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Hybrid Apps Beat Native in New Survey

A new survey from Ionic indicates the hybrid approach to developing mobile apps is gaining ground over true native coding, which is expected to fall off dramatically over the next two years.

"Two years ago, 20 percent of developers surveyed were building exclusively with native tools instead of hybrid," the survey report says. "In the next two years, that number is only 2.9 percent -- a nearly 7x decrease. Similarly, the number of hybrid-built apps is growing as a share of overall app development. In the next two years, 32.7 percent of developers surveyed expect to completely abandon native development in favor of hybrid."

In the hybrid approach, Web technologies such as HTML and JavaScript are used to create apps that can access native device features and be installed through app stores -- as opposed to true native apps created with programming languages such as Swift (iOS) and Java (Android).

According to the company CEO, the one major theme gleaned from Ionic's new survey of more than 13,000 community developers (the Ionic framework is open source) is: "Right now is a great time to be a Web developer."

That's the conclusion of Max Lynch, co-founder of the company that became Ionic, in a blog post this week.

As Ionic's open source framework produces hybrid apps with the help of those Web technologies and Apache Cordova, Lynch was quick to correct the notion that the survey results might be biased by self-selected respondents.

Waning Native
[Click on image for larger view.] Waning Native (source: Ionic)

Noting that 80 percent of respondents identified as Web developers, Lynch said: "Now, one might think there's a little bit of selection bias here -- after all, we already cater to developers with a Web skillset -- but we think it's a little more than that. In fact, if you check out the 2017 Stack Overflow Survey, you'll see a similar distribution of Web developers to native mobile developers."

In that Stack Overflow survey (covered here), 73 percent of respondents identified themselves as Web developers, with 23 percent reporting being mobile developers (multiple answers were allowed). The Stack Overflow survey didn't explicitly indicate if "mobile developers" correlated exactly to "native developers," but in the report's "developer types" section, mobile developer respondents were classified in Android, iOS, Windows Phone and Blackberry categories. The report didn't include any other specific native-vs.-Web breakdowns.

Dev Targets
[Click on image for larger view.] Dev Targets (source: Ionic)

Lynch maintained that the purpose of the survey was not to prove anything about the Web, but rather to learn about tools and technologies being used by developers to create apps.

While Lynch identified the hybrid-overtaking-native theme as the dominant takeaway from the survey, other major trends included: the rising popularity of Progressive Web Apps (PWAs); the lack of wearable and smart device (such as TVs) development; and the rise of enterprise apps for internal usage, as opposed to commercial consumer apps (which is still the dominant use case).

The survey report said nearly 32 percent of respondents were targeting PWAs (described as a "big jump"), with a slightly higher percentage targeting responsive Web apps.

"What's driving this trend?" the report said. "Part of it could be app fatigue among consumers who care more about mobile experiences and less about installing yet another app, and developers who want their apps to run on mobile and desktop Web environments, not just in the app stores.

"Overall, we see this as validation for two things that Ionic has been saying for awhile: mobile remains the killer platform, and Web is the future."

Only 3 percent of respondents said they were building for smart watches, with even fewer targeting TVs, Ionic said.

The report also explained the increase in mobile app development for internal enterprise usage.

"A large percentage of apps being built with Ionic (41.7 percent) are actually for internal-use apps. This is consistent with a broader trend in the enterprise, where the value of mobile extends beyond the essential flagship consumer app. More and more, older legacy systems are steadily being replaced -- or modernized -- with mobile experiences that make employees happier, and more productive."

Other highlights of the survey (with percentages rounded off) include:

  • Google's Firebase is the clear winner in back-end services, scoring first or nearly first in many categories such as push notifications, analytics, databases, authentication and more.
  • Node.js is the dominant choice (reported by 57 percent of devs) when it comes to back-end technology.
  • Google owns the analytics space, with Google Analytics and Firebase Analytics emerging as clear winners (used by 68 percent and 25 percent of devs, respectively).
  • The adoption of Visual Studio Code has grown to nearly half of the developers surveyed (47 percent) -- by far the most widely adopted among editors and IDEs on the list. Sublime, Atom and Webstorm trail as the next most popular code editors.
  • 65 percent of respondents said they don't do cloud device testing.
  • 44 percent said they don't track errors or crashes.
  • 53 percent don't push updates to apps remotely.
  • Nearly 82 percent distribute apps through stores.
  • 57 percent develop on the Mac platform, followed by Windows (55 percent) and Linux (29 percent).
  • 94 percent target Android, 83 percent target iOS.
  • Respondents were almost equally split between being Web developers experienced with mobile and new to mobile, both at about 39 percent.

The survey was fielded from February to June, garnering responses from 13,248 developers collected directly by Ionic using Google Forms.

About the Author

David Ramel is editor in chief of Visual Studio Magazine and Application Development Trends Magazine.

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