As more businesses fulfil their consumer’s demand for the mobile presence, many corporate decision-makers find themselves posed with a choice between two popular options: the native mobile app, or the hybrid one. While the former is much more conducive to the user experience, designers need to know how to create great UX from the limited toolset of hybrid applications.
First, a Quick Refresher
A native app is a mobile application developed to run on a smartphone’s operating system. These are the apps written in Swift or Java and tailored for your iPhone or Android, respectively.
In contrast, hybrid apps are written in a traditionally web-based language, like HTML5, which is then compiled into a mobile-friendly language using a packaging service. But this is all developer stuff – we are here to talk about UX.
From a purely UX-based perspective, it is clear the native app trumps its hybrid counterpart. Native apps are designed to utilise the well-established UX language of the mobile OS. We know how to swipe and tap, and are familiar with the UX conventions of native applications.
The result is that native apps expedite the learning curve of a new application – a huge boon for UX designers. They also seamlessly interface with their device’s other functionalities as well, giving the designer a much larger sandbox to design new features and functions.
But that does not mean you cannot create quality UX for a hybrid mobile application. Hybrid apps exist for a reason: they are significantly quicker and easier to develop and cost considerably less to launch.
While hybrid apps may not be as conducive to the user like a native one, it is important for UX practitioners to know how to do a lot with a little, and make the most out of designing a hybrid app.
Anticipate the Inevitable
We have already covered that hybrid apps have some well-documented design shortcomings, but therein lies the silver lining: they are well-documented! By knowing the technical limitations of your platform beforehand, you will be able better set project goals and adjust your design process accordingly.
It is likely you will need to place constraints on your design plan as some ideas and features simply will not be feasible in a hybrid platform. But often times, setting boundaries on a project’s scope can foster innovation and creative workarounds.
If possible, it is prudent to collaborate with the development team as much as possible before and during the design, involving them much more heavily than in a typical UX process. They will be able to rule out design ideas that are not possible with the hybrid application, and ones that might take more time.
Take push notifications. Their implementation is trivial for native apps but can take a considerable amount of time to execute in a hybrid mobile platform (remember, they are based on web technologies). It is important to consult with developers early in the design process, and ensure you will not realise a core feature is impossible to implement halfway through the project.
Consider the Marketplace
No matter what sort of mobile application you develop, chances are you will be distributing it through Google Play or the App Store. By far the two most dominant marketplaces for apps, both have guidelines you will need to adhere to when designing hybrid apps.
Google Play, Android’s centre of app commerce, subscribes to a more lax set of rules for what does and does not get published on their store. This typically means hybrid apps will not have a problem hitting the Android marketplace. Regardless, they are important to abide by – Google Play’s guidelines can be found here.
Apple, on the other hand, follows much stricter publication criteria, which can be a major roadblock for hybrid applications. The best way to circumvent it is to utilise the iPhone’s native features in the platform.
As we have mentioned, hybrid apps typically do not play as well with iOS as natives do, but usually, the camera and the geolocation features are still easily accessed. And remember not to add needless bells & whistles just to score points with the App Store regulators – they can detract from the user experience.
Leverage Rapid Testing
Most of the disadvantages of hybrid apps come from their inherent DNA — they are built upon web technologies. But it is this core that also serves as one of their primary benefits: hybrid apps can be easily tested within a browser.
For example, Google Chrome boasts a mobile emulation feature that lets designers and developers test a variety of screen resolutions, to ensure the design is responsive as possible. Apple also offers simulation features that designers can leverage to test their apps through Safari.
Harnessing The Hybrid
To create a more usable, engaging, and intuitive mobile application, the best hybrid app trick is to convince your client to do a native app. Nine times out of ten, users will find the native app significantly easier to interface with. This is why UX design agencies such as the one I represent, Codal, typically recommend a native mobile platform.
But when that is not feasible, or if the hybrid app only makes more sense with the client’s business needs and requirements, designers will need to make do with its limitations and craft the best user experience possible.
Want to learn more?
Want to get an industry-recognized Course Certificate in UX Design, Design Thinking, UI Design, or another related design topic? Online UX courses from the Interaction Design Foundation can provide you with industry-relevant skills to advance your UX career. For example, Design Thinking, Become a UX Designer from Scratch, Conducting Usability Testing or User Research – Methods and Best Practices are some of the most popular courses. Good luck on your learning journey!
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