Thursday, March 9, 2017

Native, Web and Hybrid - How related and different these apps are?

During discussion on mobile apps with a tester, one of the question was - "What is native app? What is the difference between hybrid app and native app?" Like one uses the mobile apps in and out almost all days on mobile devices, yet there is confusion in knowing what these apps are and the differences among them.  In this post, I do not share about advantages and disadvantages for the types of mobile apps, rather I share what I understand for what they are.  And, this should help to start learning on advantages and disadvantages if any.

Further knowing what is the technology stack being used for the native mobile app, web app and hybrid mobile app, a tester can design the tests better.  This helps to figure out the testability and from here one can get the idea which are good to automate and assess, and those which requires human skills to assess further and test.

Mobile web app and mobile device

I will walk through briefly on native mobile app and hybrid mobile app in this post. Before I do that, let me tell bit about web app with Responsive Web Design (RWD) for mobile devices.  Do you know any website that you use often? Open that site on your mobile device browser now and experience how it is rendered. Now, why not changing the orientation of your device and view it in portrait and landscape. What was your experience? Were you able to use it on mobile device? Did it render in same width and height as in desktop browser or it gut customized to your mobile device's screen?

Along with RWD, HTML5 and latest web technologies of JS with CSS, their exists frameworks to build web app for mobile which uses the nativity of mobile devices. They are evolving and exists, today.  One such example is Ionic framework.

While mobile OS extends the support of web view to display the web contents within the activity of an app, the above said web technologies and framework supports to build mobile web app.  With this the mobile web app can make use of device's hardware and sensor, as a native mobile app does.

This mobile web app is not available as an app in the Google's Play Store and Apple's App Store. However it can look like a mobile app in an experience but the implementation way differs. When a website can be rendered to mobile device's screen size, is it possible now to get a feel like not a browser based website though address bar is shown?  Frameworks available today to build the mobile web app will help to do so.

Some examples for the mobile web app are GMail, Flipkart, Amazon, and Facebook.

Native app and mobile device

Mobile app which is installed on mobile device and that can make use of hardware and sensor available on mobile device, is typically a native app.  This app is built for a particular mobile device's OS and platform.  With mobile device's few apps come pre-installed and user can still look for an app what she or he needs on Google's Play Store and Apple's Play Store.

A native app can access what it requires on mobile device provided it has the permission to do so. Now make a list of permissions you have seen which app asks you for installing and using it on the mobile device.

Some example for the native mobile app are Contacts, Message, Camera, Calendar, and the one which can be downloaded from the respective store of Google and Apple.

Note: In this context, I'm taking Google and Apple platforms as it is well known to most.

Hybrid app and mobile device

In above said, HTML5 and JS technologies have the major role in mobile web app. Now, the same can be used to build apps which can be installed on Android an iOS?

Technically the hybrid app will have HTML5 web app within a native wrapper which is supported by the mobile OS.  This mobile app is developed with HTML5, JS technologies and CSS, then compiled into native Android or native iOS or any other mobile OS using wrapper support.

Apache Cordova is one such mobile application development framework which  helps to wrap up an app that can run in WebView by having nativity extension to mobile device's (OS) platform. The plugins of Cordova can be used to access the device's hardware support. On knowing the word as Cordova, now if happened to explore further we will hear the words -- Phonegap, Titanium, Ionic, Xamarin etc. Knowing how they support to develop mobile application will help to understand better about the hybrid mobile app.

If the hybrid mobile app is also a kind of web app, then the HTML, CSS and JS files are stored in the app which will be installed on the device? Or, will it get from the server on launch of the web on a desktop browser?  This depends on how the hybrid app will be designed. If it is packaged into the .apk or .ipa file, then web APIs can be used send and received data.  If it is received from server then a layer around the WebView will have to built and web APIs will be still used.

The apps built in this sort are called hybrid because

  • they are neither native apps as the rendering is on via WebViews instead of platform's UI framework
  • they are neither web apps because they are packaged as an app for distribution across platforms using the platform nativity via its APIs
Have you used, GMail app on your phone by downloading it from store? Are you using Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, Maps apps on your mobile device on downloading it from store? Then that is an example of the hybrid app which combines the strength of native app and mobile web app together.

So whats the point

To end this post, if asked what is best i.e. whether native app or hybrid app, it depends on context and what is trying to be solved with negotiation.  Both helps to accomplish the needs of app developing organization, programmer, tester and user.  While each have they their own strength and weakness, it is the choice to be made by people who builds for whom.  In this post, I have not shared the advantages and disadvantages of it.

Now starts the fun of exploration around testing and automation.  How to test the apps built in hybrid way? What are the level of isolation I can identify so that I can layer it out layer by layer and test? Where to start if it is getting packaged into nativity of the platform on mobile OS?

If you are doing it or figured it out, pull me to pair with you and test together. Let us do it!

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