discussion between two people

Native, hybrid, or cross-platform apps?

A comparison of mobile app development approaches.

Set up your app for success

Your company has a great idea for a new mobile app. Which of the three primary development approaches—native, hybrid, or cross-platform—should you use?

Unfortunately, you won’t find a one-size-fits-all formula to follow. Business leaders and experienced developers alike frequently debate the respective merits and drawbacks of each approach. In addition, the field of mobile apps development constantly evolves, further fueling discussions. What’s important to remember is the best path forward for one organization might not be recommended for another.

Whether building a productivity, education, gaming, or other type of app, you need to understand the ins and outs of each development approach and how they differ. Then, you’ll be well positioned to select the method that most closely supports the app’s business objectives and can help it drive the greatest value.

What is native app development?

Native mobile app development requires developers to build apps from scratch using platform-specific programming languages and tools. For example, developers who code native apps for Google Android write in Java or Kotlin, and developers who code native apps for Apple iOS write in Objective-C and Swift. As a result, they can tailor-make apps that take full advantage of all their chosen platform’s capabilities.

Native development requires additional time and resources but provides excellent performance and user experiences (UXs), including greater customization and personalization. A native approach is mandatory for building highly complex mobile apps, such a product inventory app with heavy data processing, or a gaming app with 3D animations.

What is hybrid app development?

Hybrid app development entails using web-based languages such as CSS, HTML, and JavaScript to code apps that are then executed in a native shell with an embedded web browser. Taking this approach, developers can share backend code, enabling them to create apps quickly and cost-effectively for multiple platforms. An app’s dependence on an embedded browser, however, often results in subpar performance and inconsistent user interfaces (UIs) across systems.

For this reason, your company might limit its discussion around development approaches to native vs. cross-platform app development, but don’t altogether dismiss hybrid app development. It can provide distinct benefits in certain circumstances. For example, if an organization needs to rapidly create and launch a minimum viable product for a pilot project, a hybrid approach is an excellent choice because it can be faster, easier, and more affordable.

What is cross-platform app development?

Cross-platform app development enables reusable, web-based code to be rendered natively across platforms. Developers rely on a cross-platform app development framework to provide the tools, plug-ins, and UI components necessary for “write once, run anywhere” coding. The many frameworks available on the market vary by toolsets, programming languages, platform support, code reusability, ease of learning, documentation, and other factors.

By streamlining app development across platforms, this approach can deliver significant cost and time savings and better ROI. Traditionally, cross-platform apps lag native apps in performance and UX, which has made a cross-platform approach more suited to simpler apps, such as employee onboarding and return-to-work apps.

However, when it comes to considering hybrid vs. cross-platform app development, the latter is often preferred. Cross-platform app development frameworks continue to grow in robustness, enabling more consistent and in some cases close-to-native UXs. For instance, because this approach uses web-based code, many retailers adopt it to power fully functioning e-commerce apps across platforms.

How to decide on an app development approach

Quality, cost, and time should be top-of-mind concerns when deciding how to make an app. However, not all organizations can or must dedicate unlimited resources to app development. When choosing between native, hybrid and cross-platform mobile app development, the objective remains to select the method that best balances user needs with business constraints.

Start your evaluation by defining the intended audience for your app. Are they primarily dedicated-platform or cross-platform users? Do they represent distinct demographic or geographic groups? Will they download the app for work, school, pleasure, or other reasons? Do they expect the app to offer the latest features and functions?

Once you’ve defined the target audience, let the following considerations help guide your decision-making.

App complexity

The more complex the app, the more you’ll want to lean into native development. Using Android, iOS, and other systems’ tools, including software development kits (SDKs) and application programming interfaces (APIs), developers can precisely code apps to operate on a specific platform. This results in stellar performance and UX. For instance, developers can use native APIs to direct an app to run UI code on a separate processor thread, enabling swift uploads.

The simpler the app, the more you’ll want to think about hybrid vs. cross-platform app development. Hybrid and cross-platform apps cannot handle ultra-high speeds but can support rich media and provide pleasing UI designs.

Speed and responsiveness

When optimizing apps for specific platforms, a native approach results in apps that set the bar on performance. Downloadable directly to mobile devices, native apps upload quickly when opened. Also, users can instinctively interact with the platform’s distinct UI design using familiar buttons, gestures, and actions.

Apps built using a cross-platform app development framework can provide solid functionality and render a native-like look and feel, but their performance can't match that of native apps built from scratch. Hybrid apps generally offer satisfactory performance but inconsistent UIs.

Time to market

When time is of the essence, cross-platform and hybrid approaches are the stars of development. Using a cross-platform app development framework, developers can quickly program an app with a close-to-native UX, especially if the app doesn’t require customized, personalized features.

A native approach, in contrast, requires lengthy, duplicate development lifecycles to produce versions of the app for different platforms. When considering native vs. hybrid app development, a hybrid approach is appropriate for an app that must be developed quickly but won’t have a long lifetime, such as a pilot or marketing campaign app. If the app will have a long lifetime, a native approach will be worth the extra time dedicated to development.

Customer reach

Native apps are available for download exclusively in platform-dedicated app stores, such as Google Play Store for Android apps and Apple App Store for iOS apps. Cross-platform and hybrid apps can be made available and promoted on multiple app stores. They must go through a time-consuming submission process, but in the long run they can generate greater marketplace visibility. In addition, hybrid apps can boost traction with users who prefer to access an app from a web link rather than downloading it.

Developer expertise

If your company is targeting a broad, diverse audience for its app, it’s become a competitive imperative to offer the app across platforms. If this is the case, a native approach generally requires separate developer teams to concurrently build, test, update, and support different app versions.

With cross-platform and hybrid methods, a single team of web-based developers can create a single, sharable codebase, boosting productivity. The team will need native coding expertise to customize plug-ins and bridges for—and integrate them with—Android, iOS, and other systems.

Development and maintenance costs

Overall, if your company has a limited budget, hybrid or cross-platform app development is the way to go. You can build, test, debug, and update apps simultaneously across platforms. In general, native mobile app development requires more resources to develop and maintain. However, a native approach enables immediate support for new operating system releases. It also offers clear upgrade and migration paths. Other development approaches cannot, and new releases might require modifications to app code.

Hardware access

Native developers can build apps to directly access all device-specific hardware capabilities, such as cameras, microphones, accelerometers, contacts, file systems, and GPS and proximity sensors. Cross-platform and hybrid developers can use APIs, plug-ins, and bridges to facilitate app access to some hardware functions but not at the same speeds.

Offline functionality

Many people live or work in regions with low internet connectivity, or they travel frequently by air. Offline or online, native users have access to app functions, including local storage and databases, even when they turn on airplane mode. Downloaded hybrid apps function well offline but cannot refresh data until back online. Depending on the framework used to build them, cross-platform apps can support offline capabilities.

App security

Security threats increasingly target multiple mobile platforms, jeopardizing the privacy and data of growing numbers of businesses and their customers. Native programming libraries provide developers with tools for creating built-in security features, such as file encryption and intelligent fraud detection, and for debugging code.

Cross-platform and hybrid apps are often seen as more vulnerable because they run on web-based technologies. However, each development framework offers its own tools for configuring app security measures. Regardless of your app development method, support the app with a security-rich, scalable backend infrastructure.

Weighing the pros and cons of app development

Every company has a unique set of considerations driving its app development. Once you clearly define your priorities, you can confidently select the right approach.

Native app development


  • Nonreusable code
  • Superior performance
  • Intuitive, customizable UX
  • Reduced productivity
  • Direct hardware access
  • Offline functionality
  • Built-in security


  • Slower time to market
  • Limited audience reach
  • Higher costs

Hybrid app development


  • Reusable code
  • Rapid time to market
  • Broad audience reach
  • Greater cost efficiencies
  • Offline functionality


  • Slower performance
  • Inconsistent, non-customizable UX
  • Restricted hardware access
  • Increased security configurations

Cross-platform app development


  • Reusable code
  • Rapid time to market
  • Robust performance
  • Close-to-native UX
  • Broad audience reach
  • Greater cost efficiencies


  • Limited customization and personalization
  • Restricted hardware access
  • No offline functionality
  • Increased security configurations

Get ahead with a mobile app development platform built for everyone

Regardless of which path you choose, your company needs a robust app development platform. Microsoft Power Apps offers just that for novice and experienced coders. Business users can rely on its low-code tools, including out-of-the-box UI components, to quickly build an app. Professional developers can extend the platform with code-first capabilities to create more sophisticated user experiences.

Frequently asked questions

What are the differences between native vs. cross-platform vs. hybrid apps?

Native apps are built with non-reusable code; cross-platform and hybrid apps are built with reusable code. As a result, native, hybrid, and cross-platform mobile apps differ in speed, UX, cost, time to market, and other factors.

What is native platform development?

Native app development entails building mobile apps in platform-specific programming languages and tools. Native development provides optimal performance and UXs, such as for rich-media gaming apps and complex enterprise apps.

What is hybrid platform development?

Hybrid platform development uses web-based technologies to build mobile apps that share backend code rendered natively across platforms. A hybrid approach minimizes development time, costs, and effort but delivers inferior performance and UXs.

What is cross-platform development?

Cross-platform development enables organizations to write code once and then reuse it to streamline mobile apps development across platforms. This approach speeds time to market while helping reduce development and maintenance costs.

How to pick between cross-platform, native and hybrid apps?

The decision whether to build a cross-platform, native, or hybrid app depends on its audience, complexity, and functionality. Budget limitations, time to market, developer expertise, and other business priorities also play a role in decision-making.