Hybrid App Development: Taking web dev to the mobile

I’d always felt that mobile app development was a challenging field to delve into and that it would require a lot of patience and experience before being able to roll out a decent, usable application. Well, I’m sure all good apps need such a mindset, however, as technology continuously morphs with new ideas, we’ve been gifted with alternative solutions that stray from the native path.

Hybrid application development (HAD), as ominous as it sounds, is actually simpler than you think. Instead of battling with the learning curve that is inherent in getting up to speed with an entirely different platform, the hybrid way leverages web-based technologies for the mobile. What does this mean? Well, if you know your HTML5, your CSS3 and your JavaScript, then you’re pretty much well on your way already.

One particularly prominent framework that regularly finds its use in this area is the open-source Apache Cordova. Most hybrid frameworks like Cordova share a prevailing architecture of sorts that is used to communicate with the mobile device. The idea is to implement a web application wrapped within the hybrid framework’s plugins. These plugins have an API-like nature of communication and it’s them that do all the talking with the mobile OS. In turn, the embedded web application only concerns itself with functionality and interfacing with the framework. Finally, the outcome is rendered via an HTML rendering engine (or a WebView) that gives us as a usable web application running on the mobile.

To further emphasize HAD’s potential, consider the difference in effort between recruiting competent web developers and competent native app developers. Needless to say, neither Swift nor Objective C make it on this list released by the respected IEEE. Before seeming too biased, however, avoiding the native approach may come with a couple of downsides with the most obvious (and somewhat most major) one being the performance of a hybrid application relative to a native one. The wrapper that is sandwiched between the web application and the mobile OS may result in increased overheads but even then, these frameworks have made significant progress since their inception and, depending on the nature of the application, performance degradation is barely noticeable. Furthermore, when relying on just Cordova for developing your hybrid application you will eventually notice how dull it looks without a serious CSS makeover. This brings the Ionic framework into the picture. With Ionic, a hybrid application can be transformed to actually look and feel like a native one, with minimal effort (think Bootstrap, but for mobile).

At iMovo, we’re currently making use of these technologies in our mobile development workflow and so far things are looking great. I personally love using Ionic, especially after seeing solid results within a mere few days of using it. But that might also have to do with my undying love for Angular (soon asking for a divorce though). No doubt, as more hybrid frameworks pop up, I’m sure things will just keep on getting better and better.