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Dev Firm: New Options Squeeze Hybrid Mobile Approach

Traditional mobile approaches have long been described as a triad of options ranging from pure native apps to pure Web apps to hybrid apps that borrow from both camps -- a kind of compromise in the middle.

Now, however, the hybrid approach wherein native apps run within WebViews on devices -- exemplified by projects such as PhoneGap and Apache Cordova -- is being squeezed by new options from both the native and Web sides, diminishing its importance to developers, according to TJ VanToll, a developer advocate for Progress Software Corp.

"As the Web becomes more powerful and as native becomes more approachable, hybrid is becoming the correct choice for a decreasing number of developers," VanToll said in a blog post published today titled "The Diminishing Use Case of Hybrid Apps."

"My argument will not be that hybrid is dead or even dying, but rather, that these new app development options are a better fit for what were some common hybrid use cases," VanToll said.

The detailed post delves into the details of why VanToll believes the hybrid approach is being squeezed by new Progressive Web Apps from the Web side of things and on the other end by new-age techniques for building native apps solely with JavaScript, instead of the traditional Android and iOS programming languages like Java, Objective-C and Swift. Those JavaScript-driven approaches are exemplified by projects such as React Native and NativeScript.

While the post may be seen as advocacy for Telerik by Progress, the steward of NativeScript (on which VanToll himself works), he points out that parent company Progress Software Corp. expects to keep using the open source Cordova framework (upon which Adobe Systems Inc.'s PhoneGap commercial offering is based).

"Here at Progress Software we've heavily invested in Cordova, and we'll continue to support and add to our Cordova tooling in products like the Telerik Platform," VanToll said. "We believe hybrid is still the right choice for many developers, and will continue to evolve our tooling to help those developers build great apps."

Hence, he isn't predicting the imminent death of hybrid/Cordova approaches, just pointing out how the applicable use cases are declining in the face of advances such as Progressive Web Apps.

As we reported in an article titled "Chrome Devs Paint 'Progressive Apps' as Future of Mobile Web," these Web apps provide new features such as offline functionality, push notifications and the ability to appear on an app's homescreen just like a regular native app.

"Progressive Web Apps (PWA) is a Google-led initiative that brings a series of new features to traditional Web apps," VanToll said. "PWAs were designed as an enhancement to a normal Web app, meaning, making your Web app 'progressive' is as simple as adding a service worker and a Web app manifest. For the purposes of this article, PWAs are especially relevant as their features address the biggest reason developers choose to build hybrid apps -- namely, that the Web doesn't offer features that these developers need."

Meanwhile, the new JavaScript-based approaches are encroaching upon the Cordova niche from the other side. React Native -- and to a lesser extent, NativeScript -- are taking the mobile dev space by storm, judging from their popularity on coding sites and forums.

"What's so compelling about these frameworks is that you can use JavaScript, as well as other Web-dev-friendly tools like CSS and npm, to build apps that go above and beyond what you can accomplish in a hybrid app," VanToll said. "You can build endless scrolls, pull-to-refresh lists, and more without having to mess with error-prone virtual DOM techniques; you can integrate existing iOS and Android libraries like CocoaPods and Android Arsenal; and you can leverage the vast array of built-in user interface components that iOS and Android provide out of the box."

Note that these notions are nothing new. In fact, both the Progressive Web and JavaScript-based mobile development were cited in an ADTMag article in early January titled "3 Trends Shaping Mobile Development in 2016" (the third trend is the citizen developer movement).

The new post does serve, however, to provide further factual basis (VanToll provides extensive documentation of his claims) for those predictions, which can help mobile developers plan their strategies for the coming year.

"I foresee a future where the Web has everything you need to build an app to reach broad audiences, and JavaScript-driven native frameworks make it easy to build truly native apps for your users," VanToll concluded. "We're a few years away from this, and we're somewhat at the mercy of the Safari and iOS teams to make it happen, but I believe it's clear that this is where the development world is heading."

About the Author

David Ramel is the editor of Visual Studio Magazine.

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