Native Application Development: Where, When and Why
Before a team can truly commit to developing an application, developers must decide on an approach. While some use cases are best suited to native application development, others call for hybrid methods.
Of those methods, native application development is both more direct and potentially more elaborate. While developers are working directly with their targeted operating systems, typically Android or iOS, they will need to run two development streams in parallel to create an application usable on both systems.
Native application development combines that single development team simplicity with new capabilities, such as the ability to work with hardware and operating system features, and to have more control over the performance of the application. Organizations’ final decisions about whether to work with a native or hybrid approach should encompass their staffing levels, budgets and goals for the software in question.
If your company is deciding on a development approach, it can pay to think in depth about what native development offers and whether it matches your needs.
The Ongoing Popularity of Native Mobile Application Development
If you poll application developers, you’ll find native application development methods are roughly as popular today as they have been in the past. At first glance, this may be surprising. After all, organizations invested in application development and releasing tend to want a wide possible audience for their software, which would appear to favor hybrid development. However, there are a few inescapable facts that have kept native development as the approach of choice for certain use cases.
In some situations, nothing but hybrid development will suffice. When developers are pushing to boost the capabilities and feature sets of their applications and the deep integrations between those applications and device operating systems, hybrid frameworks simply don’t give them the level of control they need. Hybrid tools are a layer between the software and the OS, and that has performance and flexibility consequences.
Developing applications designed to get the most possible efficiency out of a device means working with the OS through the native API directly. Cases as wide-ranging as banking and game development are primarily native, and this has helped ensure native methods’ continued popularity.
A highly simplified version of the native vs. hybrid question breaks down as follows:
- Native application development is best for cases when the application in question cannot function without innate, low-level integration with the OS and its features. This includes cases when developers want to create home screen widgets or allow their software to interact with the hardware and software system controls.
- Hybrid application development is ideal for cases when companies are trying to move quickly and economically to create more streamlined software. They may be standing up a new app, creating a prototype or launching a minimum viable product. This method is especially popular in start-ups, where rapid iteration is an essential part of the company’s plans.
Once developers have made a preliminary decision about which method is best for their application project, they can take a closer look at the benefits and drawbacks of their selected approach. In the case of native development, the positives largely come from the ability to build robust applications with highly optimized functionality, while the drawbacks tend to revolve around development speed and budget.
The Power of Native Development
Native application development is the method of choice for more sophisticated application projects, ones that are designed to get more out of available hardware and deliver more complex feature sets. While organizations will need separate teams to head up their native iOS development and native Android development, the outcomes can make this split structure worthwhile.
Key capabilities of these natively developed applications can include:
- Connectivity between devices and other hardware. From an e-commerce application that links up with a point of sale terminal to a fitness tracker integrating with a user’s smartwatch, all of these links are developed at the operating system level and call for native development.
- The ability to tap all of a device’s processing power. Applications such as interactive games or augmented reality experiences may benefit from using more computing horsepower, which is only possible through specific iOS or Android development, not a hybrid platform.
- Integration with fundamental features of devices and operating systems. Significantly, this includes security functionality. Applications that need to transmit sensitive data, therefore, have to be developed on a native model to ensure they can benefit from access to low-level OS features.
How important is native development for applications with stringent security requirements? It’s essential enough that even primarily hybrid development efforts must incorporate some native elements when working on these software.
In some cases, development teams may choose to use hybrid development for banking or financial applications, because they want to work more quickly or work on a single codebase. While the developers can handle the bulk of their project in a hybrid environment, they’ll need to coordinate with native teams to achieve integration between the software and the OS security features that will allow the transactions to go through in a secure, compliant way.
Drawbacks and Considerations
Despite its power and ongoing popularity, native development is not always the answer to companies’ application needs. In some cases, it simply makes more sense to opt for hybrid development, especially when teams don’t require any of the specific traits of natively developed applications. Hybrid development allows developers to work on a single codebase, and many of the limitations of native development are due to the fact that it doesn’t work that way.
These drawbacks include:
- The need for separate development teams, with no way to share business logic. Since most companies want to develop their applications for users with both Android and iOS devices, that means native development is a parallel experience, with one team working on each system. This process takes more staffing and can slow down the launch, especially if the business delays the go-live date due to a bug in one of the codebases.
- The inability to enable certain in-app features. For example, while natively developed applications go through the iOS and Android app stores to receive their updates, hybrid application developers can push live code for instantaneous, forced updating. When updates are only issued through app stores, they could be held up by platform owners’ unpredictable and sometimes lengthy review processes. Furthermore, since some users delay standard app store updates, they may be living with vulnerabilities, something developers could solve via pushing code live.
The central question that will determine whether a company is ready to cope with native development’s challenges is whether that business can sustain two parallel development teams. If the company is willing to make that investment, native development is a possibility.
Of course, there are some situations where the economics change — if a team is developing a business-to-business application for a client that only uses Android or iOS, there’s no need for doubled development. This is an especially strong case for native development, and it applies when employees such as pharmacists, delivery drivers or sales floor personnel are all issued identical tablets to perform their daily tasks.
Outcomes of Native Development
With a focused native development effort, an organization can create high-quality applications that deliver polished user experiences, pushing devices to their limits and generally outperforming hybrid-developed software.
Just as a wide variety of companies are presently developing, releasing or at least using their own applications today, there are near-unlimited use cases for natively developed applications. A few of the outcomes businesses can aim for with these applications include:
- Targeting the luxury and premium segments: Brands targeting high-value customers need to deliver experiences that will impress these users. A slick application interface that runs smoothly and interacts seamlessly with the device’s controls and system software is an integral part of this impression.
- Delivering a power-packed experience for entertainment and gaming: Many organizations today are thinking in terms of in-depth web experience. Devices are being used to capture and show three-dimensional or 360-degree video, and to immerse users in virtual reality landscapes. To accomplish this aim, software must use every bit of computing power a device possesses.
- Creating secure, reliable software for B2B users: Companies large enough to warrant their own natively developed applications require secure and trustworthy experiences. These applications should interface smoothly with the devices’ and operating systems’ onboard security features to defend company data. If these applications are developed for uniform company hardware, there’s no need to run two development teams, saving money and time.
From banking to gaming and everything in between, natively developed applications are the powerhouses of the mobile computing world. While hybrid development may be a quicker and easier process, there are cases where nothing but native development will suffice.
Are You Ready for Native Application Development?
When companies decide to commit to native development, they may find themselves short on the skills and staffing needed to truly make this methodology work. This isn’t strange — after all, it does take two full teams to natively develop for iOS and Android, and the current talent market is defined by shortages and resignations.
If your organization is starting a new project around native development or seeking to better support its existing applications, you can work with trusted partners to gain the skilled support and guidance you need in today’s app-driven software environment. This is where connecting with Transcenda can enable your ongoing digital transformation.
Contact Transcenda today to learn what native application development can mean for your organization.