaching a new skill set to the client.”

About Ionic

Ionic is a leader in enterprise mobile app development, with 5 million developers worldwide and thousands of enterprise customers who use Ionic to build mission-critical apps for their customers, both external and internal. It powers 15% of apps in the app store, not including thousands of apps built internally at enterprises for every line-of-business need. Ionic is unique in that it takes a web-first approach, leveraging HTML, CSS, and Javascript to build high-quality iOS, Android, desktop, and Progressive Web Apps.

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